NELO Summer Challenge
The inaugural event was held in 2009 when NELO hosted a surf lifesaving-style surfski tournament – an aspect that has gone onto to become the second day’s fun after the more serious downwind race that usually takes place the day before.
In 2013 the race became the first ICF Ocean Racing World Championships, and Sean Rice (RSA) won it in grueling flat conditions against a field full of Australian and South African stars. He won the Summer Challenge again in 2015. (2014 saw a field restricted to European entrants for the European Surfski Championships.)
In the women’s section, South African (and now US) paddler Michele Eray made the race her own, winning four out four attempts, the exception being 2011 when Australian Naomi Flood was women’s champion.
Last week another star-studded field flew in from all over the world – current ICF World Champion and 2015 World Series Champion Cory Hill; defending champion Sean Rice; 2012 winner Jasper Mocke; ex-World Series champion Dawid Mocke; Mark Anderson and a number of others who all could legitimately hope to fight their way onto the podium. European challengers included 2014 European Champion Yannick Laousse (FR) and silver medalist Benoît Le Roux (FR).
In the women’s race, Michele Eray could be confident of another victory, with no other non-European paddlers in the mix. 2014 European champion Sara Rafael (POR), runner up 2014 European champs was there, as was the diminutive but powerful French athlete Angie Mouden 2014 European champion. But neither they nor the other women entrants had nearly the depth of open ocean experience that Eray could call upon.
Conditions on Saturday were a race director’s dream: 16-20kph wind with small waves at the start, building as the race progressed. The wind was directly behind the paddlers from the start – giving a 100% downwind course.
The start was a conventional line-up along the beach next to the breakwater at Viana do Castelo; the paddlers poised next to their skis.
As the siren sounded the paddlers leapt onto their craft and sprinted out over the 600m of flat water behind the harbor wall.
And they're off!
Inside v Outside line – which way to go?
As the paddlers reached the end of the breakwater, they had to make a decision. “It was quite a delicate balance,” said Dawid Mocke, “between catching the first run and working out to find the bigger waves.
“It was similar to a Milnerton to Melkbos run at home: the runs were small to begin with, but grew as time went on – beautiful!” he said.
On the TracTrac replay, it’s easy to see how the race progressed.
Ten minutes in, Sean Rice and Dawid Mocke were neck and neck – but Dawid, with his brother Jasper close behind was 80-100m further out in the runs. Cory Hill had moved up, on roughly the same line and was only 30-40m back.
TracTrac - 10min in...
“It was an amazing race really with awesome conditions’” Said Hill. “I think perhaps the best the race has seen. Oscar and myself compared Garmin times after the race and we were going no slower than 3:30 per km which is a very fast course.”
His deeper line was intentional.
“I knew if I worked hard from the start and pushed out further to begin with the wind would be in your favour at the end,” he said. “This was the case in the race. I just made sure I was the deepest and had momentum to come over the top of Dawid with 3km to go.
“I think Ando (Mark Anderson) was even further out which was smart,” he added.
Sean Rice (leading), Dawid Mocke and Jasper Mocke - just after the start
Sean Rice’s line was also intentional. “We were into the runs immediately,” he said. “It’s really a great course this!
“I went out hard at the start and then went a little bit inside. It was my game plan and I stuck by it. I don’t know if it was bad line because I was just getting tired towards the end.”
By the 26min mark, Rice had fallen back
Rice has been on a worldwide coaching tour for the last few months. “Maybe my conditioning wasn’t as sharp as it needs to be for a 19km race!”
“About half way I saw Cory to my right and slightly further back,” said Dawid. “But I didn’t see him again until about 3km to go.”
By now, Sean Rice, some 250m closer to shore was visibly falling back; Dawid Mocke was in the lead, but Cory Hill was not far behind.
53 year old legend Oscar Chalupsky had entered the frame too – reveling in the runs and working his way up from 20th to 11th position.
Cory makes his move
The moment Cory Hill passed Dawid Mocke
On the TracTrac replay, at around the 56min mark, you can see the moment when Cory made his move. At 56:29 he surges into the lead.
“With 5km to go,” said Dawid, “I thought I had it, but then I hit a real choppy patch, not very fast at all, just opposite the river mouth, and that’s where Cory caught up to me.
“He was just too strong; he was really, really strong. He just pulled over one or two of those choppy, glassy bumps, and that was it!”
Aussie Mark Anderson came in third
The race wasn’t quite over; by now the surf had built up at the Ofir Beach and would prove a challenge.
“At the finish I thought I might get him on a wave,” said Dawid. “But then he made it through so I actually had to turn around and pop back over a big one that came through.
“And that was the race!”
Except it wasn’t, quite. There was still a battle on for third place. “We had some really solid surf,” said Sean Rice. “It must have been 2.5m – Atlantic 2.5m which is quite big!
“So there was a lot of spills and thrills at the end including Jasper.”
Sean, Mark Anderson and Jasper Mocke came in on the same wave. “Jasper was on the inside against the pier and he swam as the wave bowled. I managed to hold it and Mark was just ahead of me.”
“Otherwise, a good event, all smiles. Cory had a phenomenal race; he’s really in dominant form at the moment!”
Oscar Chalupsky ended up in sixth place behind Jasper Mocke.
Oscar Chalupsky made best use of his legendary downwind skills to power through from 20th position to 6th
“I was pleased with my result,” Oscar said, “especially on the real downwind section.
“I compared my splits with Cory and we had 6-8 km where we were within 1-2 seconds,” He added. “I lost my time in the first 3 km and last 2 km. I had a top speed of 27.2kph; he had 23.4!”
In fact, Oscar’s top speed was the fastest in the entire race.
Coming in seventh, Benoît Le Roux was the top European paddler
The women’s race was frustrating to watch on TracTrac because they were indistinguishable from the men – it would be nice if TracTrac had a button you could press “Show women only”!
Added to that the fact that Michele Eray’s tracking device never left the beach, meant that we had an incorrect view of the positions anyway.
Michele Eray was first to the beach - but was pipped on the run up to the finish line
“The conditions were fabulous,” said Michele. “But I didn’t know how I was doing because you can’t see the other women in the field.”
Note for the organisers – perhaps different colored bibs for the women would help them to see each other.
“I was coming in on a wave when a guy on the same wave turned in front of me,” Michele said. “So I had to pull out of the wave, and paddle in between waves.”
She eventually made it to the beach, but then…
“I made a schoolgirl error,” she said. “I was just jogging up the beach – and I didn’t look round to see if anyone else was coming.”
And at that moment, Angie Mouden, whom TracTrac had reported in the lead all along, surged forward, sprinting up the beach. She managed to hurl herself in front of Michele Eray as they reached the finish line to take the win, literally by centimeters.
“The spectators were yelling,” said Michele ruefully, “but with the noise from the wind and surf, I just didn’t realize what was happening. I won’t make that mistake again! But well done to Angie!”
- Cory Hill (AUS) 01:07:00
- Dawid Mocke (RSA) 01:07:47
- Mark Anderson (AUS) 01:08:31
- Angie Mouden (FR) 01:20:18.51
- Michele Eray (USA) 01:20:18.96
- Sara Rafael (POR) 01:25:05