Having made the long trip down last year with training partner Ryan James I was dying to get back to St Tropez to bathe in the summer sun & take part in some epic sup racing. This year the dates fell to make an unofficial European tour with races in London, St Tropez, Germany and back to France 4 weekends running.
Unfortunately Ryan couldn’t make it along this year but I decided to make the trip anyway. I set off for Folkestone Wednesday night for a few hours sleep at the services before a 6am euro tunnel crossing
I woke sleepily at the services and quickly packed up the bed and (via a costa machine for a quick double espresso) and hit the train. Before I knew it I was in France, time for another espresso then start motoring. 750 mile to go, but the miles flew by quickly. 300 down and time for a rest, double espresso and off again. 150’s at a time each combined with an espresso before I knew it I a pulling into St Maxime. I’d been chatting to Supracers boss man Chris Parker on route and I knew there was a little get together at la cigalle surf club (where the event is based) quite a few of the racers had made the trip a littler early too and were there having beers and catching up. I met up with Chris, Bart D’Zwart, Connor Baxter, Jim Terrell to name a few. Yannick who organises the event greeted me warmly, stuck a beer in my hand and we all had a great catch up on the past year. After talking paddles,fins and racing for hours already I decided I had to hit the sack, so back to the van for some rest.
I woke up early to the van swaying around all over the place, I count work it outed I was till in a daze, but once I opened the door I soon worked it out! 30-40mph mistral (offshore) winds…great & it was forecast to stay a while too. Jim Terrell and I hooked up for a paddle to test it out, very quickly we realised it sad not going to be much fun, we paddled across the bay for a few km’s, back to the surf club them downwind to the point, this was great but we had the inevitable hell of paddling back! In the gusts you actually went backwards, what a slog… We made it back & decided that was it, time to chill for the rest of the day! Time passes quickly when you’re hanging out chatting, before too long it was evening & off to the welcome party at Jean Phillipes (local sup retailer) place with Susie & enzo from bomber eyewear and Bratislav (Czech canoe champ). It was great to spend more time catching up with all the guys from Europe I’d met the year before. We drank beer, ate pastries and admired some of the amazing boards Jean Phillipe had in the store. Great chilled day!
Race day, time to get serious! Again we awoke to crazy winds, the format as a beach race but the organisers were unsure of the course and postponed the race until late in the day to try & get less wind. BIC were running a one design sprint series so I got involved and we found partial shelter one one of the bay. It was a brilliant event, kids divisions (with some serious talent) woman’s and mens. Chris Parker and I got drawn first heat but it was top three to go through so we played tactics making sure we pushed to the first buoy to get clear water then cruised the rest. Before too long we were through to the finale, there were some fast paddlers here but I knew it was probably won or lost on the first turn. At the horn I went out hard drawing the inside line but right alongside one of the fastest guys. Chris had an early fall so I knew I only had this guy to content with.
We hit the turn, I swung inside, but the guy fell as our boards hit and somehow he went over my board, resurfaced under, but had his coiled leash wrapped right around my board. I knew I was stuffed we had to sort the tangle, trying to communicate in broken French/English,I grabbed at his leash to try to undo it, he saw what as happening and ripped it free but by now three guys had passed us including chris who is a serious contender. I had a lot of work to do, but the final was two laps… I pushed on making clean turns but only managed to make back one pace putting in me in third, I crossed the finish about a board length behind 2nd. I was a bit gutted as it would have been a great win especially as it was a BIC event, but hey-ho, there’s always lessons to learn.
I went back to the van to snooze ready for the main race. We all got ourselves organised and were about ready to go at 4.30 but they postponed again… This is every competitors nightmare as you get yourself prepared mentally, nutritionally but then the goalpost gets moved… Still the conditions were shocking so it was worth waiting to see… But things didn’t change…
At about 6.30 we finally got a briefing and hit the beach to form a start line. There as already hardly any space in the good spots when I got there. I spotted a half a board width and pushed the nose of my board in place on the sand. It turned out I’d tried to nudge my way in right next to current number 1 Connor Baxter. He strolled over & like a true gent instead of telling me to sod off and find another spot, he got a load of guys to move down their boards so I could squeeze in. We waited some more, had a funny chat about French timing & eventually the beach marshals got organised to start the race. They opted for a knee deep water start to save the risk of boards blowing around. We got into the water (which was freezing!) and surprise surprise waited some more… Connor and I were practically blue with cold at this point as neither of us have the most body fat to keep warm! This was the med for Christ sake what was going on!!
3,2,1… Allez, allez, allez! We were off… I hopped to my feet getting a good push off from the sand but like some freak Connor was already a board length ahead and paddling as I stood, the wake threw me and I fell straight off… The beach shelves quickly so I went totally under, noooooo this is the worst possible situation at a start like this as with 100 paddlers you need or be out front at the first turn.
The turn was barely 50m offshore and with the wind all of a sudden 100 paddlers converged at once in absolute total carnage. The crunch of carbon was pretty nasty, loads of people were in the water, boards and paddles everywhere… I stopped paddling and like the parting of the seas a gap opened and I sailed through making up about 20 places (thank god after such a crap start) the course was a kind of zig zag circuit up and down the beach with side wind for 4 laps. The air as dry as Gandhi’s flip flop which burnt your throat at such high intensity. I focused on a clean race after that start and took my time to turn clean at the buoys despite all the other paddlers attempts to T-bone me or push me off with their paddles… The laps ticked down and I made up a few places.
On the last lap I focused on the group ahead,the last upwind was screaming, paddling one side was a killer, back downwind I focused on relaxing to find some bumps and at the last buoy turn I had caught the guys ahead, the tail end guy got blown past the buoy and I saw my chance to tuck in tight, head down and choke up Connor style to the beach to make up one last place. I came in 27th overall and about 3mins behind the leaders over the 4.5kms course.
I was actually pretty pleased considering the disaster at the start. It was really interesting to see how hard the top guys push themselves, Connor was collapsed by the railings coughing his guts up, I gave him some water, he could barely talk… I think the dry air and the ridiculous pace he set had taken their toll! He had taken the win over Travis by about 2 seconds with Jake and Casper close in behind him. I’ve raced with these guys at battle of the paddle but this event being smaller was way more intimate and you got a real feeling and appreciation for how far ahead of our uk talent these guys are. Connors start was nothing short of ridiculous, there are some great photos showing him at least 3m ahead already before most guys are even to their feet. A few guys were talking over dinner that night as to whether he jumped the gun, but I was right there and believe me it was just perfect timing, technique, confidence and determination that got him there.
After the race the prize giving took place, we were all shivering in the cold,it was already about 8.30pm and we had to eat! Myself, Jim, Casper and chris headed out for dinner next to the surf club. I got a message from fellow uk rider Ben Swails saying he was on route (having missed the race due to a flight cancellation) so we waited at the bar, sinking some beers & chatting about the days events. He soon joined us and we tucked into an epic dinner, generously paid for my Jim (what a great guy, thanks again Jim).
I was a late finish hitting that sack gone midnight with an early start planned so I could fuel for the 18kms distance race on the Sunday.
The winds had finally dropped a little, the skies were clear, we all prayed for a good race. We started on French time (about an hour and a half late) the briefing and course looked good and we lined up ready to go. This time I got away clean, heading out to the first turn I hit some of the crazy chop and fell again, ahhhhh, quickly back to my feet I hadn’t lost much time, I made a clean turn and headed across the bay. I managed to tuck in behind a couple of 14’s briefly to get a it of a rest, Jim came by me on the left and I saw the chance to jump on his wash. I held it a while then as the water cleaned up he stepped it up a gear and I fell off the back of the draft. Now I was in no mans land, no one to work with and a long way still to go… As we headed back towards the start point to turn and head into St Maxime the pack ahead were probably 300+ meters away, when we turned the headland we went into the most horrific cross wind. The guys ahead were working together leaving me double stuffed, still from my OC paddling I’m used to heading into the wind so I started grinding. As the wind straightened into a true headwind I started to really make progress on the other guys. I knew my only chance to improve my position was to catch them upwind as downwind it’s so hard to make up a gap. I kept working and about 5kms later as we approached the end turn I had caught them and sat on the back to rest for a few breaths. I pulled out and went to the front to take my turn in the train & fresh from a breather I stepped up the pace… But left the guys for dead! I was shocked but wasn’t going to wait around. A soon as I turned the buoy there were some runners going right back towards the harbour and the next turn so I milked every one I could to pull, away. For the rest of the race it as slightly downwind, it’s not my strong point but I made the most of it sprinting for every bump I could find. The km’s rapidly disappeared and before I knew it I was at the headland turning in for the last 1.5kms to the beach (into a 25mph + headwind!!!) I wasn’t too far off the guy in front by now and could see him tiring so again I played to my advantage and started to grind, bit by bit I was catching him up, you can see people give up into the wind, it really sucks but if you get over the mental part it’s a great way to make up time. I choked up on the paddle Baxter style and smashed it to the end, there wasn’t enough distance to catch the guy in front but I made up good time. I sprinted up the beach to finish a respectable 37th over all and 28th on 12’6 after 18kms.
It turned out Travis had got the win over Connor on the final stretch, giving him enough time to take the overall title.
The afternoon saw the fun team sprints. Team BIC put together a team with our captain Eric Terrien. Eric got us the lead on leg one but the other teams were strong and by my leg 3 were were 5th. I held position but couldn’t pass the guy ahead! Celine finished the last leg bringing us in 4th overall!
As soon as the relay was over it says beer o’clock! A few with team BIC then Jim, Ben, Casper etc all joined us to talk story, good about and generally get smashed to let go after a tough weekends paddling. The beers flowed late into the night, it’s a long story for another day but Jim, Casper and myself ended up in some proper dodgy bar in town until the early hours, my abs were aching in the morning from all the laughing, a brilliant end to a brilliant weekend.
What other sport can you hang out with the best guys in the world & get smashed?? SUP really is a great big o’hana & I’m stoked to be part of it!
The racing was over and it was time to kick back, relax, train a bit & soak up the sun before heading off on the road with Ben and Chase Kosterlitz for a road warrior road trip to The Lost Mills race in Germany, via Genoa.
The story continues another day 🙂
BIC one design – 3rd
Technical beach race – 27th
Distance – 28th
Special credit to Michel Terrien for the photos. My iPhone died a death while away loosing all my photos of the trip 🙁