Saturday, November 28, 2015

Amateurish Thoughts on Picking a Race SUP Paddle

The Internet is full of good, scientific, professional-type guides on how to pick a SUP paddle. This is not one of those. Rather, it’s my personal, subjective thoughts on how I've picked my paddles, because Serghei Koval asked me if I would make a blog post about that topic.

The first time I ever stood erect on a windsurf board, sans sail, holding a paddle, was in 2007 in the outer banks, NC. It was a jiggered up canoe paddle. Even though it was longer than a normal canoe paddle it was too short to be effective for SUP. Plus, it was awkward and wiggly. As soon as the wind started to blow I put a sail back on the board and didn't touch a paddle for another year or so.

Later, confronted with a lot of windless conditions, I made some paddles of my own from cheap plastic kayak paddles and aluminum tubes from various sources, e.g., old pool dipnets. For the handles I used chunks of wood sawed into T shapes and duct taped on. Those got the job done but were a little heavy and wobbly and lacked the bent-back blade angle that I now know is important for efficient paddling. I also think I erred on the side of making the paddles too long.

I got my first real paddle when I got my first real paddleboard, an Angulo Surfa 10’4”, in Massachusetts in 2011. I was going to buy a cheap adjustable aluminum and plastic paddle, but Josh Angulo sold me on a fixed-length carbon fiber paddle and I was glad for that. It was a lot lighter than anything I’d used before. The shape and angle of the paddle blade were good for efficiently grabbing water, in what I later learned was called the “catch” phase of the paddle stroke. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Angulo paddle blade had elements that made it very forgiving: 1) A rounded outline and a moderate “aspect ratio” (not too short and wide, nor too long and narrow) made it easy to get in and out of the water. 2) A pronounced “dihedral” in the face of the blade prevented wobble during the “power” phase of the stroke. 3) An ample but not excessive blade surface area (97 in^2) helped get a solid catch. 4) An oval shaft facilitated a stable grip.

I was content with the Angulo paddle until I started racing in summer 2014. The first thing I thought about changing was the length of the shaft, which I had realized was a lot longer than most people my height were using. So I cut it down and and re-glued the handle such that I could reach up and grip the handle with a slightly bent elbow while standing the paddle on the ground. The shorter shaft helped me go faster by encouraging me to do more work with my body and legs instead of just whipping the long paddle around with my arms and shoulders.

Another thing that made me question whether my Angulo paddle was set up right for me was comparing my speeds with it to my speeds with a heavy “Epic” brand aluminum and plastic adjustable paddle that I'd bought so my wife could sup with me. (I'd give her the good paddle and take the bad one because I'm nice like that.) I found that even though the Epic paddle was heavier and felt slower, my speeds with it were indistinguishable from my speeds with the Angulo. I figured that might have been because the Epic had a really big, flat blade that helped me get a solid catch and stronger, more heavily-weighted stroke. I thought that if I could combine the light weight of the Angulo paddle with whatever aspects of shape made the heavy Epic paddle work well for me, I’d have a worthy upgrade. Towards that end I started trying out the demo paddles at CGT kayaks and paddleboards.

I tried a HippoStick AL 8.0, a HippoStick AL 8.5, and a Riviera Vantage 8.0. To be honest, my speeds with all three of those paddles were statistically indistinguishable from my speeds with the Angulo and the Epic. I.e., the amount that my speed varies just depending on how I’m feeling, the weather, and other random factors is more than my speed varied from the different paddles. (It’s a common problem with testing SUP equipment- unless the benefits of the new equipment are huge, they’re really hard to detect.) Even though I didn’t have strong quantitative data to justify one paddle over the others, I had some “qualitative” data- my thoughts about how the paddles felt.

Hippostick 8.0: This one had a low aspect ratio and relatively small, flat blade. It was really easy to get in and out of the water, which would be good if you had a “fast cadence” paddling style. But it didn’t seem to “catch” in the water very solidly, which was my complaint about the Angulo, so I ruled it out.

Hippostick 8.5: This paddle had a similar shape to the other Hippostick, but with LOTS more surface area. It had a great “catch” and also a pretty good “release” at the end of the stroke. I felt like I had great acceleration with this paddle. On my test run with it I went really fast for the first half of the course, then got wicked tired on the second part. Tired both aerobically and in my muscles. It might have just been from not pacing myself well, but I thought it might also be a symptom of the blade being too big for me to handle.

Riviera Vantage 8.0: This wasn’t a miracle paddle or anything, but it suited me. I liked that it had a very solid catch, like the Hippostick 8.5, but had a somewhat smaller surface area and didn’t seem to give me the muscle tiredness quite as bad. The only disadvantage was that it was a bit harder to withdraw cleanly from the water, maybe due to the squarish tip and other shape features that helped it get such a good catch. I bought this paddle and started using it all the time. Did it make me faster? Maybe. Sort-of. After a while. Perhaps by helping me get a good catch it encouraged me to develop a stronger pull, making better use of all my available strength, weight, and leverage. And perhaps by being lightweight it allowed me to whisk the paddle around quickly between strokes and get more strokes per minute.

Eh, I really don’t know, though. Looking back over my data now it’s very hard to see any consistent sign of one paddle being faster than another, even including the old heavy aluminum paddle that felt like crap. I think as long as the shaft isn’t way too long or way too short, the handle is on straight, and you’re able to get a good catch and a smooth stroke, your paddle is OK. Then again, maybe it’s that I still haven’t found the really perfect paddle match for me, and if I did find it I’d see an obvious speed benefit.


While the search for an obviously faster paddle has so far been inconclusive, I’ve tried a couple of things recently that I liked a lot even though I have no data on whether or not they actually made me faster. One was the Riviera “bump” paddle, which has a raised texture on the shaft so your hands don’t slip as much when they get sweaty. Another grippy paddle I tried was a KeNalu paddle that has a “snakeskin” grip formed by partially exposed carbon cloth weave. Any kind of grip on the paddle is better than the totally smooth glossy finish on most of them.

Another thing I have NOT tried that might also help is a more flexible paddle shaft. According to some people the more flexible shaft is less fatiguing on your joints and muscles and can make you faster over the long run- Perhaps even over the short run.

If any of you readers have had big breakthroughs in your own paddle choices, I’d be curious to know, especially if you know for sure you found something that makes you faster.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

SUP Race Reports: Englewood Waterfest and Race around Lovers' Key

Whoopee! I'm recovering today from a fun weekend of Southwest Florida SUP racing, with good races both Saturday and Sunday.

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Saturday was the Englewood Beach Waterfest at Weston's Wanna B Inn on Manasota Key. Sunday was the Race Around Lovers' Key, hosted by my local shop/sponsor CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards. I'd been looking forward to the Lovers' Key race for a long time, and I debated skipping the Englewood race to save energy for Sunday. Racing hard two days in a row could hurt one's second day performance, especially for someone over 35 like me. But I decided I like racing, and racing is good practice for racing, so I would give it my best effort both days. Here is how each race went:

Saturday 14 Nov. 2015- Englewood Beach Waterfest. This race was based from a hotel on a narrow strip of land with access both to the Gulf of Mexico and to a protected channel called Peterson Cut. The intended course was to launch into the ocean, paddle through Stump Pass into Peterson Cut, then paddle up the cut to a buoy in front of the hotel. The short race would finish there, while the longer "elite" race would round the buoy and backtrack the course to finish at the beach.

Unfortunately, conditions required the race committee to eliminate the open water part of the course. I.e., there was a moderate swell that created tricky waves in Stump Pass, preventing the safety boat from getting into the Gulf of Mexico. So they moved the whole race into Peterson Cut. The short race was 3.7 km (once down the pass and back) and the elite race was 7.4 km (two down and backs). There was a stiff NE breeze, but mangroves lining the relatively narrow channel kept it manageable. It was much easier than the Palm Island Race, anyway.

The board I used was a Riviera RP 14' x 25", in fiberglass construction, which I've had on loan from CGT since the summer. The Riviera RP is a really fast board, especially in flat water and orderly bumps, and it works a bit better for me in those conditions than the Fanatic Falcon 14' x 24.75" that I own or the 14' x 24" 404 v3 that I used to own. All my personal best times on the courses we run regularly with the CGT Race Team have been set on the Riviera, and I don't think it's just me getting better. The board makes a real difference.

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Back to the Englewood race- One unorthodox thing about this race was the drafting rule. It was "no drafting until the first turn-around, but anything goes after that." The intent of the rule was to allow paddlers of slightly different speeds to spread out a bit more naturally at first, but still allow them to work together (draft) during the grueling middle part of the race. The two best 14' SUP men, Hoviesup riders Kieran Grant and Brad Ward, probably didn't hear the rule announcement because they started drafting each other immediately after the starting horn. I was a bit frustrated to see that happen, and after the race I told the organizer Bruce Denson. I asked him not to change the standings, since Brad and Kieran almost certainly would have been 1 & 2 no matter what, but I suggested that he give them a small time penalty or something as a reminder to pay attention to the rules. Bruce handled it good. I suppose I could have talked about it directly with Brad and Kieran, but even though they're nice I don't know them well and I thought it would be too awkward to broach the subject.

Anyway, I didn't worry much about the drafting thing during the race itself, because I was busy trying to stay ahead of strongman Jamie Twigg, who was riding a fast yellow Hoviesup board. Towards that end my Speedcoach 2 GPS was an advantage, because I could tell from the readout which parts of the channel had the best combination of the three main speed-influencing factors: current, wind, and water depth. I took the sides of the channel on the way south to avoid the incoming tidal current, and I took the center of the channel on the way back to make use of that current. That gave me a slight advantage on Mr. Twigg and I finished about 25 seconds ahead of him to get third place. The absolute times listed for the race on PaddleGuru are currently inaccurate. They have me at 0:43:24 but my GPS timer said my actual time was 0:48:44, distance 7.4 km, average speed 9.1 kph. Assuming the relative finishing times are accurate, the winner Brad Ward did it in about 0:47:20, followed closely by Kieran Grant in 0:47:32. My CGT teammate and Hoviesup rider Meg Bosi had a great 2nd place finish in the womens' 12'6 class, just a minute or so behind first place Katherine Pyne, also on Hoviesup. Needless to say, team Hovie DOMINATED this race. They're based right here in SW Florida but it seems like their boards are at least as fast as anything else on the water, anywhere. Also, their boards are incredibly light, like 3 kg lighter than the typical race SUP. And they always represent with a big, mixed-gender, mixed-age team at all the Florida races, so they're doing it right as far as supporting the racing scene. I noticed that this year Hovie has two different raceboard shapes- the Comet ZXC with a classic displacement style front section, and another shape with a flat bottom from nose to tail but a domed top deck in the bow to weather rough water. Brad used the former type and Kieran the latter.

As with all races organized by this Bruce Denson guy (who runs the Englewood Race, the race around Palm Island, and the Florida Cup) there was good southern hospitality and a family / kid friendly vibe to this race. A huge number of people signed up (120!), mostly for the shorter races, which are suited to surf-style SUP boards as well as specialized raceboards. Also, the food was great, and it didn't take too long to get the awards out and the results posted online. Combining serious and recreational racing into one event works great when it's done right, although I'm sympathetic to the challenge of trying to cater to both serious and recreational racers at the same time. The seriousish racers like me tend to be sticklers about rules, results, and timing, which could overwhelm a race organizer who wasn't prepared for it.

Sunday 15 Nov. 2015- Race Around Lovers' Key.
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This race was only 15 minutes from my house, and I was super stoked because it was the first ever "big production" race hosted by CGT. Also, I love races around islands because of the challenge of dealing all different wind and wave conditions on the different sides of the island. Plus you don't have to do any boring repeated laps or anything like that. The only problem is that most around-island races are too damn long. The Lovers' Key rounding is middle distance, about 9 km, which I reckon is perfect. On race day the course was a bit longer than usual because there was an ultra low tide and a buoy had to be set offshore to steer racers clear of shallows surrounding the New Pass channel. I had 9.64 km on my GPS after the race.

My strategy for the race was very different from my strategy for getting a fast time when paddling around the island in training. The difference was drafting, and it was all because Kieran Grant was there, with his awesome 14' x 23" red white and blue Hovie.

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I figured my only hope of finishing close to his time would be to get in his draft as soon as possible, if possible, and stay there as long as possible. I knew it would be tough, especially since Kieran's running starts from the beach are ridiculously fast. He throws the board down in ankle deep water and does a superman leap onto it, skimming a dozen meters across the water before anyone else is even on their board. I had a not-terrible start and paddled like hell to try to close the gap on Kieran. (I'm at the right edge of this picture, right after the start.)

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I hadn't quite closed it when a wake from the motorboat leading us interfered. We both tried to use it to our advantage and Kieran did that better than me. (When he's not a sup racer he is a pro-level sup wave surfer, so I assume he has unreal balance and wave catching abilities.) We needed to make a left turn to get out of San Carlos Pass, though, and the wake had taken Kieran a bit too far right. I was able to make up the distance and get behind him when we cut the corner around the north tip of Lovers' Key and started heading south in the Gulf of Mexico. Even with the benefit of drafting, it was not real easy to match Kieran's pace. My heart rate on the Speedcoach GPS display got up to almost as high as it gets when I'm not drafting. I concentrated on holding my position, breathing, and paddling with good form, and it got a little easier. I think if Kieran had REALLY wanted to shake me off his tail at any point he could have, but he didn't. I almost shook myself off though when I fell at the buoy turn to enter New Pass. I got back on board as fast as humanly possible and started paddling hard directly into the wind and outgoing tidal current to try to catch Kieran again. That's when I hit my max HR of 189, but somehow I got lucky and glued myself to Kieran's stern again just before running out of energy for sprinting. I think doing sprint interval training in the Imperial River with the other CGT race team folks really helped me to be able to do that.

After fighting the wind and current going through New Pass, we turned north and started fighting the combination headwind/sidewind coming across Estero Bay. Even Kieran was getting tired, and he made a comment to that effect. I took a turn pulling the draft, and went as fast as I could without letting my HR get over 184 or so. Before long Kieran took over again. There was a lot of boat traffic at that point in the race, including an annoying pontoon boat that was going almost exactly the same speed as us and messing us up with his wake that was awkwardly interacting with the wind chop, other boat wakes, and our own SUP wakes. Kieran pulled ahead there and I simply couldn't catch him again. I just went as fast as I could to the finish line, and was stoked to be only 25 seconds behind him when it was all over. He got 1:05:11 and I had 1:05:36.

The finish!
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Third place overall, in 1:08:54, was legendary 50 year old tough guy Mark Athanacio on a borrowed 12'6 Hovie.

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3rd in the 14' class and 4th overall was John Sekas, an ageless bronzed 50-something who rides a 14 x 23 MHL custom board. The next two finishers were both on Riviera boards- young Will Connaughton on a 14 x 23 and 49 year old Murray Hunkin on a 14 x 27. Close behind Murray was Mark Hourigan who was on a 14 x 27 Yolo. Mark H. is switching to a narrower board and just put his mint-condition Yolo up for sale for $1200, which is a good deal if anyone is interested. Full results from the race are posted below.

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Other notable achievements include the top 3 women (Lacie Flynn on a 12'6 Bark Vapor, Kate Pagan on a 12'6 Hovie custom, and Meg Bosi on a 12'6 Hovie Comet) beating all the 12'6 men with the exception of Mark Athanacio. Lacie and Kate also beat two of the young 14' guys, Brandon Gunderson and Justin DiGiorgio. Better practice harder, dudes. For some paddlers it was their longest and/or toughest race ever (because of the wind and current), so it was a big personal achievement for them that they finished. One woman, I think Donna Catron (?) finished the whole thing in less than two hours on a chunky pink surf style sup. Crazy.

Will nice board
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Murray big finish
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Mark Hourigan last time on the 14 x 27 Yolo.
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Lacie Flynn winning the womens on 12'6 x 26 Bark Vapor.  photo 12186717_10153684322902480_5737150728540721312_o_zpszxmo5thk.jpg

Kate Pagan good reach.
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Meg Bosi making it look easy.
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Justin DiGiorgio (404) and Brandon Gunderson (Hobie).
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Mark Payne oldest guy out there but still fast.
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Speedcoach GPS representative Adam Pollock on super long unlimited SUP.
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The awards for the Lovers' Key race were totally unique, with queen conch shells mounted on nicely finished wooden plaques. Local artist / jack-of-all-trades Steve Nagy made the trophies. I had really been coveting them before the race so I'm super stoked now to have one to show off in my house. There was a good lunch provided by Stan's Subs from Bonita Springs, and there was a raffle with some cool prizes including pink plaid and green camo-print Riviera paddles. I won an ironic trucker's cap with "Riviera" on it. Also everyone got t-shirts with CGT's Caloosa tribal logo.

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Next up on the race calendar is the "Paddle for Pups" fundraiser race Saturday November 21st at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs. It's a very doable 6.4 km in flat water, for $20. I might try a new board in that race. Will Connaughton left the 14 x 23 Riviera custom (2016 shape and super light carbon fiber construction) with CGT...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New spot for windsurfing in East Winds near Bonita Springs, Florida

It's hard to windsurf in winds that are blowing "offshore" with respect to the general orientation of the coastline. Offshore winds tend to be gusty (variable in strength and direction) and tend to be very light along the shoreline, especially if there are trees, building, or hills blocking and swirling with the wind as it bumps over the land on its way out to sea. You can deal with offshore winds by using a floaty board and delicately shlogging/drifting away from shore until you're far enough out to be in the strong and steady wind unaffected by the obstacles on land. But that's dangerous because it's hard to get back, and can be impossible to get back if the wind strength changes or some part of your gear breaks.

So the better way to deal with offshore winds is to go to a different spot to windsurf- a spot where the shoreline is oriented differently with respect to the wind, so the wind is coming towards shore (onshore wind), or sideways to the shore (sideshore wind). Sometimes that means driving a long way, though. In Florida, it can mean driving all the way across the state.

This brings me to one of the big challenges to windsurfing in SW Florida: It does get windy sometimes, but as often as not the wind is from the NE, E, or SE - blowing offshore. What you need in those conditions is to launch from an east-facing beach on an island or peninsula that is west of a large embayment of some sort. Until recently I was under the impression that the nearest suitable embayment was San Carlos Bay, between Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Windsurfing from the Sanibel Causeway bridge definitely works well in east winds, and also in every other wind direction, which is probably why the only windsurfing shop in the area (Ace Performer) is located near the Sanibel Causeway.

Since I live in Bonita Springs, though, the Sanibel Causeway is 45 minutes to 1 hour away, and there's a $7 toll for the bridge. I have things to do and I don't like to spend more time driving than windsurfing during a session. So mostly I've just been risking my life and sailing in offshore winds from the west-facing beach launches near Bonita Springs.

However, while practicing for a SUP race around Lovers' Key, just ~15 minutes from my house, I realized that Estero Bay, on the backside of Lovers' Key, could have some pretty strong, steady east winds. The only trick would be finding an OK launch spot. Well, I found one today. It's a free dirt/grass parking area at the north end of a big field near the Carl Johnson Boat Ramp. It's next to a small bridge over a tidal creek called Little Carlos Pass.

There are some shallow spots near shore that you have to watch out for, but once you're 50 m out you're in relatively deep water with a good 1 km or so of fetch from the east, interrupted only by some small mangrove islands. Today I sailed it with a 106 l Exocet Cross and 6.4 KA sail with a 26 cm fin. It was awesome flatwater conditions good for practicing jibing and generally hauling ass. I reckon it will be my go-to spot now for strong E & NE winds. It wouldn't be so good for light-wind shortboard windsurfing because shallow spots would be dangerous with longer fins.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

SUP into wicked headwinds- Race "Around" Palm Island

This morning I drove up to the Palm Island Resort in Cape Haze, FL to join my cgt race team buddies at the (SUP) Race Around Palm Island. The resort was gorgeous and secluded, on an island reachable only by a small ferry across the intracoastal waterway. I've got the resort mentally bookmarked now as a good place for an anniversary weekend or something.

The race course was originally planned as a 3/4 circumnavigation of the island, 21 km from the side of the resort on the intracoastal waterway to the side of the resort on the Gulf of Mexico. As the event neared and the forecast called for strong NW wind they first decided to reverse the direction of the course (so the ocean leg would be a "downwinder"), then decided to do the whole course in the intracoastal waterway instead and shorten it to 18 km. They also had a 4.8 km race for the sane people.

This is the first 2/3 of the race from my Speedcoach gps.
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Even at "just" 18 km this race was the longest I have ever done, and the upwind leg was BRUTAL. This graph from shows the wind at the nearby Boca Grande sensor.
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The first race finishers were "surfski" kayaks and outrigger canoes, followed by a 17' tandem SUP with a well-coordinated father-son team. Winner in the 14' SUP class was Stephen Chase on a 2014 14' x 24.5" JP Flatwater Race board. I was in second place about 4 minutes later on CGT's 2015 14' x 25" Riviera RP. On my GPS the distance was 17.978 km and my time was 2:17:53. Other CGT team finishers were:

18 km race-
Matt Kearney 14' SUP, 2:47:53
Meg Bosi 12'6 SUP, 2:48:01 (2nd women!)
Brad "Devin" Turetzkin 14 SUP, 2:57:15 (3rd 50+)

5km race-
Jason Mastin 12'6 SUP, 0:37:43 (1st place!)
Bryan Herrick 12'6 SUP, 0:38:25 (2nd place!)
Savanna Mastin 12'6 SUP, 0:43:52 (Savana graciously paused her race to help out a kid with a broken paddle)

Here's a play-by-play of how the race went from my perspective:

1. Start- A lot of people (including me) didn't hear the 1 minute warning whistle and remained scattered far from the starting line when the start whistle blew. People had to shout, "GO! Yes, GO!" until we caught on that the race was really starting. Doh!
2. Aided by a tailwind I sprinted pretty well to make up for my bad starting position. I got to the front where Stephen Chase was, and I picked up his draft.
3. Stephen was making good time, faster than 10 kph with the wind and tide helping, so I was content to stay in his wake. We pulled away from everyone else except the sit-down paddlers and the 17' tandem SUP that passed us. I kept pretty relaxed and took some sips from my dilute-gatorade-filled camelback.
4. When the intracoastal opened up into a wider bay the chop and wind increased and Stephen fell. I passed him and focused on riding the chop downwind en route to the turn-around spot, under a bridge.
5. I made my pivot turn under the bridge successfully but immediately slowed way down as I faced into the strong wind and oncoming chop. I settled into a slow and steady pace, but annoyingly had to paddle almost exclusively on my right side to maintain a heading. However, I figured everyone else would be having at least as much trouble as me, and that I might be able to win the race by just surviving.
6. That hope was dispelled when I saw Stephen Chase coming up on the left side of me. I struggled to get over and draft him but only managed to do so for a minute or two before I jostled out of his wake. I didn't have the strength or endurance to catch him. Somehow he made paddling into the wind look easy. He's a strong guy with a stocky build, which might help with the upwind stuff. Although as I recall he beat me pretty good in the Battle of the Blueway, too, and that race wasn't windy. So I'd say he's pretty badass all around.
7. The remainder of the race was grueling and demoralizing as I lagged further behind and struggled to get my groove going against the wicked wind and some current, too. My Speedcoach GPS gave me the "memory full" message around then, which was the only time during the race that I swore. I wish it would just overwrite the oldest logged data instead of aborting the current log when the memory filled up, because I never remember to clear the memory log manually.
8. My upper back and shoulders were on fire for the last couple kms, and my legs and hips started to get shaky and fatigued near the end too. But at last it was over. I felt like I had given it near 100% effort and was very pleased to get second place in a tough race with tough competitors. The one thing wasn't totally exhausted was my cardio (heart and lungs). I seem to have been more limited this time by muscle fatigue. For future into-the-wind races I might see if I can develop some sort of faster but lighter stroke.

The food, prize ceremony, and raffles after the race will superbly done, and it was fun hanging out with the CGT team and some of the other Florida racers we're getting to know now. Also, I really like the t-shirts they gave out. This was a great race.

Here's me, Stephen Chase, and Yensys Loyola, the 2nd, 1st, and 3rd place finishers in the 18-49 year old men's 14 sup class. John Sekas (not pictured) actually finished a couple minutes in front of Yensys but was in the 50+ age class. The guy with the microphone is the race coordinator and MC Bruce Denson.
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Here's Devin Turetzkin, Me, Matt Kearney, and Meg Bosi of the cgt team.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

3rd Person View of Exocet WindSUP 11'8

Yesterday after work I went to the beach with my wife. She was kind enough to get some video clips of me windsurfing with a 6.4 sail on the Exocet WindSUP 11'8. The wind was about 15 mph. This board is really nice for making the most out of wimpy waves.

3rd person Excoet WindSUP 11'8 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

SUP race with Annabel Anderson and tough Florida dudes

I got 5th place in a tough 10 km SUP race today. The race was the "Paddle at the Point" sponsored by Pinchers' Crab Shack in Cape Coral. The race course was a big, clockwise circuit right in the crossroads where the Caloosahatchee Estuary empties into San Carlos Bay. In addition to the usual Florida hazard of horrendously hot, humid, and windless weather there were some special challenges on this course, like strong currents, floating seagrass, and shallow oyster reefs.

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Since the race venue was pretty close to our local sup shop (CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards) we had a very good turnout by the CGT Race Team, some of whom are pictured here:

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The race was also attended by New Zealander Annabelle Anderson, the women's sup champion of the world. I feel very lucky to be in South Florida doing this sup racing thing, because in just my first year of racing I've been on the starting line with the fastest male paddler in the world (Danny Ching) and now one with the fastest lady. I can't think of any other sport where the stars come and compete in laid-back hometown events. (Oh wait, WINDSURFING.)

Here's how the race went for me. I'm also posting a link to my GPS data and track, which are on Strava. I think you need to create a Strava account to view the details (sorry):

1. Gear: I used cgt's white 14' x 25" Riviera RP raceboard, with my usual Riviera Vantage 8.0 110in^2 paddle and my usual windsurfing weed fin. I went topless but wore a belt-style inflatable pfd with a water bottle tucked in the back.

2. Pre race: I drank a lot of water and dilute gatorade and dunked under the water a lot too cool off.

3. Start: The starting line was on the water, between two buoys. I like that better than running down the beach into the water because I'm not very good at running down the beach into the water. The only annoying thing about the start was that during the countdown everyone crept way ahead of the line, led by the most competitive sponsored racers. If something like that happened in a sailing or windsurfing race they all would have been disqualified. Of course I crept up, too, because dang if I was going to get left behind! The start itself was a mad sprint, like all sup race starts.

4. First leg: During the starting sprint I jostled to get into a draft train of 14' boards led by Yolo boards rider Garrett Fletcher. Annabelle was right next to me on her 12'6 Lahui Kai board. I had an awkward time avoiding getting pushed into her by wakes and by the Bernoulli suction effect that happens when two boards are close together so I settled for getting behind her. It's against the rules to draft outside your gender and board length, but since Annabelle was drafting a guy on a 14' sup I figured it was ok to draft her, in turn, at least for that hectic sprinting part of the race. Unfortunately the guy who Annabelle was behind, Hoviesup rider Brad Ward, fell at the first buoy turn. That broke the draft train; by the time Annabelle and I went wide around Brad there was a gap between me and the lead four (Garrett Fletcher, Matt Arensman, Kieran Grant, and Connor Bonham) that I didn't think I could close. In retrospect now I should have "burned all my matches" to try to sprint up into their train, but I didn't try it.

5. Second leg: I got into a steady pace, trying to make the best possible use of the strong outgoing tide, and trying not to fall too far behind the leaders. Where possible I cut the path shorter when the leaders were going swerving around a bit. Annabelle was drafting behind me then, which I know is technically against the rules, but she was so far ahead of the other 12'6 women I don't think there's any way it would have affected the race outcome. At one point I found a nice patch of swift current and Annabelle said something positive about that, which was cool. Also, I did a smooth turn around the second buoy and she complimented me on that, too, so I was feeling good.

6. Third leg: This part was going cross-current from the south to the north side of the Caloosahatchee channel. I tried to err on the side of staying more up-current. Annabelle stopped drafting me and fell behind just a bit.

7. Fourth leg: I had a mediocre turn at the third buoy. After the slow turn I saw that Annabelle and Brad Ward were close together and not as far behind me as I hoped they'd be. I could hear their paddle splashing and voices which motivated me to keep pushing. It was tough going into the current. I was making just enough forward progress to cancel out the slight breeze at my back, so it was HOT. At this point in the race I think I should have made a bold move and hugged the shoreline tightly to get out of the current, but instead I just put my head down and followed a slightly more inshore path than the leaders, who were now a couple hundred meters ahead. That worked so-so. At one point I crunched my paddle into a shallow oyster bar and had to swerve back offshore to deeper water.

8. Final push: There were no changes in my position relative to the others', but ahead of me I saw young Bic SUP rider Connor Bonham detach from the leaders' draft train, and there were some other signs of jostling among the leaders. I began to gain ground on Connor, who was really suffering with chills and such, sometimes pausing for a second to catch his breath. But he'd had such a lead on me that he still finished almost a minute ahead.

The top 5 were:

Kieran Grant (Hoviesup, 27 North)- 1:04:20
Matt Arensman (Boga)- 1:04:21.14
Garrett Fletcher (Yolo)- 1:04:21.61
Connor Bonham (Bic)- 1:06:57
James Douglass (Me!)- 1:07:53

Men's 14' 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Winners:
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There were lots of noteworthy performances by local SW Florida riders. In the overall and 50+ men's 12'6 class Mark Athanacio got first place. (Annabelle was faster but in the womens' class.) Mark looks pretty happy with his winnings.

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CGT team member Meg Bosi (green hat) got 4th in womens' 12'6 in the 10k race.

Women's 12'6-
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Mark Hourigan and Devin Turetzkin got 2nd and 3rd in the 14' 50+ class 10 km. Devin was just behind South African kayak master Murray Hunkin, who has one more year to go before he can win the 50+ class. CGT race team captain Matt Kearney got 1st in the 14' class in the 5 km race, and race rookie Rudy Ambrosi got 1st in the over-50 14' class in the rec race. We rocked it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Naples Water Tri and Riviera RP 14' Race SUP

Today, for the first time in more than a decade, I participated in a race that wasn't purely a windsurf or SUP race. It was the "Naples Water Tri Challenge," organized by SW Florida athletic gurus Mark Athanacio and Jen Hayes. A classic triathalon is a swim, bike ride, and run, in immediate succession. The Naples Water Tri was a little different. It was a 1.6 km swim, then a short rest, then a 4.8 km beach run & 4.8 km sup paddle. You could do all three sub-events, or just one or two, and you could choose to do the beach run before or after the sup paddle. I liked the flexibility of the event, which I think encouraged more people to do it.

Part of me wanted to do all three sub-events, but I knew the long swim would have been too much for me unless I'd committed to practicing for it a month or more in advance. So I just did the run and the SUP, which I knew were within my abilities to complete. My total time was 0:58:16. Of that my run time was roughly 0:25:03 and my sup time was roughly 0:33:13. I say roughly because the end of the run was me taking my shoes and socks off and grabbing my sup, and the beginning of the sup was me micturating in the water before climbing aboard. The board I used for the race was a Riviera RP 14' x 25" in fiberglass construction. It's on extended loan from CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards on the condition that I kick butt with it to show it off and help advertise the shop. Compared to my blunt-nosed Fanatic Falcon, the Riviera RP seems to cut through the water a bit faster, and it does pivot turns better.

My CGT teammates Kate Pagan, Murray Hunkin, and Matt Kearney also did the race, and some other CGT folks helped with the boats and buoys. Kate actually did all three events, and did them all very well, even with the handicap of being on a 12'6 instead of a 14' board. Various folks took pictures, some of which I downloaded from facebook and posted below. Let me know if you want your photography acknowledged or removed.

Swimmers set out following sup-shepherd Mark Athanacio, and 800 m later round the halfway mark buoy.
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Start of the run/sup.
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Matt Kearney and Kate Pagan at the start of the SUP part.
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Murray Hunkin finishing the sup part with POWER. He was part of a relay team, with a buddy who did the run and swim.
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There was a random group of scuba divers right next to the turnaround point of the sup part.
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Coming in to the finish, wondering if I should have pushed it a little harder.
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CGT's Riviera RP.
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Interesting tail design on the RP to help with water release and with catching and riding "bumps."
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