Taking place on a summer day in March, the popular SUP race defies its bad weather reputation
By Geoff James
Unseasonably warm weather, calm waters with some small but ripping waves were the theme of the entire weekend at the 29th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest. The Santa Cruz Paddlefest is made up of three main events, the kayak and SUP surf contest at Steamer Lane, the Cowells Classic Surf Contest and the Covewater Surf City Paddleboard Race. This race report focuses on the Covewater SUP Surf City Paddleboard Race that took place on Saturday at Cowells Beach. The Surf City Paddleboard Race (previously know as the Surftech Shootout) defied its bad weather reputation with warm temps, calm waters and summer like beach conditions. As some remember the Surftech Shootout has had some struggles with nasty weather, who remembers the Surftech Shootout SUP Race in 2011 when we had crazy big surf, rain, hail and windy conditions? Not the case yesterday as Surf City Paddleboard Race kicked off right on time at 9:00am in near perfect race conditions.. 97 paddlers raced in two course distances of 6.2 miles and the 2.7 miles each with a little jog (or should I say sprint) on the beach.The 6.2 mile course consisted of two laps with two sprints on the beach, the 2.7 mile course was one lap with a sprint on the beach to the finish line.
The Surf City Paddleboard Race started with a very tight beach start of all 97 paddlers hitting the water making a sprint out to the end of the Santa Cruz Wharf. The front group of Chuck Glynn, Mo Freitas and couple more elite paddlers opened a sizable gap headed south to the first turn buoy down near the lighthouse. While the water looked calm it had bumps and lumps that made for tricky paddling. Zero wind made for some hot conditions. The pace was fast to the first turn buoy, I quickly figured out that some of these paddlers were racing in the 2.7 mile race while I still had another longer lap and run ahead of me. The elite men and woman were paddling lights out, traveling at a pace that made your heart race. I started pacing myself a bit for the up coming run lap on the beach between the two laps of the race. About this time I remembered that I don’t really like running and did not do any running prior to this race, yeah I felt that first lap run in the deep sand, it actually felt good to get back on my board and start paddling. Ok time to get busy, second lap was longer with a sizable leg out toward Indicators/Steamers, right through a couple of kelp beds (which I found out are not fast when racing). Jen Fuller and I were racing right next to each other, John Walsh in a draft train right in front of us, John Alexiou just in front of us as well. I knew John Alexiou knew these waters better than almost anyone so I made sure to mark his course. Back over the turn buoy by the light house, then run/paddle like your stole something around the wharf and back to the beach. Easier said than done, my heart rate monitor was throwing out numbers like 175bpm, oh shit I am in trouble here. Followed John A and John Walsh around the wharf then got on Jamie Willin’s draft (sorry I gave you a little bump). Jamie was working hard, thanks for the pull. I hit the beach ahead of Jamie and sprinted until I could sprint no more, made the turn around the beach flag for the finish but a speed jog was all I could muster. Jen Fuller came in behind me by a few seconds, my goose was severely cooked.
I love the Surf City Paddleboard Race for many reasons first and foremost it is an early season indicator on the health of paddle racing here in NorCal. The incredibly fine weather helped entice folks to come to the beach to race but there were a fair number of new faces that raced and did well. And people are training, the training is paying off and those people are moving up in the race results. Would I have done anything differently for this race, maybe get a little more sleep but my results were where I expected them to be a this time of year. The Surftech Dominator2 14ft race board seems to be working just fine, it’s not the board it’s the guy paddling it that makes it go fast.
Hard Charger PaddleAthletes for this race are as follows: 101 Surf Sports Pete Gauvin, where did he come from? Shanna Upton, killed it in the short race, must be the new board? Gary Leong, double paddle legend. John Hadley, watch out for this guy this season. Chuck Glynn, leg cramp at the finish for 2nd place!
Thanks to Covewater SUP for their unwavering support of paddling (sup and prone) in Santa Cruz, the whole crew fromSanta Cruz Paddlefest, Chris Hollingsworth (Seven Seas Ind) and Duke Brower(Surftech)for race commentating and event management, Scott from Big Sky Endurance Timing, and all of the sponsors of this race and the entire Paddlefest weekend. The race went off without a hitch.
Geoff James is the founder of SUPCURRENTS, a website and newsletter dedicated to all things SUP in Northern California. Learn more here: www.supcurrents.com. Adventure Sports Journal is a proud sponsor of the Santa Cruz Paddlefest.