Blog #43 – British SUP Club (vice-)Champs!

We’ve had an amazing end to our summertime SUP season, with a massive second place at the biggest British SUP Club Championships ever versus 19 other clubs at Bray Lake three weeks ago, plus a few more fantastic SUP Clubs. But our paddleboarding year’s still far from over – we’ve got one last Wednesday evening SUP Club planned, plus a Halloween special, a winter SUPper club, and Xmas drinks alongside weekend manoeuvres on suitable forecasts as we switch into winter mode to make the most of the conditions on offer in the colder months! Plus we’re also looking forward to the start of our EASI race series next month in association with the other major East Anglian clubs…

Of course, headline news just lately was our amazing second place at the British SUP Club Championships at Bray – we’re only just coming back down to earth about that now, a few weeks on! So it’s long overdue that we debriefed on that weekend, when 20 SUP clubs from all over the country came together to form 18 teams competing for the coveted Championship title on Saturday 28th September. SUPsect started to arrive on Friday lunchtime, with El, Dunc and Trev first there as this year El was asked to run the junior and novice sub-12′ racing: no mean feat with the biggest ever fleet of 50+ juniors entered, plus over 30 novice shortboarders! To add to the complexity, plans A and B for the junior distance, technical and sprint racing had been rendered unworkable by the strong winds on the forecast, so Friday afternoon was all about implementing plan C in a sheltered corner of the lake while the Bray team focussed on replanning the main course. All went smoothly enough and El finished the day satisfied with her new location and plans … while Trev had endured the wettest weather we’ve seen in years, dressed for summer in the safety boat to drop El’s race buoys in place, and returning the wettest we’ve ever seen a Mexican hombre! Mid-afternoon saw the arrival of our other SUPsect marshals; Baz, Kev and Chippy had volunteered to help event organiser Fiona and her Bray team run the event, so were briefed on their duties for the following day. And late afternoon into the evening, Team SUPsect assembled, parking up at our customary SUPsect amphitheatre and pitching tents on Bray hill, suitably briefed not to get pissed the night before the race – while El and Dunc were involved in a skippers’ meeting, discussing the future of the event, where some interesting ideas were raised to keep the event growing and relevant next season and beyond.
After a good night’s sleep, Saturday dawned breezy – yet dry, sunny and reasonably warm. With team captain El having to focus on running her junior / novice side of the competition this year instead of racing and managing our team, as she had done these last six years, Dunc stepped up to do his best as acting skipper – and the registration went reasonably smoothly, including a valiant attempt at an inspirational speech, recapping that we were as well prepared as we could be after a season of Race Clubs and were there to conduct ourselves well and most of all enjoy the racing! Suitably motivated we all made the briefing race ready, paid attention to the course, and the ‘main race’ competitors made their way to the startline. Meanwhile our invaluable volunteers had been issued their yellow tabards (proudly displaying SUPsect vests underneath) and were manning the iconic Braywatch tower and pontoons to help with scoring and ensuring racers were safe getting into and out of the water, amongst other duties. They did us proud…
Back on the racecourse, and it was windy. Very windy, blowing right to left down the lake. This year’s course was initially planned clockwise for a change – but in those conditions, a downwind startline wouldn’t have been practical so it reverted to the usual anti-clockwise course around the lake, with an extra ‘width’ up and down the sheltered end of the lake to make it a little more technical. In maybe 20 knots of wind at times, it was a challenging course: first a brutal upwind leg, before the more technical widths, then a downwind stretch with a couple of turns, through the island, finally another left-hander back onto the upwind start-finish straight. The full race classes were to do four laps, around 7.5km, while the 12’6″ novices would do two, and the sub-12′ novices one for their distance race (before their technical and sprint races as run by El and Trev in the afternoon). First off were the 12’6″ novice women, in which our Catherine’s year of hard work really paid off as she finished a strong 6th out of 18 – despite being knocked off by a mannerless 14′ bloke, resulting in a brief swim that she’s proud to have speedily recovered from! Next, we had two entries in the 12’6″ novice men’s: Ray, who’s also put in a lot of work and massively improved this season, and ‘Step-Back Junior’ Jamie, son of Step-Back Stu and Laura’s significant other who stepped-up as a late reserve after family issues prevented David from attending. Both of our boys had seriously strong races; Ray finishing an impressive 5th out of 19 and Jamie an amazing 2nd within a minute of the winner. Our N1SCO biscuit Steve also got off to a solid start up towards the front five of his fleet, but a novel numeracy error resulted in him completing a fifth lap before finishing (having started counting the first lap as 0, he then went on to do 4 more!) In the 12’6″ women’s inflatable class, Helen had no such trouble and bagged us another 6th place. As did Ian, 6th in a crazy-strong men’s 12’6″ hardboard fleet, closely followed by Mark in 7th. Meanwhile Dunc was pleased to stay vaguely in touch with hardboard winner PJ to comfortably win the 12’6″ iSUP class in 55:34.9 ahead of some strong competition from a fleet of 14 – Nick posted a really solid 8th and Ed 12th… Moving up to the 14’s, and in the women’s iSUP Laura put in a fierce paddle to finish 3rd in another strong fleet with Kate a few places back in 6th. We had three men in a 20-strong 14′ iSUP fleet, all of whom paddled supremely to score good points for the team: Al narrowly broke an hour to finish 3rd, closely followed by ‘Wellyboot’ Steve within 45 seconds for 4th, then Matt ‘PowOw’ 45 seconds later for 6th! Onto the hardboards, where we had mixed fortunes – unfortunately conditions really didn’t suit Danny’s narrow new flatwater board, so he recorded a DNF after a few falls, but Andy finished in just over an hour for 5th of nine 50-59 men’s 14′ hardboard. Find full results on Webscorer.
Once the course was clear of the main race fleets, it was time for the novice sub-12’s to take on a lap of the lake for their distance race, before heading over to El and co for their technical and sprints in the afternoon. In the women’s Adéle got off to a solid start with a 9th out of 17 on the distance course, which she followed up with more mid-fleet results in the afternoon to finish 9th overall after her three races. Then in the men’s Aidy and Max charged to 2nd and 3rd in the distance race, following up with similar in the afternoon to secure two more podiums come prizegiving: a storming 2nd overall for Aidy and 3rd for a beaming Max! Find novice sub-12′ results on Webscorer.
Meanwhile, up in the top corner of the lake, El’s junior racing had been going brilliantly – ably assisted by ‘Coach Nacho’ Trev on the water and Bray‘s Louise and Sam ashore, plus Dunc whenever he could get over between competing. With the aid of just five buoys, a pontoon on the small beach, plus a loudhailer, 50+ kids split by gender and into under-14s, under-12s and under-10s were enjoying an amazing day’s racing – first a technical, then sprints and finally a short distance course – despite some crazily strong gusts blowing across the lake. Then in the afternoon the novice sub-12’s competed around the same technical and sprint courses too. And our trio of marshals – Baz, Kev and Chippy – had been getting well and truly stuck in helping run the main races. They were all presented with BSCC glassware for their efforts and really did SUPsect proud with their volunteering.
Main distance races done, there was still more competition to come – first in the shape of the sprints, which thanks to the wind had been amended from the standard one-way sprint to a very much non-standard shorter route with the addition of a 180° buoy turn. To be fair, it didn’t really suit most of our sprinters so well, although we got a couple through to the finals: Aidy stormed his heat to make the novice men’s final, while Dunc somehow beat the unbeatable Zoltan in his heat to qualify for the elite final! While neither finished high in those finals, it was more points… Next came the 4-man Dragon racing – and while the SUPsect team of Dunc, Dan, Andy and Mark got off to a storming start and hit warpspeed comfortably ahead of the rest of their heat, having not trained any turns whatsoever, the surprise 180° didn’t go so well; we got around the turn, but came out way too wide and finished outside of the gate. So our final hopes of team points were on the shoulders of our relay crew: skipper Ian, ‘Wellyboot’ Steve, Dan and Laura. And they came through! Welly took the first leg on the 10’6″ Ride, then Ian on his 12’6″, Danny on the N1SCO, and Laura on (Andy’s) 14′ to qualify top two in the heat and therefore gain us points from the final, which was won by relay legends Waterborn.
While we were certainly happy with our day, come prizegiving we really couldn’t gauge where we’d come overall – as the results were announced in reverse order from 18th upwards, we listened out for SUPsect … of course, a lot of the team names started “S…” so it was a nervy time! As we got beyond 10th and into the upper half of the table we began to feel happy with our result, already verging on ecstatic when 6th was announced as Bay, meaning we’d matched last season’s 5th. Yet 5th was Southampton, so we’d made 4th? No – Northern Race Team had. Hence when we were called up onto the actual podium for 3rd place we went completely crazy: total elation, and we took full advantage of our prolonged moment of glory before hosts Bray Lake were awarded 2nd and worthy winners Waterborn 1st. There started an amazing night of celebrations, including swigging Moet & Chandon champagne in the clubhouse (thanks to Catherine and Nick!) and letting loose in the marquee. But the best was yet to come as the following morning, after we’d slowly regrouped at the clubhouse for coffee, we were told that a scoring error meant we’d actually finished 2nd, a single point ahead of Bray – a result we’d really not dared dream of, but testament to the strength in depth of our team. We all eventually drove home floating a few inches above the tarmac…
Huge thanks to everyone at Bray for the seventh (and by some way biggest) incarnation of BSCCSam Ross, Fiona, Frosty plus all of the volunteers, including this year our own SUPsect contingent. Thanks too to the whole of our race team, who really did us proud – and more broadly to everyone who came to our Race Clubs this season; they seemed to work, eh! But actually this result is really testament to everyone that keeps this club so buoyant by joining us at SUP Club every Wednesday – that’s what’s built the paddlers, our ethos and hence reputation. This one’s definitely for all of us!

Talking of SUP Club, although the nights have certainly been drawing in it’s not stopped us getting out on a Wednesday night – we’ve just been a little more careful and illuminating ourselves with green and red lights just lately. The second weekend in September we had some fun tucked out down the dogleg from Two Tree Island with a couple of rounds of SUPdog, another big game of surf hockey, and a tuned-in chill-out zone under the setting sun and rising moon – more here. The following week we scored an amazing sunset on a very much non-standard ‘upwinder’ as the ebb tide pulled us east from Chalkwell to Thorpe Bay against the breeze – more here. Next was our first SUP Club ‘night paddle’ of the autumn which turned out to be one of our favourite river meets of the year! A 6.5k loop from Papermill to Stonham’s Lock on the River Chelmer, lit up for the return leg, followed by another super supper at our favourite pub, the Six Bells Boreham. More here. Then at the start of October, 22 of us started crazy early to catch the tide for a magic 7.5km sunset downwinder on the ebb tide for our classic Chalkwell to Thorpe Bay route, followed by dinner with somewhat questionable service at the Shorehouse Harvester – more here. And for the last two weeks we’ve really enjoyed turning to full-on lit-up night mode for super-chilled paddles on the river from Paper Mill Lock, followed by more unrivalled hospitality at the Six Bells – more here and here… Coming up, next week’s our last Wednesday night SUP Club of the year before the clocks going back marks the end of our summertime season – but then the following week we’re planning a Halloween special on Thursday 31st, plus we’re considering a special SUPper club meet on Wednesday 27th November, then Xmas drinks on Friday 20th December – keep up with that and more via our social media channels: @SUPsect on Facebook and @SUPsectUK on Instagram.

Back to racing and a few of us are off to Kingsbridge South Devon next weekend for the culmination of the GB SUP race series with the technical on Sunday, preceded by the infamous SUP the Creek race on the Saturday. Brought to you by Crispin and his team from BSCC victors Waterborn, it promises to be fun even if it’s unlikely to be ‘our’ conditions! Then it’s just a week until the first round of our EASI (East Anglian SUP Initiative) winter race series as Frangipani host up at the TriFarm in Boreham on Saturday 2nd November: entries open now via Webscorer. This season, rather than board sizes we’re splitting fleets by gender and experience under the following guidelines – ‘Novice Challenger’ (up to 12’6”: has never raced outside club, EASI races, or novice level at BSCC), ‘Racer’ (up to 14ft: has raced nationally but hasn’t made any podium), and ‘Experienced Racer’ (14ft: regularly races and has made podium at national level). The rest of the series will come courtesy of our other East Anglian comrades: Norfolk Outdoor Adventures (7th December), Suffolk (11th January), SUPsect (that’s us! 8th February) and Barefoot (7th March). Your top three results will count towards a final series standing. Maybe see you there?

And finally, there’s no doubt that Race Club – planned and coached by El on a dozen Thursday and Friday evenings leading up to BSCC – got us all ready for racing at Bray and set the foundations for our amazing team result. Look out for any special weekend Race Club meets over the winter with more free technique workshops and informal £5 racing. And if you’re ready to really up-your-game, our very own double British Champion(!) Dunc is now back into winter coaching mode and is available for 1-2-1 lessons at £80 for a 2-hour session: six of our top racers have benefited from a course of his bespoke race coaching already, email [email protected] to arrange your own performance boost…

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