Words: Maff Wall
Pics: Ian Phillips (www.surfs-sup.co.uk/)
Maff Wall reports from last weekend’s Icon 2016 – a downwind race along the picturesque North Devon coastline. Over to Maff for his perspective.
The Icon Classic 2016 is race four in the GB Ocean Ski Series. A downwind race along the north Devon coast now in its seventh year as a surf ski event and only second to include SUP, thanks to David ‘Tids’ Tidball. Tids organises the stand up side of the event and this year put 30 spaces up for grabs. It filled up quickly and I managed to secure one of the last slots before it sold out in May.
With one week to go the organisers and competitors alike were watching forecasts eagerly – was there going to be any wind? Will it be in the right direction? But come Saturday morning there was a 15mph+ SW breeze predicted and the course looked alright. A bit more would be nice but we’ll take that.
Registration and briefing was at Woolacombe Village Hall and we collected our numbered race vest and stickers for our boards. We had to show we had PFD’s, flares, whistles and leashes before we all piled in with 70 ski paddlers for a thorough safety briefing. Then we were off to Lee Bay for the SUP start (the skis started at Woolacombe Beach).
With five mins to go everyone entered the water to paddle out to line up for an Aloha start. The horn sounded and we all jumped to our feet. It was a 200m dash straight out of the shelter of the bay and around a safety boat. As usual I didn’t get the best of starts (really must practice them!) but as we neared the boat the side wind and chop hit us and several fell giving me a couple of places back. It was nice to get the wind on our backs, the swell behind us and find time to score some bumps.
I had Steve Carter beside me on his 17ft Naish and was expecting him to disappear off into the distance. Tim Bracey, Andy Joyce and Jason Sawyer weren’t far away but each of them had a fall in the first km and I was feeling pretty steady on my 14ft SIC Bullet. I put my head down, found some rollers and managed to pull away from Steve and pass Andy. I decided to move out a bit further towards Tim to try to find some cleaner water as there was quite a bit of bounce back from the cliffs. I levelled with Tim and could hear Jason whooping with each ride he caught –then I see him go in again. Right, come on, we can have him I thought! Let the nose drop, paddle hard, glide and repeat. Before long I closed in on him and then passed, but straight into a lull. Jase is on one and comes sailing past me – you can gain or lose 50m+ by catching and connecting or missing the bumps altogether. Jase seems to be finding more than me now.
As we reached Ilfracombe and the huge cruise liner moored just offshore I could hear a splash in the water behind me. A quick look back and I see the red nosed Fanatic of Andy closing in fast. It wasn’t long before he’d passed both me and Jase. Then suddenly I notice the pair of them follow the cliff face round in towards the bay. No, we can’t be at Combe Martin already I thought. I look for the leaders seeing they too were heading in.
I’m a lot further out. The wind and swell now on my side are pushing me towards the middle of the bay causing me to lose further. Then I notice Tim Rowe is sneaking through. I don’t seem to be going anywhere! A quick glance at my Garmin and I‘ve lost over half my speed. Is it the constant left side paddling in side wind or am I stuck in a strong current? It’s not that far to the sheltered calm water and maybe I could catch Tim for a run up the beach. I dig deep and plough through chop and finally in to the flat. That’s when it happened. I don’t know how but I was up to my neck in water with just 500 odd metres to go. I scrambled back onto my board but it was too late. I simply decided to just paddle for home. Grrr…
What a great race! The Icon made a change from flat waters. A big thanks to Tids for all his hard work getting SUPs allowed and organising. He also sorted the ferrying around of kit and paddler. Also a big shout to Mark Ressel and his team for allowing us to take part – they were a little surprised how quick we were.
Thanks to the people who have helped me out this year: Tids at SIC UK/Phibian with the SIC boards, Chris from Black Project fins for sorting me some fins at short notice all the way from Maui and Rik at Whasup for my custom board and paddle bags.