Blog #35 – Blazing February!

Wow! We’ve had a pretty full-on week alright, making the most of that incredible February heatwave… First, our final round of the EASI winter race series was a blazing success at Hullbridge last Saturday, then we decompressed with a chilled sunset Sunday Service, Dunc and Steve ran a SUPsurf mission to Bracklesham in 20°C+ on Tuesday, and we rounded off with a Wednesday evening SUP Club cruising to the pub in Old Leigh then back in the dark…

So rewind to Saturday 23rd February, when it was our turn to host the finale of our super-successful inaugural EASI (East Anglian SUP Initiative) winter race series. The bar had been set high by the four previous events (thanks again to our colleagues and friends Norfolk Outdoor, Suffolk, Frangipani and Barefoot for hosting) so we had a lot to live up to – but we organised and prepped thoroughly for our 7.5km race from Hullbridge to Battlesbridge and what’s more, the weather gods smiled on us with warm, sunny weather and just a little easterly wind on the day. So we were chuffed with 28 registered racers to make it the biggest EASI race yet! Our course was pretty straightforward, west from Hullbridge to a 180° left turn at Trev ‘Coach Nacho’ in Battlesbridge and back, so the briefing went smoothly and by 3pm everyone was on the water ready to go. First off were the women, 12’6″s and 14’s – Laura (SUPsect) set off fast on her 14′ Red Paddle Elite and built a commanding lead to finish 1st in 1:04:07, Wilma (Suffolk, 14′) put in a strong paddle to finish 2nd woman, next fastest Mary (Frangipani) claimed 1st women’s 12’6″ iSUP in 1:09:15 followed by Anna (SUPer Whale) for 2nd, then Helen (Burnham) took 1st women’s 12’6″ in 1:11:56, followed by Kate (SUPsect) 3rd 12’6″ iSUP, Helen (Frangipani) 4th, Helen (SUPsect) 5th, and Rea (SUPer Whale) wasn’t far behind to take the all-round class in 1:20:28. Three minutes after the women, the second start was men’s 12’6″ (solids and iSUPs) who went off at one hell of a pace with the tide and breeze. Dunc (SUPsect) managed to wrestle a lead on his Red Paddle 12’6″ Elite and gradually pulled ahead to finish 1st 12’6″ in the third fastest overall time of 53:09, Steve (Barefoot) was next fastest for 1st 12’6″ x 28+ iSUP in 56:05, then Step-Back Stu (SUPsect) put in another super-strong performance to take 2nd 12’6″ on his Red Paddle Elite in 57:15, narrowly ahead of Andy (SUPsect) in 3rd who was still charging across the finish-line despite taking a fall and injuring his ribs early in the race. Mike (Frangipani) took 4th 12’6″, then Nick (SUPsect) broke an hour to take 2nd iSUP on his Red Paddle, followed by Steve (SUPsect) for 5th 12’6″, Ted (Frangipani) 6th and Paul (SUPsect) 7th. The last wave to start was the 14′ men’s fleet, led by Kelvin (Suffolk) and Danny – these two exchanged the lead for the first half of the race all the way into Battlesbridge, where Kelvin’s experience allowed him to pull away in messier waters and start to build a minute’s lead by the end. Kelvin just overhauled Dunc on the water into the headwind during the final kilometre to finish 1st overall in 50:04, then Danny took an impressive 2nd 14′, 3rd was Martin (Norfolk Outdoor), Richard ‘The Naked Policeman’ (SUPsect) took a strong 4th on his Red Paddle, while Ian (SUPsect) also broke an hour on his Red Paddle for 5th, followed by George (Bray) in 6th, Neil (Suffolk) 7th, Mat (Frangipani) 8th, Graham (SUPsect) 9th after a startline mixup saw him penalised for starting with the 12’6″s, and finally Peter 10th. Find plenty of pictures on Facebook and full results here. After the racing, we moved to the Smugglers Den for beers and the prizegiving on their wooden veranda – after the race beers and bubbly were awarded (which included a SUPsect clean sweep in the 12’6″s for Dunc, Stu and Andy, alongside a 1st for Laura in 14′, 2nd men’s 12’6″ iSUP for Nick and 3rd women’s iSUP for Kate – plus Andy deservedly took the paddler’s paddler award!) the series trophies of EASI branded glassware were given out. SUPsect were again well represented with another clean sweep in the 12’6″s for Dunc, Stu and Andy. What’s more, there was a 1st for Helen in the women’s 12’6″ x 28+ iSUP, plus 2nd men’s 12’6″ iSUP for Al and 3rd for Nick behind Steve (Barefoot) in 1st. In the 14’s, the men’s series finished Kelvin (Suffolk) 1st, Martin (Norfolk Outdoor) 2nd and Danny 3rd while the women’s was comfortably won by Sam (Barefoot), with Anni (Frangipani) 2nd and Wilma (Suffolk) 3rd. After dark, a baker’s dozen of us rounded off with a great dinner at the Simla Tandoori. Thanks again for everyone’s support at this race – and in fact throughout the series, which went better than we’d dared imagine – bring on next winter!

The following day, Sunday was another cracker – so in the afternoon we decided to decompress with a magic Sunday Service; 13k from Two Tree to beyond Canvey Way and back. With a little easterly breeze to help us out, we came back in no wind whatsoever under a glorious sunset as vast flocks of birds put on quite some show as they gathered to roost – find a few pictures here. Plenty of others got out in the morning, including Kev who baptised his new Infinity board up on the Crouch with a quick blast into Burnham – check the SUPsect Forum on Facebook for that and plenty more, where you might have already seen a couple of the most amazing video clips – as on the same morning Adam went for a cruise out to Seal Point in the Thames Estuary where he ended up making very good friends indeed with one of the locals. If you haven’t already, you must check out this movie on Facebook. Incredible…

As if the unseasonably warm weather wasn’t distracting enough, anyone watching the swell buoys and forecasts couldn’t have failed to notice that an absolutely classic Atlantic swell was also hitting the UK’s west and south coasts. Big and long-period, reports abounded of some of the best surf in years at breaks all around the country, until Dunc and Steve could stand it no longer, so on Tuesday they dropped work and bolted down to Bracklesham in West Sussex to score themselves some waves. And score they did, enjoying a 3-hour session in proper long-period surf with the bigger sets touching head-high. Look out for a short edit from a little GoPro footage that Steve captured hitting @The Fat Surfer on YouTube very soon – meanwhile check out a few snaps on Facebook @SUPsect

We couldn’t let that weather go by without doing something more though – and we spotted a SUP Club shaped chance on Wednesday with a 5.33pm sunset, 6.33pm high tide and super-light winds on the forecast. So we went for it and called a ridiculously early 5pm meet at Chalkwell for a cheeky little cruise into Old Leigh for a pint at The Crooked Billet. We were very pleasantly surprised with a 9-strong turnout, and enjoyed a super-atmospheric paddle back in the dark, lit up with red and green lights for safety. Check out SUPrise SUP Club – in February!?! on Facebook: it really was the ideal curtain-raiser for this coming season!

Of course, it couldn’t last forever, so now normal winter service has resumed with wetter, windier, chillier weather all-round. The daffodils are out though, we’ve had a taste of it and it can’t be long until spring proper now – after all, there’s just one last Frostbite race to come this Sunday 10th March at Bray Lake! (More @BrayLakeSUP on Facebook.) Plus, another sure sign of spring, in the coming week we’ll be releasing details of our first few Learn to SUP dates for this season and opening bookings via a new streamlined booking system…

See you on the water!

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