After some amazing feedback from local paddler Ryan James who went last year I decided the SUP Cup was a ‘must do’ event in 2012.
It’s a long old way to drive so managed to combine it with a little road trip through France on the way back with Kate.
The story began late on the Wednesday night. I drove up to Folkstone late grabbing 4hrs kip at the services ready for a super early start & the first EuroTunnel trains of the morning.
Ryan & I boarded the train to a stunning sunrise, the start of a beautiful day, but long, long drive.
We estimated it was 15hrs plus stops. We got going, sta navs programmed & started munching through the miles. A couple of coffee stops later & we were already past Paris. the French Toll Roads are amazing, hardly any traffic, wide, fast good quality roads. In fact it’s basically only 3 roads all the way to our destination. This however did make it a little monotonous… we took turns to take the lead, from behind it was hilarious watching each other get more & more tired, a few unexpected lane changes & rumble strips tended to trigger a quick stop to wake up!
The temperatures were soaring into the 30’s, Ryan was suffering with no A/C! gradually we were stripping off to try & make it more comfortable. We got to just outside Lyon when it had all gotton too much. I litterally fell asleep, decided we needed to have a proper stop, fortunately a Mc D’s carpark was close to hand & we pulled up for a quick 20mins powernap in the glorious afternoon sunshine. We were about half way, the final push was required!
We got on our way & gradually the careful fuel economic driving turned into a full on blat to get there & get this drive over with.
Eventually after 800miles & 17hrs we arrived late in St Maxime, just outside St Tropez. We were both starving having not really eaten properly so found a resaurant, fuelled up & drove out of town to the event site to get some much needed rest. We found a cheeky little dirt carpark right on the beach & were both sparko in seconds.
I awoke about 7.30am in an absolute oven of a van. Skies clear, water mirror calm. I opened the door for some air, Ryan stirred & popped his head out too.
“Mate I think they have put a barrier on the carpark this morning” were the first words Ryan sleepily mumbled.
F**k, we jumped out & sure enough the non height restricted carpark now had a girt great concrete bar across it, blocking our exit! In a bit of a daze we tried to work out what we can do, running around the carpark we spotted a clearing & a dirt track leading down to an overflow/river outlet which was dried up. although a bit of a rocky path it led to the carpark for he resaurant next door with no height restriction! Quickly before anything else could be blocked we jumped in the vans & after a bit of wheel spinning & offroading managed to excape & make our way to La Cigale Surf Club at Plage de la Nartelle. (The event site for the weekends racing)
We set up camp, met Yannick who runs the club who kindly made us at home with coffees & fresh crossiants. We sat & chewed the fat for a couple of hours, bathing in the glorious sunshine. We figured with such amazing weather we should hit the water to wash off. We met with a couple of Brittany’s best SUP paddlers Arthur Daniel & Vincent Verhoeven for a little play in the bay. It was super calm but a few little bumps of swell occasionally came into the bay & we all thrashed to get on them 🙂 Great fun.
Before we knew it the day had slipped by, a few other top paddlers gradually arrived, Eric Terrien, Belar Diaz, Bart D’Zwart. We all had a good catch up, shared stories & plans were made to head to local distributor SunShort for a welcome party that night. Jean Philippe put on a great get together, stacks of food, drinks & most importantly a warehouse brimmed full of toys! Sick Hobbie mini simmons style shortboards, 16ft hollow carbon race boards, every SUP imaginable, paddles, skate boards… what a toy shop!
Still tired from the drive me made a fairly early exit to get some rest for the racing the following day.
Saturday – Elite Beach Race
Another stunning morning greeted us. the event site quickly started taking shape. I’ve never seen so many SUP’s in one place. Every manufacturer was present with a whole quiver of boards. Stacks of people started arriving & the atmosphere was building. Music pumped out from the DJ stand, there was a fancy dress fun race, hilarious! The afternoon was set for the Elite Beach race. Spec’d as a 7km multi lap beach race with a beach run (carrying your board!!) on every lap, it ended up being about 10km, classic miss calculation there somewhere 🙂 !
Late afternoon we all lined up on the beach. 100 paddlers is quite a site… all squeezed in together for a mass beach start. I took my place & jostled for a bit of space. the start proceedure was new to us, we all stood on a line marked with tape on the sand. On the beach marshalls command (in French) we all walked to the next line ahead then a buzzer was sounded to start the race. It wasn’t quite clear before we lined up what the procedure was, and I got caught by surprise by the buzzer leaving me a critical second or two behind everyone.
The start was total carnage, people paddling across in front, paddles & board clashing, barely a drop of water to put a paddle in! The first bouy turn was every man & woman for themselves, I got a tight line but got an elbow in the face for the effort. The pace was furious as we all jostled for position & the pack shaped up for the first lap. The chop created by so many paddlers was a real issue, proof that you have to get out front on the start & get clean water. I got stuck with a group & we all lined up, every bouy turn saw a couple of place changes in our pack but no-one could break free. Second lap in I realised I had forgotton to start my GPS, damn! A quick press & a slurp of drink got it started. The pack I was with felt almost a little slow when you’re in the draft chain, but it was really hard to make it past & break free with so much chop & still a long way to paddle. I kept my cool & waited for me chance. At the end of the last lap I decided I hadn’t come all this way to sit in line so as we headed back towards the last turn bouy I made a break, I pulled out, put my head down & powered past, surprisingly getting past all but one of the pack.
Coming to the last turn we were side by side, I had the inside line, we clashed paddles & boards, I had a real wobble (disaster) and before I knew it the entire pack swamped around me for the sprint to the finish. Subsequently looking at the pictures, look at the cheeky f**ker behind, he’s got hold of my leash round his paddle… that definitely won’t have helped!
Suddenly they were all alongside as we smashed to the finish I got cut up & forced back a few spots, head down to the finish line I made another error, I was close behind 3 guys who all ditched their board on the beach leaving me no-where to hit sand, I jumped off but was up to my neck in water, damn it! I swam in & sprinted up the sand to the finish. I was stoked to finish such an awesome race (my first beach style / bop race), but gutted to have gained & lost 4 places on the last section by a stupid mistake. Still live & learn as they say, I’ll definitely learn from it, no mercy, no wobbles next time 🙂
Sunday – Distance race
Sunday morning saw the 10mile distance race. Great conditions, super calm & a hot sunny start. We all prepared for battle once again. This time I hoped to do slightly better in a more familiar format.
The race was due to start at 9am but in typical laid back med fashion we didn’t get lined up until nearly 11am! By now the heat was incredible, not good for us Northern Europeans! The race start was the same procedure so this time I was ready & got off to a great start tucking in behind Spanish Champ Belar Diaz for the first turn, up with the lead pack. I was surprised to even be ahead of Ryan but he’d not has such a great start.
The course went out to a turn & then East right across the bay. The pack started to line up, I was keeping up, really pleased but after the first couple of miles I was starting to struggle with the pace. We were going at a pace I’d normally paddle 3miles not 10! I had to admit defeat if I was to finish the race & dropped off the back of the lead group settling for the front of the next pack. A few guys broke past & tried to chase down the lead group but I held position.
I’ve learnt for me it’s better to paddle my own race & lead rather than sit in a draft position. It’s significantly harder work, but I’d rather be in control.
We turned & started the long slog all the way back across the bay to the West & round into St Maxime. The heat was starting to become a real problem, I was literally pouring with sweat, my head pounding & at times i didnt really know what was going on… not good with another 5m to go! Water conditions were changable, some swell & chop which caused realy problems for some of the top guys on narrow boards. I passed a few top paddlers who just kept falling in, there was some serious wobblers being thrown! I chuckled a bit & carried on, happily stable on my Naish Javelin (28inch) 🙂
The chain was still sat behind me as we turns & made our return trip to Nartelle. Every few minutes I’d get a little bump from behind, a reminder to keep the power down to keep the guys behind me away.
The wind started to get up, into our faces, and the sea became more choppy. We’d caught Ryan who had struggled to stay on his narrow starboard & I thought for a minute I might even beat him. I know Ryan pretty well & knew he would probably do anything to avoid that happening haha.
As we rounded the headland with the last mile to go things got a bit crazy in the water, I knew this was my chance to break the pack. the conditions were what I’m used to at home. Ryan & I both put our heads down, I managed to catch a few bumps & paddled hard to break a few board lengths from my drafters. Knowing I only had a short distance to go I put everything into it & managed to keep ahead finishing just behind Ryan. I was super chuffed but suffering from the effort. I couldn’t face standing around welcoming the others in, I had to retire to the van & collapse, I felt pretty rough, I think too much heat. After a little snooze & some food (thanks for putting up with my patheticness Kate) I managed to surface again 🙂
The weekend of racing was done. One hell of an experience. I was pretty shocked at the standard in Europe, some of the guys are so quick, it was a real eye opener for where we are in the UK. We’ve got some work to do!
Beach Race – 22nd
Distance Race – 22nd
Overall based on times for the two days I finished 20th Overall
As always a huge thanks to my sponsors Naish UK, Nutrichef, chi drinks & fitness coffee as well as La Cigale surf club for their hospitality & for hosting an awesome event. See you next year.
Great video of the event: