So Saturday was my first race of the season; head high waves and gusting winds of 30 knots were a great way to start.
This year UKSUP Clubs have joined a series of events together to create a national series. The Head of the Dart was the first race in mid April seeing 150 paddlers take on the tough but scenic nine mile paddle from Dartmouth to Totnes. And the second race was to take the UK scene off flat water and into a technical race on the shores of Jersey which couldn't have been more different.
Having missed the Head of The Dart I really needed to get involved with this race if I wanted to be in any chance of a decent result for the overall standings for the year.
So when I managed to get a day off to coincide with the UKSUP Clubs second race of the season in Jersey there was only one way I was going to be able to get there and back in time for work on sunday and that was to fly. Having already been racing Red Paddle Co inflatables for the last year I was happy that they would hold their own against the array of carbon I was sure to find on Jersey's beaches.
So I packed both my 12’6″ and 14′ Elites with my Carbon Prime paddle, chucked in some NeoFlex gear and got dropped at Southampton airport on Saturday morning. Within an hour and a half of leaving home I was in Jersey where very kindly Pete Vale who was also racing on his 12’6″ Elite picked me up.
Squally was the best way to describe it, the race brief wasn’t till four and we kept going from beautiful sunshine to squally showers.
The event had already been moved to St Bredales Bay as the original spot was deemed to be too rough. I decided on the 14′ in the end, it looked pretty rough by this stage with some big downwind legs, I also had a flight to catch at 19:00 so needed to get the race done pretty sharpish.
As we had the race brief the tide was getting towards high, and the swell was starting to show. We were headed out the bay for a long upwind slog to the Devil’s Jaws, then headed down the bottom of the bay to a Hammer Buoy pretty much on the beach. Then we would punch back out through the surf to a small loop and round another inside mark sheltered by the breakwater until we were headed back out to the Devil’s Jaws again.
What to race in was tricky, we were all going to go in at somepoint and the wind was keeping the temp down. It was always going to be a hard slog though so getting the balance between warmth and not over heating meant I went for the Kaituna NeoFlex shortsleeve top, and Quantum longjohn. Having been out for a couple of quick warm-up runs we then gathered on the beach for the pre-race photo and got ready for the start.
The 14′ class were the first to head off as a set rolled in, getting out was tricky with a couple of early falls but soon we were all underway slogging upwind and into the swell. Everyone was making good progress until we cleared the breakwater. Here the swell was rebounding off the wall adding chop from every direction. The water state was pretty nasty, but I kept my head down and plugged away. I only went down a couple of times on the first upwind leg and was aware that there were quite a few crashes going on around me. When my head came up and I rounded the mark at the Devil's jaws I was in the lead.
The first downwind leg was more cross the wind. Difficult to see the mark we were headed for Damo and Ryan both headed down to the buoy at different angles to me both sneaking ahead. We all got to the inside buoy around the same time and at some point all went down and had to run round the buoy due to the depth of the water.
I caught back up with Damo on the next upwind and managed to round inside Ryan on the last inside buoy in the lee of the breakwater. From here it was back into the slog and again once we passed the breakwater the sea state made going slow but luckily my board was handling it the best.
I was calmer on the next downwind and got some nice runs and as I hit the inside mark this time I was joined by Ollie Shilston who was leading the 12’6″ fleet. At this stage we were told the race would be shortened to three laps, which meant we only had one more trip out to the Devil’s jaws.
With a good lead I tried to focus on the running theme of the race so far, stay standing and make your paddle stokes count.
As we headed up to the Devil’s Jaws for the last time I could see a massive squall coming in which hit just as Ollie and I rounded the top Buoy.
Pleased that I had avoided paddling into this squall the next challenge was now keeping upright, online and making sure me and the board didn’t take off. Looking back across the race course there were paddlers littered everywhere and the conditions were continuing to deteriorate.
I was coming in through the surf as Ollie rounded the inside buoy as we were starting to head back out the jet-ski directed us towards the finnish and signalled that we were not going to do the final short in out.
I crossed the line with Ollie, both of us a little unsure if the result would stand and then got to watch our fellow racers catch some epic rides on the way in and demonstrate some great skill in the now epic conditions.
Aaron Rowe was next over the line in the 12′6″ class and then Damo Warner and Phil Plume came over the line to complete the top three in the 14′ class.
Photos – Stuart Howells, Jersey Paddle Club and Mark Juste
The race had been the hardest conditions I have ever paddled in never mind raced, in terms of kit choice I couldn’t have been happier. My Red 14′ Elite let me get on with the task of paddling and dealt with everything that was thrown at it, along with my Black Project Fin. The NeoFlex gear I chose to wear turned out to be comfortable, flexible and kept me at the perfect temperature throughout.
It was even better when after a bit of chat with everyone and a piece of cake, I deflated my board got a lift to the airport and was home within twelve hours of leaving in the morning.
The next race I can make is the Battle of the Thames which will be flat water for 10 km, a totally different skill set but I’m looking forward to the challenge and the next round of the series.
Check out UK SUP Clubs' quick edit of the event that gives you a flavour of the action ...