Monday, September 12, 2016

SUP Race Report: Ocean Warrior Challenge

Men's 14' sup podium- 1st Place Ryan Helm (center), 2nd place Vinnicius Martins (left), 3rd place Garrett Fletcher (right).

Race: The Ocean Warrior Challenge.

Date it happened: 11 September 2016

Host: The Town of Jupiter and Blueline Surf & Paddle Co.

Location: On the beach at Carlin Park, Jupiter, Florida. It was an interesting beach, with exposed limestone rocks along the water's edge.

Distance: The elite SUP course was about 7.1 km / 4.4 miles, counting a short beach run at the finish. The course was laid out as a giant "M," which we traced twice in each direction. I thought it was a good distance; long enough to test endurance and spread out the pack, but not an excessive slog. Courses for the other race divisions (kayak / outrigger canoe, prone paddleboard, kids, Special Olympics, lifeguard) varied in shape and distance

Conditions: Typical Florida summer conditions; very hot, humid, and sunny. There were 1-2' waves and some smaller chop coming in from odd directions. The wind varied from calm to about 10 knots, but was light for most of the elite race. Though the ocean was by no means violent, I found it hard to adapt to the unpredictable rocking rhythm, and I fell in a few times. The trickiest paddling was actually when I was warming up before the race. The water was so clear, and the surface of the waves so undisturbed by wind at that time, that I had a vertigo-like feeling seeing the sea floor in more detail than the rolling surface of the water.

Participants: There were 22 entries in the surfski/outrigger race, 28 entries in the elite sup race, 27 in the rec sup race, 14 in the Special Olympics race, 4 in the 2-mile prone race, and 4 in the kids race. Three international pros did the elite sup race: 1) Riviera's Ryan Helm, a native of Jupiter FL who now lives in Sayulita, Mexico. He won the Battle on the Blueway earlier this year. 2) Vinnicius Martins a Brazilian sponsored by JP Australia. He won the Key West Paddle Classic this year. 3) Kimberly Barnes, a Florida schoolteacher who does US and European races in the summer, sponsored by Riviera. Up-and-coming pro Garrett Fletcher (Yolo) was also there, as were some very talented sponsored riders including Steve Miller (Starboard), Catherine Uden (Boga), and Maddie Miller, Packet Casey, and Jake Portwood (JP Australia). Riviera owner and racer Brandon Rambo was visiting from California and raced a 12'6 board. None of my CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards teammates were there this time, but I rode over with CGT shop owner Aaron Thomas.

Gear: I used a brand-new board; a 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. It's one of the standard Riviera production raceboards for this year. (They also make a 14x25, 14x27, 12'6x22, 12'6x24, 12'6x26, and 12'6x28, plus a 14x26 downwind-specific board and a 12' prone paddleboard.) The shape is the same as the 2016, but there are slight differences in the finish. For example, they used a lighter colored epoxy resin so the boards are paler and cooler in the sun. Aaron Thomas schlepped over a second, identical 14x23, destined for Samuel English. Samuel is a fast racer who used to ride a Lahui Kai board but who just became a Riviera Ambassador. This race was my third time on the 14x23, Samuel's first, so we were both just getting the feel of it. The fin I used was the one that comes with the board, a Riviera "surf race" fin. I used my usual paddle, a Riviera Vantage R8. A personal flotation device (pfd) and leash were required for this race. I attached the leash to my waist-belt pfd instead of to my ankle so that it would be less likely to tangle around my feet while I was stepping back on the board in turns. That left room on my ankle for the digital race timer that everyone had to wear.

Results: My grad school classmate Reid Hyle won the surfski kayak race, because he's a badass. I'm not sure who the other sit-down paddlecraft race winners were, but the results should be up later on paddleguru. Ryan Helm won the men's 14' elite SUP race by a safe margin. Vinnicius Martins was 2nd, just one second ahead of Garrett Fletcher, who nearly caught him on the beach run. Jake Portwood was 4th, Packet Casey 5th, me 6th, Samuel English 7th. Men's 12'6 winner Steve Miller was just ahead of me. Second men's 12'6 was Brandon Rambo, followed by Zeke's surf shop owner Travis Kindt, who was riding a Coreban board. Kim Barnes was first 12'6 woman, Maddie Miller 2nd, Cat Uden 3rd. In the rec race, Amy Carden and her husband Will Smith were both first place finishers on 14' boards- Amy in the rec race and Rachel Ferguson in the elite race were the only women to use 14' boards this time. Ryan Boettner won the 12'6 class in the rec race.

Play by play: The start was a combination beachstart / waterstart. I.e., we waded out onto a shallow sandbar, then lined up and waited for the countdown there. My start wasn't terrible, but I was a little off-balance and didn't have the speed to keep up with the fastest group. I also fell on the way to the first buoy and more people passed me, including the strong ladies Kim Barnes and Maddie Miller. I tried to paddle efficiently and get in tune with the conditions, not getting psyched out by my initially poor position. I made some gains after the first buoy turn by catching "glides" on waves, but fell again about halfway through the first M. The long, towards-shore leg at the end of the first M gave me a chance to glide past Maddie, and on a later towards-shore leg I got around Kim. (14' boards catch wave glides better than 12'6s.) I was behind Samuel until he fell and I got around. He stayed close, though.

Midway through the race, Samuel and I caught up with Brandon Rambo. He was on a 12'6x26; a shorter and wider board than he would normally race, but the only spare Riviera that day. Brandon also didn't have any water with him, so he was parched and roasting in the Florida heat and humidity. He was also securely in 2nd place in the 12'6 class so he didn't fight too much as we 14's went around.

No longer following anyone closely, I made a BIG mistake by heading for the middle buoy instead of the corner buoy after one of my turns. (See strava track.)

I didn't realize it until I started wondering about which direction I should go when I got to the buoy I was headed towards. I was like, "Something doesn't add up here... DOH!" Fortunately, there was a favorable current that helped push me back on track toward the correct buoy, and I miraculously stayed ahead of Brandon and Sam. Side note- My buoy turns were quite bad in this race. I tried doing some the correct way, stepping way back on the board to raise the nose and pivot it around, but with my shaky balance and clumsy technique the turns were wide and inefficient, and I was close to falling each time. So I switched to more secure but slower "Grandma" turns; paddling across the bow.

In the final part of the race I could tell by splashing sounds that Samuel was pushing hard to catch me, so I tried extra hard to get glides and stay ahead. I made it to the beach first, and Aaron Thomas was standing in the water to catch my board. I reached down to my ankle to undo my leash and fumbled, unable to find the release strap. Aaron was like, "Hey, it's on your pack." Huh? Oh yeah! I'd forgotten that I'd attached the leash on my pfd. I had lost several seconds by the time I finally freed the leash and started running across the sand. Samuel, who was a track athlete in college, zoomed up from behind, and it looked like he would beat me for sure. But then he tripped and SPLATTED face down in the sand, allowing me to pass and finish first. It was so surreal I though maybe he'd done the nosedive on purpose to let me pass because he felt bad for me. Anyway, we're both on team Riviera now so a win for either of us is a win for both.

After the race there was a lot of downtime before the awards, during which I rode some waves on a Riviera 11'6 surf sup, redeemed my lunch ticket, and hung around the Riviera tent, vendor tent village, etc. Some environmental organizations opposed to the harmful Lake Okeechobee water releases were peopling booths and circulating petitions in the vendor village- I'm glad that people who like to play in the water are taking responsibility for the protection of the water.

Other Commentary: Though this was a delightful race in a beautiful venue there were some aspects of the organization that I thought left room for improvement. I got the general impression that the ambitious vision of the race planners exceeded their actual organizational logistics abilities. For one thing, there were SO many different events requiring different buoy placements, etc. that it took ages to set up and get through them all. Also, the announcer / DJ stand was at an awards pavillion that was too far from the race start/finish area to be audible there, so communication between the organizers and the diffuse herd of racers was bad. At various points the organizers would try to gather us some place for some thing or another, only to make us wait in confusion, and it happened over and over. The awards ceremony, when it finally started, was the same way- ten times as long and confused as it needed to be, with slow communication between the lady with the results list, the guy with the microphone, and the people passing out prizes and raffle items.

What's next: I might go to another race next weekend- The Margaritaville Cup in Hollywood, FL. That should be another bumpy water one, so I'll try to get my new board dialed into the ocean conditions this week.

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