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Super Competitive Field for Canadian Surfski Champs

Monday, 01 September 2014 08:23 | Written by 
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Sean Rice and Clint Robinson sprint for the finish Sean Rice and Clint Robinson sprint for the finish Credits: Petra Walter, Viviane Nishikiori

On 23 August, 2014, the inaugural Canadian Surfski Champs was held in coastal British Columbia, one week after the US Surfski Champs in San Francisco, attracting the top 8 finishers as well as Hank McGregor, who flew out from South Africa for the event.

The rest of the 100-strong field was of such caliber that it would prove more difficult to place in the top 20 than in San Fran the previous week! Perhaps the only 3 missing of the world’s fastest surfski paddlers who would stand a chance of reaching the podium in this race are Dawid Mocke, Tim Jacobs and Cory Hill. This made it one of the most competitive and significant races of the year.

The week leading up to the race had a superb array of clinics and lessons from the pros in Vancouver and Bellingham. There were some fun social events, which gave the Canadian paddlers a chance to meet and mix with the internationals.

The Course-Approx 22km

Squamish lies at the head of the fjord between Vancouver and Whistler on the Sea-to-Sky highway, and proclaims itself to be Canada’s Adventure Capital. Downwinds are frequent during the summer with the prevalent high-pressure systems.

The race begins in Howe Sound at Porteau Cove, dashes into the channel for the Think hotspot and then turns right, down the 20km Sound. Rounding Watts point it crosses the turquoise glacial inflow of the Squamish River and ends in the Mamquam blind channel.

Challenges include significant tidal currents, choice of line in the wide channel, and of course the wind of the day.

Watts Point and the Stawamus Chief

The scenery is truly stunning: this is Watts Point with the Stawamus Chief in the background

Mamquam Blind Channel

The finish - on a calm day!

Pre Race interviews

Interviews with Oscar the Oracle, Jasper Mocke (current world series leader), Sean Rice (Current ICF World Champ and winner US Champs) and Australian ace Clint Robinson confirmed how grueling and closely contested this race would be.

Considering the surfski prowess and the fact that all the top contenders are also racing K1’s at elite level, it might come down to a sprint finish with the 6 fastest in the mix. New Dad Hank, (World marathon champ) wryly stated that he hoped to have a moment to pause and take in the magnificent mountains towering above the water.

And for anyone hoping to slip into the top ten, best not forget the laid back but speedy Norton Brothers from Tasmania and Michael Booth, who is winning races in Australia and competing in K1 sprints internationally.

Also Sean Rice’s younger brother Kenny’s momentum at 18 has been threatening the top seeds recently.

The women’s favourite was Michelle Eray (ICF world surfski champ) whose rudder failure in the US Champs led to her missing the podium. Epic’s Kristen Podelak (USA), Australian Georgia Laird and Heather Nelson (USA) would also be strong contenders with locals Linda Warren and Leanne Stanley likely to be the first Canadians.

The contenders for the Canadian men’s purse were Cory Hamilton and Wes Hammer (both with National sprint background), and expats Jan Malherbe and Gareth Tudor Jones.

The start

2 PM: Hot, 28°C. Wind 7 knots from behind and likely to pick up to 10+ knots towards the last one third of the race. Let the games begin!

The water start commenced between a cliff and a large buoy. Paddlers inched up to the line after the five-minute warning and at the one-minute countdown horn, the racehorse adrenaline blew and the surfskis launched off the line, paddles churning up the blue into froth.

Start

Start

Gentleman Clint Robinson paused for a moment, thinking the start would be recalled but the hammer was down and there was no choice but to chase the pack. Local Wes Hammer was neck and neck with the big guns for the first 300m before realizing he would blow a gasket at this 17kph pace.

Think hotspot

The pace to the 1.5km Think hotspot in the channel was brutal with max torque applied through these steely straining torsos. Sean Rice maintained the lead to pick up $1000, followed narrowly by Sam Norton and Kenny Rice.

Hank and Jasper rounded out the top five while Clint was still trying to claw his way back to the front "I'm not sure why at 42 I can't control my competitive nature, which leads to so much suffering in events like this".

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

Sean Rice, with Sam Norton and Jasper Mocke on his slip - on the way to the Think hotspot

Wes Hammer was the first Canadian around the Think hotspot and Michelle Eray was the first woman.

The channel

The racers made a sharp turn to the right and with the gathering breeze at their backs, picked their lines down the expanding channel. 10 minutes into the race Jasper broke left of the front pack, heading deep into the Sound. A bullish Mocke move with as yet unknown consequences. However he did do a downwind here two days ago and presumably has secured local knowledge.

10 to 15 minutes into the race Sam Norton was pulling the front pack with smooth precision followed by Hank on his slip, Kenny, Sean and now Clint who has worked hard to catch this bunch.

Viviane-Nishikiori 8053

From left to right: Clint Robinson, Ken Rice, Sean Rice, Sam Norton, Hank McGregor

50 m behind were Michael Booth and Tom Norton followed by Tommy Woodriff and Mike Baker also from Australia. The first double, adjacent to this crew, was captained by Epic Oscar Chalupsky and local Bernard Le Roux.

The lead Canadian single at this point was Wes, but he was now being drafted by Corey Hamilton with Jan close on his heels. From 5 to 15 km into the race Wes and Jan traded places with Cory falling back and Gareth Tudor Jones and Shane Martin, paddling strongly, still in the running for the Canadian prize.

In the women's race Michelle was established in the lead followed by Georgia and Kristin in third place. Heather Nelson who is known to pull harder as the race progresses was not far behind.

Back to the front pack

35 minutes into the race Jasper was still 300m deeper into the channel to the left of the rest of the lead pack. He was approximately level in spite of the extra distance paddled and at 45 minutes was about 10m ahead and indicated to the media boat that he was "feeling strong". Would his gamble pay off?

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

Hank McGregor slips Clint Robinson

In the front pack now 350m to the right, Sean and Sam take turns pulling with Clint just behind in third place and Hank on his wash. Kenny was still doggedly on Hank's tail but the strain was showing. At this point the blistering pace of the top six has left the rest of the elite paddlers a few hundred meters behind. The work was hard, overtaking runners, maintaining position.  Sean informed me afterwards that it was “95% most of the race with a lot of red-lining!"

At this point the channel turns towards the pale towering peak of Diamond Head Massif which rears up like a distant beacon in front of the paddlers. The color of the water is spectacular where green salt meets icy azure glacial runoff.

As the elite group picked up more wind and runners rounding Watts Point, Clint, with his smooth hydraulic rotational drive took the lead, with Sam, Sean and Hank closely knit in a rough diamond.

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

McGregor leads, with Sean Rice and Clint Robinson on his slip

Usually by this point in the race I have watched these world class paddlers disappear like a mirage, wondering how it's possible to paddle so fast for so long. Right now it was a privilege to watch the form of these magnificent athletes from the media boat. Powerful, biomechanically orchestrated finesse, held together by an unwavering focus and mental resilience. They were moving at about 15kph at this point, three quarters of the way to the finish.

Kenny had fallen back approximately 50m and looking across the channel it was now clear that Jasper had run into some contrary water on that deep line and had definitely fallen back. On a line somewhere between Jasper and the main pack but 300m back Tom Norton and Michael Booth battled it out with Mike Baker and Mark Anderson 100m still further back.

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

The lead pack formed a diamond, working with each other.

The bittersweet end

As the wave runners took form Sean and Clint managed to link a few runs and break away from Hank and Sam. As they maintained their lead across the turquoise Squamish River flow, a plethora of multi-coloured kitesurfers streaked across the bay.

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

And then there were two - Sean Rice and Clint Robinson break away

The lead duo ducked into the 2km blind channel under the towering bulk of the Chief’s granite stare. Looking back, it appears that Sam had just dropped Hank, whose small rudder seemed insufficient for the conditions. In the Canadian duel, Wes pulled ahead of Jan using the wind waves to open up a gap of hundred meters before entering the Mamquam channel.

As we observed Clint hanging onto Sean’s wash in the protected channel 1.5 km before the finish with the wind still brisk from behind, their boat speed was approximately 18kph, according to media boat GPS. The question on my mind was, would Clint, gold medal Olympian sprinter but now a master, outsprint Sean? Sean is the current Surfski ICF World Champ and is also being groomed to represent South Africa in the 2016 Olympic sprint team.

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

Digging deep!

With 100m to go Sean dug deep into the "blurred vision zone" surging ahead for the line. Clint hung on until the bitter lactate limit with Sean reaching the finish only a boat length ahead. Phew!

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

Sean Rice claims it...

Only 100 m behind, Hank applied his formidable resolve to catch Sam Norton and the second heroic sprint finish unfolded with paddle bending power. Hank clinched third place a half boat length ahead of Sam. Jasper managed to consolidate 5th position after the deep line diversion.

Young Kenny Rice finished a worthy sixth, and Australian guns Tom Norton, Michael Baker, Tommy Woodruff and Mark Anderson rounded out the top 10.

First Canadian home was Wes Hammer, 16th overall, beating Jan Malherbe who finished 17th overall.

Women’s Race

Michelle Eray took the ladies race comfortably with Heather Nelson finishing strongly in second and Georgia Laird third.

Michelle's post race comments? "I thoroughly enjoyed the race-warm weather, cool water, great people and one of the most spectacular race venues anywhere in the world".

First double home was Oscar and Bernard, closely followed by Canada’s mixed double crew Jonas Hudson and Kathleen Petereit.  Leanne Stanley was the first Canadian woman home.

 

Post Race

Post race dinner, drinks and prize-giving was a Canadian classic of pulled pork, hand carved wooden plaque trophies and generous purses for the winners. The evening ended with a large contingent of paddlers heading to the Ruddy Duck bar in the part of town that looks like a Western movie set.

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs

2014 Canadian Surfski Champs Podium:

(L-R) 4th Sam Norton (Aus), 2nd Clint Robinson (Aus), 1st Sean Rice (South Africa), 3rd Hank McGregor (South Africa), 5th Jasper Mocke (South Africa)

Humor flowed as freely as the beer and midnight saw Michael Booth dirty dancing with the local belles. Fortunately at this point your trusty reporter was terminated.

Thanks

Huge thanks to Bob Putnam and his team, local logistics guru Ian Lowe, all the volunteers, and the generous sponsorship of CMW making this one of the most memorable and competitive events of the year.

Daryl Remmler of Think Kayaks made great organizing contributions and Oscar and Greg of Epic kayaks were very supportive of the event with a strong team presence. With this kind of support and world class racing the event will only grow into the future.

Summary Results

(Click here for the full results)

Open 

 

PosNameClassAgeGenderTimeDifference
1 Rice, Sean (South Africa)   Open 25 M 1.21:41.6 -
2 Robinson, Clint (Australia)  Master (40-49) 42 M 1.21:50.5 +0:08.9
3 Mcgregor, Hank (South Africa) Open 36 M 1.22:12.6 +0:31.0
4 Norton, Sam (Australia) Open 29 M 1.22:14.2 +0:32.6
5 Mocke, Jasper (South Africa) Open 29 M 1.24:09.2 +2:27.6
6 Rice, Ken (South Africa) 18years and under 18 M 1.24:40.5 +2:58.9
7 Norton, Tom (Australia) Open 20 M 1.25:48.8 +4:07.2
8 Baker, Michael (Australia) Open 28 M 1.26:04.5 +4:22.9
9 Woodriff, Tommy (Australia) Master (40-49) 43 M 1.26:18.1 +4:36.5
10 Anderson, Mark (Australia) Open 37 M 1.26:46.6 +5:05.0
11 Dolan, Pat (USA) Open 35 M 1.27:00.0 +5:18.4
12 Kieffer, Austin (USA) Open 25 M 1.27:50.3 +6:08.7
13 Jacobson, David (USA) Open 35 M 1.29:06.3 +7:24.7
14 Leroux, Bernard/Oscar Chalupsky (Canada/South Africa) Double Ski (open) 61 M 1.29:27.1 +7:45.5
15 Petereit, Kathleen/Hudson, Jonas (Canada) Double Ski (open) 53 F/M 1.29:34.6 +7:53.0
16 Hammer, Wes (Canada) Open 27 M 1.29:41.0 +7:59.4
17 Malherbe, Jan (Canada) Master (40-49) 45 M 1.30:06.2 +8:24.6
18 Booth, Michael (Australia) Open 23 M 1.30:26.5 +8:44.9
19 Sloss, Dane (Australia)  Open 33 M 1.31:05.4 +9:23.8
20 Johnson, Carter (USA) Open 38 M 1.31:13.4 +9:31.8

Women

 

PosNameClassAgeGenderTimeDifference
1 Eray, Michele (South Africa) Open female 35 F 1.37:33.2 -
2 Nelson, Heather (USA) Master female (40-49) 42 F 1.40:36.1 +03:02.9
3 Laird, Georgia (Australia) Open female 20 F 1.41:02.5 +03:29.3
4 Podolak, Kristen (USA) Open female 35 F 1.41:25.7 +03:52.5
5 Stanley, Leanne (Canada) Open female 33 F 1.46:43.8 +09:10.6
6 Warren, Linda (Canada) Master female (40-49) 43 F 1.49:53.1 +12:19.9
7 Haycock, Vanessa (USA) Master female (40-49) 46 F 1.50:19.0 +12:45.8
8 Wonham, Cynthia (Canada) Master female (40-49) 41 F 1.52:22.2 +14:49.0

 


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