Or I could have titled this post "Victory at Sea", "Total Carnage", or "I Couldn't Move This Morning".
The 2012 Cold Stroke Classic was truly epic indeed. Toughest SUP race I've ever done. The Tahoe Nalu race 2 years ago was very tough with 15-20mph cross winds and cross 3-4' chop. But this weekend's race at Wrightsville Beach produced winds 25-35mph and the course was longer. I'm just thankful it was warm...the air temps were in the 60s.
Random thoughts about the event...
The growth of the sport. I think there were approximately 100 or so racers registered in last year's Cold Stroke Classic (and it was a sunny day in the 50s). This year...
...I heard between 125-140 racers registered...many of them on the day before the race when they saw the temperatures were going to be in the 60s and possibly reaching the low 70s. I don't think they looked at the wind forecast. My wife and daughter were considering racing earlier in the week but I talked them out of it when I saw the wind forecast. From looking at the results, it appears about 88 racers total started the race and 25% of them did not finish. Some Elite division racers stopped after the 1st lap.
Everyone should be proud to have just gotten out there. Starting the race took a lot of courage. Finishing the race just took sheer determination. For some folks, this was their first race. They won't get another one this tough again. You know the old saying - what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. There were many smiles at the post race awards party...everyone was so stoked to have competed in such a tough race.
We all wondered why the racer's meeting and race start was being delayed. Jeoffrey from Coastal Urge later told us he did that so he could get more safety boats to the course. Great move since there was carnage and DNFs everywhere. I saw safety boats everywhere on the course. Jeoffrey took the safety first approach and it turned out to be a great move on his part. A big thanks to the local Coast Guard, Sea Tow, and other safety boat volunteers.
These events are so hard to put together and Jeoffrey and his Coastal Urge staff did a great job despite the extreme conditions. If I'm not mistaken, I think Jeoffrey put on the first SUP race in NC (if not one of the first) which got the local SUP stoke and racing scene kicked off and it has been growing so strong since then.
Jeoffrey made the decision to reverse the course direction, which was a good decision because it made for an epic downwind leg.
There were moments of pure joy and pure frustration on the course. The joy was the awesome downwind leg. The first lap's downwind leg was crowded just after the start so most of us were just trying to dodge one another. But the 2nd lap's downwind leg was just plain awesome - connecting the swells and surfing the whole way. I was flying on that 2nd lap's downwind leg and having a blast.
The frustration was the huge tactical error I made that probably cost me a podium position (I came in 4th in the Men's Elite 12'6" division). I underestimated the cross winds towards the end of the first lap and got caught way low on the course away from the flatter water, got caught in major cross chop, went into the drink, almost got separated from my board when the wind flipped it over, and it took me a long time to recover from that and get back upwind. I didn't make that mistake twice and had a much better 2nd lap but still couldn't make up the gap between me and the 3rd place finisher. Even though I train on a lake and not in these intracoastal tidal conditions, I know better. I'm going to have nightmares about that one for a long time.
I went in the drink twice (actually 4 times - twice together in each occurrence). The aforementioned above and I also went in close to the finish line...got taken out by big cross chop again. The first time I fell in was a shock to the system but after that I barely felt the 55+ degree water temps. I was only wearing some running pants, board shorts, 5 mil booties, cap, and one layer capilene/polyester long sleeve shirt. I was just worried about cramping up. My arm and calf started to cramp when I fell the last time close to the finish.
Tons of people paddling on their knees....some did it for most of the race. Normally a big no no in SUP races. Jeoffrey announced at the racer's meeting there would be a 5 stroke limit on your knees, then you had to get back on your feet, otherwise you could be disqualified. I think for the recreational division and the conditions we had, you pretty much have to throw that rule out and I think they did because there were tons of people paddling on their knees just to finish. For the Elite division, you have to maintain that rule. I was careful to use that rule when I went in the water...I hopped back on my knees, took a few quick strokes to right myself or get going, then stood again...both times falling in again. But did the same thing the 2nd time and got going again on my feet. There were times when I was going backwards.
I also went backwards on the 1st lap going under the drawbridge at Harbor Island. It was like a big wind tunnel underneath it and when I came around the corner to go under the bridge, the wind gusted and actually pushed me backwards. Crazy.
The guy in the red speedo - hilarious (see below).
Many stories of rescues...the safety boats were busy...and there were stories of rescues by other paddlers. Rob stopped to help someone separated from his board. He held the guy's board for him so he could swim to it. Great sportsmanship. I came across a couple of racers that had fallen but they were able to get to their board. I'd ask if they were ok and they gave me the thumbs up. I heard other folks weren't so lucky. I heard stories of people falling in and their boards flipping across the water very far away from them. Yard sale.
From Distressed Mullet:
The Men's Elite 14' winner, Dan Gavere, had his paddle handle break off just 90 seconds into the race. Luckily, he had a glove on one hand (because of injured thumb) so he could still grab the top of the paddle with the gloved hand. When he switched sides, he would choke up on the paddle. He still smoked the field and had a great board for the conditions - the Starboard 14' Coast Runner.
Heather Baus, from Puerto Rico, smoked a lot of guys (including me) and won the Women's Elite division.
They held single elimination sprint races after the main races but because so many people were worn out, only 6 of us participated. I lost in my first round single elimination to Matt McDonald from Florida (he won the Men's Elite 12'6" division). This was a fun race that included a buoy turn and it sounds like Jeoffrey really wants to make it a bigger part of future events.
Here are the results.
One of the local Charlotte TV stations did a report...and here's the local Wrightsville Beach Lumina News report.
The Lake Norman Crew - Waterturtle, Rob, Dawn, Matt, Nick, and Mike (missing - Kate)
The kiddos send me off before the race
John (Distressed Mullet), Waterturtle, and Jason (SideArm Surf & Skate) just before the start.
Gentlemen, start your engines!
Heading into the first downwind run after the start - Dodging the Carnage!
The Red Speedo Guy
Nick - 16 yrs old and finished the race in the rec division - Way to go Nick! Another Lake Norman area teenager, Kate, also competed...big congrats to her for getting out there.
Rob (left) and Dawn (right) close in on the finish
Rob raced on my old SOS 10'10" Big Blue all around surf board - extremely tough to do in this conditions. They should add a surfboard/all around board division - not everyone has a race board.
Trying to take a high line to the finish
...and in doing so, took a dunking
fighting the cross chop
...and happy to be across the finish line.
Matt charging to the finish
Congratulations to the top 3 Men's Elite 12'6" division winners - from left: Reid Nelson (2nd), Matt McDonald (1st), Jeremy Whitted (3rd)