So it’s just after 4am and I’m staggering around in the dark at home. Only, this time instead of arriving home, clutching a traffic cone and a kebab, it’s getting up at 4. On a Saturday. By choice. To go Stand Up Paddle boarding!
The day in question was Saturday 29th of April 2017, and it’s the day of the first national N1SCO SUP race of the year.
To put you in the picture regarding my SUP racing credentials, they’re not exactly outstanding. If you haven’t read my other blog posts (consider it homework for the weekend), my first time out on an SUP was at the beginning of April which was basically ‘wanna try SUP? Good. You’re going racing down Bala on Saturday…’. Since then, I’ve had one training session (with the lovely and ever so slightly intimidating world record holder Joanne Hamilton-Vale), another session with the Saltwalk guys and gals, and that, basically is that! The N1SCO National Championships in Emsworth would be my forth outing on a SUP.
Anyway, back to 4am on Saturday. The reason for getting up at such an offensive time was to be up and ready for collection by fellow Saltwalk Team members (and fellow novice paddlers) Craig and Sarah. The joy of these Naish One Design race boards is that they pack down to the size of a large backpack – no roof rack needed, just chuck it in the back of the car
Bags packed and waiting…
Shortly after 5am, Craig and Sarah arrive, we chuck me and my bags in, and we’re off down south to Emsworth and the wet delights of Chicester Harbour. Fortunately, at 5am on a weekend there’s not a lot of traffic and we make great time, arriving just after 8am to register.
With the bags unloaded, and the van parked, it’s time for a quick coffee and registration, followed by a natter with our fellow SUPers as they arrive.
Helen, Tom,Craig and Sarah
The less said about inflating the boards, the better. Inflating a 12’6″ Naish race board to 15PSI is tedious hard work, but with the boards blown up, the race numbers and other stickers can be applied.
My new paddle also turned up! Everyone I’d spoken to had recommended getting a decent paddle, and I’d ordered one. Unfortunately, it looked like the Naish Carbon paddles were all out of stock. But then I had the news that Callum from 109 Watersports had one, and it was on the van for me.
Race briefing is when it all starts to get a bit serious, and the nerves really start to kick in.
The first series of races will be the Technical Race, which is three laps of an ‘M’ shaped course, with the option of a shorter ‘superlap’ once during the race. The men’s fleet was split into odd and even numbers, and the odd were off first. Soon it was time to get on the water and wobble over to the start line. 30 seconds to go… 10 seconds… and go!
My start was pretty naff, and I nearly fell off a couple of time due to the wake from the other boards, but that soon cleared and I arrived at the chaos of the first buoy – taking the slightly longer but clearer outside line was the order of the day!
The paddle upwind was a slog, with a small turn around a bouy and then a u turn around the marker at the top of the course. The downwind leg to the start/finish line was much easier. Two more laps to go, and I saved my superlap to the end. The finish line was a very welcome sight – it was totally knackering!
With one race out of the way, it was time to do it all again, this time with competition hopefully of a similar level. I was dreading this as the first heat was murder, but I found it much easier second time around. I don’t know if this was due to be warmed up, or just starting off at a more sensible pace, but it felt much less tiring. It was also much more fun being with more people at a similar speed, and it was even better trying some of the tactics that Joanne had gone through, and shutting the door on boards trying to sneak by at a buoy (with apologies to Craig and Derek
Next up, we had the sprints, and the less said about this the better. My first heat and I had a reasonable start, got around the turn with some other, letting them help the board turn and then fell off, and it was very muddy! Getting back on and heading to the finish I could see Craig ahead, but couldn’t make up the distance and finished just behind. My second race was slightly better (and much dryer), but it was over, and I’d survived!
Rather than have the wildcard and final sprints, due to tide, the format was changed slightly and the adults had a quick lunch break whilst the juniors raced, and then it was back on the water for the 5K.
The 5K race was in the harbour itself, crossing the main channel, up the far side, around a buoy and then retracing our paddle strokes back to the start. I started near the back and settled in for a slog. The open water was much different than the other times I’d been out, with chop, wake from boats and wind to contend with, but, compared to my first time our a few weeks earlier in Bala, it was much, much better.
On the way up to the top bouy, I’d managed to overtake several others, including Craig who wasn’t enjoying the chop and was kneeling for some of it. Coming back down, I managed to gain a few more places (but lost at least one place to Craig who had his head down and powered on), but I was really starting to feel it, and just plodded towards the end.
Crossing the finish line was fantastic. After finishing in Bala, I was so tired I could hardly talk never mind paddle. This time I felt much less exhausted.
Team SALTWALK boards enjoying a break off the water
Returning to shore, and it was time for the wildcard sprints, and the finals. Not wanting to tempt fate and being happy just to have survived, it was time to watch the experts, get changed and packed up ready for home.
Derek after the Wildcard Sprint
On the way home, we heard from the rest of the gang who’d stayed for the post race meal and drinkie that the club had walked away with some awards
Helen Dennison had bagged third place ladies in the Masters age group.
3rd place for Helen in the ladies Masters
Amy Freeman also managed a third place, in the Juniors.
Third place Junior for Amy
Team SALTWALK walked away with the Top N1SCO Club Award
SALTWALK – Top N1SCO Club
Well done all
It’ll be interesting to see the full results when they’re published to see where I came overall.
So how was it overall?
Brilliant! Ok, the 4am get up was brutal, but the whole day was superb. Everyone there was friendly and welcoming (on the water was a little more serious), and the difference in my paddling in just a few weeks was noticeable.
Next, I think the 10k race in Cardiff seems like a good idea, oh, and a decent paddle really does make a world of difference
A big, big thank you to Alex and all the Naish Team for organising a great event, Callum from 109 Watersports for finding and delivering a paddle with a days notice, Mark and Helen, and the rest of Team Saltwalk, and massive thanks to Craig and Sarah for the lift there and back.
Roll on the next one
Team Saltwalk. Credit to Mark Price