I've always enjoyed a challenge and Stand up Paddle-boarding has been no exception. Since I started Paddle-boarding, many years ago, I've been drawn to it's challenges.
Not long after learning the very basics, I soon got involved in the racing scene. Competing in small races locally on surf-shape boards, I would often finish 2nd with the occasional 1st place. This gave me the confidence to enter the main UK race series the following year. This confidence turned out to be somewhat unfounded, after I finished the first of the race series back in a very distant 72nd place! I could have easily called it a day there, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the comradery, it was a great feeling being involved in such a huge event and seeing so many on the water. So I persisted and trained and managed some far better results with each race, finishing the series in the top 10.
Some years later and an absence of racing (mainly due to a new found love of SUP Surfing), I found myself drawn to the UK Endurance series. With some training done over the Winter, myself and two other guys from my Sup Club took on day 2 of the Norfolk Broads Ultra, a 30K flat water race. The event didn't disappoint and had all the charm of the UK race series from 2014. Despite a knee injury giving me problems just after the half way mark, I managed a decent time and brought the Turtle Bay prototype back home in 2nd place in the inflatable catagory
So this brings me to the latest challenge, a 52km paddle along the River Thames from Marlow to Molesey. With only rest since the Norfolk paddle 2 weeks ago, this was very much a case of carrying on where I left off. My knee was feeling much improved, so I was keen to see how it fared this time.
Moments before the start I found myself in conversation with a spectator about Turtle Bay, but just managed to reach the line up for the start, albeit facing the wrong way. With no time to set up my music, we were off. The conditions were lovely, beautiful flat water with the lightest of headwinds to keep the edge off, it was a very warm day. I had bought a new water bladder for the race, and after the first few kilometers I couldn't draw anymore fluid from it, something had jammed. My progress was okay at this point, so I pushed on to the next lock. On arrival, I stopped and pulled over onto the grass verge to try and sort it out, after a few moment it was sorted and the water had never tasted so good. A quick snack from the bag and I was back on my way.
It wasn't long before I was approaching the 15k mark and I was getting some seriously bad pains in my knee, to the point of it really affecting my paddle stroke and progress. It wasn't long before I was struggling and having to rest at each lock. It was at some point around here that my friend and fellow Club paddler had caught me up and paddled with me to the next lock. He gave me some much needed pain killers that he had on him, and stuck with me for the next hour until they kicked in.
By now we were reaching about 30k and the knee was feeling good. We stopped for a few minutes to take on snacks and refreshments at a checkpoint and then we set off, picking up the pace. At this point, I felt really good. My friend was on a slightly slower board, so it was good to have some pace in my hand and know I wasn't holding him up anymore. Whatever happened now, we would finish the race together. The combination of pain killers, extra food and a brief stop had made a huge difference, plus stopping at the checkpoint had also given me a chance to swap to my second hydration pack and get the music going through the headphones.
It was the last stretch and all was going well. Despite listening to our own music, it was great to paddle with company, we were even taking in a fair bit of the rather stunning scenery. 40k and all of a sudden my friend was suffering quite badly with cramps, to the point of not being able to paddle. We stopped, he took on extra hydration and fuel and before long we set off again, keeping the pace very steady to ward off any more cramps.
Coming to the end we wasted a few minutes at the last lock. There was what looked to be a short cut to avoid the long route of going around the lock, but as we were about to take it a guy on the other side of the river was saying how we needed to cross over and carry our boards a different way, saying that what appears to be the short route doesn't go anywhere. We put our boards down and checked the route across the lock. Whilst doing this we realised that the short cut was actually exactly that. We grabbed the boards, took the shortcut and off we went on the last section of River. Counting down the final kilometers, the end was in sight. We made sure our boards were neck and neck and crossed the line to the cheer of those that had already finished.
We had done it! I wasn't sure what to expect of the 52k challenge but it was definitely a challenge. Upon getting out of the water, receiving our finishers medals, and removing headphones etc, I realised that the headphone bud had detached itself and was stuck inside my ear! So I spent the next 10 minutes trying to prize it out with some sort of pick that someone had found in their bag, not the best ending to a race.
So with another endurance paddle crossed off the list, it's time to get my knee seen to and step up the training for the big challenge in September! The 14'x23" prototype has been awesome and has not let me down in any way. But now it's the turn of the production model, the Turtle Bay R-14!