Saturday 21st October saw the final race of the UKSUP series head north of the Watford Gap and up to Tamworth, home of the Robin Reliant, a Castle, and Central SUP, who were to host the event. Tamworth was also being visited by Brian, but more of that later…
As this was the nearest race to Saltwalk HQ, and given that the Race Team was now at full strength, we were planning on turning up mob handed. This would also be the first experience of racing for quite a number of our members.
During the weeks leading up to Tamworth, we’d had a number of sessions on the water to practice turns, drafting and all the other bits and bobs that might be useful in a race. As it turned out, the wonderful UK Weather had other ideas.
The week before, Mark and co had headed north to the land of Haggis, Neeps and Nessie for the Great Glen Endurance Race. On the way up, Storm Ophelia swept across Northern England and Scotland uprooting trees, ripping off Mark’s roofrack and stopping the Race. As we got nearer to Tamworth Race Day, it looked as if Storm Brian was going to attempt the same.
As the days counted down the forecast was changing by the hour, and it looked like the worst of the wind would hit sometime after the race. UKSUP had put out a number of Social Media updates regarding the weather, and it looked like it would go ahead as the lake was quite sheltered. Race on!
Saturday dawned, and didn’t look so bad! For once, the race was only an hour away, rather than the usual four, and it didn’t look too stormy. Lee kindly gave me a lift down and we arrived with a hint of sunshine in the sky and plenty of time for a bacon butty and a coffee before registration.
The club was bringing fewer racers than originally planned due to illness and injury, but one by one, they rolled up, signed in and started the mammoth task of blowing up the boards, suiting up, drinking tea and generally getting ready to race.
With the race briefing, the nerves started to set in…
We were looking at three full laps, plus one super lap of a clockwise course. I still hate right turns! We were also expecting pretty strong winds, but given the sheltered nature of the lake, and the lack of an ocean to be blown out into, the race was going ahead, albeit without a novice or junior race.
At the stroke of 11, the Inflatable class (including the N1SCO fleet) started, and we were off across the wind with a short paddle to the first right hand turn. I had a wobbly start, as normal. It was windy, the water choppy and I was having flashbacks to Swanage.
Safely around the first buoy (with a distinct lack of step back pivoting!) and we’re heading off to the bottom turn (right hand – grrrrr) with the wind behind us. This wasn’t so bad! I had a slight wobble as I somehow managed to totally submerge the front of the board, but a couple of shakey steps backwards to re-trim sorted that out. Before long, the bottom turn arrived. I’d shortened my paddle a couple of inches as we approached the turn as I knew it was going to be drafty on the way back up.
Drafty was a bit of an understatement. As we started the long slog back up the lake, we were heading straight into the howling face of Storm Brian. After the race, it was mentioned that some of the gusts were up to around 50 MPH.
The paddle up the lake was brutal, and the wind was picking up as we got nearer the only left hand turn on the course (and not much of a turn, either – more of a kink!). Ahead, I could make out the blur that was Naish Alex as he crossed the start/finish line. They had to stop the race, didn’t they? It was much too windy! But Alex carried on onto the downwind leg, so it looked like the race was still a goer.
Fortunately, the wind slackened off a bit as we turned onto the start/finish line, but at the back of my mind was the thought that there was no way I could do three more laps of that!
Another downwind experience was a great opportunity to recover a tiny bit. I did stay with Deke (another Saltwalker) for a minute or two, but he soon picked up speed and went with the wind.
The second upwind leg was much like the first. Head down and slog. By this time we were catching up with a number of paddlers who were struggling in the testing conditions. Mark and Helen had dropped out of the race to offer moral (and gentle nudging) support to those who were paddling on their knees just to get back to the launch area. I was trimming the board into the headwind, and a few times my toes were hanging off the from of the foam pads on the deck. As before, the nearer the left hand kink we got, the stronger the wind blew, and after every paddle stroke, the board was being blown to a standstill, and occasionally backward…
Lap three was much like the first two. Fast and relaxing downwind. Painful and slow upwind.
Lap four was my Superlap, which meant I could cut a big chunk of the lap out. Deke was a fair way ahead of me at the Superlap buoy, but I managed to catch him on the slow paddle up, so we were neck and neck at the left hand turn, but as soon as we hit the wind shadow, off he went and managed to cross the line several board length ahead.
For me, I think this was my best race all season. As I’ve only been paddling for just over six months, there’s not that many races to choose from, but I was over the moon just to finish the entire course on my feet. At Swanage (home of the head high waves and hurricane force winds – the sort of conditions that make the Red Bull Heavy Water event look like a paddling pool!), I did paddle a while on my knees, as did a fair number of other racers, but it was great to finish the entire Tamworth race on my feet.
The prize giving was a lengthy affair as it was also included the overall season awards. It was also Jo Hamilton Vale’s last season running the series as she and Pete are heading to Australia. Jo came armed with a collection of trophies from her recent trip to Hawaii signed by some of the worlds top Paddleboarders – details of the prizes coming soon 🙂
Saltwalk did well again, scooping the Club award due to the sheer number of paddlers we managed to persuade/bribe/blackmail to come along.
Helen managed 3rd place in the series, with Mark bagging joint third
Deke managed 3rd in his age class, and Ben managed to win the Rookie award for putting in a fantastic effort and completing his first race in epic conditions.
I was over the moon to managed third place in my age group (it looks like only three of us finished the race), and also get the Saltwalk Paddler of the Year, mainly for turning up I think – although Mark assures me it’s for ‘most improved’ as well 🙂
Thanks to everyone involved in the UKSup series for making it a fun and inclusive set of events – it’s been a fantastic 6 months.
And a huge group hug to Mark, Helen and all at Saltwalk for getting me off my bum and onto a paddleboard.
Here’s to a fun winter, and a fantastic 2018 race series 😀
See you all on the water!