Monday, January 18, 2016

Neptunalia Challenge paddle race report

Sunday I went to the Neptunalia Challenge paddlecraft race in Indian Harbour Beach, near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Actually I drove over Saturday night and split a room at the Days Inn Melbourne with Mike Hammond, a SW Florida SUP racer who has the cool day job of managing and promoting Lee County's "Calusa Blueway" network of paddle trails. We were apprehensive about the race because the weather forecast was horrible for paddling: Very strong SW - NW winds with thunderstorms and rain. Fortunately the worst of the storms passed through in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and it was clearing (but still windy) when race check-in began. The weather might have dissuaded a few people, but there was still a large crowd of eager racers at Oars and Paddles Park. There were three different race distances (3, 6, and 10 miles) and all sorts of different vessel and age divisions, so there was something appealing for everyone. The race committee did a good job of picking courses that would be challenging but not simply grueling. For example, the originally-planned 10 mile course would have been half in the open water of the Banana River Lagoon and half in a canal system parallel to the lagoon. Because of the wind they put more of the course in the canal, but they kept enough in the Lagoon to make it interesting.

Something this race did that I had never seen done before was have two separate versions of the 10-mile race; one with prize money that cost $75 to enter (the "Kraken"), and one without prize money that cost $40 to enter (the "Dragon"). Only the top three in the Kraken would get prize money. Since both races were to be scored equally in the 2016 "Fastest in Florida" points series, and since the registration list for the Kraken looked stacked with at least three better-than-me paddlers, I decided to save my money and sign up for the Dragon instead. I would prefer that they not do this money/no-money thing again because it was awkward deciding which version of the race to register for. Based on times alone I was wise to do the Dragon, because I was first in that and would have been 5th in the Kraken. But I was kind of sad that I didn't get to start at the same time as the Kraken racers because I would have liked to try to get in the draft trains with the fastest guys. (They started the Dragon about a minute after the Kraken.) Also, if I had entered the men's 12'6 class in the Kraken I would have been guaranteed $150 third place because only two guys entered that.

One thing that was cool about this race was that they actually brought podium blocks for us to stand on. I think this is the first time in my life I've gotten to stand on top of a podium block. 2nd and 3rd are Stephen Chase and Steven Bernstein, respectively. John Sekas would actually be second place based on his faster time than the Stevens, but he was first place in the 50+ division instead.
 photo neptunaliadragonwinners_zps5mqg3u5f.jpg

Full race results are posted on Webscorer, but I've posted just the times from the 10 mile (15.57 km on my GPS) races here:

Name Category Time Race Version
Rob Mirlenbrink Kayak 1:16:52.8 Dragon
Nathan Humberston Kayak 1:18:02.3 Dragon
Flavio Costa Kayak 1:19:10.5 Dragon
Randy Taylor Kayak 1:19:25.7 Dragon
Robert Silvernail Outrigger Canoe 2-person 1:23:12.3 Dragon
Kim Watson Outrigger Canoe 2-person 1:23:51.6 Dragon
Jason Malick Kayak 1:29:59.0 Dragon
William Schaet Kayak 1:31:07.7 Dragon
David Rush Outrigger Canoe 1:33:24.4 Dragon
Max Schafer Kayak 1:34:08.8 Dragon
Karen Mirlenbrink Kayak 1:35:59.8 Dragon
Kieran Grant SUP 14 Male 1:37:39.8 $Kraken
Connor Bonham SUP 14 Male 1:37:40.7 $Kraken
Mark Nye Kayak 1:38:59.3 Dragon
Josh Smart SUP 14 Male 1:39:09.4 $Kraken
Samuel English SUP 14 Male 1:39:11.3 $Kraken
James Douglass SUP 14 Male 1:40:00.7 Dragon
Reid Hyle SUP 14 Male 1:41:17.7 $Kraken
John Sekas SUP 14 Male 50+ 1:42:46.9 Dragon
Stephen Chase SUP 14 Male 1:43:05.6 Dragon
Joey Huempfner SUP 12'6 Male 1:43:17.9 $Kraken
Steven Bernstein SUP 14 Male 1:43:20.3 Dragon
Rand Perkins SUP 14 Male 50+ 1:44:57.5 Dragon
Billy Miller SUP 14 Male 1:44:59.6 $Kraken
Travis Kindt SUP 14 Male 1:45:00.9 Dragon
David Dean SUP 14 Male 50+ 1:46:30.7 Dragon
Scott Roche Outrigger Canoe 1:46:42.1 Dragon
Kimberly Barnes SUP 12'6 Female 1:46:53.6 $Kraken
Seychelle Hattingh SUP 12'6 Female 1:46:55.2 $Kraken
Cristian Prado SUP 14 Male 1:47:36.7 $Kraken
Murray Hunkin SUP 14 Male 1:48:11.0 $Kraken
Keith Cook SUP 14 Male 50+ 1:50:07.7 Dragon
Victoria Burgess SUP 12'6 Female 1:51:23.2 $Kraken
Aleksandra Malinska SUP 12'6 Female 1:51:24.8 $Kraken
Matt Henderson SUP 14 Male 1:51:54.6 Dragon
Adam Pollock SUP Unlimited 1:52:08.5 Dragon
Kim Hillhouse SUP 14 Female 1:52:51.3 Dragon
Chip Bock SUP 14 Male 1:53:19.9 $Kraken
MAB MAB SUP 12'6 Female 50+ 1:53:28.0 Dragon
Dean Weihnacht Outrigger Canoe 1:53:46.4 Dragon
Mark Miller SUP 12'6 Male 1:54:05.7 $Kraken
Dave Merkli SUP Unlimited 1:54:24.7 Dragon
Cat Uden SUP 12'6 Female 1:54:40.9 Dragon
Karl Eugster SUP 12'6 Male 50+ 1:54:45.8 Dragon
Carolina Seth-Smith SUP 12'6 Female 1:56:42.7 $Kraken
Meg Bosi SUP 12'6 Female 2:00:13.8 Dragon
Rachel Ferguson SUP 12'6 Female 2:01:07.3 Dragon
Chris Burrough SUP 14 Male 50+ 2:01:13.3 Dragon
Lisa Hertz Prone Female 2:02:17.0 Dragon
Ron Jones SUP 14 Male 2:02:17.3 Dragon
NESSA BRUNTON SUP 12'6 Female 50+ 2:06:40.5 Dragon
Robin Moran SUP 12'6 Female 50+ 2:07:53.0 Dragon
Lew Pavlovich SUP 14 Male 50+ 2:26:11.2 Dragon

Here is my GPS data from the race:

And here's the story from my perspective:

The start was at the Banana River Drive bridge, which goes over the narrow southern end of the Banana River Lagoon. The first leg went north along the west side of the lagoon. I put in a moderate sprint at the start and figured I'd try to draft anyone who got out ahead of me. But it turned out I was at the front of the Dragon group, so I just picked a distance from shore that I thought had the fastest water and tried to paddle well. The wind and current were both somewhat at our backs, so there was no need to hug the shoreline too closely on that leg.

At about 3.5 km we came to the buoy that marked where we had to cut East across the lagoon to enter the canal system. The lagoon had widened enough there that the chop was significant, and it was tricky paddling straight east when the wind and waves wanted to push us northeast. Like a lot of people I let myself get a little too far north of the canal entrance and had to paddle against the wind a bit to make it in. I also fell in there, but got back on quickly enough that it didn't cost me any positions. My close competitor Stephen Chase (who schooled me in the Race Around Palm Island) fell several times in the same area. That was a bummer for him but it took some pressure off of me.

Entering the canals I caught up with some guys from the Kraken group that had started earlier. First was teenager Joey Huempfner- but we couldn't draft each other because he was on 12'6. Next I tracked down a guy with good looking long hair and a beard like Jesus. He was on a 14' JP board, and since he was hard to catch I figured it would help both of us to work together for a while. Jesus said his name was Billy. We traded pulling / drafting as we worked our way north in the canal, and we made it our goal to catch a guy in a bright yellow shirt who was ahead of us. That was hard, because the yellow-shirt guy was champion kayaker turned SUP'er Reid Hyle. (I actually went to graduate school with Reid at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Now he works for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I remember Reid as the guy with the huge arms who I would see zipping across Chesapeake Bay on his kayak at about the same speed I was going on my windsurf.)

Billy and I still hadn't quite caught Reid when we got to the turn-around buoy at the north end of the canal. I tried to whip a fast turn and really put the pedal to metal to catch Reid, because we were going against the wind at that point and I didn't want to have to do the whole upwind journey without a drafting boost. I did catch Reid, but dropped Billy in the process. Reid had a good strategy of staying very close to the upwind side of the canal, as out of the wind as possible. We traded pulling/drafting equitably, which made the long canal section pass relatively painlessly.

The hardest part of the whole course was exiting the canal and paddling straight upwind into the Lagoon for a short, rough final section south to the Banana River Drive Bridge then East into a side canal to Oars and Paddles Park. Just after making it upwind into the Lagoon I fell off on the lee side of my board, and the 20+ knot wind actually flipped the board through the air over my head and dropped it downwind of me. I got back on and paddled mincingly towards the Banana River Drive bridge where folks were standing taking pictures. The wind had shifted from SW to NW so it was kind of pushing us south to the bridge, but also kind of pushing us into the docks along the shore. I ducked my head under the bridge and tried to keep pace with Reid into the canal. I knew I didn't need to beat him to beat his time, but I didn't want to finish way far behind him either, so I dutifully sprinted. Reid had an interesting way of sprinting with one foot far in front of the other. His board is a custom model with a raceboard nose but quite a bit of rocker and a surf-style tail. I bet he'd be even faster on a pure raceboard.

Besides how my race went, there were as many interesting race tales as there were racers. I can't possibly tell all those tales here, but a couple of cool things I saw were:

1. Strong performances by the winners of the Kraken race. On the men's side Kieran Grant, Connor Bonham, Josh Smart, and Samuel English all started great and were in a draft train up to the first buoy. But at the buoy Kieran and Connor used their surfing skills to take a tight turn, dropping Josh and Samuel who turned wider. The two pairs were then separated for the whole rest of the race; Kieran and Connor fighting for first and Josh and Samuel fighting for third. All four of those guys are real impressive athletes. It's interesting that even though most of the race was in sheltered waters, how racers handled the short bits in rough water was the decisive factor for many. Skill, strategy, and experience keeping the pedal to the floor amidst chaotic conditions was key. On the womens' side there was a similar pattern where Kim Barnes, Seychelle Hattingh, Victoria Burgess, and Alexsandra Malinska were together for the first part but then split into two pairs. Kim and Seychelle's times were particularly impressive, and there are some great pictures of them duking it out to the finish.

Kieran Grant vs. Connor Bonham.

Kim Barnes vs. Seychelle Hattingh.

2. Gutsy battles in the middle of the pack and for division-specific victories. 50+ John Sekas showed his speed and experience by finishing close behind me and edging out the incredible Rand Perkins, whose great speed in the flat parts didn't quite make up for his trouble in the turns and rougher sections. Stephen Chase gutted it out after his falls and held off Steven Bernstein by a few seconds for a strong finish. My teammate Meg Bosi got second in her division in the Dragon. My other teammate Murray Hunkin had a quick time, too, even though he's quite new to standup. Murray's sweetheart Saralane Harrer, who has even less experience on a sup, showed that she's a quick learner by winning her division in the 3 mile race. Also, there was a guy who did one of the shorter races with a large dog sitting on the nose of his board, and another guy who did it with his young son sitting on the nose.

I need to get this post up soon and don't want to spend tons of time fiddling with pictures, so I'm just going to embed some pictures from other folks' facebook albums. Dr. Jose Antonio and his spouse took a bunch of good ones. Dr. Antonio is the guy who is doing the study of the effects of a high protein diet on sup racers.

SUPs, OCs, and surfskis battled the winds and some chop. Felt like a CAT 1 hurricane. Check out the sequence photos of...

Posted by Jose Antonio on Sunday, January 17, 2016

No comments: