Thursday, June 23, 12022 HE
I had my first live venture into the world of SUP racing. Previously my only experience with racing, if it can truly be called that, was virtual. Last spring and summer, I participated in the virtual Tuesday Night Race (vTNR) series hosted by Coast Outdoors through Deep Cove Kayak. It was fun and convenient. What I enjoyed most was that it got me paddling to places I hadn’t been before. An added benefit was pushing the pace and fitness load as well as having a regular weekly paddling commitment. With the changes in pandemic restrictions in the summer of 12021 HE, the vTNR ended and transitioned back to its historic live format. I was sad to see the vTNR go, as the flexibility of completing the event on your own schedule was incredibly convenient. Though I was happy with the transition back to a live event as a signal of pandemic progress.
A conversation with a client early this year put me on to the Jericho Sailing Centre‘s Wave Chaser Series. Travelling to Deep Cove for the Tuesday Night Race seemed too much of a time commitment on a weeknight after work. But, heading to Jericho Beach seemed much more reasonable. I just needed the stars to align, that is, for Junuary to end, my courage to kick in, and our family schedule to be open on a Thursday night. And as luck would have it, all those things would come together for the first astronomical summer race. And thankfully, Mother Nature seemed to be paying attention to astronomy even though she was disregarding meteorology this summer. It seems the passing of the summer solstice was needed to usher in some warmer weather.
You need to sign up for the Wave Chaser by 1630 on the Webscorer site. I signed up at lunchtime at work as Annie and I had discussed our evening schedule earlier. There were five racers registered. The excitement was starting to build. When I got home after work, I checked once more to see the registration as Annie and I discussed the event. I only saw two registrants. Oh well, I wouldn’t be solo, I thought. It turns out that I must have been looking at the non-member registrants. There is a distinction between Jericho Sailing Centre members and non-members for registration as the members pay $5 to participate, whereas the fee for non-members is $10. Online registration was quick and convenient.
As I arrived at the Jericho parking lot, I noticed several surf skis being unloaded from roof racks. I got my kit in order on the grass, then made my way down to the water. En route, I passed by the east side of the sailing centre’s storage lot and received a friendly greeting from another stand up paddleboarder (SUP) getting ready inside. I wasn’t sure if he mistook me for someone he knew or was just showing solidarity for a fellow SUPer, as my board in hand was an obvious sign of my intentions.
I found the sign-in station on the beach, a staff member with an iPad to confirm my registration status. She gave me a crash course on the race course and starting process. There were four heats this evening, with SUPs as the fourth, interspersed by 30-second intervals. The starting line would be roughly between the Albatross on the water and the end of the Jericho Pier. I confirmed that the Albatross in reference was the moored boat. She playfully confirmed, joking that there was not some large seabird hidden from view that I was missing. From the start line, we would head out toward the First Mile Marker “Dolphin” (see this map), travelling around the north side of the two orange buoy cans. At the First Mile Marker “Dolphin”, we were to go around it counter-clockwise before returning. We would again pass on the north side of the orange buoy cans before turning to cross the start line and then cross the finish line between a red buoy offshore and this ramp. We could then call out our race bib number to the timer onshore at the ramp for recording. You can see a virtual recreation of the course I created with Google Maps and Google Earth Studio below.
I got out on the water to get my sea legs going for a warm-up. Though it was hardly that, it was more of a paddle around. Out on the water, I crossed paths with the same gentlemen who had called out to me in greeting earlier. He introduced himself as Marcelo. He was inquisitive regarding my race pedigree for the Wave Chaser specifically and racing generally. When I informed him I had no background at the Wave Chaser he inquired about other races. I told him this was my first ever race. But then added the clause that technically I participated in some virtual races. He was friendly and social and introduced me to the other SUPers participating today. Which was nice, as the major impetus for my participation in the race was to get into the broader SUP community. I am not sure that racing will be my thing, but I know for sure I am into downwinding and touring so far.
As Marcelo introduced me to the other SUPers the watercraft began to amass at the start line. Then the announcement came for the first heat. A siren sounded and they were off. The second announcement. Another siren. We creep forward. The third. Then were are off!
I start out cautiously. I wanted to get a sense of what the others were doing. But the competitive side of me wanted to keep pace. Heading around the first orange can I nearly lost my balance in the turbulence of the mixing wakes of the other SUPers. I tried to get a sense of the other’s pace and see if I would be able to hold it. We passed the second buoy. I came into close quarters with Marcelo and our paddles clashed. A phrase I had heard on a YouTube video flashed through my mind, ‘if you’re not rubbing you’re not racing’. Not knowing the culture or etiquette I apologised but continued to paddle. At this point, Marcelo and two other paddlers were starting to pull away slightly. The two other male participants and I were gaining on the sole female participant who had been a bit ahead at the start line. The pack was beginning to settle into their positions. I ended up drifting to the north as I set my sight on the dolphin in the distance. The faster group ahead was to my left closer to shore. We were paddling into the wind and chop and I wondered if their route was deliberate. Were they trying to account for the push of the currents?
I focused on myself and tried to settle into a rhythm despite the turbulent waters. I tried to focus on the technique tips I’d learned from Mike at Deep Cove Kayak. I was neck and neck with another SUPer on a Starboard Airline. Perhaps this would prove my newfound appreciation for the performance benefits of a hard board wrong. I would get the answer to the ultimate gear question “fast rider shit bike”. Though, in this case, I would be the shit rider on the fast bike. I decided to test the hypothesis. I pushed with a few hard strokes and could see out of the corner of my eye that I was pulling ahead from the Airline.
Further on through the straightaway, I had gained on the Airline. I could no longer see him in my periphery. But I could hear him, so it was only a slight lead. I am not sure if I slowed down or he sped up, but as we neared the dolphin, he was again in my periphery. It very well could be the former since I was feeling some fatigue setting in. He was on my starboard side, and I didn’t really want to contend with that for a left-sided pivot turn in my first race in 0.3-0.6 metres (1-2 feet) of chop. Planning ahead, I started quickening my pace to get the lead. I suspect he was doing the same as it was more difficult to pull ahead. Moments later, as were entered an even choppier section, I heard a splash to my left, and in my peripheral vision I saw that the Airline pilot had gone overboard. My turn anxieties relieved, and I settled into a slightly more comfortable pace. But the groundswell of the shallower water around the dolphin dampened my comfort as it was choppy approaching the marker.
I did a weak front-side buoy turn. I didn’t want to fall in on my first event, worried that my pride and ego would not tolerate the insult. I righted myself to settle into the downwind portion of the paddle. I wondered if I would make up time here or lose it to the lead paddlers? But my fatigue had other plans. I could feel that my legs were slightly wobbly, and choppy conditions made it challenging to catch waves. Plus, the wind waves were running more toward shore than my destination, so I did my best to catch them at that angle.
I settled into a bit of a groove. Perhaps too groovy as with my guard down, it was my turn to head overboard. I lost my balance and went over the port side of my board. I clambered quickly back onto my board, worrying I would lose my lead. Back on my board, I looked to the tail to see if my leash was tangled with my fin. Despite my new board having a front leash plug in the cockpit, I have used the tail leash plug. Habit, I suppose. But the problem is that sometimes when I remount my board the leash is entangled with my fin. When out for a leisurely paddle, this is not an issue. But now, under time pressure, it all of a sudden was. Thankfully, my leash was free of my fin. But while turning back to check, I fell over the starboard side of my board. I should stress that I was kneeling at the time, making the double-dip all the more embarrassing. As I remounted for the second time, the Airline passed-by. I called out that now we’d both had our falls. I stood back up to give chase. But once standing, I realized that my leash, which was attached to my inflatable PFD waist strap, was in between my legs. Paddling with the coiled cord tension on my crouch was not an option. I knelt back down to correct the cord position and avoid a triple-dip.
Now I was back in pursuit and challenging my ego, pride, and the hardboard/softboard question. I managed to close the gap as we approached the Jericho Pier to a few metres. But I was more wobbly now from my efforts as I tried to power through the waves into fourth place. I tipped slightly, losing my trim and faultering, but thankfully, not falling. The Airline was to my left, and that positioned him on the inside for the final turn leading to the finish line. I tried with a few more powerful strokes to catch him, but I couldn’t close the gap. We congratulated each other on the hard-fought finish.
One of the other SUPers already onshore called out to ask who won. Apparently, it looked close from the shore, though in my eyes, it was the Airline easily ahead. It made me wonder what the timing crew saw as they had asked me for my bib number first. Though I assumed that was because I was closer to shore. It left me wondering what the official result would be.
We had a quick debrief onshore. The Airline pilot and I discussed how we had both paddled harder throughout our friendly competition than we would have without such a neck-and-neck exchange.
I also confirmed my suspicion that the female SUPer in the group was an old classmate from physiotherapy school. I had seen her name on the vTNR results last year and suspected it was her. We caught up briefly. She noted that she hadn’t seen me in 11 years, which is when we graduated! It is wild how time flies!
I didn’t stick around for the post-race festivities as I had plans to meet a friend for a pint to discuss our plans to paddle to Nex̱wlélex̱m (Bowen Island) for breakfast and coffee at the Snug Cove Cafe on the weekend. Stay tuned for the tale of that adventure…
The official race results are here. I was fifth, as I suspected. But I am not sure I was 17 seconds off from fourth 😊 (oh, ego).