Wow… what an event… so much to say, I’ll try & keep it short!
This has to be the biggest profiling event for Stand Up Paddle Boarding in the UK so far. Thanks to Starboard team boss John Hibbard & his event manager Andy Groom, this was the biggest, best, action packed, awesome, knackering, exciting, mental event to date.
The London Boat show laid on a spectacular water-sports action pool right below the main entrance to the Excel Center, London. With a huge glass walkway one site & a 1000+ seater stadium the other, the stage was set for battle!
I arrived on the Thursday night, met John Hibbard, Andy Groom, Elliot Dudley & Rich Morton for a swift pint (well J20… I’m an athlete don’t you know?) After a good catch up we all went for a fairly early night. I opted for the van (aka Hotel Babylon), it was pretty bizzare waking up in the heart of the East End!
A few of the other guys had arrived in the early hours so I got the kettle on quick!
At about 8ish we all headed into the arena to watch the qualifier rounds where anyone who hadn’t been given a spot in the event could enter for the chance to be in the main heats. Thankfully Nick Watt my local training partner got through after some hard fought time trials! Once they had finished it was our time for open practice, for an hour & a half all I did was go up & down the pool practicing the critical turns, time & time again!
We had a few hours off to explore the Boat Show & the Outdoor Show (which to be honest was my favorite! Toys galore!) Back for the first day of heats around 3ish.
The nerves were building back stage, there was a fairly reasonable crowd turnout, the bright lights, the banging tunes, all built it up to be a nerve wracking entry to the pool!
First heat I had the Jay ‘the big dog’ Manning. Due to him having an unlucky fall at the first turn I got a big lead & cruised through to the next round.
Round two I was up against Olympic Champion Rower Bobby Thatcher. Again he didn’t stick his turns & I got through into the semis.
In the semis I was up against arch enemy & Fanatic rider Charlie Grey, we had an awesome battle with a photo finish down the judges decision, looking back at the video footage it was really, really close but I got the decision & progressed to the Final against Starboards top UK rider John Hibbard.
I was shattered after my battle with Charlie but I was determined to try & give John a run for his money. We were litterally neck & neck until the last turn when I had a slight wobble & John pulled a board length on my. I was stuck in his wake & kept with him but couldn’t get past the wake from his board. I finished 2nd on day 1, totally shattered but totally stoked! Woo hoo!
Day 2 started off with first heat against Dave Robinson. I pushed hard off the line & managed to get a small lead & retain a clean heat to take the win. This put me against top Windsurfer Paul Simmonds. It was a close heat until the final turn, I managed a super sweet turn & that got me a good board length lead to take over the finish & progress to round 3. The third round saw me head to head with long board supremo Elliot Dudley. This guy is a super fit beast & I knew it would be a tough heat. We thrashed it out neck & neck but Elliot got a slightly better 2nd turn taking him over the finish about 2ft ahead. I tried my hardest but I couldn’t squeeze the win. With litterally no rest I was back in the pool for the 3rd place duel with Rich Morton. This was a battle of will, both of us shattered, determined to get the win… I had a small lead for the first half but Rich clawed it back by powering the last stretch & taking the win by a whisker. At the finish I jumped into the pool & nearly threw up I was so shattered. In fact I felt so bad I had to stand in the pool until they had got the next heat underway or I would have chucked my guts there & then! Not pretty! Footage of the heat courtesy of sup-guide.com
This was crunch time, I’d managed to hang onto my 2nd place podium position but had a tough day of heats. Looking at the overall standings & scribbling various scenrios it became apparant I had to clear round one against room-mate James Hardy, which would possibly leave me against Mark ‘slasher’ Slater in the 2nd round. The other guys challenging for podiums (Elliot & Rich) wouldn’t meet until the 3rd round (if they both won their round 1 & 2), so basically if I didn’t get there myself I’d be off the podium completely. So that was all I could think about, get past James, & I’d HAVE to beat Slater. I managed goal number 1 which left me against the mighty Slater. This as showtime and suddenly it became a bit serious! We had a close race, turning the last bouy at exactly the same time it was a sprint to the finish, we clashed boards & paddles, both switched sides & dug deep for the last sprint, as we approached the finish we both had to switch sides again & we started heading for each other, but neither man was prepared to give way… just feet from the finish we clashed boards in a big way, I almost got thrown off but had the smallest of leads & held on for all I was worth, scrapping the win by a few inches… the pictures say it all 🙂 A close hard fought victory that kept me in a shot of the podium!
Having been focused on beating Slater I had forgotten to consider who my 3rd round would be… damn it was John Hibbard! For the second time in the tournament we lined up for a heat. The boys were egging me on to give it all I could & give Hibbs a run for his money. I think I did pretty well 🙂 He got me, but not my that much! I think I had peaked a little early against Mark, but it had been important to get that previous win. John went through the the final for the 3rd day running & I got to battle it out for 3rd place again, this time against Elliot… great!
I heard later there has been a small wager between Rich Morton & Elliot because if I beat Elliot I got second overall in the event & Rich third, if the result was the opposite Rich took 2nd place & the bigger prize purse. Elliot beat me (just) he just had that bit more energy in the final sprint & took a small lead. I was totally stoked either way as I knew I had 3rd place overall secure.
Final overall results:
1st – John Hibbard
2md – Rich Morton
3rd – Pete Holliday (ME!)
Web Cast footage from the three days: