Vila do Conde, Portugal. The venue for the first ICF surf ski world championships and what a race it was.
Portugal had won the right to host this event and the team at Nelo put it all together.
Nothing was overlooked, everything was in place for the best surf ski event in history. It was a paddler groupies heaven. Everyone was there to contest the event and have a great time.
In the lead up to the race, downwind paddles were organised, clinic’s run, ski’s were on show and merchandise was sold. The Nelo truck was a hive of activity and the heart of everything going on. All we needed was race day.
My preparation for the race was done in the months before at home with my training buddy Ando. We had smashed out some great sessions together and now it was time to enjoy the run in to the race. Fresh seafood was on the menu everyday for fuel, no one does it like the Portuguese. For anyone thinking of going to Portugal to race, look up and eat at Bodegao. The best restaurant you will find!
Will a belly full of food and enough energy that I couldn’t lie still from my taper I was confident and ready to race.
Nelo had made me a new 560 ski in Aussie colours which was awesome. The 560 is the best ski that I have paddled. It is only 5.6m in length with extra volume in the tail, allowing you to pick up and ride any swell and bump for longer, making it easier to link runs up and paddle over runs in front, as long as you can handle it’s instability. It was the perfect ski for the conditions that we should be getting on race day. Light tail wind with some small chop coming over our right shoulder.
The race was set up to be the fairest ski race that I have ever competed in. They were using the paddle locks on the start line, the start was into calm waters and the finish was to be the same, calm waters with a 10m sprint up the beach. Great for spectators and even better as there was to be a live visual feed and running commentary throughout the race from Andre all set up on the beach at the finish line.
I’m not going to lie, I was feeling great on race day and confident that I was going to be up there at the end. My training leading in was great, my nutrition was good, my equipment was second to none and I was jumping out of my skin with energy to race. I had a good race plan, covering all the things that I could control and I was aware and had accounted for all eventualities and what I would do to cover them, whether it be the competition, conditions or someone else’s race tactics.
It was the most nervous and fairest start that I have been a part of in a ski race, no one could go early and everyone had as good a chance at a clean start as everyone else. Standing on the start line with our paddles locked behind us, shoulder to shoulder with competitors either side the heart rate was climbing. It was a LeMon start with a 30m sprint to our boats which were packed in so tight in front of us that they were touching the boats next to them. If you didn’t run fast you were going to be caught up in the ensuing chaos.
From 5 minutes out everyone was ready, other competitors nervously running back and forth adjusting their ski as the tide came in. Crouching down and ready, focused on getting to my ski fast, the gates clanged open and the race was underway. Elbows, paddles and shoulders all getting in each others way as we ran like mad men for our ski’s. The shoreline was turned into churning white water as 370 competitors all raced into it together. My start was clean and it seemed that all the top seeded paddlers were able to make a clean get away off the beach as they were all up the front within the first 400m.
Sean Rice and Hank lead the pack out fast, racing hard for the hot spot 3km off shore. Sean was to be the victor, in front by less than 1metre and set up his inside line quickly once in the runs. From the start I was comfortable, never having to jostle for position, I got on the outside of the front bunch and sat on an outside wash four boats back. The pack stayed together until we rounded the hotspot and then tactics and knowledge came into play. Which race line to take, inside or out. I stayed out, working the runs and then cutting back as the coastline went in and then came back out on us. We had good visibility of where we wanted to go and with the Garmin I knew exactly what distance I had left to get to the finish line.
We were racing on some nice little runs for the first 10km, the ski was running beautifully and I was in control and relaxed. Sitting in the top three with Sean Rice and Sam Norton, we covered each other as the kilometres went by. At 12km Sam put in a big push but couldn’t keep it up as the wind died and the swell disappeared. Both Sean and I stayed within 30m of Sam as he pushed out front. Sensing him tire we made our move, from the 14km mark it was a drag race. Sean went out wide and I stayed in close. At the 18km mark the conditions had completely flattened out, Sean and I were still neck and neck but as the swell and wind disappeared Sean’s power increased. In the last 3km Sean created his winning margin.
In those flat conditions there is no stronger paddler than Sean Rice, he paddled a great race and I was stoked to finish second. Second in the World. Not bad I thought. Even better was to have Cory Hill flying home for third. I was a bit nervous near the end as Cory was gaining on me but I was able to hold off the youngster with the big future by 10sec’s. Two Aussies on the podium, what a performance!
The race was awesome and to have it as an ICF sanctioned World Championships is a step in the right direction to help promote our sport and take it to new areas of the globe.