UKSUP Tamworth 2017 – Finishing with a whoosh!

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!

We’ve Arrived

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.

Sunshine over Cliff Lakes

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.

Pre-race bacon butty

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 🙂

Prizes!

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!

 

Throw Lines!

In my previous life, before seeing the light of SUP, I used to canoe a little bit.  OK, I used to canoe and kayak an awful lot, and one of the many bits of gear you come across in the canoe and kayak world (especially if you paddle moving water) is the throw line or throw bag.

So what is a Throw Line?

Simply put, a throw line is bag with some rope in it that you can throw to a person in the water and then pull them to the bank. Simples!

There’s a little more to it than that, but not much.

The bag

The line is contained in a bag for a few reasons:

It keeps the rope contained – the last thing you need on the water is several meters of rope tangling up your board.

It allows you to throw the rope – throwing the rope and the bag is a lot easier than throwing just a rope.

It allows an easier re-throw – the bag is designed to be filled with water to help throw without repacking the bag.

The Rope

The rope in a throw line is called float rope.  It’s rope that floats.  It’s usually a man made fibre such as polypropylene.

Different bags use different sized rope, usually around 6-8mm.  The thicker the rope, the stronger the rope and the easier to grip.  The strength shouldn’t be an issue in SUP, as its only really a concern when rescuing pinned canoes in moving water, and they can weight a huge amount when full!. Whilst the thicker rope is easier on the hands, it also makes for a larger bag, so there’s always a compromise to be made.

Safety First

As with a lot of safety equipment, there’s no substitute for experience and proper training. I’d strongly recommend going on a Swift Water Rescue Course to learn more.  It a fun, if slightly scary way to practice a lot of different rescue techniques.

River Knife

If your going use a throw line, always carry a suitable knife.  Ropes and water can be a dangerous combination, and moving water is worse.  Knifes can be either fixed or folding, with or without points. Whatever you choose, it’s worth making sure it’s useable with one hand.

Clean Line Principle

Apart from the bag, the line you’re using shouldn’t contain any knots or loops.  The idea is that there is nothing to snag on the river and cause a hazard. Some lines, and we’re talking a few years ago now, had a handle at both ends.  This is now considered very bad practice as it can easily snag on rocks or branches.

Any loops on the bag should also be small enough not to get a hand through to cause an entrapment.  Usually, loops are only big enough to fit a carabiner through.

Throwing the line

So then, you’re stood by the river, wearing your BA (remember, the riverbank is the most dangerous part of the river!) and you see a fellow paddler floating in the river.  What do you do?

Shout!

First things first – get their attention. Ideally, you shouldn’t need to use your throw line. If you can, get them to swim close to the shore and possibly use you paddle if needed to assist.

Throwing the Line

if they can’t make it to the bank, it’s time to unleash the throw line.  There’s several different ways to throw the line, but in all cases you need to asses your surroundings.

Are you on stable footings? Are there any hazards the casualty will hit?  Are there any obstacles you could hit with the line?

Underarm or Overarm?  Throwing underarm is the usual, recommended way of throwing.  It’s quite slow, but more accurate.  If there are any trees, overhead branches or other things in the way, you may not be able to throw underarm, in which case an overarm throw is needed.  This can either be like bowling a ball or throwing a grenade, or like throwing an American Football.

In all cases, you undo the top of the bag and pull out the loose end.  If the water is fast flowing, it may be worth passing this piece of rope around you back to give you more grip and stopping power.  Once you’ve got the loose end out, DONT LET GO OF IT!!!

Holding the neck of the bag, you are looking to throw the bag over the casualty so they can easily grab hold of it.

Once they’ve grabbed hold, you need to brace as the rope will go taut, and they will swing in towards the bank, or you can pull them towards either be pulling the rope, hand over hand, or by walking up the riverbank.

If you need to rethrow the line, quickly pull it in and fill the bag with water, then just throw the bag – the line should follow it quite easily.

Repacking

Once your rescue is over, you need to repack your line.  There is no special technique needed, but it’s usually easiest to put the line over your shoulder and stuff the line a handful  at a time into the bag.

Swimming on a line

Being the casualty is something that is very often not practiced, but can make a huge difference to a rescue.

If you are on the receiving end of a line, try not to wrap it around your wrist or hand (or anywhere else) – you may need to let go in a hurry.  Ideally, you need to be swinging on your back and grasp hold of the bag on your chest.  Try and get the rope under your shoulder so the rope lifts you slightly when it goes taut.  At no point should you try and clip yourself onto the rope.

Once you’re at the bank, you shouldn’t let go until your safely back onto dry land and safe.

 

 

N1SCO Not-So-Inland Championships

The 2017 N1SCO Inland Championships took place on the sea at Swanage (again!), so here it is…

the N1SCO not-so-Inland Championships.

Swanage 2.0 – SUP Harder…

for a number of reason (mainly related to waves and the hopeful lack of them), I was really looking forward to the N1SCO Inland Championships being held at Bray Lake near Maidenhead.  The location was the nearest to us lot in the barren northern wasteland that lies beyond the Watford Gap. The plan was to head down on Friday evening, set up camp, grab a bite to eat and enjoy a swift half, purely to replenish essential electrolytes, minerals and hops, before enjoying a health smoke cured porcine related breakfast and a day of relaxing paddleboard racing.

On Wednesday, I received an unexpected call from Captain Saltwalk himself with the news that there was an issue with Bray Lake (something about an ill tempered mutated sea bass) and they were looking to move the event, possibly to Swanage as we’d been there before and it would mean less paperwork for Alex and the Naish crew.  If it moved, would I still be going?  After a bit of thinking time, the answer was ‘yes’.  OK, it’d be 4 1/2 hours driving each way, plus more expense for camping, but, count me in 🙂

Thursday saw a few frantic calls and messages to arrange overnight accommodation, but Herston Camping where we camped for the European Championships had spaces and we’d be welcome again.

A few of Saltwalk Team couldn’t make it down due to the much longer drive, and after various juggling of drivers and passengers, 6pm on Friday saw fellow Saltwalk Teammate Sara and myself leaving Aldi stocked up with bacon, bread rolls and cider and heading south past Birmingham and Oxford, under the M4 within shouting distance of Bray, skirting past Southhampton and  through the New Forest to Bournemouth, Wareham and eventually into the lovely seaside town of Swanage.

The journey was largely uneventful, even if it was two and a half hours beyond Bray – just don’t mention the dogging site or the Birdie Song!

Upon arrival at Herston, we soon found the rest of the Saltwalk bunch lurking out of the way towards the bottom of the camping field.  Fortunately pop up tents really do take two minutes to put up and peg down, and we were soon enjoying a couple of drinks, philosophical conversation  and Neil’s fairy lights.  At no point in the evening did it get silly, and at no point did we take the Micky out of certain web-toed paddling shoes worn by some members of the group…

Pre race fuelling session

Saturday morning saw a quick pack up of the camping gear and we headed down to the seafront.  I’d actually had a reasonable nights sleep despite the noise of the surf crashing onto the beach two miles away…

We managed to claim some free on road parking and wandered down to the Saltwalk van which was being used for the race registration.

Another day at the office

Yet again, Swanage was utterly glorious. Golden sandy beach, clear water, blue skies and wave after wave of rolling surf (2 inches is a huge amount of swell, isn’t it?).  After registration it was time for breakfast, and we cranked up the stove and cooked a pile of bacon rolls on the seafront whilst we sorted out the boards.

Hmmmmmm. Bacon

It was soon time for the race briefings to start.  The first race was to be around 5KM.  Starting at the pier, up the beach to the harbour wall, around a couple of buoys and then down the beach and round the tiny speck of yellow that was the bottom turn, before retracing our paddle strokes up to the harbour wall again and finishing on the beach.

Briefing

The race itself was much better than my first experience on the sea at Swanage. With the wave height being smaller (chest high if I remember correctly, although the photos all appear to show a few inches high), and much less wind it was much better going.  I even managed to pass a few people!

The next races were the sprints.  Yet again, the less windy and wavey conditions were much nicer than the last race and I had a proper battle to the finish line against a couple of my fellow racers where some tactics actually paid off! A couple of pivot turns were also attempted and as I didn’t end up wet were executed successfully 🙂 Just don’t ask how far back I stepped, or how far out the nose came!

Not coming last

Following the sprints, we didn’t bunk off for some refreshments, and any reports of us doing so are fake news.

It’s hard work racing

The last race of the day was the technical. After some confusion at the briefing, this was to be a proper super lap course.  A beach start followed by three laps, one of which could be shortened (the super lap) at the paddlers discretion, and a run up the beach to the flag to finish.

Startline for men’s wildcard sprint race. This wasn’t taken on the way to the pub…

As with the other races, it was much easier for me than the last Swanage outing. Less wind and swell were ace. The only potential fly in the ointment was being rammed roughly from behind and having a major dunking approaching one of the buoys! Fellow Saltwalk member Neil was apparently very sympathetic and only laughed for a couple of minutes…

Technical race startline

I did make up a few places and had a fight to gain another place on the run up to the last turn before the beach.

With my race over, it was time to watch and cheer the rest of the fleet home.

Casper helping one of the junior races homeStartline for men’s wildcard sprint race

For the race, Alex had arrange for Naish team paddle, several times World and European SUP Champion Casper Steinfath to pop over from Denmark

to give a few paddling clinics.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the clinics due to having to get home, but I did end up with a signed race bib 🙂

Casper with the cast and crew of the N1SCO not-so-Inland Championships

The prize giving was on the beach (Helen managed a bronze medal and Team Saltwalk received the club award by turning up mob handed at each race), followed by fish and chips and ice cream as the sun went down.  A fantastic way to end a fantastic race.

Chippy chips on the beach

Yet again, huge thanks must go to Alex and everyone else who helped to organise the race series. Given the challenges in moving a venue a hundred miles down the road with a couple of days notice, it all went superbly.

So what’s next?

Well, there’s a few more UKSUP races this year, but roll on 2018!

Having looked at my results over the three N1SCO events, I recon I may stand a chance of being on the podium by the year 2039, assuming no one else improves, and possibly a zombie apocalypse 🙂

See you on the water 😎

Photo credits:  photos on the blog are either my own or shamelessly taken from the UK N1SCO Facebook pages where they belong to Casper Steinfath, Andy Stallman or Ian Gray Promotional Filming and Photography.

 

N1SCO European Championships 2017

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 – no one mention ‘eleven’ or crabs

) 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 🙂

Going to be a great weekend 🙂

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.

Saturday Morning in Swanage

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 🙂

The answer to Life, The Universe and Everything – Beer tokens!

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 for a relative novice such as myself.

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.

Wobbling around the buoy

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.

Sprinting ashore from the head high swell

Finishing was great, with a fantastic crowd cheering everyone on, and it was brilliant to actually finish in the (to me) challenging conditions.

Lunch Time

The next event was the 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 everyone’s 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.

Fun with the kiddies

The meal was great, as were the ice cold 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.

A new generation of paddler on the way

This race was to be the long distance.  Long distance in this instance meant 5KM of 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?

Wrong!

The further downwind we got, the bigger the swell was.  Turning around the bottom buoy was extremely dicey and then it was a energy sapping upwind paddle 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 progressed upwind and got nearer the shore, the wind did drop a little, as did the swell, dropping from twice head height to somewhere around chest high, and it was time to stand again to complete the first lap.

Heading downwind in the overhead swell!

Lap number two I was not looking forward to after the upwind stretch.  This time, I found it even more leg wobbling 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 yet again 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 🙂

Finish line in sight

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.

5K around Swanage Bay

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.

Helen, European Sprint Champion and third place overall
Amy, Second place junior
Team Saltwalk

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 hard work.

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!

If anyone is considering taking part, do it 🙂  The competitors ranged from 10 – 69 years with all abilities from total novices (as in first time paddling type novices) up to seasoned racers.

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 🙂

N1sco European Championships Swanage 2017

'We hope you have all now recovered after the N1SCO European Championships in Swanage. We loved having you all involved and here is a little film to remind you of the fun we had. We hope to see you all again for the final N1SCO Championships of the season at Bray Lake on the 8th July. www.n1sco.co.uk #purerecharge #whitstablebay #thewatersportsacademy

Posted by UK N1SCO on Sunday, 18 June 2017

See you all at Bray Lake 🙂

Saltwalk SUP Bootcamp – Good Friday 2017

Hello, and welcome to my second blog as a novice Stand Up Paddleboard racer. There’ll be some photos along soon as well 🙂

As well as my second SUP blog, this also marked the second time I’d been out on water on a SUP board.

For those of you who missed my first post (and how could you!), through a variety of circumstances that may not become clear, I’d manage to join the Saltwalk Naish 1 SUP paddleboard team.  My first outing on one of these 12’6″ inflatable racing bananas was the week before in Bala, North Wales for the first UK SUP race of the year.  Well, with the first race out of the way, and feeling well and truly bitten by the SUP bug, I was looking forward to getting some more time on the water, and build up some fitness and confidence.

Mark and Helen from Saltwalk had arranged a bootcamp for the Team on Good Friday on the River Derwent in Darley Abbey, Derby.  They’d also arranged for some additional instruction from Jo and Pete.

Jo is in fact Joanne Hamilton-Vale. She recently claimed the world record (for both men and women) for 24 hour paddling.  That’s just over 111 miles. In 24 hours.  And Pete coaches her.  Basically, what we’re saying is, if you want to know how to paddle, there are the two who can show you!

So Good Friday dawns, and at a much more civilised time than the previous week, we met up at the Darley Barn to have some world class tuition.  This week, the Saltwalk Team was nearly up to capacity as we were joined by a few more fellow noobs, as well as a couple of more experienced paddlers.

With the boards inflated, it was time to hit the water.

Darley Abbey is a great stretch of water, and one I used to canoe quite a lot, and it was nice to see the river from a slightly higher, if more wobbly view point.

With everyone on the water we started with the personal tuition, which is a little nerve wracking.  Having a world champion  following you and critiquing your paddling is a intimidating, but ultimately invaluable 🙂 And don’t mention the videoing!

After a morning’s paddle, we headed to the Abbey for lunch and then back out onto the water for the afternoon session, which was much more intensive than earlier.  Starting techniques were discussed, and basically, it’s a free for all when the starter horn blows! Positions on the line for the sprint races, tactics, rounding the turn were all discussed, and hopefully of some use for the faster paddlers (My plan was to let the carnage happen, and then gently paddle past…).

Drafting practice was next on the cards, with a great 2.5Km paddle down into Derby, followed by sprint starts and drafting on the way back. And this led nicely into rounding-the-bouy-without-falling-in practice, and much dropping-to-the knees-to-stop-getting-wet.  Cross bow paddle strokes are much easier in a canoe, and when it’s a bit warmer, I’m tempted to try a bow jam just to see how badly wrong it can go…

And then it was time to change, stretch, pack up and head back to the Abbey for a post paddle drink.

It was a fantastic day, again with a great bunch of people.  Half the Team are basically novices, but willing to give it a go, which is ace, and having tuition from paddlers such as Jo and Pete was incredible.

Joanne is a Global Ambassador for Standup For The Cure http://suftc.org/, who raise money and support for breast cancer.  Remember that name, as there’ll be some Saltwalk fundraising events coming soon!

See you on the water 🙂

N1SCO at Emsworth

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.

Heeeellllooooooo Emsworth

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 😀.

Saltwalk

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.

Junior Racing

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.

Aerial view of the start of the men’s 5K race

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

Racing the Train – Bala

Hello!

My name is Glyn, and I’m a SUP Racer.

Possibly!

The story sort of starts towards the end of 2016.  Having a background in canoeing, I’d seen people Stand Up Paddling and thought ‘that looks fun’.  I’d found a group online, PeakSUP, who meet at Carsington Water in Derbyshire and managed to miss the last session of the year.  Spool forward to January 2017, and it popped up again in my Facebook feed – this time for a series of pool sessions in Ashbourne. Thanks to work and family commitments, I managed to miss all of them bar the last two, but had a great time mainly kneeling in the pool and falling off.

Anyhow, after trying it in the pool, I was looking forward to May when the open water sessions would start again at Carsington.

In the meantime, I’d also heard of Saltwalk, based in Derby, who were looking to run some sessions on a Monday.  Great stuff 🙂

And this is where it gets a bit odd.

A post popped up asking for people to join to a race team.  No experience necessary (Great!), but a willingness to commit to certain dates, and a basic level of fitness would be an advantage (we’ll gloss over this one…).

A few e-mails later and it looked like I was in 🙂

 

The first race of the season was in Bala, North Wales on April 8th 2017.  Normally, Saturdays are difficult due to kids activities and I wasn’t looking to go to Bala.  But late on Thursday I managed to blag a lift with Mark and Helen from Saltwalk from Derby to sunny Wales.

So 36 hours after arranging a lift, and at a stupid time on Saturday morning, I was heading west towards my first ever taste of SUP racing, as well as my first ever go on open water!

Arriving into Bala earlier on Saturday morning was utterly glorious.  The sun was burning off the early morning mist and the lake was mirror calm.

Glorious morning for a paddle

The race was being held at the Glanllyn Caravan & Camping Park toward the bottom end of the lake.  A few other SUPers were already there and we were soon ready for some basic instruction on the lake.

A few basics on dry land (board, air, pump, etc) and we were ready to get on the water.

For those of you who don’t know Bala, it’s a narrow lake hidden away in northern Wales, and spends it days quietly collecting ice cold water from the surrounding mountains. My purchased-the-night-before-cos-my-old-one-was-too-small wetsuit suddenly seemed very flimsy for the amount of time I was expecting to spend in the water.

So, with fins fitted and leashes attached to legs it was time to find out what the SUP thing was all about.

First impressions.  Bala is cold.  Wading out from the launch area to a fin safe depth was a tad chilly.

Second impressions. The bright yellow Naish One Design boards are long, narrow and wobbly!

Myself and fellow noob Craig were soon being put through the paces for the next couple of hours by Mark, Helen and Deke from Saltwalk.  Having had a fair amount of paddling experience in canoes and kayaks was definitely an advantage, but the strokes, whilst similar all felt alien whilst stood on the yellow racing banana, and there were some striking differences in paddle technique and muscle groups compared to the non-standing sports.

After a couple of hours on the water in the bright spring sunshine, it was time to grab a bite to each and register for the races.

Too late to turn back now!

The format for the day was short sprint racing, with a single turn, and then a 5K race down the entire lake to try and beat the small steam train that ran along side.

The sprint racing was carnage.  Imagine Touring Car racing, but on water.  It’s very much a contact sport in the inflatable SUP classes.  I bravely decided to let the faster, more experienced paddlers to get ahead in my heat. A decision which was by no way helped by a lack of paddling experience and fitness!  A quick turn (sort of) and back to the beach.  I’d completed my first race and wasn’t last!

The second race was the 5K down the lake race.  This involved paddling across the lake and waiting for the train. After various whistles being blown we were off down the lake.

The lake is quite deceptive.  There’s a small sticky out bit of land that you pass, and then realise you’re not even half way!  After a wobbly start, I settled into a gentle pace, swapping sides every dozen strokes or so.  After a while, I started feeling more confident, and then fatigue and waves would strike and I nearly ended up in the water.  After rounding the headland, you could see then end of the lake in the distance and it was head down and try not to think how much effort it was.  Landmarks on the shore would slowly drift by, punctuated by the odd wobble.  My arms and back were starting to ache, and it was an effort to keep going.  Six buoys left to the end, five buoys, four, three, two, one and finish!  Absolutely knackered!

And that would have been the end of it. Craig and I decided to catch a lift back in the van and were out of the water, when three tonne of invisible peer pressure (or Sarah…) suddenly appeared and we decided to paddle back as well.  The paddle back was much easier as I spent most of kneeling, and paddling back canoe stylee with a shortened paddle.

So how did we do?

We got wood!  Wooden medals, that is.

Somehow I managed 1st place rookie and 2nd place in my class.  Which is impressive until you saw how many were in my class, but we’ll gloss over that as well!

Medals!

A fantastic day out, with a great bunch.

Special thanks to Mark, Helen and Deke for chauffeuring me.

So, am I doing it again?  You bet 🙂

See you at the next one, and please be gentle when you overtake!