Thursday 9 May 2013

Carolina Cup – 2013

If you haven’t raced the Carolina Cup before then be sure to put it at the top of your list for next year. In only its third year the event has grown into the largest event on the east coast and the next largest event isn’t even close. With over 450 racers across three different races, loads of board demos, clinics run by Danny Ching, Jimmy Terrell and Jamie Mitchell, Dan Gavere, Candice Appleby and Anthony Vela, a free kids clinic by Heather Baus, and international competitors like Jamie Mitchell,Annabel Anderson, and Eric Terien it is starting to approach the stoke of an event like the Battle of the Paddle. It’s just a little more laid back and relaxed, which means that despite some really high level racing in a very deep field in the elite race it is all about fun.

Wrightsville Beach is a paddler’s heaven with miles upon miles of beautiful intercoastal waterways to paddle, nice sandy beaches with decent surf and the Atlantic Ocean which can provide some great downwinding conditions. At the Carolina Cup there is a novice race and a longer open race on the intercoastal and then a 13.5 mile grind of an elite race (they call the course “The Graveyard”) that starts and ends on the beach and does a loop around Wrightsville Beach and includes some challenging tidal paddling in the intercoastal, inlet paddling, and the usual array of conditions the ocean throws at you.

This year’s field in the 13.5 mile elite Graveyard race was the deepest yet. Anytime I have a chance to paddle in the same race as Danny or Jamie I get excited. Having Eric Terien, Chase Kosterlitz, Nick Leason, Matt Becker, Jimmy Terrell, Thomas Maximus, and Ryan Helm in the mix makes it a pretty deep field in terms of quality. Making the race even more challenging, conditions for the race were tough. An outgoing tide on a full moon meant we were paddling into a ridiculously strong current for most of the 7 or so miles in the intercoastal as well as a fairly strong headwind. On the ocean, although the surf wasn’t big (which made getting off the beach fairly easy), there was a sloppy two to three foot,quartering wave that, while it made for some good rides, couldn’t exactly be called well lined up downwind conditions.

Heading in I was concerned about my lack of on-water preparation. The weather has been so unbelievably lousy in Toronto this spring that my water time has been sort of hit and miss. Every time I started to build some momentum in training I’d be forced off the water by another deep freeze or snowstorm. The 22 km of this race represented almost exactly 1/10th of the total distance I had paddled since the end of November, so when I arrived in Wrightsville Beach and found that conditions were expected to make an already long race even longer I was a little worried I might hit the wall hard in this race.

I figured I could approach this race in one of two ways. I could throw caution to the wind and just go for it like I normally would, which would mean really pushing the pace in the flats, or I could play it really cautious and do a lot of riding through the flats and hope to save energy for the ocean. In the end I went with something in between those two approaches and it seemed to pay off.

My start off the beach was sloppy and I got knocked off my board before I ever really got on it. I recovered and got out of the break and going pretty quickly but there is a world of difference between what guys like Danny and Jamie can do off the beach and what I can do. At my best this part of the race is a real weakness. When I haven’t really done a beach start since November it just magnifies that shortcoming. As a result the top guys like Danny, Jamie and Eric were gone. Along with them were some awfully capable ocean racers like Chase, Matt and Ryan. I had to weave my way through a bunch of slower racers as I headed towards the jetty and was happy to see Jimmy only about a board length ahead and slightly to the inside of me.

Once we turned the corner into the jetty it was a different story. Here is where our years of flat-water training come to the rescue and we made up ground very quickly. I pulled Jimmy up to a draft train that included Nick and Thomas along with Belar Diaz and a couple of others, and then Jimmy took the lead for a bit. Although the tidal current made it very slow going it was actually really fun weaving in and out of the docks in an effort to hug the shore and escape the strongest current. Thomas took the lead for a bit and then just after we got under the second bridge I took the lead through the dogleg up to Banks Channel. Once we’d been in Banks Channel for a bit Nick took the lead and then Thomas again.

I cannot understate the importance of racing with a GPS. It proved incredibly valuable to me last year in the Carolina Cup, allowing me to find the fastest line when Jimmy and I were travelling with the current in the intercoastal. This year was no different,except the current was very strong and moving the opposite direction against us. When I was leading I knew exactly what line to take and when both Nick and Thomas were leading I was able to coach them on how close to shore they needed to be. A difference of 15 feet closer to shore lowered our travelling pace from over 8:00/km to around 7:30/km. I kept encouraging them to move closer to shore to the point where our paddles just touched the bottom each stroke then just edge out a little. This got our pace down to just below 7:15/km. At this pace we could see we were slowly gaining on Matt ahead of us.

When we made the turn into the inlet and headed towards the ocean suddenly we had the current with us. Our pace immediately dropped to around 4:30/km and as we hit the surf at the end of the inlet I could feel that I still had strong legs. Apparently my decision to both ride more and paddle a slightly more conservative pace while leading paid off. As we turned south on the ocean I felt comfortable on my board and was able to aggressively try to catch bumps.

Nick and I took a more outside line while Thomas took an inside line. Nick pulled away a little on me and then I pulled back. We seesawed back a forth till almost the pier before he finally started to pull away. We had both opened up a lead on Thomas who dropped from our view on the inside. Jimmy fell behind fairly quickly and I didn’t see him until we hit the beach. Just before the buoy and the turn to the beach, Thomas pulled up on the inside and passed me. I didn’t have much left at this point to hold him off or try to pass him back. I was pretty impressed with his ability to charge so hard at the end. The surf into the beach was uneventful. I didn’t catch any bombers but didn’t get thrown off my board either and hit the beach for the short jog through the finish line in 9th place.

I’m very pleased with this result. Being able to put in such a high quality effort in a 2 ½ hour race with so little paddling under my belt since last November is more than I expected. What I was able to do in the last ocean leg far exceeded what I was able to do last year and represented a big step forward in my ocean skills. Again, to take that step with so little paddling behind me in the last 5 months was a pleasant surprise. I think my relative success in this race speaks to the value of a comprehensive and intelligent winter dry-land training program. My base level of fitness is very good and some of the simulation work I did for balance and leg endurance was very useful and has had an immediate impact on the board. Unquestionably I’d have been better if I had been on the water longer and even done a few races before this race, but for the small amount of paddling I had been able to do this result represents a big success, particularly when you consider I am 50 years old.

Obviously the race was the highlight of the weekend for me, and over the course of the weekend I enjoyed reconnecting with so many people who have become friends over the last two seasons of racing. We had a lot of fun post race on Saturday and the hangover I had on Sunday morning was well worth it. Other than the race, the other thing I am really excited about coming out of the weekend is the clinic I put on with Jimmy for 10 very enthusiastic paddlers.

Jimmy and I have longed talked about doing a clinic together. We’ve known each other since 1981 and have both raced against each other and trained with each other a lot over the years since then. We’ve always enjoyed sharing ideas about technique and training and finally doing a clinic together seemed like a natural culmination of years of common experience. I think we were able to provide some real value to the paddlers in the clinic and whether it was video analysis in the classroom or showing them some drills on the water it was fun to work with such an enthusiastic group. I’m hoping we can do some more clinics together this season and I’m certainly willing to travel to more than I have the last few seasons to make that possible.

It’s nice to get the first race of the season out of the way, and particularly nice to feel good about the result. The weather is finally starting to get nice here in Toronto and my on-water training is finally starting to gain momentum. I can't wait to get out and race again!