Sunday, June 4, 2017

SUP Race Report: 2017 Sunshine SUP race #1

**UPDATE- Somebody put together a video of the race with some cool drone footage. You see a little bit of me (guy with the pink backpack and the light blue board) at various points in the video**

Jen Hayes' facebook photo album from the race. Thanks for the pictures!

Race: The first of two races in the 2017 RK Sunshine SUP Series. The next one is August 12th.

Date it happened: 3 June 2017.

Host / Sponsors / Benefitting: Hosted by Island Water Sports, organized by racers Victoria Burgess and Roray Kam. Supported by lots of sponsors listed on the event facebook page.

Location: Pompano Beach, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. I carpooled over to Ft. Lauderdale the night before with my CGT Team buddy Matt, and we stayed with his college friend Oden.

Course: The course was multiple laps around a big triangle in the ocean. The first leg went straight out about 200 m, then we turned south for a long leg parallel to shore, then diagonally back to a buoy set near the start/finish line. At the end of each lap we had to come to shore for a short run through a little corral in the sand. Board handlers would flip your board around and hold it for you to jump back on as you re-entered the ocean. The total distance of a lap was ~1700 m. The shorter "rec" race went first, with three laps total, then they held the longer "elite" race with 5 laps.

Conditions: The morning started cloudy/hazy and hot, with light and variable wind and some ankle to knee high waves on the Atlantic. Those conditions persisted through the short race, and for the first two laps of the elite race. But halfway through the elite race the sky grew darker and a southeast wind picked up, progressively increasing to white-capping strength and beyond. The fast finishers avoided the worst of it, but those who were still on the water got hit by a deluge of rain along with the wind, and many were forced to abandon the race before completion. The weather curtailed the post-race beach festivities, although some took advantage of the wind waves by shredding in the rain on surf-style and race sups.

Participants and Gear: There were around 50 participants in the rec race and 40 in the elite race, along with some others at the beach for a concurrent kayak fishing tournament and crossfit obstacle course. In addition to the sups, the elite race included three prone paddlers and four "OC1"s (one-man outrigger canoes). Hotshot racers in the 14' sup division included Jake Portwood on a 25" wide JP Flatwater board, Jake Graham on a 24" wide Rogue, bodybuilder Josh Smart on a 26" wide recessed-deck NSP, and tall Christian Goerloff on a 25" wide ONE "Storm" sup, which is also a recessed-deck design like the NSP. I rode my usual 23" wide Riviera RP, with a 6" Fins Unlimited Keel fin. (Using this short fin in an ocean race was a departure from my usual strategy of using a bigger fin for rough water stability. The small fin makes the board easier to steer and may be helpful in side-winds when constant course adjustments are necessary.) Another noteworthy 14' racer was my CGT teammate Justin DiGiorgio, who brought his Mahi Mahi colored custom 14x24 Hovie GT. Hotshots in the 12'6 men's class included Steve Miller on a 24" wide Starboard AllStar, Packet Casey on a 24" wide JP Allwater, Mark Athanacio on a 23" wide Hovie GTO, and Matt Kearney on CGT's 24.5" wide StarBoard AllStar. Female hotshots included Maddie Miller (Steve's teenage daughter) on a 24" JP, Catherine Uden on a 26" Boga, and Karen Kennedy on an Indigo sup. In addition to racing, Cat Uden was representing the Surfrider marine environmental conservation organization, which provided recycling bins for the many plastic water bottles and aluminum drink containers generated at the event.

Results: For the 14' SUP class, Jake Portwood won decisively with 1:00:26, followed by Christian Goerloff's 1:01:51 and my 1:03:01. First place 12'6 finisher Steve Miller was between Christian and me with 1:02:25, far ahead of 2nd place 12'6 Packet Casey's 1:04:18 and Mark Athanacio's 1:05:57. Maddie Miller was first woman and 4th 12'6 overall with 1:10:08. Matt Kearney was 5th 12'6 overall in 1:13:04 but got the 3rd place men's title because Athanacio was in the 50+ class. Catherine Uden was 2nd woman in 1:15:17 and Karen Kennedy 3rd in 1:27:32. The rec race men's class was won by Max Kolisch in 0:37:38, with runner-up Jeff Berry at 0:40:06. Rec race women's winner was Mini de Cunha in 0:41:30, followed by Jen Hayes with 0:43:44. All the 1st-3rd finishers got wonderful, creative hand-painted trophies. Here's mine:

Play by play: Before the races started we were led in a Hawaiian blessing by one of the race organizers' native Hawaiian friends. During the blessing I got to hold hands with Catherine Uden on one side and Karen Kennedy on the other side, so I knew my luck for the day was strong.

While the rec race was going on I did some warm-up paddling just outside of the race area, and some dipping in the ocean to stay cool. I find that the warm-up paddling is helpful for getting psychologically in-tune with the conditions. Also while the rec race was going on I caught up with CGT team coach Mark Athanacio, who gave me tips on the current direction (southward) and race strategies. Mark said I probably wouldn't be able to keep up with Jake Portwood, but that I was good enough to beat Jake Graham and I had better do so. He told me to pay attention to what segments of the course I was doing relatively well on, and to strive to make gains on my competitors in those sections.

For the race start I lined up somewhat on the north end of the beach, heeding Mark's advice that the current would carry me southward, and avoiding traffic congestion at the south end of the line. I got off cleanly, sprinted pretty hard, and was fourth sup around the first buoy, after Jake P., Steve Miller, and Jake G. I was really impressed with how fast Steve Miller was going on his 12'6 board, and it took several hundred meters of paddling before I could finally edge around him and get into third position behind the Jakes. At the end of the first lap Jake P. was pulling out of range, but Jake G. was still catchable. I ended up drafting him intermittently on the second and third laps, but there was enough "bump" on the course that it was sometimes better to go alone in clean water than to try to follow. I also think that in that mid-race period Jake G. and I got too comfortable and conservative about our pacing and positions, and may have opened the door for those behind us (e.g., Christian Goerloff) to creep up. I particularly wish I been more aggressive about my buoy turns, because I did some of them in the slow and conservative "cross bow" style instead of the quicker "step-back" style. Also, I should have remembered from other races and training the importance of making a brief sprint effort after every turn or transition, to quickly get back up to race speed. Little things like that add up to a lot of time saved in a long race with many laps.

The southeast wind began to affect our speed in lap #3, where a speed difference between the southward and northward legs first became apparent. Steve Miller and Christian Goerloff seemed less affected by the wind than Jake G. and me, and they creeped up and passed us in lap 4. There was a bit of conflict when that happened, because Christian was drafting Steve, not realizing that Steve was on a 12'6. (You're not allowed to draft from a different sized board.) He stopped drafting when we let him know, but he was still able to go faster than Jake G. and me. It might have been smart for me to cut over and draft Christian at that point, but I didn't have the wherewithal to do so. My problems increased when I had a slow buoy turn on the 4th lap due a combination of overly-cautious technique and traffic with an OC1 and some slower sups that we were lapping. Jake G. was about 50 meters ahead and it looked like I might get stuck in 4th and miss the podium. Nevertheless, I tried to work the bumps of the ocean and not get any further behind Jake G. as I worked my way downwind and into the final beach transition.

Looking out to sea again after the last little beach run I was shocked to see how much the wind had suddenly increased. Fatigued and paddling almost straight upwind, I was only getting 5.1 kph for the 200 m out to the first buoy. When we rounded that buoy the mostly-headwind turned into mostly-sidewind. But there I discovered that even though I was slow, I was making a little better progress than Jake G., and I caught up. He made some remark about how sucky the conditions were and I responded by passing him and digging hard, a little lightbulb going off in my mind that this could be the opportunity Athanacio had alluded to for me to put distance on the competition. Psychologically, I found it more motivating to battle the conditions than to battle Jake, but by focusing intently on the conditions and my paddle technique I put a good gap on him before the upwind buoy. Then it was a dicey slightly-downwind sidewind run to the finish. I had one scare where I fell and had to hop back on quickly, but Jake G. was far enough back that he didn't catch me then. I could see Steve Miller and Christian Goerloff up ahead, but they were doing great in those rough conditions and continuing to increase their gap on me. My goal was only to not screw up, and to get that third place. I had a shakey wave ride around the last buoy into the finish, but miraculously avoided falling and ran through the finish gate pretty happy.

Here's water photographer Ryan Pinder's pic of me about the jump off the board at the finish.

Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details.

Other race intrigues: There was a lot of drama watching people come in to the finish as the conditions got progressively worse. Some of the kayak fishermen returning to shore for the weigh-in had spectacular crashes in the waves, spilling and busting their fishing rods, heavy buckets and tackle boxes etc. There ought to be some kind of weight limit for those kayak fishermen, because it's pretty ridiculous how non-portable their boats are. They had to have a backhoe on the beach to drag some of the kayaks back to the parking lot, where they were winched onto trailers. In my opinion, if it's too big to lift onto the roof rack, you're doing it wrong.

What's Next: Next weekend there are two big races on Saturday, the Orange Bowl SUP race in Miami, and the Battle on the Blueway race in Fort Myers. I'm going to the Battle on the Blueway because it's local, cheaper, and I know a lot of people involved in organizing it.

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