The weekend of 10th and 11th June 2017 deserves a special mention in the annals of history. Not only did the weekend see the anniversary of the first Apple II computers being shipped, and the birthday of Elizabeth Hurley, it also saw an international pack of race hungry Stand Up Paddleboarders descend upon the small seaside town of Swanage for the N1SCO European Championships.
My racing (and SUPing) history is still in its infancy, having first stood on a board in the wild for the Race the Train UKSUP event a couple of months before in April. Since then, I’ve been training at least once a week with the Saltwalk guys and gals in sunny Derby as well as some races (Cardiff 10K and the National Watersports Festival). I definitely feel slightly more comfortable on a board, as well as slightly fitter. However, a lack of experience is something only time on the water can address.
Anyhow, back to the N1SCO event.
So, Friday evening for once sees a lightning turn around from getting home from work to getting underway. Fortunately, we’d packed the car the night before and it was just a question of throwing the kids bodily into the car, firing up the satnav and heading south into the great unknown (or Dorset as it’s called). For once, the journey down was mostly uneventful, with no traffic around Birmingham and easy driving past Oxford. The only fly in the ointment was the Satnav trying to take us over the Studland Ferry…
We finally arrived at Herston Caravan and Camp Site at around 9:30 at night, put up the tents, bundled the kids and wife inside, and then I managed to head off for a catchup and team planning and tactics session (definitely not a gentle drinking session with much silliness) before turning in ready to race in the morn!
Saturday dawned bright, warm and windy and we headed down early to the Mowlem Theatre on the shore to register and get ready to race
Even at 7am, there was a bustle of activity on the shore (and free parking to be had!), with Alex and the team setting up for the racing.
Registration and breakfast were the next to be ticked off the list. Breakfast was from the Pure Recharge pop up cafe (great porridge and tea, by the way!) and registration saw number 113 issued to myself. A number that would soon instil fear into all those lurking at the back of the pack!
Beer tokens were also included for the evening
With registration out of the way, and the rest of the family roaming Swanage looking for sweets and playgrounds, it was soon time for the race briefing to start and the racing (and nerves) to start.
The first race was the mid distance technical race, with an inverse superlap (or something!). This involved three laps of course, with one lap involving and extra buoy. You, the racer, got to choose when to do the longer lap.
With the fleet on the water it soon became apparent that I don’t like the sea! I’d estimate there was an eight foot swell heading to the beach, with wind in the strong gale to hurricane force. Ok, there may be a slight exaggeration going on here. The swell, if I was forced at gunpoint to admit, may have been more like a foot, but it was windy, with gusts reaching around 25MPH. Perhaps not hurricane force, but definitely challenging.
Back at the start line, even the
huge gentle swell was tipping the odd racer in whilst the wind blew me gently backwards from the start line. Alex gave the one minute warning…30 seconds…10 seconds and go! I got off to a very British start – after you, no after you, you go ahead, but soon I was underway up to the first set of turns. For my weekends racing, to give everyone a fighting chance, I’d decided that vigorous jumping to the back of the board, followed by a perfectly executed pivot turn and blistering acceleration away from the mark would be unfair, and settled on a set of slightly wobbly cross deck turns,interspersed with a selection of paddle slapping supports to stop going in due to the head high swell. Heading up to the upwind buoy was even more unsettling as there were reflected waves from the seawall, leading to an even more knee shaking cross deck turn. The down wind leg was slightly better, but I still didn’t feel settled in the swell.
After taking the longer super lap first, the next two laps were shorter and easier, and the finish flag was a welcome sight. This time, it was a beach finish, surfing in the huge breakers and sprinting up the beach to the flag.
Finishing was great, with a fantastic crowd cheering everyone on, and it was brilliant to actually finish in the (to me) challenging conditions.
The next event was the dreaded sprints.
These involve paddling flat out towards two buoys, turning around one of them, and then hammering it back to the start/finish line. The course was in the more sheltered area near the sea wall, but this did mean there was the dreaded rebound swell. My performance in the heats was not brilliant. I got off to a bad start, caught in the confused wake from everyones boards and was constantly unsettled by the swell. Very happy just to finish!
With the racing for the day finished, there was time to generally mess around before heading back to the tent to get changed before wandering back for the evening meal.
The meal was great, as were the beer tokens, and there was even time to enjoy some of the Fish Festival before meandering back to the tent.
Sunday morning was a slightly later affair than Saturday, with having to pack away the camp gear, but we made it down and bagged some free parking, blew up the boards, drank tea and generally procrastinated until the briefing.
This race was to be the long distance. Long distance in this instance meant 5KM of windy paddling. Either two laps of the course, starting near the Mowlem Theatre and heading off to the yellow buoy miles off in the distance, or a shorter (around 1 KM) option if you didn’t like the look of the full course.
Yet again, I had a very British start (no, no, after you, I insist!) and wobbled up to the first turn. Upon reaching the marker to take the short course, I very nearly decided to call it a day as I wasn’t feeling the love!, but I decided to go for it as it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
The further downwind we got, the bigger the swell was. Turning around the bottom buoy was extremely dicey and then it was a horrendous slog upwind into the gale. After making very little headway, and looking at what a number of others were doing, I ended up dropping to my knees and having a (supposedly) gentle paddle up wind. Whilst kneeling, I was deliberately not powering through as it may have been unfair to those who managed to stand the entire way. Fortunately, as we slogged upwind and got nearer the shore, the wind did drop a little, as did the swell, dropping from twice head hight to somewhere around chest high, and it was time to stand again to complete the first lap.
Lap number two I was not looking forward to after the upwind stretch. This time, I found it even worse at the bottom turn, and had to drop down to my knees just to make it around. After rounding the buoy, I decided to give standing up a go and just put my head down and paddled! Keeping closer to the shore must have helped and I was making some headway, but after ever stroke it felt as if the board was stationary, with no glide whatsoever. But slowly, stroke by stroke (and inch by inch) the final buoy was getting nearer and with much relief, but very little style, the last turn was made and I even managed to pick up some speed on the way to the beach and the finish flag.
Finishing was fantastic. There was such a good atmosphere for the weekend and everyone who finished got a cheer from the crowd. I even managed to run (badly) up the beach to the flag
After the serious racing, there was time for some fun racing whilst the scoring was worked out culminating in a Thunderdome-style-helicoptor-pivot-last-man-standing competition. I’ll apologies to my team mates now!
Very soon, it was time to deflate the boards and pack the car, before heading back to the prize giving.
Team Saltwalk did well again with Helen scooping third overall, and a first place in the sprints, and Amy getting a second place in the juniors.
Did I enjoy the racing? Enjoy is definitely the wrong word! I don’t like swell, or wind! The sprints threatened to throw me in with stroke and the upwind section of the long distance was brutal.
Did I enjoy the entire N1SCO European Championship event? You bet!
The whole event was a buzz, which I am so glad I took part in.
Would I do it again? Oh yes!
My reasons for taking up SUPing two months ago were to regain some fitness, learn some new skills and to meet some great people, and so far that’s exactly what’s happened.
I must say a big thank you to Alex and the team for organising such a fantastic race series, and to Mark, Helen and everyone else in Saltwalk for getting me off my bum and standing up paddling
See you all at Bray Lake