Battle of the Paddle California 2012

Well… where to start with this one! It’s taken me this long to get over it & write it all down 🙂

You only live once as they say, and I figured lets go & see what all the fuss is about at “The Super Bowl of SUP”.  Having chatted to a few of the other local guys here there was a bit of interest about getting a bunch of us to go, so after a bit of research we had a plan, a house share & some flights booked. Now it was time to train!

We had a couple of months lead time (apparently it was meant to have been our summer) and training commenced, we regularly had up to 12 guys turning up Wednesday & Friday mornings at 6am, watching the most stunning sun rises, smashing out some training, such a good way to start the day.  If only we had warm water all year round, I can’t imagine it mid February… brrr

Before we knew it the end of September was upon us & it was time to head off. Girlfriends (board caddys) in tow myself, Mark Slater & Ryan James rocked up at Heathrow on the Wednesday morning before race weekend, hands full of boards, amped & ready to get out there.

The flight felt like it took forever, movie after movie, one single serving crapy plate of sugar after another… Eventually 11.5hrs later we arrived!!!

We were staying in the Euro house with top international riders Belar Diaz, Eric Terrien, Roman & Yohann.  Belar had been a legend & sorted the house out & agreed to pick us up from the airport, a quick call to see where he was & he was a ‘Spanish’ 10 minutes away (30-40 mins UK) 🙂

We crammed into the car, boards & bags stacked high & hit PCH towards Dana Point. Arriving at the house we greeted the guys & found there were now earthier a few more guests, bodies everywhere ha ha, we dumped bags, washed our faces & all decided to head out for some dinner.

Euro Team House

It was gone midnight UK time so we were all starting to flag but had to stay awake.  We found a cracking pub, sat & stuffed our faces with burgers & ribs, glugged a few ales & headed back for a good nights kip.

A little overtired on the first night!

We all woke excitedly early on the Thursday & headed down to Dana Point for an early surf session, even at 6.30-7 am and overcast we were all paddling out in boardies to super clean 2-3ft with only a handful of guys out (all in 3:2’s thinking we were nuts I imagined)

We had a cracking session while the girls found coffee & a brekkie spot. After a couple of hours rest we headed back and the cycle continued for the rest of the day, surf, eat, sun, surf, eat, sun until the day was done!

Witnessing the locals (and some of team euro) surfing was quite something. The standard was sky high. Guys out on 12’6 race boards doing full roundhouse cut backs, smashing lips, really rail to rail ripping! Yohann paddled out on a 10ft (by about 20″) mini mail and just destroyed it, how the hell he could even stand on it was beyond me, epic skills.

Friday followed much the same course, we were like kids in a candy shop with all the waves on offer!

Late Friday the Naish team arrived & I met with the international guys (Kai, Chuck, Casper, Jenny, Sonni etc) we helped organise the stand & pick our boards. I grabbed Kai & Caspers 14 LE’s out of the truck, damn they were so light I carried both without any problem!!!

I met with UK team rider Shaun’s Taylor & we were both stoked to hear we both had 12’6 MC hollow carbon boards! These puppies retail at around £3.5k at home… Gulp! Better not ding it was all I could think :). We dashed out for a sunset surf on the race boards to find out feet in the building swell.  This really is the bit we just can’t practice in the uk as we so rarely get clean 3ft+ in a nice peeling fashion.  We practiced what we could catching some glides from way way out back some 200 yards into shore, so much fun but didn’t want to overdo it with race day in the morning.

The famous ‘tunnel’

After a good nights sleep we woke on race day (BoP beach race)  we were anxious to get down there, the forecast was suggesting some really solid hurricane swell & we wanted to go check it out & get organised. Registration was slick, we grabbed our swag of sandles, tees & lunch tickets & headed over to get our boards “sparky approved” before we knew it it was already time for heat 1.

Getting Sparky Approved

The entire uk team we all in heat 1 with practically every single top international paddler… Danny, Kai, Casper, Belar, Jamie, kody etc!. A couple of deep breaths and we were lined up ready for the off… The crowd support was incredible, thousands of people lined the sand bank behind us cheering us, the compare counting down over the tanoy, 3,(shit), 2 (holy crap), 1 (oh my god I’m really doing this)… GO!!!!!!!

I have yet to see the video footage but I got a blinding start, literally out into clean water, it couldn’t be better… To my left the top guys led by Danny were along side & creeping past… I held position preferring the clean water to trying to draft… He’d down within a couple of lung busting minutes we were at the first buoy carnage… For anyone who’s seen previous years there really are 100 people trying to get round a 4ft square marker buoy at the same time, hilarious!!!

To be honest it was fairly civilised, a clean turn and now were we’re all bunched up, the water was boiling like rapids, stability was definitely a challenge. I tucked in behind Candice Appleby & Annabel Anderson and drafted a bit to the inside turn… Here was where it got interesting. This inside buoy was right I the impact zone of the surf area, I checked a few times, saw a set coming but pushed hard to make the turn before it hit,swing the board round behind the buoy you could her shouts, whistles and a few coarse words as the swell hit and carnage ensued behind… I’d made it though! I was in a pack with Mark Slater and about 8 other guys as we made the half lap turn back into the beach for our first run. As a set loomed we paddled hard but I stuffed it, everyone in the pack apart from me got the way and just disappeared into the distance… Ahhhhh head down I paddled hard no more waves came, that sucked as I had to paddle the whole way in. Kate was waiting on this beach to be my caddy, the most important job they had to stand in the head high shore break right in front of the incoming paddlers, grab boards, run them up the beach turn them around ready to go!

Some cheeky sets

I kicked the board out, started my run up the steep sand hill hoping she’d be ok & have the board ready for me… A I headed back down there she was, phew… Leash on (with the swell we all decided the 3 seconds was worth it not to loose a board) I got perfect timing before a set to scratch out for the first full lap.

I was in just a group of 3 one of the guys I race d hard against in St Tropez earlier in the year, we pushed & pushed trying to catch marks group, super lucky timing on the inside buoy on the right this time, I caught jut a tiny bit of it and pulled off the back in perfect time to swing round the buoy,the nose of my board actually cracked one of the other guys in the chest as he hadn’t got such a good line and was paddling back over the shoulder!

We worked hard the whole lap trying to close the gap but were stitched again on the paddle into shore with no waves I couldn’t believe it! It was consistently overhead sets breaking from the turn buoy right to shore but I didn’t get one.  The shore break this time was nuts, as we pulled up to shore a head high wave broke, just about managing to pull back the lip then threw me plus board about 10ft up the beach onto dry sand (praying the carbon head no damage!!!) as I ran I crashed into poor Kate was was trying to rescue the board in amongst the carnage almost sending her flying as I sprint up the sand.  A I hit the water again I had pulled away for the other two guys but was on my own & knew I had to work hard.  I got a great water entry, them not so good and pulled a little more. As we hit the long outside stretch of the lap disaster struck… I hit a bunch of kelp & it sucked tight around my fin. I could barely move the board and knew there was no other option but to get in the water & take it off… As I clambered back on the two guys I’d pulled away from came past… Damn it!

Head down I only had half a lap to make the time back… I paddled as hard as I could putting the training into practice, I kept telling myself to push harder it would be over so soon and don’t let it end without giving it all you have got… Alas there just wasn’t time to make up the gap, unlucky again with waves for the run into shore I was just seconds behind the guys I had passed at the start of the lap… The last sprint up the hill to finish the heat hurt! Mark was waiting at the top having finished in the pack ahead, we waited for Ryan & Charlie to come across, team hug & waited for the results sheets…

As the results hit the scores board I was gutted to see I finished two places off the 50% qualifying line… There’s no excuses I paddled hard & what will be will be, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed that the weed changed the results for me. Slasher was the only UK guy to make the BoP final later that day.  Still it meant I could chill, watch heat two & agreed to be marks caddy for the final which was an absolute honour.

My GPS of the heat –


BoP Heat 1 result

The final was so intense, Danny Ching getting a surprise shocking start, Kai storming off to an early lead. Danny used his incredible wave skill to make it back from about 7-8th to the top 3 in the first half lap. It was Kai, Connor, Danny, Eric & Jamie.  As Kai hit the beach and ran past me the guy was hardly breathing!! These guys are super fit, on another level.

Into lap two the top three were together, Kai fell on a wave and Danny pushed real hard to get a gap, using local knowledge & wave skill he hammered it to laser buoy to catch a set wave knowing he’d catch it and the other guys wouldn’t… This changed the game… He pulled a gap which was never closed just on this wave… Some people said it was lucky but I disagree it was absolutely perfect race strategy execution in the heat of the moment reading the swells and demonstrating why he’s the best in the world.

A special mention has to go to housemate Eric Terrien who dominated  heat two taking 1st place by a massive margin. He was struck by a bit of bad luck having been in the top 4 in the final an unfortunate an un-characteristic fall put him right back into about 15th, so far back it was just not possible to regain the places.  I was so gutted for him, we were going nuts on the beach thinking we could have a Euro podium! I’m sure next year it will happen!

Mark did an amazing job representing the UK in the final, putting everything he had into the race.  There was even a little bit of bromance with Mr Ching as we all chatted at the finish line throwing high fives and man hugs left right and centre 🙂

So that was the BoP beach race done, we still had the distance race the following day! 10 long miles slogging down the coast to San Clemente pier & back.

We woke to a stunning morning but the forecast said it was gonna be hot hot hot.  By race start it was already 34 degrees with little or no breeze.  Stuffing Nuun down me like it was going out of fashion I went through race preps and got ready with the boys to hit the water… Again the swell was running big and Shaun wasn’t so lucky getting in haha (see below) but I think a welcome cool down!

Shaun Taylor getting nailed by the shore break paddling out!

We lined up as bent we could… Trying to keep 400+ guys and girls I a line is not easy, they opted for a kneeling start and after about 20mins of faff we were finally off…. Again I got a great start finding clear water quickly and putting my head down and finding a rhythm… The unlimited and 14 ft boards were super fast and seemed to be grouped on my inside. They just pulled no pulled away at an incredible pace. I was happy with position and all felt good, until disaster again… The kelp!

Another fin full and a trip into the water. A very welcome cool down but suddenly my clean water was gone and I was in the turmoil of the pack. As I got back into rhythm it happened again…. Noooooo…. And then again…. Ahhhhhhhh three times in the first mile, I had lost so many places already.

Super frustrated I upped the work rate and wouldn’t settle for any rest, no drafting I had to get by them, one by one I starting picking them off but this time being super mindful of any weed and I needs be stopping to avoid it.  After about 3 miles we headed in shore to come inside a marker, this bunched everyone up and made the water a mess…I kept looking around to see where the other guys were. I could make out Ryan just ahead but no one else to gauge my position.  I figured they had all come past my with the amount of time I lost to the weed.  As we reached the pier, and the turn point, I wasn’t sure how well I was doing, but as I swung cleanly round the buoy I a greeted but the most incredible sight of some 300+ guys coming towards me! I have never seen so many boards but it gave me confidence that maybe I was doing ok.

I kept the rhythm and kept working to pick people off, it was actually a great strategy, it took a good mile to catch and pass someone but so satisfying and pushed you harder to not let them come back.  Some of the guys I was passing were in 14s too! As we reached the inside marker on the way back a huge set came through, super lucky a shoulder hopped rounds the buoy but heard splashes and shouts behind as people simply got side swiped out!

I could make out Dana Point in the distance now, Ryan only a few places ahead I gave it absolutely everything. I repeated in my head “don’t give up, don’t give up” for about the lasts 2 miles putting every ounce of energy and effort I had. We had to turn one last buoy before we headed to shore.  The noise from the beach was incredible… adrenaline pumping this sand the last push, head down I smashed stroke after stroke trying to catch one last guy.

A wave came but he was right in front of me, I caught it but had to pull of the back to avoid a heavy collision… We smashed stroke for stroke to the beach, he was a board length ahead but I wasn’t going to give this one up easy… We hit the sand and he was already up the slope, I sprinted hard actually shouting out loud as we crossed the finish line side by side scaring the crap out of some of the people who were hanging around at the finish!

Collapsing,  Kate was there to great me with ice cold water but I actually couldn’t talk… I’ve never had a feeling like that after a race, I guess the crazy atmosphere, energy, caught right up in the moment I just knelt in the sand and the whole place seemed to go quiet for a few moments…then “back in the room” I was alive… More man hugs ensued, it seemed Ryan and I headed up the UK group, Charlie, Mark & Shaun coming in a few minutes after.

Unable to talk

The results quickly appeared… Ryan 3rd 12’6 age, me 4th 12’6 age. We were 7th & 8th overall 12 ‘6 too which was simply unbelievable. It turned out I finished the race at an exact same time as the last guy I hunted down, to the hundredth of a second we crossed together haha.  Thant put me at joint 100th overall which considering the majority of top guys were on 14 or unlimited ahead I was super stoked!

My GPS of the distance –

Distance Results

After the craziness calmed down we caught some rays, stretched a bit and the afternoon saw us get involved to break the Guinness world record for most people surfing the same wave. We had three attempts, about 150 guys in the water all padding for the same wave, it just felt like home at Boz Vegas 🙂 it was really buzzing out there, I’ve never seen so may smiles in the water, everyone of every age getting  involved, multiple people on boards, race boards, surf sups, everything going for it.  I caught all three of the waves and am some what chuffed to have been part of it, and maybe even get my name in the record books 🙂

So I guess that sums up the Sup race part of California, Kate and I went on an epic road trip the rolling week to wind down, explore the So Cal coast and visit places in always read about in surf mags.  A trip of a lifetime and such a memory.

Massive thanks to my sponsors for helping me out, Naish, Nutrichef, Chi drinks, Optibac.  Thanks to the UK guys (and their amazing partners) Ryan, Mark, Charlie, Shaun, thanks for sharing it boys, incredible.  Big shout to the euro lads for helping us with logistics and putting us up (Eric, Belar, Yohann etc) see you all in St Tropez!

Last but not least thanks Kate for putting up with all the 6am starts, caddying my board, sharing the travels, the memories & the fun 🙂


Roll on next year 🙂


P.s. can’t stop looking for houses in Dana Point… That place freaking rocks!!!
Some brilliant videos:

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