Dunc’s 2018 British SUP Club Championships blog

It’s been such an amazing year, we’ve pretty much run out of superlatives to describe what great times we’ve had – but last weekend really was the icing on the cake that is our 2018 SUP season. Because SUPsect, our super-social paddle club out here in Essex, finished 5th overall in the UK at Saturday’s British SUP Club Championships at Bray Lake – fifth, out of 17 of the strongest SUP clubs in the country. But most importantly, we had a real laugh doing it, conducted ourselves brilliantly both on and off the water, and finished off with a cracking fireside after-party at our ‘Camp SUPsect’ amphitheatre…

Our BSCC 2018 started on Friday as South Essex’s finest paddlers starting descending on Berkshire by mid-afternoon and setting up camp in our favourite spot (the hardstanding, recently vacated by the summertime bungee jump crane – thanks again Mr Crocker!) By sunset we had over a dozen paddleboarders out on the water for a gentle warm-up, with more due to arrive later that evening. Tempting as it was, we stuck to the programme and stayed off the booze, but still had a brilliant night around the campfire laughing and joking as we fuelled and hydrated ahead of a reasonably early night.

Which was soon followed by a reasonably early morning as we got ourselves prepped from 7am ahead of a 9am ‘race-ready’ briefing. Although it was a real shame a few of our number couldn’t make it, we still had a strong team of 20 – roughly half novices, half with some racing ‘form’! Nerves were kept at bay as El expertly organised the team and we all made the briefing in good time and in good shape to listen to the inimitable Sam Ross introduce the day’s proceedings.

The event kicked off with the distance and novice races – novices and all-rounders to do two full anti-clockwise laps of the lake for 4km, 14′ raceboards (solid and inflatable) to do four laps for 8km. Classes would be let off from 9.45am in 2-minute intervals from novice women up to open men’s 14′. Game on!

So, first wave out was the women’s novice – including three sub-categories: waveboard, all-round and 12’6″. We had no waveboards, but we did have Laura on a Starboard Freeride in the all-round category, and Helen on her beloved 30″ Red Paddle Race in the 12’6″. Both put in incredible paddles: Laura seemed to finish just as fresh as she started and came back first in her category, while Helen dug in deep and strong to claim bronze position in the 12’6″ raceboard fleet – a result we’re all super-proud of as her paddling has completely transformed this season. This was a supreme start!

Two minutes later, the second wave out was the men’s novices – and we had plenty of skin in this game: Mark was on my ratted old red Starboard fish in the waveboard class with Richard aka ‘Felix’ on his yellow inflatable, then Matt ‘PowOw’ was on a Red Paddle 11′ Sport in the all-rounders with Alex on his Starboard Freeride, while David on his 12’6″ Sport, Nick on his Red Paddle Race, Andy on his new Starboard All-Star, and ‘Welly’ Steve on his JP Sportster were competing in the 12’6″ category. No question Mark knows how to handle a paddle, and he came home a solid second in the waveboards to a Waterborn flyer, with Richard ‘Felix’ following on strong just over a minute behind in third. Awesome. Meanwhile Matt ‘PowOw’ was putting in a characteristically powerful performance to win the all-round fleet by over a minute – although not far behind, Alex was looking very decent too to record a fourth place. Fantastic! Up front there were some absolute flyers in the 12’6″ raceboard class, technically novices no doubt but obviously with a lot of local race experience and on full-on raceboards, they had the podium sewn up from the start. But then came the SUPsect charge, with Welly taking a strong 6th in just over half an hour, followed by Andy a minute and a half later and Nick just seconds after, then David took 10th in the 15-strong fleet.

Next up it was the all-rounders – those with race experience but not on raceboards. Graeme on his Red Paddle 11″3′ Sport, Kev on his Starboard Freeride and Ed on his Red Paddle 11′ Sport were our men in this one, and they really didn’t disappoint: Graeme charged around the course to secure another first place by just 8 seconds ahead of an Oxford rider, followed just a minute or two later by Kev in a well deserved 3rd place and Ed 20 seconds later in 4th. Wow!

And so to the raceboard distance events: four laps, 8km, and without any separate elite fleets this season the standards were super-high as clubs spread their best national-level racers across the categories. Podiums would not be easy to achieve… El, who’s dedicated most of her energy into coaching our race team across our 10 Friday night Race Clubs and therefore left her personal training a little light, was nevertheless prepared well on the startline: Red Paddle 14′ Elite at full pressure, Pete Tong tunes pumping, she elected to stay off the front line of the starting grid as her inflatable class was going with the rigids, including take-no-prisoners elite women Marie, Andrea et al. It was a wise tactic as she was able to pick her way up through the fleet into third placed iSUP and then paddle her own race, maintaining her chosen race pace all the way around. Another podium, but most importantly for El a very respectable time indeed on minimal training that would have placed her pretty well in the women’s – even the men’s – hardboard fleet too!

Then came the men’s 14′ inflatables, in which Trev ‘Coach Nacho’ (on his 14′ Starboard Airline) and I (on my awesome Red Paddle 14′ Elite) were racing – and I already knew it was a super-strong field. Not only West Country Waterborn legend Crispin, who I’d never yet beaten round a course until the 11 City (so he’d understandably have a point to prove), but also Bray‘s previously unbeatable Scott had jumped into our category alongside BaySUP‘s experienced iSUP racer Will … and plenty more besides. This was going to be a fast race. And so it proved, as Scott went off like a whippet – I did all I could to catch his tail, and Crispin tucked in to the draft behind me, then I just focussed on keeping hold of that skinny blue Starboard! Holding a hellish high speed I was relieved that Scott seemed to back off a little beyond halfway to the first mark, then after the second (as left turns really aren’t my thing!) seeing that Crispin had peeled off I decided to roll the dice and take the front of this little draft train… I think we stayed together with Will in fourth for a lap or so, but soon enough it was just me and Crispin left (apparently Scott had taken a dip somewhere?) – so I stayed ahead and controlled the pace a little to retain some energy, waiting for the inevitable passing move during the last lap. But it never came, as Crispin must have lost focus turning the first buoy of the last lap and took a swim, so I put my head down and pushed as hard as I could for the last 1.5k to take an unexpected but incredibly welcome first place. Meanwhile Trev, who confesses to not really having too deep a competitive streak, put in a really strong paddle to finish well within 1:10 for the 8k, taking some scalps along the way to a very respectable time. On the next startline, Stu also stayed out of trouble and away from the elite hardboards to record an improved time on last year just a shade over 1:10 which he should be rightfully proud of – another strong paddle… Find the full distance race results here.

Distance done, mid-morning saw the start of the 12’6″ technical races – and if we thought distance podiums were hard to hit, we ain’t seen nothing yet! The quality of the hardboard and inflatable fleets was frighteningly high, with some world-class names on the entry lists. Three of our strongest riders were out now: Ian on his Infinity Blackfish in the solid category while Gav and Steve W had entered their Red Paddles into the iSUP race – all three put in 100% effort around a long, turny technical route that weaved across the lake. Gav was unlucky to take a swim at the first mark but didn’t give up when all seemed lost to show true grit and determination around the course to finish 6th, just 30 seconds behind Steve in 5th – paddling great and making the most of his solid racing step-back turns (and finishing within a couple of minutes of a podium spot). But up in the carbon class Ian was doing us proud, tussling around the marks, battling for places and accelerating down the straights – and he brought back yet another podium place, finishing 3rd in his category behind a pair of BaySUP behemoths. Amazing effort. Find the full technical race results here.

The individual prizegivings were a real highlight of the weekend, as the frequent announcement of SUPsect riders brought forth the biggest roars of all every single time: while we retained some humility and manners, we were properly loud and proud! I think we picked up 10 trophies during the presentations and there’s no doubt whatsoever we got ourselves noticed on a national stage…

The afternoon kicked off with the sprints: 200m straight-lining in heats of between 6 and 10 depending on the fleet size. The women’s novices went first, including Laura who didn’t alter cadence or form for a stroke to qualify for the women’s final, then Helen who truly paddled it like she stole it to charge into the final! And in that final, Laura made 3rd place as the Camp SUPsect amphitheatre went wild… Next up the men’s novices, where ‘Welly’ Steve and Andy qualified strong from their heats and David was very unlucky to miss out by inches (to a much narrower board). Our boys conducted themselves well in the final, but no-one was ever going to stay in touch with the ‘how-the-hell-are-they-novice’ kids up front. Into the women’s raceboard fleet and El found herself cut up in the early stages of her heat, forcing her to stop paddling and start swearing before charging back up through the fleet. In the end she also narrowly missed out on qualifying by a single place – has to be said though, it wasn’t all bad, as her first bottle of beer was waiting back at camp to celebrate a good day’s work! Then to the men’s heats where things got a couple of notches tighter as only the top two (of 10) would qualify for the finals. After a spot of window-shopping on the startline, Trev was first to charge past our roaring crowd in heat three – then Ian and I followed in the fourth heat. None of us qualified, but I was just one place off and happy to be only inches behind SHAC‘s marauding GB sailor Chris who eventually finished second in the final.

But although the individual racing was now done, that was far from that: there were still three team events to come! Again the top two teams (of 6) progressed from the heats to a single final. Again we narrowly failed to qualify, but were firmly knocking on the door in every single heat as we finished a strong 3rd each time…(noted for race club next season!). First up, the relay – teams of four, out 100m, 180° buoy turn, then back to set the next rider off. We’d selected four of our best step-back turners: Ian, Steve W, Kev and me, in that order. Waterborn were always going to win our heat, and to be fair the super-group from SHAC weren’t going to be beaten either, so we were very happy indeed with our performance to hold off SUP North, Suffolk SUP and Team Wales. Then, enter the Dragon – on which we had a crack squad who’d actually managed to paddle one for a change, twice, in the approaching fortnight. We are still super-proud of skipper and anchorman Stu and his crew of Gav, Ed and Mark who gave it their all despite being surprised by a rolling start from the other teams and hindered by a low nose. They nevertheless finished tantalisingly close to qualifying. Voices were beginning to go hoarse from the Camp SUPsect amphitheatre, but we had one last event to cheer: the ‘wildcard’ relay was another 100m, 180° and back affair, but this time on three different craft – we selected Nick on the Red Paddle 10’6″ Ride, Matt ‘PowOw’ on the Naish ONE, then teamed Graeme and Richard ‘Felix’ up on the double-Dragon. Camp SUPsect held their collective breath … then went wild as Nick nailed his turn to hand over to PowOw in second place, which he retained brilliantly, somehow staying ahead of the big boys of BaySUP. Then off went our double-Dragon, keeping their rhythm up to the buoy before realising that they hadn’t ever attempted to turn a tandem before, so should probably work it out pretty quick. Trial and error is a wonderful thing, but they stayed dry and soon hit on the solution … problem being that the pair from BaySUP were all over this one, and swiftly pivot turned right over them before embarking on the 100m sprint back to the line. It was truly neck-and-neck and it took a finishline enquiry to award the qualifying second place to the Bournemouth crew.

So racing done, all that was left was to regroup, thank and congratulate each other, and congregate back at the Braywatch tower for the final overall prizegiving. Ah – which was when we scored our first ever team interview from SUPjunkie.co.uk – check it out here! And then, the excitement built as Sam embarked on the count-up from 17th to 1st (Waterborn) via our wildly over-excited team in 5th place, well ahead of our traditional friendly rivals Suffolk SUP, just behind the hosts Bray Lake, but a place ahead of Southampton SUP, two up from Team Wales (which is a whole country!) and three from SUP North. Incredible…

Of course, the day wasn’t over as the evening was only just beginning back at the amphitheatre: first a big communally crowd-sourced veggie paella (who knew?!?) ably stirred by chef Stu, then maybe a beer or two, a purely celebratory glass of bubbly, would be rude not to – oh go one then, another one too – there might have been some wine as well, then tequila certainly featured, someone mentioned gin, possibly rum, everything was on fire… This year we didn’t completely forget our manners though as we hung out at Bray HQ for a while with the other clubs, and Welly invited some new friends from Oxford SUP back to the campfire until the early hours – details of which are sketchy at best.

Hence we were quite impressed with ourselves for being up and together in time for the 9.30am Sunday briefing ahead of the social paddle – thanks again to Candice, Andy and the Bray crew – into Windsor and back. It was nice not to be at race pace for a change, and great to get to know some Team Juice, Oxford and other paddlers better during the 12km outing to the castle and back. Then we struck camp (impressed that the camp fairies had dealt with so much of the carnage we’d walked away from that morning!) and had finally all dispersed by 4pm, very tired but very happy.

So thanks again to Sam Ross, Fiona, Andy, Frosty, Candice and all at Bray Lake for what we definitely think is the best BSCC yet (El and I have taken a team to every one of the five, from that first year at Eton Dorney, so do feel sufficiently qualified to have an opinion on that.) Full results via the British SUP Club Championships Facebook page. Bring on next year!

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