Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Trifecta - Part 3 Carolina Cup Graveyard SUP Race

Click here for Part 1 Fort2Battery
Click here for Part 2 Wrightsville Beach SUP Surf ProAm

After both the Fort2Battery and WB SUP Surf events, my body had been through 2 consecutive weeks of soreness and aches.  Fortunately, it recovered just in time for the 5th Annual Carolina Cup.  This was my 3rd Carolina Cup and my 2nd running of the infamous Graveyard race.  And just like 2 years ago when we were last there, my daughter and I enjoyed a fun father/daughter weekend trip away together (my wife and I divided and conquered as she took the boys to their basketball & Scouting commitments). Except this time, my daughter graduated from the 3-4 mile recreational race distances and raced in her first 6+ mile event.

The forecast leading up to the weekend was showing almost no wind and no waves for race day.  It seemingly was going to be very mild conditions for a very tough Graveyard race course.  So much so, that many people registered for the Graveyard race...approx 225 people were signed up by the night before the race...more than the other 2 shorter distance races...a first.  If you wanted to do the Graveyard race for the first time, this was the year to do it in easier than past years' conditions.

At the Friday night racers meeting, it was announced that we would paddle the course in a clock-wise direction, which would have us paddling with the incoming tide through most of the intracoastal waterway section of the course.  This was going to be a fast race.  But as with every other year, Mother Nature decided to change it up on us once again.  And I would soon learn a valuable lesson that perhaps others can learn from.


That morning, I helped my daughter get ready for the Money Island 6+ mile race and watched their race get started.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch her race after the start or watch the finish, as it was time to run across the street and get ready for the Graveyard race start which started 30 minutes later.  She had been nervous about her first 6+ mile race (especially when she overheard others saying it was a 7 mile race) but she did an awesome job, even working together in a draft with one of the local young female paddlers.  The Money Island race is one of the most competitive open races in the country in its own right and she managed to finish 6th place in the Women's 17 & Under division.  I'm very proud of her for stretching herself, overcoming a mental hurdle, and accomplishing something I knew she could do....and I think deep down she knew she could do it too.  The Money Island Race was her Graveyard.

When I walked onto the beach, the wind had come up and was blowing SW 15-20 mph.  This forced the race directors to change the race course direction so we would have the wind at our backs in the ocean, which is great for ocean downwind conditions, but that meant we would be paddling against the tide and wind (yet again) in the intracoastal.  It was on!

Click here for the live blog feed of all the action.


Since there were so many racers at the starting line and I had no plans to race the pros to the first buoy, my strategy was to line up behind a skilled and fast paddler, someone whom I knew would clear a path for me to follow out to the first buoy.  I found Billy Miller, local Outer Banks pro and JP Australia paddler and waited patiently behind him. The starting horn blew and Billy and the guys next to him were gone.  My plan worked beautifully.  I didn't have to jostle, elbow, or knock paddles and boards with anyone at the start.  I just followed Billy's line to the buoy while others were crowding up all around but not in my immediate space.  Folks were falling in amidst the turbulent race start chop and waves so I just focused on my own forward momentum and getting to that buoy for the turn downwind.  And what a downwinder it was!  This was the best and most fun part of the race - that 3.5 mile downwind run to Mason's Inlet....and surely my best performing part of the race.  There were some fun bumps out there to be ridden.  Stroke, stroke, glide.  Repeat.

When we got to Mason's Inlet, I looked for a good line up of waves dumping into an area that wasn't too shallow.  Everyone was cutting a path to the inside of a very shallow sandbar and closer to the Wrightsville Beach side.  The deep water channel had changed after months of various storms and was now located on the Figure 8 Island far side of the inlet.  I shared a wave with someone....we surfed it closely together into the inlet but both of us staying in control.  Then the next smaller wave caught me from behind and knocked me off my board.  No big deal.  I stood up in less than knee deep water, jumped back on my board, and paddled through the shallows into deeper water in the inlet.  At this point, the wind was now coming from the side and seemed to be increasing along with the now light rain that was falling.

I looked around and saw several racing friends.  Guys who are fast, several of whom I'm competitive with, and others who would normally beat me in most races.  I'm thinking - this is great - exactly where I want to be and exactly the crew I want to work with in a draft train.  I get on the back of a small draft train.  Others line up behind me.  But I can't stay on that draft train...I fall off the pace and can't keep up with them.  The guys behind me go around.  Hmmm...ok.  Next draft train comes by.  I jump on the back of that one.  Others fall in behind me to catch the same draft.  I even get bumped from behind and hear a "sorry" from the guy behind me (this would happen two more times from someone else drafting me).  No problem...we're upright and moving.  But I can't keep up with that draft train either and fall behind.  What in the world?  I know I trained better than this.  And the wind is really blowing and now in our faces as we turn into the intracoastal channel and against the tidal current.

The Distressed Mullet himself, John Beausang, is on a prone board next to me and tells me to catch the draft train up ahead and they'll carry me.  "I'm trying" I breathlessly reply.  Three more draft trains pass by me.  I jump on them and can't maintain their pace either.  Now I'm alone and getting demoralized, fighting the current and wind by myself.  Then one of my other friends pulls up next to me out of nowhere and says "what are you doing back here?".  Ha ha...that was the line of the day. And then he passes me too.  I try to draft him and can't!

Finally, my thick head starts to think.  I must be dragging sea grass or something.  I finally turn around and what do I see - my coiled leash is wrapped around the back of my board and around my fin.  Omigosh!  I jump off the board, unwrap it, and let out a couple of expletives.  The guy coming up behind me laughs and says "you'll really go now"!  And I did.  When I stood back up and got going again, that board felt so fast.  Like greased lightning.  And I got my second wind.

The chart above is from my GPS watch and shows my pace over the entire 13 mile Graveyard course.    Note the higher pace the first 3.5 miles in the ocean downwinder.  That first big dip at mile 3.4 is where I fell in the inlet and must be when my leash got wrapped around my fin.  My first mistake - I should have checked to make sure my leash was clear of my board right at that point.  But you get so focused on everything ahead of you, not behind you.

Now look at my pace between the two dips at mile 3.4 and mile 6.1.  You can see as I turned into the ICW against the tide and the strong wind just after mile 4, my pace steadily declining and getting dreadfully slow in spots as I miss several draft trains and paddling alone, all the while not knowing I'm dragging a coiled leash wrapped around my fin.  Mile 6.1 is where I unwrapped the leash.  I went 2.7 miles like that.  My second mistake - if you feel slow, check your board and your surroundings, including behind you.  I knew something was amiss but didn't look behind me earlier.  On the other hand, I'm also thankful I didn't paddle any longer with my leash wrapped around my fin.  Imagine if I'd done that the whole race!

Incidentally, the dip just after mile 8 is when I briefly stopped to grab some nutrition from my shorts pocket - a gel shot block.  This gave me the continued second wind I needed to finish strong.  It also helped that by this time, the wind had dramatically decreased as the rain went away.  I passed many people in the last 6-7 miles.  It at least felt good knowing that my previous weeks of training enabled me to paddle strong in the last half of the race and at the finish.

So learn from my mistake.  That mistake cost me at least 10 minutes off my time.  I had a great start, a great downwind ocean run, and had put myself in a great position after the first 3.5 miles, but that one fall and not immediately checking my leash afterwards changed everything.  It kept me from getting on a draft train at the most critical time to do so, and separated me from a lot of guys I consider being fairly competitive with in terms of how we've raced and finished together over the last couple of years.  The crazy thing is that dozens of racers passed me between mile 3.4 and 6.1, some even bumping me from behind while drafting me.  And not one person said a thing about my leash.  So that's the other lesson - unless you're in real serious trouble, don't expect anyone to tell you that you've got a problem.  But as always, I'm grateful for these opportunities and we have to continually remind ourselves - we get to do this!

Its always a great feeling of accomplishment to finish a race of that caliber.  The Graveyard Race has become known worldwide as one of the biggest, most competitive, and hardest races in the world.  The Graveyard course requires a bunch of skills - paddling in and out of waves, ocean paddling, flat water paddling, downwind paddling in ocean swell, paddling into and across the wind, and paddling against tidal currents.  We met Connor Baxter and he said the Graveyard Race is probably the second hardest race that he's done, falling right behind the Molokai to Oahu (M2O) race.

The world's top pros were there competing and it was fun to be in the same race with them (even though I only saw the backs of their heads for a split second at the start).  The afternoon festivities on the ocean front lawn of the Blockade Runner was a lot of fun as we got to catch up with a lot of friends we've made over the years at various races, and make new ones as well.  There was plenty of race story swapping going on.

Now that The Battle of the Paddle has lost its title sponsor funding and organization, it appears the Carolina Cup will take over as the biggest and most competitive race in the world.  Hard to imagine it might get even bigger.  I asked my daughter if she wanted to come back next year.  Her response - a resounding "yes!".

So that ends the Trifecta series.  What an unbelievable experience it was.  Not sure I'll be able to repeat it only because it was a big commitment three weeks in a row when there are other family commitments going on.  I want to thank my family for their love and support during this time....they are my rock!

Click here for full results.

Tons of great photos here, here, and here.

Some of my pics with commentary...

My daughter signed up to take one of the Friday clinics with Jenny Kalmbach...a women's only paddle technique clinic.  Unfortunately, Jenny had a last minute family emergency and had to cancel.  3x Carolina Cup Champ Danny Ching filled in for her.

The intracoastal view from our Blockade Runner room

Danny Ching leading the women's clinic

McIntyre & Danny

my board & paddle - lined up and ready to go for the Graveyard

Just after the Graveyard finish with my daughter there to greet me

McIntyre with the guy who has shaped our race boards - Joe Bark

Swapping race stories with my Charleston buddies Mike & Damon

McIntyre with her Florida paddling buddies

We met Connor Baxter.  Very nice guy - we talked about his home, Maui and windsurfing.  Connor used to focus on professional windsurfing at a very young age until competitive SUP racing came along.  He can still windsurf with the best of them.  I still remember an early Starboard ad in the windsurf magazines, that had a picture of a very young Connor riding shotgun on the front of a speeding windsurf board sailed by a Starboard pro windsurfer.

Dr Bob Arnot - award-winning journalist, author of twelve books on nutrition and health, host of the Dr Danger reality TV series, and previously chief medical and foreign correspondent for NBC and CBS.  He is also the founder, and former or current board member of several humanitarian aid organizations.  He raced a catamaran style unlimited SUP race board in the Graveyard race.

The kids are alright!

The kids clinic also suffered from another unfortunate last minute cancellation of its leader, due to sickness.  Who else was there to save the day, but Danny Ching - he filled in for this kids clinic as well.  What a guy!  A true gentleman and professional.

Everyones favorite ride at the Carolina Cup.  I want one.

and probably my favorite pic from the weekend - this pic represents the aloha spirit amongst all the paddlers.  We're all one big tribe of water people who are friends on and off the water. 


James Douglass said...

Great writeup and pictures! That's a bummer about your leash. What gps and program did you use to make that graph of pace?

Waterturtle said...

James, I've been using Garmin 305 for years now. There are much better ones out there now. and I use the Garmin Connect online software, which is simple to use. I mount my Garmin on the nose of my board using GoPro surfboard mount, so I can easily see my pace while paddling. Hope you're well!