Sunday 18 August 2013

Canada Cup of SUP, August 17, 2013

This was a great event hosted by Surf Ontario and 404 which drew about 60 competitors in only it’s second year.  Significantly, it drew Danny Ching, who made the trip to support the event, run a clinic and promote his 404 brand.   The event was run entirely off the sandy beach at Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering. 

Last year’s inaugural event was a big success and consisted of a buoy race that everyone, from novice to elite participated in together.  This year, race organizers Mike Sandusky and Doug Tutty, put together a two-stage event with a short 5km open water distance race and then a BOP style buoy race.  There was about an hour in between the finish of the distance race and the start of the BOP style race and in that time they ran rec and kids races on the buoyed course.
The weather turned out to be awesome - perfect sunny and warm conditions with a light onshore wind out of the southeast.  The wind wasn’t enough to kick up any sizeable waves for either race, but there were small bumps to use to gain speed in the downwind sections.

The distance race started at 9:00 a.m. with a beach start.  Paddlers had to go about 300m to a buoy off shore before doing a 90-degree right shoulder turn and heading west.  Then it was just a simple matter of following the shore just over 2 km to the turn around an anchored motorboat and then heading back.  You weren’t required to go around the buoy on the way in and could just head towards the beach and the finish line a short run up the sand.
Let me make it very clear that anytime I have a change to race against Danny Ching I get excited.  Actually it’s more than that, I feel privileged.  There aren’t many sports where you can line up on the start beside the very best athletes in the world unless you are one of them yourself.  This is one of the things that make SUP racing so awesome.   Furthermore, in this part of the world though we occasionally get the odd high-level SUP paddler here to race, none have been at the level of Danny. When you consider that there are only a handful of paddlers in the world at his level it really is a privilege when he shows up at your local event to race.

The start for the distance race was good for me.  I don’t think Danny made an effort to kill it on his start, and I understand that he probably entered this race cautious about the shoulder injury that caused him to drop out of the M2O race at the end of July.  We got around the turn buoy together and headed west steadily pulling away from the group behind us.  There was a light tailwind with tiny bumps to use for a little extra speed, but basically it was just steady paddling.  We had a nice conversation on the way to the turn, around the turn and for most of the way back.  Danny even dropped back and rode my wash for a good portion of the return leg. 

I knew he’d inevitably make a move and when he made it, it was emphatic.  He has a high-end gear that I have rarely seen from people I’ve paddled with in SUP, and I had to work to get his draft without letting him get away from me.  Once I was on, it wasn’t too hard to stay there, but I made a tactical mistake as we approached the finish.  Since we weren’t required to round the buoy and head straight into shore we could slowly angle into shore.  Danny slowly headed into shallower and shallower water.  I actually started to hit bottom with my paddle, which didn’t surprise me, as I know I sink the blade a little deeper than most paddlers.  So I decided to come off his draft to the right and angle out a bit to get deeper water.  I hammered and caught up a little but any move I was making to pass him quickly stalled and we basically maintained our separation.  The problem was I was now further from the finish on the beach because I had angled out.  I had to cut back in behind him and angle more sharply to the finish area on the beach.  By the time I’d hopped off my board and ran across the finish line he had beaten me by 7 seconds.
Danny and I laughed about the mistake I’d made and he said as he angled closer and closer to shore he kept waiting for me to go right into shore, jump off my board and try to pass him running on the beach.  I’ll remember that and consider trying it next time, but for me I was quite satisfied with the result as it was.  I know Danny didn’t exactly empty the tank in that race.  I’m certain he was paddling cautious and being careful not to over stress his shoulder.  However I’m also convinced that at some point in the race he realized his shoulder wasn’t so bad and he could take it up to high gear.  I’m just stoked that I was able to travel with him in that gear better than a year ago.

The guys coming in behind Danny and me were really competitive and it shows that there are a lot of good paddlers in this area.  Rich Phelan had a great race to come 3rd, Brent Schmidt from Ottawa was 4th and Chris Stringer 5th.  Chrissy Wessman was the top girl.

Immediately after the race I started working on a bottle of Recoverite and sat back to enjoy the kids race.  It was really cool to see the kids of so many of the racers competing.  Both Chris Stringer’s and Andy Skeoch’s kids paddled really well.  Looks like there will be lots of good company out on the water to paddle with well into my 60s!

The BOP style race was up next.  About 300m out to the first buoy, a left shoulder turn to a buoy another 400m or so away and a right shoulder turn around that.  Then straight out into the lake about 300m or so, a right shoulder turn and then a long downwind paddle into the beach for a run around a small chicane and then back out to a buoy on the right.  A left shoulder turn around that and then back to buoy one to repeat the loop.  Two full laps in total then a run up the beach to cross the finish line.

We started knee deep in the water, and for this start I was beside Danny.  I’m pretty certain he didn’t hold back at all on this start.  It honestly caught me off guard how quick he was.  Not just getting on his board and getting his first stroke in but also his sprint speed.  He had a couple of board lengths on me immediately and by the time I really hit my stride he had three full lengths of open water.  I pulled a couple of those back before we hit the first turn, but he took a little distance back on the turn.  After that it was pretty much a case of me more or less matching his speed between buoys and then losing a board length or so every turn.  My left shoulder turns aren’t bad and I don’t give up a ton of distance, but my right shoulder turns are very weak compared to his.  It was actually a real treat to paddle behind him and get to watch his foot and paddle work on each turn.  So incredibly precise and effective.  No tension or extra effort to maintain balance.  Just completely fluid and relaxed movements that get his board around a buoy in not much more than a second.  For me it probably takes double that on a left shoulder turn and at least triple that on a right shoulder turn.  I’m better at these turns than I have ever been but it is clear after a race like this that there is a lot of work left to do.

Danny came into the beach 23 seconds ahead of me and Rich, who hung right on the back of my board for all but the last straight away to the beach came 3rd, ten seconds behind me.  Rich’s result was great and I think he was pretty stoked with his two races.  He’s consistently put together great races at all the local events this year and I’ve paddled with him a lot and seen his skill in big water as well as flats.  Hopefully he’ll start doing some bigger travelling races next year.  He’ll do quite well.

The results for this race were posted really quickly.  Mike and his volunteer team did a really good job of keeping track of all the times over each of the races.  They’re posted - click here.
 The entire event was awesome.  Some tasteful awards rather than tacky trophies or medals and lots of product given away that everyone was stoked to get.   Some post race refreshments right on the beach and everything tidied up by 2:00 p.m. so people had time to do other stuff with the rest of their day.

I’m pretty pleased with my effort here.  I didn’t feel any lingering effects from the two 12 miles races I did last weekend at the Lobster Cup in Maine, and I seem to have good travelling speed.  It was a treat to race Danny.  I’ve said all along at the age of 50  I don’t expect to win against the top guys like Danny, Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny.  They’re awesome.  But I’d love to close the gap to a point where it sort of redefines what anyone ever imagined a 50 year old is capable of.  I’ve still got lots of work to do but appear to be making some significant steps in that direction.

Thanks to the Surf Ontario and the volunteers for their effort, and in particular thanks to Danny for making the trip.  Danny is a fantastic ambassador for this sport.  At virtually every race we’ve both been at I’ve seen him out on the water playing on his board, showing kids tricks and having fun after the race.  He takes time to talk to everyone and share his stoke for the sport with them.  It makes a difference.  People leave these events not only excited that they’ve seen perhaps the best guy in the world do his thing, but thrilled because he took the time to talk to them and maybe give them a few tips.  This small gesture on his part makes these people way more excited about the sport.   As a result, I don’t think there is anyone who has met Danny who isn’t happy to see him have success in the biggest races.

If you’re from Ontario you need to put this event on your calendar for next year.  If you are from somewhere further away, consider making the trip to Toronto for this event.  There is a vibrant SUP community here that will promise you a fun and competitive event.