Sunday, March 19, 2017

SUP Race Report: CGT Series #7, on a 12'6x22

Clip from the midpoint of the race.

Race: Race #7 in the CGT Winter Time Trial series. This was the final race in this series, and the new series with a different race course will begin on April 2nd.

Date it happened: 19 March 2017.

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Distance: Approximately 6 km / 3.7 miles. The course goes downriver, around a buoy, back upriver to the start, then downriver and back a second time.

Conditions: It was gorgeous "Oregon Summer" weather, which of course we get in March in Florida. The current was minimal (0.15 kph according to my paddling in current calculator). However, there was a rising breeze from the West that was sometimes a nuisance. The tide level was moderate, but it still paid to avoid the shallow parts of the river.

Participants and Gear: There was a nice group of regulars and newer racers. Ladies included Cindy Gibson (riding Matt Kearney's 12'6x24 Hovie Comet ZXC), Donna Catron (riding CGT's 12'6x26 BlkBox UNO), Meg Bosi (riding a 12'6x25 Bark), and new girl Ellery Winghart (riding a 12'6 Starboard AllStar that looked pretty wide). Men on 14' boards included John Weinberg and Rudy Ambrosi on 14x25 Rivieras, Devin Turetzkin on a 14x23 Riviera, Steve Fleming on a 14x24 Naish Maliko, and Justin DiGiorgio on a 14x23 flatwater-special Hovie custom. >70 year old Will Compton was on an interesting looking home-built board that I think was a 12'6. I broke tradition for this race and used CGT's 12'6x22 Riviera RP instead of my usual 14x23 RP. Matt Kearney used CGT's 12'6x24.5 StarBoard AllStar, Robert Norman used Devin's 12'6x25 Hovie Comet GT, and Mark Athanacio used his 12'6x22 Hovie Comet GT.

Results: I was first 12'6 and overall with 39:11, followed closely by Mark Athanacio's 39:28. Mark probably would have beaten me if he hadn't been tired from a 10 km race on the other side of the state yesterday. Robert Norman edged out Matt Kearney with 41:02 to 41:07. Justin DiGiorgio set a personal record of 41:26, making him the fastest 14' board ahead of Devin Turetzkin's 42:10. Cindy Gibson was the fastest woman by a lot with 42:35, followed by Meg Bosi 46:17, Ellery Winghart 47:40, and Donna Catron (49:01). Will Compton was 3rd 14' board with 45:37, just edging out younger John Weinberg's 45:41. Rudy Ambrosi made a solid return from a long time off paddling with 46:24. Official results may be posted at some point on the CGT Time Trials page.

Play by play: The first starting group was the fast 14s; Justin and Devin. Next to line up were the fired-up 12'6s; Cindy, Matt, Robert, and me. The boys all charged hard and we kind buried poor Cindy in our overlapping wakes, such that she didn't have much chance to join our draft train. I was really worried about staying clear of the wakes myself, since on my small narrow board they would mess me up more than usual. I had put my own, big, weed-shedding fin on the board, though, which was my secret weapon to stabilize it and allow me to paddle in a straighter line with less nervous stability. I.e., with the big fin the 12'6 handled more like the 14 that I'm used to. I managed to get in first position in the draft train of me, Robert, and Matt, and transitioned from sprinting to just fast race pace. Mentally I was fired up by the challenge and excitement of trying the new board, and I wanted to really kick Robert and Matt's butts to show them that my brand of Riviera boards is superior in all board sizes. I do think the 2.5-3" narrower width of my 12'6 gave me an advantage over Matt and Robert, allowing the board to knife through the water with less resistance.

At some point on the way to the first downriver turn-around the splashing sounds behind me diminished and I knew I'd dropped the young dudes. Matt says it happened going around a turn when Robert was looking at the nose of his own board and didn't manage to match the arc of his turn to mine. The dudes were still close behind me when I saw them after making my buoy turn, so I knew I wasn't out of the woods. I made a point to sprint hard out the turn to get back to race speed as quickly as possible, not wanting to let the "average speed" readout on my GPS drop below 9.something kph. On the way upriver I stayed motivated working to catch up with Devin and Justin, which I eventually did. I got in Devin's wake, which provided a chance to partially recover from the hard pace of the first leg. Devin was falling out of Justin's draft, though, so I passed him and with some difficulty caught up with Justin. Justin was going pretty fast and making a really nice wake, so I got another little rest there. I wanted to push for the fastest possible time, though, to try to match Mark Athanacio, who I knew would be starting later on his own fast 12'6x22.

When I passed Justin heading upriver to the midpoint/startline, he got in my draft and stayed with me until the midpoint turn-around. My short 12'6 board helped me do a tighter turn than him at the buoy, and I sprinted to drop him from my draft. I didn't feel good starting the second lap, so I used the trick of concentrating on technique to forget how tired I was. Though I couldn't keep up a super fast pace the whole time, I made a point of briefly "spurting" at key points that might have otherwise slowed me down, for example corners, shallow spots, and windy patches. My second downriver buoy turn was on the ugly side, but I stayed dry and endeavored to empty the tank on the way upriver. The going felt slow, but I continued my spurting strategy, and in the last ~500 meters went up to an unsustainably hard pace. I was happy to finish with an average speed of 9.07 kph, which is good for a 12'6.

This is my GPS track from the race.

Justin was next over the line and I was stoked that he'd gotten a personal best and stayed ahead of the Robert-Matt duo. Robert and Matt were drafting each other until near the end, when they broke into a fierce sprint battle. Robert, who is like a rubberband-ball of muscle got the edge on Matt, who is also no slouch at sprinting but may have been tired from leading the draft train more. Cindy wasn't too far behind Matt and Robert, and her time was an incredible 2 minutes faster than her previous race record, probably because of her newly practiced buoy turning skills and finally being on a board close to narrow enough to proportionally suit her. Well done, Cindy.

After the race we did some playing around on the water, and I encouraged Cindy to try the 12'6x22 Riviera. She did, and I could hardly keep up with her.

What else is new: I got a new windsurf sail that I'm going to go try this afternoon. It's a nice 6.8 Aerotech Phantom, which replaces a 6.4 that Bryan Herrick pierced with his body during a catapulting wipeout in overpowered conditions two weeks ago. (Bryan generously compensated me for the value of the sail so I could buy a new one. Also, it looks like he's about to buy a 122 liter JP Xcite Ride board for his reintroduction to windsurfing, so I'll have another buddy on the water for the windy days. Woo hoo!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

SUP Race Report: O'Neil Cocoa Beach Challenge

Race: The O'Neill Cocoa Beach Challenge.

Date it happened: 11 March 2017.

Host: Paddling Paradise, a SUP rental and retail outlet in Melbourne, FL. There were lots of other sponsors and volunteer organizers, too.

Location: The staging area was a grassy lot along the Banana River Lagoon at the East end of the 520 Causeway in Cocoa Beach, FL.

Distance: There were 1.6 km, 4.8 km, and 12.9 km races. The shorter races were one or three laps around an "M" shaped course. The longer race started and ended with the "M" course, but added a long, straight North - South sojourn in the middle. I thought it was a good, challenging format. For the 12.9 km race they started the "elite" prize money division separately from the non-prize money division. That was fine with me, except that it made registration unnecessarily confusing and stressful. I initially registered for the non prize division by mistake and had to get a special code to upgrade to the prize money division. My track from the race is below. If you have a Strava account you can click into it and see the details.

Conditions: It was sunny and pleasant with a mix of North and East wind in the 6-10 knot range. The sea state varied between ripples and small chop. The biggest factor affecting speed was neither the wind nor the small chop, but the water depth, which was shallow enough to bump your paddle on the bottom for much of the course.

Participants: 30 people did the "elite" 12.9 km race. 11 people did the non-elite 12.9 km race, 32 people did the 4.8 km, and 8 people did the 1.6 km. Heavy hitters in the elite division included professionals Garrett Fletcher (Yolo), Brad Ward (Hovie SUP), Kieran Grant (sponsored by Hovie in the past but used a borrowed Starboard AllStar for this race), and Seychelle Hattingh (SIC). There were also a surprising number of veteran and up-and-coming non-professional racers who were nearly on par with the pros and were able to hang on with the lead draft trains. I was not one of those first draft train people this time, but I was plenty challenged trying to hang with the second draft train. From my local CGT race team we had a good crew: Mark Athanacio, Jen Hayes, Cindy Gibson, Matt Kearney, Robert Norman, Annika Estelle, and me. Jen and Annika did the 4.8 km, and everybody else did the 12.9 km. Cindy Gibson did the non-money version, and was kicking herself because her time was fast enough to have put her in the money.

Gear: I used a 14x23 Riviera RP raceboard with a Riviera Bump 7.0 paddle. I used a longer fin than usual (23 cm MFC Weed Fin) to make the board more stable in the chop. The longer fin might make it harder to do buoy turns, but I hoped the trade-off was worth it. Another Riviera ambassador, Sam English from Jupiter, FL, used the same board.

Results: Top 5 in 14' elite were Garrett Fletcher (1:28:01), Brad Ward (1:29:14), Tim Warner (1:29:23), Steve Miller (1:29:30), and Sam English (1:29:42). There was a gap between them and the 2nd tier draft train which was Warren Heil in 6th (1:31:43), Kodie Peekstok 7th (1:31:52), and me 8th (1:31:56). The 12'6 elite winners were very closely spaced: Kieran Grant (1:35:34), Mark Athanacio (1:35:48), Jamie Twigg (1:35:50.5), and Will Marston (1:35:50.7). Seychelle was a minute or two behind the top 12'6 men, but for some reason her time is not listed in the official results. The next 12'6 women were Maddie Miller (1:40:01) and Stephanie Shideler (1:40:33). Cindy Gibson was the 4th fastest female with 1:43:06, and first 12'6 overall in the non-money race. Impressively, Cindy beat Matt Kearney's time of 1:44:18, and wasn't too far off Robert Norman's 1:40:16.

Play by play: The race started between two buoys on the water since there was no beach (only a bulkhead with a floating platform) at the launch. I decided to go from the north end of the starting line, based on the wind coming from the north, and on some misleading reports that the water got shallow near the causeway on the south end of the line. That turned out to be a big mistake, because there was actually a deep channel along the causeway. The racers who started at that end were able to go full sprint speed (10+ kph) while those of us who weren't in the channel were slowed to ~8 kph by the shallow water effect. In the future I should always look at Google Earth images of new race venues to get an idea of where the deep channels and shallow spots are. After the first buoy turn of the "M" part of the course I was back on proper track, but with much diminished chances of catching up with the lead 14' draft train. Nevertheless, like Elizabeth Warren, I persisted. On one of the diagonals of the M I was able to get around the lead 12'6 guy Kieran Grant. I was doing my best to try to reach the back end of the lead train, which was beginning to break up a little as Garrett Fletcher and Timothy Warner pulled ahead and Canadian Chris Stringer fell back. I had a minor setback when I fell off in shallow water, but I got back on fast enough that it didn't make much difference. I don't remember now if was during the M or just after the M that I caught up with Chris Stringer, then passed him and made a big push to catch up with Warren Heil.

I'm glad I caught up with Warren when I did, because it turned out he was just easing up briefly to recovery from his initial sprint before cranking up the speed again and keeping it high for the duration of the race. Drafting his 14x24 Hovie Comet GT was not restful, but it was better than trying to go that speed upwind on my own, especially with the troublesome shallow water effect. In retrospect, we might have avoided some of the shallow sand flats if we had veered significantly more offshore or inshore, but without any a priori knowledge of the bathymetry we were just following the bright orange shorts of leader Garrett Fletcher. On the way north we closed in on 17 year old Canadian Kodie Peekstok, paddling a 14x23 Starboard AllStar. I can't remember when Warren caught up with him, but I don't think it was until after we turned around and started heading back south. My turn at that upwind buoy was really ugly, btw. I kind of stuck the nose of my board in front of Warren's legs and he had to drag my board through the turn as he did his. It worked, though. Anyway, after a short time as a three-person train behind Kodie, Kodie deliberately rescinded the lead so he could draft. I thought he would go all the way to the back of our group, but he smartly got in the side draft to my left. Around that time I started having difficulty staying in Warren's draft. The wind had shifted to the east, and awkward little chop was breaking up my contact with Warren's wake. Also, I think the brief rest that Warren got in Kodie's draft was allowing him to put on some extra speed that I couldn't match. I broke off and took a more inside path, just going on my own and trying to paddle efficiently. At this point I had been paddling hard for 70 minutes and was very tired; starting to lose some of my will. I gradually got a little behind. Entering a deep boat channel in the southern part of the course perked me up a bit, as I saw higher speed number on my Speedcoach GPS again.

When we got to the M again I made up a little distance on Kodie, whose buoy turns were a bit too careful. One cool thing about that final M was that it allowed me to see what was going on with the leaders as they crossed going the opposite direction. Garret Fletcher was on his own, solidly in first, but Brad Ward had leapfrogged up from his 5th place position in the draft train to a solid looking second. Third through fifth looked like they could still be up in the air, so I shouted some encouragement to Sam English, my fellow Riviera dude. In the last bits of the M, young Kodie picked up the pace and started doing a "choke down" hold on the paddle. I paddled harder to keep up with him, but couldn't summon the will or the energy to make a serious effort to pass. In the end I was a little bummed that I hadn't made the top 5, but I felt like I had put forth a respectable effort and made some progress in sprinting, drafting, and pacing skills.

What else is new: There's a CGT race in Bonita Springs on the 19th, then a race almost every weekend in April, culminating in the Key West Paddle Classic at the end of that month. I don't reckon I'll go to all of them, but I'll definitely do the Key West.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

SUP Race Report: CGT Winter Series Race #6

Race: Race #6 in the CGT Winter Time Trial series.

Date it happened: 5 March 2017.

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Distance: Approximately 6 km / 3.7 miles. The course goes downriver, around a buoy, back upriver to the start, then downriver and back a second time.

Conditions: It was sunny and the temperature was nice, but there was a strong, gusty wind from the East that made it extra challenging to paddle upriver. The water level was also low and getting lower as the tide went out, which made it important to stay in the deeper channels of the river.

Participants and Gear: There was a good crew of 14 racers, including 8 men and 6 women. Murray Hunkin did the race on his narrow "Assassin" K1 Olympic race style kayak. I don't know how he balances in that thing. Penny Kappler also did the race on a kayak, but it was a wider recreational kayak. Besides Penny, all the women were on 12'6 SUPs: Cindy Gibson, Jen Hayes, Donna Catron, and Damien Lin on Hovie SUPs, and Saralane Harrer [without her dog this time] on a Riviera sup. The men were split between 12'6 and 14' SUPs. Mark Nicoletti was on a 12'6 Boga, Robert Norman on CGT's 12'6x24.5 Starboard AllStar, me on a 14x23 Riviera RP, John Weinberg on a 14x25 Riviera RP, and Bill Mussenden on a 14x26 Naish Javelin. Justin DiGiorgio and Mark Athanacio were both on brand new custom 14x23 Hovie sups. Justin's is a pure flatwater model with a very pointy nose, lots of volume, and a flat (not recessed) standing area. Mark's is the "Comet GTO" model designed with a concave hull and a rounder, upturned nose for stable and smooth handling in rough water and ocean racing. It wasn't the optimal board for the flat water river, but Mark was using the race to help analyze the speed and trade-offs of the design.

Results: Murray Hunkin was the first finisher by a mile, with 34:06 on his K1 kayak. I was the first SUP with 38:45. Mark Athanacio got 40:16, Robert Norman 42:17 (first 12'6), and Justin DiGiorgio 42:54. Cindy Gibson was the first woman with 44:36, followed by Damien Lin 50:17, and Jen Hayes 51:26. Official results may be posted at some point on the CGT Time Trials page.

Play by play: I was more careful than usual about my workout schedule in the week leading up to this race. I rested Sunday, did strength training Monday, hard paddle workouts Tuesday and Wednesday, strength training Thursday, and a less intense paddle workout Friday. Saturday I meant to rest, but I had to windsurf because it was windy. Nevertheless, I felt that not having done any hard working out since Wednesday had given me good recovery time, and I was ready to push hard today. At the start line there weren't many people I expected to draft with, since Murray was on a Kayak, Matt Kearney was working his ceramics booth at the Bonita Art fest, and Mark Athanacio was late. Robert Norman and Justin DiGiorgio were possible draftees, though, so we lined up together in the first starting wave, along with Cindy Gibson. I sprinted hard off the line and I'm honestly not sure what exactly happened behind me. I think Justin and Robert drafted for a while, or at least kept up closely, because I heard splashing.

On the downriver leg, which was also the downwind leg, I tried to let the wind push me, standing up a little straighter than usual and trying to be in the windiest part of the channel. About 2/3 of the way down, Murray flew past me in his kayak. I briefly felt a boost from his side-wake, but there's no way I could have drafted him because his boat was so much faster than my board. After rounding the downriver buoy (and nearly falling as I was nervous about the shallow water), I saw that Robert and Justin were close together and not too far behind me. I think they were trading off drafting. Heading upriver/upwind I kept low and bent over with my head down, and I stayed in the lee of the mangrove shoreline when possible. When I couldn't avoid a bad headwind, I tried to sprint to get it over with.

With 1200 meters left in the first lap I acquired a draftee, Mark Athanacio, who burst out of the side-canal he lives on at just the right moment to get behind me and catch a ride up to the start line. I didn't intentionally change my paddling when he got back there, but it did remind me not to slow down. Also, I speculated that paddling at race pace for 1200 m, even with the aid of drafting me, might tire Athanacio out enough to be at a slight disadvantage when he started his race, especially if he didn't rest long first. When I did my buoy turn at the end of the first lap, Athanacio turned into the shore, so I knew he was at least going to get a short break before starting his race.

In the second lap I tried do a sprint start and maintain a speed and effort level comparable to what I'd done on the first, but since I didn't have my Speedcoach GPS I don't know how well I managed that. After I rounded the downriver buoy for the second time I knew Athanacio was charging hard, because he was the first person I encountered (before Robert and Justin). In the final part of the upwind; the last 400 meters, I tried to really dig in and hurt as much as I could stand to finish fast. I was happy with my time, given the conditions.

What else is new: It was interesting trying out other people's boards at this race. The 12'6x24.5 Starboard AllStar that Robert was on felt stable and efficient for a 12'6. It had an interesting way of keeping its nose level in the water even as the aft section of the board porpoised with each paddle stroke, helping maintain a consistent waterline and a steady pace. Justin's flatwater special Hovie had fantastic glide and cut through the water silently, but was a bit tippy as the knife-like nose would sometimes want to "catch" and magnify the rider's side-to-side bobbles. I think the stability was also affected by the extreme amount of volume (thickness) in the board, which put the rider standing higher above the water in a more precarious position. Making the board an inch thinner, and maybe cutting still more out of a recess in the standing area, might reduce that tendency.

In contrast, Mark Athanacio's Hovie GTO (salmon colored) was extremely stable and forgiving for its width, but had somewhat less "glide" between strokes. When we did dueling sprints in practice on Tuesday we were evenly matched with me on my Riviera, even when we switched boards, so I think the GTO can hold its own as a flatwater board despite being optimal in rougher water.

On Saturday I'm planning to go to my first big out of town race this year, the Cocoa Beach Challenge.