Words: Dave Ewer
Pics: Sarah Elizabeth Thornely
Dave Ewer gives an entertaining account of his and son Blue’s racing at the recent Naish N1SCO Inland Champs.
Having dabbled in SUP comps over the last couple of years, with undulating success, I was persuaded to travel up to London, (no mean feat for me as I usually turn left to Cornwall from Devon), to the Naish N1SCO Inland Championships, hosted by Blue Chip. This would be a day of one design racing with my SUP grom son Blue for his first taste of N1SCO competition. (I’d even coaxed Blue down the beach for some buoy turn practice on some inflatables before the usual 2hour SUP surf session a few days before).
Sunday morning greeted us with light winds and showery conditions on the Thames. The event site was busy with competitors pumping their 12.6ft x 30” iSUP’s, discussing optimum PSI and some good, friendly banter. The event was held at the Thames Sailing Club which just about provided enough free parking for all competitors – anyone who’s attended previous events here will know what I’m talking about.
I wasn’t quite sure what I’d got myself signed up for to be honest, but after registration and a quick swiftly run skippers meeting I discovered:
1. A mid-length race – 800-1000m – with a couple of buoys to navigate.
2. Sprints heats in front of the sailing club and crowd in heats of 10.
3. The long distance race (2000-3000m) with a couple of turns.
Pretty simple what could go wrong?
Very soon all 65 one design competitors were on the start line – men women and my son Blue, the only junior competing. To be honest I was feeling pretty confident at this stage. The fleet was mixed with some excellent paddlers I’ve been beaten by before in the SW, as well as plenty who looked very confident. Also, judging by the look on some other riders faces I knew I wasn’t going to be at the back of the pack either.
First race start and being on a wide start line with 65 paddlers all on the same board was pretty cool. Nobody really had any advantage and it was very unique. All of the chat soon transformed into a frantic quick sprint off the line – paddles and boards colliding in the choppy water scramble. I guess I was top 10 off the start but quite quickly caught a rail and went straight in, splash! (Bloody hell, I never fall off boards this size!). I quickly jumped back on and sprinted harder only to put the paddle in side ways 15 strokes later and I’m in again almost taking out ladies champ Jo Hamilton-Vale in the process. This wasn’t funny anymore as more of the fleet passed me by. I soon got up to speed again and overtook 4-5 riders with a sharp buoy turn. But it wasn’t over. I had to catch the leaders and to make matters worse my son Blue, who had a storming race coming in second to last year’s champ Ben Fisher, was right up there.
After a quick break the sprints we were ready to go. All competitors had three heats where they raced against most of the fleet. Men were separate to women. Winners then went through to the final and the rest went through to a huge 30 rider wild card heat to take six final places – game on.
Short sprint heats ran back to back producing exciting battles – plenty of spills and competitive fun was had. Unlike hard boards one design iSUP’s are born for this kind of thing – bouncing into each other, under cutting in the turns type of racing, it’s all good. Races were won and lost on buoy turns and it was epic fun to watch but more fun to compete.
Before long the wild card heat was up with around 30 paddlers going round two buoys off a very compact start line, first six go through. Needless to say there were plenty of swimmers in this mega heat.
With 16 paddlers in the sprint final, all hungry to win, I was reminded of short track ice skating. Basically you know everyone is going for it and won’t back down at this stage so best to try and stay out of trouble! I managed to get a place in the final with Ben F, and on form Billy W, George CB and plenty more including Blue at the other end of the line. Looking at the event pic’s Blue got a great start with Ben F and Billy breathing down his neck. I was on a clean line and squeezed ahead of George CB at the buoy turn and was out of trouble. At the other end it was carnage with Billy, Ben and team paddling over each other at the turn in Blue’s wake. It looked like I’d crept out and had it in the bag only to have George CB reach my side at the finish line for a dead heat. I take that a joint first, and three photo’s later nobody could call it. A two man final re-run was then had. We both wanted the win but after a slight stumble I gave George half a board length at the turn and couldn’t quite make it up as he powered his way to his first sprint win.
After a quick lunch break it was long final race time. To be honest I’d had six races (two finals) this wasn’t on the top of my things to do. The sun was out and the vibe on the river bank was relaxed but I knew I had a fair bit to improve on since the first race of the day. Most importantly I was very keen to prove that I was still alpha SUP male of the family to Blue. Bang! Race three started, to my surprise. I settled down just behind N1SCO champ Ben Fisher and slightly ahead of the chasing pack – not close enough to draft but at the halfway mark I hadn’t been swimming and was ahead of Blue and in second. I was pretty chuffed and got my head down and tried to power away from the chasers. This was soon not the case as I was being chased by a 17 and 14 yr old, both not old enough to drink! I am, and I do, so maybe a bit more training required. This was like being an injured antelope running from hyenas – I knew what was coming and it was inevitable. The last 150m George and Blue slipped passed and buoy turned leaving me fighting for fourth.
It was a pleasure to see the rest of the fleet filter in all hot and tired but stoked and very happy. Prize giving was held in between showers on the river bank to an appreciative crowd. Next event is at Weymouth, July 9. I’ll be there and I’m sure the fun ,tight, competitive racing will be there too.
1st Ben Fisher
2nd George Cornwall Brown
3rd Blue Ewer
1st Jo Hamilton Vale
2nd Tanzi Foulgar
3rd Sarah Louise Smith
(Just in case you wondered I did come in fourth – typical, just off the podium again!)