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Flatwater Racing

Aggressive Progression

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Aggressive Progression

I am not a natural paddler, but I am learning to paddle naturally.

If you had the comedic opportunity to see my first day in a surfski, you would know just how much of a non-paddler I really was. I couldn't make it twenty feet without an unexplained swim. It was like Poseidon had a quirky and mean spirited sense of humor, and would randomly yank me from my rented V10sport without warning. Either that or it was Davy Jones hoping to score some easy company. Either way, it was hard, and I loved it and still love it for that reason. 

Part of the joy of learning new things and tackling hard challenges is learning from the best around you, as well as past experiences. This is often referred to this as "progression" competitive sport circles, and it's a big reason why I love paddling. It's also why I have tried to paddle conditions, skis and with fast paddlers that both push me and help me learn new things (safely!). 

In terms of racing progression, this year's Ski to Sea went much better for me then last. If you're not from Bellingham, you might not know that Ski to Sea is a hundred year old multi-discipline adventure race that consistently attracts Olympic level talent, which leads us locals to lovingly refer to it as the Bellingham Olympics. This year will mark my third full year of racing surfskis, and I was able to sneak into the top five for the kayak leg with a 4th place finish and missed out on third place by a mere seven seconds behind whitewater strongman turned surfski paddler Jamie Klein (what I would give to have known I was just 7 seconds back!). Jamie, like me is relatively new to the growing sport of surfski. It's fun to be a part of a new group of paddlers who are still developing and shaking up our local race results at the same time. Finish line honors went to U23 World Champion Macca Hynard, followed by the top ranked US athlete and rising star Austin Kieffer, who also managed to secure a top three overall ranking for his team, Boomer's Drive-In. Local legend Brandon Nelson showed his class and managed to bring home the overall ski to sea title for his team, and our team (Boomer's Coed) was stoked to win our division. 

But my real prize was running a decent race with no mistakes or missteps. I have recently started to focus on not making small but costly mistakes as I seek to move past the fundamentals of surfski paddling into the finer points of being a consistent and capable athlete. In last year's Ski to Sea, I managed to nearly blow my start, get lost on the course and go for an awkward swim while rounding the final buoy and getting tangled with another paddler. Not exactly material for the highlight reel, but it is fun to look back and see progress.  

Progression can take many forms... including not going for a swim around the final buoy in front of a beach full of race spectators. Seeking out messy, rebounding water has made a big difference in my development. 

Just two days after Ski to Sea, I headed up to Deep Cove, BC for the Tuesday Night Race series. This race was called a "surprise race". Racers had to find three buoys (Easter Eggs) hidden within a geographic area and round or touch them, then race back to the line. Macca Hynard showed his racing class after making a wrong turn and chasing us down. He and Wes Hammer then duked it out in a fantastic sprint finish at the end. Total distance raced was a smidgen over 8km, and my pace for a 3rd place finish was 8.3mph (I lost :30 seconds in the last kilometer!)

Finally, another area I am excited to develop in is going downwind. I've noticed that while the fundamentals of downwind are very important, the nuances are perhaps more important in unlocking the true speed that surfskis are capable of that embody the essence of our wonderful sport.

Surfing downwind in gale winds in a kayak that's 17" wide is a bit like trying to land an airplane in rough weather...  without wings or landing gear. It takes a series of subtle but intentional adjustments to keep the ski and paddler in perfect position to either surf or climb over the wave in front of you.  Like an airplane, glide is good and stalling is very very bad. I have also noticed that while every wave has its own personality, it will tell you what it is up to pretty quickly once it's formed - so there isn't much point in focusing on it. This allows me to instead to think ahead and try to anticipate finding the next wave as it forms in forms underneath and in front of me. I like to think of it as a big game of aggressive progression. 

 

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Bellingham Bay Rough Water Race, Take 2

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Bellingham Bay Rough Water Race, Take 2

Spring racing season is hard to beat here in the Pacific Northwest. Loads of great races, venues and fast racers. We've just wrapped up the Bellingham Bay Rough Water Race and the PNW ORCA Winter Series Championship Race... and we're only at the half way mark with the Dan Harris, Tour De Indian Arm (both part of the Think International Challenge), Lake Whatcom Classic and the Ski-to-Sea looming large on the horizon. Particularly stoked to hear that we'll have some visiting elite paddlers with Carter Johnson and Austin Kiefer in addition to our usual cadre of fast paddlers to test myself against. 

If that weren't enough, the mid-week race series will all be up and running again soon. If you're a racing junkie like me living in Bellingham, you can race Tuesday in Deep Cove, Wednesday on Lake Whatcom and Thursday night in Vancouver with the Big Chop series... Wow we have it good, and the sport is clearly booming.  

Bellingham Bay Rough Water: After having the race cancelled due to gale conditions the race itself went off a week later with the exact opposite of conditions: glassy water, no wind and sunny warm skies. Despite a schedule conflict with another race, the turnout was solid with a lot of the region's paddlers eager to test their conditioning in a fast, tough race over 10 miles in Bellingham Bay. 

Note to self: Pre-race meetings are apparently a good idea to attend if you want to know where the finish line is. Photo by Michael Lampi. 

Note to self: Pre-race meetings are apparently a good idea to attend if you want to know where the finish line is. Photo by Michael Lampi. 

The race unfolded like many do when the conditions are flat, with an initial burst off the line and a hang-on-for-dear-life pace to the first buoy marker.

We have an incredible mix of paddlers in the PNW; from promising juniors, world record holders, national champions, Olympians and current pros to living icon's like Duncan Howatt, racing into his 70's and showing now sign of slowing down anytime soon. 

We have an incredible mix of paddlers in the PNW; from promising juniors, world record holders, national champions, Olympians and current pros to living icon's like Duncan Howatt, racing into his 70's and showing now sign of slowing down anytime soon. 

Our initial mix involved two fast double skis, Kirk Christiansen, Brandon Nelson, and myself with Jeff Maloney chasing hard. The double ski's were powered by Joost Jeegers / Paul Clement and Eric Wermus / Elana Ecker. Joost and Clement choose a slightly faster line to the buoy and put a touch more steam into the pace, with Brandon and I happy to have their wash.

After the initial turn, the hammer came down and myself and Joost / Clement got a small gap that grew over the next mile to become about a minute on the chase pack led by Wermus / Ecker with Kirk and Brandon in tow, and Jeff Maloney just out of reach behind them. 

Jeff Maloney doing well to stay in contact despite being no-man's land with no wash to ride or pace to share. 

Jeff Maloney doing well to stay in contact despite being no-man's land with no wash to ride or pace to share. 

I traded a few pulls with Joost and Clement, and we worked to keep the pace in the low to mid 8mph range. Our gap grew with the hot pace, until the final couple of mile's when the double team offered up some testing accelerations.  

In a race that is in the 10 mile range or longer, it's impossible to think that you'll go full tilt the entire distance the way you might in a 10k race (6.2 miles). You simply can't, so planning for brutal over-max intervals and then using threshold intervals to manage your reserves carefully is key to getting the timing right to make your best move really count... but not letting the pace drop too much to let other's back into contention. In other words, you have to find a way to turn a ten mile race into a three or four mile race. 

The Epic V14 GT has been a dream ride, and offers tremendous advantage when it comes to making or managing tough accelerations. 

I decided to hang tight and wait to make my move in the last kilometer to the finish. I gave it all I had and managed to get a small gap on the Joost / Clement which I held on to until the finish for the win. Having missed the race meeting, I was a bit unsure of where the finish line was but won the race none-the-less. Note to self: finish what you start. Wermus / Ecker were the next boat in, with Kirk Christiansen the next single ski followed by Brandon Nelson, and Jeff Maloney rounding out the front pack. 

   

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