Head of the Dart

100 paddlers ready to go!
100 paddlers ready to go!

This was a much anticipated race, a solid distance race early in the season to test how well winter training had gone!

An early 5am start for the Bournemouth based BaySUP! Myself, Nick Watt, Ryan James, Marco Amat & Matt French set off on a road trip to what was going to be the biggest sup race in the UK to date. With just under 100 entrants split evenly across 12’6 / 14ft and cruising class this was sure to be an epic race.

We arrived early to get the faff of dropping cars and boards at the start/finish and got settled waiting for the high tide just after lunch when the race would begin. Scores of people started to arrive from all over the UK as well as as far afield as Jersey and Ireland! It was great to catch up with everyone after a long cold winter. The sun even came out and started to warm things up a little bit!

Everyone was carefully planning hydration and nutrition, equipment and race strategy. News came out we’d be doing a NASCAR rolling start due to the narrow section we’d be starting there as no way 100 paddlers would fit across it. After an excellent & organised race briefing by John Hibbard we were all on the water in plenty of time ready for the start sequence.

The usual creeping began… The clock ticked down and I think we all just about stayed behind the start line before the horn sounded the start!


As expected it was absolute carnage off the start line! The chop and wake off the boats & boards made it seriously challenging. It was vital to get a good start and I managed to get away ahead of trouble and quickly form a draft train with the top 4 guys. Ryan led the pack and pulled clear quickly leaving Peter from Ireland (only 16 years old!!!) leading on his 14ft with James Hardy tucked behind also on 14, then myself followed by Ollie Shilston fresh from the world champs in Peru both of us on 12’6.

I didn’t dare look back but apparently there was a draft train of about 10-15 guys behind us off the start! After a couple of kilometres we broke loose and 4 of us pulled clear. After a while sat patiently the pace began to slow a bit. I says conscious of the following group so decided to try & make a break to the front to pick things up a bit. I took my moment and pulled out, driving past james and up alongside Peter. Just as I started to pull past he tactically steered sharp left and literally Tboned me stoping me from passing. I slipped behind him and held for a few moments before trying again, he did the same… I was a little frustrating as we were paddling for different classes so I dropped back behind again and waited for another opportunity. The pace had picked up & we’d dropped james so I was happier with the speed. About 8km in a boat wake gave us all a big wobble… I came off worst with Ollie seizing the moment to pull past me. I tucked in behind him and the pace picked up another level.

Another km later another boat wake and I just fell off the back of the draft train… I think Ollie noticed & made an effort to take Peter too. They paddled side by side, Peter pushing Ollie to the side trying to block him. I dug deep trying to catch the back of them but was still a couple of board lengths away from the draft.

I knew we were in the closing couple of km’s, Ollie too and he dug in to try and take Peter again. Into the headwind on the final straight into Dartmouth they clashed side by side, neither guy wanting to give an inch… I put my head down hoping they would take each other out but it just seemed to push them both harder… Ollie timed it perfectly to make use of the boats & buoys to split them apart and coming out the other side of the boats had a few board lengths on Peter.

Heads down we all pushed it to the limit for the big finish… Ollie kept pulling away, I was slightly catching Peter but ran out of river… The finish line in sight we crossed the line after a brilliant and tactical race.

Ryan James – 1st 14 & overall
Ollie Shilston – 1st 12’6 & 2nd overall
Peter – 2nd 14 & 3rd overall
Me Pete Holliday – 2nd 12’6 & 4th overall

Such a close race we all crossed the line within about a minute of each other.

Coming in after Crispin took 1st in unlimited with Nick Watt 2nd in unlimited.

We all got out and shared the tales of the race while trying to warm up, the wind had got up and it was rather cold!!

Prize giving followed shortly, some amazing perpetual trophies donated by the generous Andy Cole who has lost his battle with cancer Monday that week. Our thoughts and thanks go to Andy. He’ll remain a part of this race for ever.

Huge thanks to Starboard for the organisation, prizes and event.

Thank you BIC for my new board, it’s first outing in battle and super pleased with its performance.
Thanks Nutrichef and Chi for keeping me fed & watered šŸ™‚

Thanks to everyone who participated in this awesome race, particularly those who have never paddled or raced but plucked up the courage to give it a go, our sport needs you & you are the true winners!

See you all at the Thames on the 18th May to do battle with the mighty Jamie Mitchell!!!!

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