In age, the competitors ranged from 16 years old to over 60 in the masters category. A race for single boat (including K1, surfski, outrigger, for men and women) was organized on Friday 26, and a race for K2 and V6 (six places outriggers) for the Saturday race.
Cherbourg is a small commercial and military harbor in North East France, around 100 km from the English coast. It's situated in the Normandy province, 50 km from the famous invasion beaches, where the US and English army came on the 6th June 1944.
Race location - on the Cherbourg Peninsula
For the first time (as a part of a French championship…), the race organizers decided to make a full downwind format for the race. The start was set for Friday 26th at 9AM, but 24 hours before the race, a wind calm was announced for the next morning. So the race organizers decided to delay the start until 4PM, because a small storm was forecast between 2PM and 6PM. All paddlers were happy with the plan - sounds like French paddlers are now becoming real surfskiers...
A few years ago these conditions would have been considered unplayable in France
The race started from a small harbor at around 10 km on the North East of the race site. This new format included a finish line on the beach so that every paddler had to cross the beach-break and run for 100m on the sand before reaching the finish line.
Unfortunately, a few hours before the start a strong wind started blowing from the North East, but the topography of the coast did not allow a full downwind format for a 21 km long race, which is the official minimum size format for a French championship. Given the conditions, the race organizers created a course which included two laps around 3 buoys (4 km each) and a final long downwind leg to the finish line. For the overall race, we had a total of almost 15 km of downwind... (This would have been unbelievable in a race in France just 2 years ago!! )
Final course chosen - optimised by the organisers for the conditions to give the longest possible downwind run.
We had great conditions, a strong wind was blowing from the North West (around 55 km/h), with approximately between 1.5 and 2 meters of swell, both on the same direction than the race most of the time. Benoit Leroux won the race with a final time of 1h17, with less than one minute of lead on the second paddler David Slatza, a local paddler (and the principal race organizer/manager of the race!). Gaetan Sene came 3rd. All the paddlers enjoyed the great condition, none of them had to be rescued, and only few competitors (around 7) did not finish.
The start - cold and grey!
Although there were swimmers, no-one had to be rescued.
Benoit Leroux finishes first
Guest of honor
Sebastien Jouve running on the beach to cross the finish line
We were kindly surprised to welcome a special guest of honor this year: Sebastien Jouve, double gold medalist (K4 1000m and K2 200m) just 5 days before, at the world flatwater championship in Poznan (Poland). He is currently the only paddler (with his K2 partner Arnaud Hybois) who got 2 medals on the same world championship on the new Olympic distance (200m and 1000m). He is (of course) a great candidate for an Olympic gold medal in London 2012. He is also a great guy, who has the faculty to describe the 'science of paddling' with a very technical point of view. He finished the ocean racing French championship in 13th place, just over 6 min from the winner, and I made an interesting interview with him after the race:
Hi Seb, was it your first time into a surfski today?
Sebastine Jouve: Yes, kind of... I tried once before, that was during a training camp on Réunion Island last winter, and I had a surfski session coached by Ben Leroux just 2 days ago.
You finished 13th, 6 min from the winner Ben Leroux, only 5 days after 2 gold worlds medal... How do you feel with this result?
SB: Great actually!! I really enjoyed the condition, I had a lot of fun, and I could not be faster anyway.
What was your main target for this race?
I just wanted to enjoy myself, learning how to paddle into a surfski, curious how it is practicable for a sprinter paddler.
Which models of boat and paddle did you use? Did you like it?
SB: My boat was an EpicV10, and I use a Gpower Ultra light paddle, 2.12 m of size. The boat was really good in surf condition, but I think it might be a bit slow for flat condition. But my paddle was definitely too big.
Did you notice some common points in term of technique between surfski and flatwater paddling?
SB: Definitely!! Especially when you have to catch the wave, you need a very efficient stroke when you're paddling. And you need a very good transmission from your paddle to your legs, to keep yourself into the boat with a good balance. My legs and my abdominal muscles were destroyed by the end of the race!!
How did you enjoy the race condition?
SB: That was just amazing! The sensation of speed when I was surfing was very strong!
Do you think that the sensations are comparable with sprint paddling in somehow?
SB: No, not really, it's different, but it's very great too! But I think you can be a good surfski racer with a flat-water background, because you need sprint qualities to catch the waves and surf, and also a good aerobic preparation to keep the speed all over the race distance. I think the surfski could be a very great complement for training a flat-water paddler, because you improve your sprint skill when you catch the wave, and you also work on your aerobic preparation, and further, you have a lot of fun!! I will definitely include regular training in surfski in huge condition as a part of my winter preparation period. I think it’s going to be a good point for me as a part of my preparation for London 2012!!
Will you plan to do some important surfski race such as the Dubaï shamaal race?
SB: Well... If I'm invited in Dubaï, I will get there!! ;-)
French Surfski Racing - A Perspective
I can say “times are changing”. The traditional “rigid” mentalities (which characterize French peoples) look more flexible now. For example, this year, only leash and life jacket were compulsory for each paddler, the French federation decided to take out all of the heavy materials that we used to use for “safety reasons” before. Even if the conditions did not allow a full downwind race, due to the topography of the coast, the race organizers made a strong effort to include the maximum downwind conditions. Further, the organizers were flexible and changed the race course just a few hours before the start, in order to have the best conditions, and everyone was happy with that.
We also made an effort to welcome the non French speaker paddlers, in translating all of the important information for the race. We have still a long way to go before being able to organize the big races we see in South Africa or in Australia, but we also have good conditions for surfski. If some paddlers are interested to take a part of some race in France, feel free to contact us, we will make our best to welcome you!
To conclude I would like to address a big thanks to the Canoe Club Nord Cotentin, especially to David Slatza and all of the volunteers who had organized this event, for all of the effort that they made to prepare this race.
You can also find nice pictures on the following link: http://www.studyo.fr/