Well here it is! The start of the 2016 SUP race season! and what a baptism of fire.
The SUP Company Hayling Island SUP Challenge takes place every year on Hayling Island in Hampsire on the south coast of England. For those unfamiliar the Island is situated between the two Harbour’s of Chichester and Langston. Check it out here. Google Maps
The race has a long history in the windsurfing world. First staged in 1980 entrants numbered in the hundreds in the races heydays. In recent years the event has seen the inclusion of Open Canoes (OC1) and (OC6) and of course Stand Up Paddle Boards. This year there were 3 categories to challenge all comers.
Round Hayling Island with Starboard SUP UK & Ireland – 14 miles
The Bridge and Back with Red Paddle Co – 9 miles
The SUP Company Fun Challenge – 4 miles
I will be writing about my experience of the Round Hayling Island Race. A real challenge! a full 14 miles of grind around the island. What makes this race so challenging is not the distance, its the variety of tidal and weather conditions experienced along the way. The 2016 edition held on good Friday was no exception.
The day dawned bright with a brisk northerly wind. The forecast was for the wind lessen to a light breeze coinciding with the race start, before swinging around through the west to a southerly flow and then strengthening again into the afternoon. As the competitors prepared and attended the pre-race briefing, all eyes were on the wind. would it drop??
As the SUP start time neared I headed out into the choppy waters on my 14′ Fanatic Falcon. The OC’s and then then the windsurfers departed on their races. So now it was time!Just a minute to go! The wind had dropped a little, but nowhere near the predicted speed. Final manoeuvres were made, GPS watches started and everyone lined up along the start line. The green flag dropped and we were off!
I got off to a excellent start and paddled into a good position in the lead pack. We soon opened up a lead on the rest of the field while jostling for position. The paddle up to the bridge was pretty comfortable as the wind had switched around to the west providing shelter in the lee of the island. I passed under the bridge in fourth place. Paul Simmons (Starboard) had taken the lead by this point, being chased by Mark Slater (Fanatic) in second and Tim Harley (JP) in third.
As we rounded the northern tip of the island and into Langston harbour. The trick here is to stay in the channel and use the outgoing tide to boost your paddling speed. Local knowledge is what pays dividends here, and I started to gain on the lead three. The paddle down Langston was a slog and by this time the wind had swung around a little more so were were still paddling head on into it.
The Ferry bridge Inn marks the entrance to Langstone harbour and the western end of the island. The outgoing tide at this point gave us all a welcome boost, and I was within striking distance of the top three. The Ferry point lulls the paddler into a false sense of security, thoughts of ‘almost there’ and ‘nearly done’ race through the mind; however the seafront is often the hardest leg of the circumnavigation and at around 7km, accounts for one third of the total distance. As we rounded the point we were met by waist to chest high waves breaking on the bar. This meant a paddle out wide to avoid the worst of it. Even though I avoided the break, paddling sideways across the swell was a challenge in its-self.
I think I can safely speak for every paddler, when I say that the sea front was the most challenging part of the race. The wind was now bolt onshore, not too strong, but just enough to kick up an evil short period wind chop and require constant paddling on the left. This was combined with a small ground swell and backwash off the beach, confusing the sea state even further. It was at this point that I regretted the decision to paddle in shorts and rashy. This was great on the harbours as it stopped me overheating, but resulted is a few chilly dips into the brine. Fatigue and mild hypothermia began to set it, but I wasn’t alone. I could see Mark and Tim also taking dips just ahead of me, Paul on the other hand was storming it and increasing his lead with every stroke.
As we progressed along the front Paul and Mark started to pull away from Tim and I. Marie Buchanan (Starboard) who was sitting in 5th started to close the gap behind me. By this point I was really struggling and a final plunge into the water made the muscles across the top of my back, forearms and calves cramp up. This really slowed my progress and Marie managed to overtake me just as we turned back into Chichester harbour and the home straight. Here I managed to catch a few rides from the swell pushing up the channel. Then a final push up against the tide to the finish line outside Hayling Island Sailing Club In a well earned 5th Place.
This is a great race Thanks to The SUP Company, Sail Racer and Hayling Island Sailing Club for an awesome, well organised Event. Congratulations to all who took part, and to those who made the podium.
The Round Hayling Challenge is a great race, and a great personal challenge for those brave enough to take it on; however as I stated at the top. This is a very challenging race, at a time of year when clothing choices are difficult due to the strength of the sun and temperature of the water. I Personally took two hours to fully warm up and I know of one other experienced paddler who was in the early stages of hypothermia and had to be rescued. Be careful out there guys. Anyone can get caught out.