Sunday, December 4, 2016

SUP Race Report: CGT Superlap Series #1

Race: Race #1 in the CGT Winter Time Trial series, aka the "Superlap Series" because of a new race format.

Date it happened: 4 December 2016.

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Distance: Approximately 5.34 km / 3.3 miles. The course goes downriver, around a buoy, back upriver to the start, then downriver and back a second time. There's a twist, though: There are two possible turn-around buoys downriver; one further and one closer. You have to do the long route for one lap and the short route for the other lap. It's your choice if you want to do the long or the short lap first, so interesting strategies come into play in competition.

Conditions: It was a beautiful, blue sky day with typical warm Florida fall weather. The river level was low and the tide ebbing, with the current at about 0.75 kph, based on analysis with my paddling in current calculator. There was a moderate wind from the East that added to the challenge of paddling upriver.

Participants: We had 16 wonderful people, including most of the race team regulars. Coach Mark Athanacio couldn't make it because he's in Miami renewing his cross-fit trainer certification, but his girlfriend Jen paddled one of his cool custom Hovie SUPs- 12'6x22 -and tested out her new Apple Smart-Watch. "Superman" Robert Norman drove down from Inverness and raced his 14x21 custom MHL board. Most of us were racing as fast as we could, but there were several people this time who took a more relaxed approach and paddled the course with their dogs onboard. After the race it seemed like there were more dogs than people at the buffet in the shop. I like dogs, so I thought that was cool.

Gear: I used a 14x23 Riviera RP raceboard with a Riviera Bump 8.0 paddle, and a Fins Unlimited 6" Keel fin.

Results: I had the fastest time in the 14' sup class, with 34:18, followed by Robert Norman in 36:20. Third 14' man was Murray Hunkin with 37:11. Matt Kearney was the first 12'6 paddler, getting 37:46 on his 24" wide Hovie Comet ZXC. The top three women (all on 12'6 boards) were Damien Lin in 43:19, Jen Hayes in 44:53, and Donna Catron in 46:31. Full results will be posted on the CGT Time Trials page.

Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to log in to Strava to see the details.

Play by play: I started in the first group, with Murray Hunkin, Devin Turetzkin, and Robert Norman. I was in the faster-flowing middle of the river, which helped me nose ahead in the initial sprint and find an open path in undisturbed water. Meanwhile the other guys had to struggle with each others' wakes as we formed a draft train. Though I was confident that I could eventually tire out and drop Murray and Devin (those guys are 14 years older than me and not as ultra fit as Mark Athanacio), I was worried that Robert (14 years younger than me and very fit) might be able to stay in my draft indefinitely and then pass me later when I got tired. Fortunately for me / unfortunately for Robert, his start put him in 4th position in the draft train. So when Devin and Murray couldn't stay on my tail, Robert got dropped, too. I knew I wasn't totally out of the woods, though. I'd still have to maintain a fast pace to hold the initial lead.

On the first downriver leg I opted to go to the more distant buoy, to get my long lap over with first. Of our starting group, only Murray chose to do the short lap first. At the turn I was nervous and almost fell, but was reassured to see that I had a safe gap on Robert and Devin. The wind and current were annoying on the upriver leg, but I tried to paddle especially hard in the worst patches to get through them quicker. Back at the start/finish line I rounded the halfway buoy without incident, though I think I took it wider than necessary. Devin's girlfriend Larissa took a lot of good pictures of people rounding the buoy.

Me on the 14x23 Riviera RP.

Robert Norman on the 14x21 MHL custom.

Matt Kearney on a 12'6x24 Hovie Comet ZXC.

Justin DiGiorgio on 14x24 Hovie Comet GT.

Bryan Herrick on 14x23.75 Riviera RP custom.

On the second, shorter lap I was feeling pretty tired but tried to think fast, peppy thoughts to continue paddling effectively. I wasn't wearing my heartrate monitor, which died the other day, so I gauged my effort level just by how I felt. A couple hundred meters from the end I picked up the pace to make sure I used up all my remaining energy. It sure felt good to cross the line and be done. Then it was fun watching everybody finish and hanging out on the water. I can't wait for the next race two weeks from now. :)

What else is new: CGT recently became a Starboard dealer (Starboard is the #1 sup and windsurf board brand in the world), and they're getting their first shipment of race boards in early January. They will keep selling Riviera boards, which is good because I am a Riviera brand ambassador and plan to stick with them for the foreseeable future. As far as I can tell the Riviera boards are at least as fast, and cheaper.

Later this winter Robert Norman is going to try to break the world record for the longest distance sup paddled in 24 hours. The current record is held by Seychelle Hattingh, who set it earlier this year at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, FL. Robert is going to make his attempt at the same park, which is a big artificial lake used for rowing competitions and such. Whereas Seychelle set her record on a 14' Mistral sup, Robert is going to use an unlimited length sup; a 17'6x23 Starboard Sprint. The very long board should make it a little easier to maintain a high average pace for a long time, but I still think it will be very difficult for Robert to beat Seychelle's incredible record of 177 km. It will be neat to see him try, though.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

SUP Race Report: CGT Series 2016 Final

Race: Race #9 (the last one) in the CGT Summer Time Trial series.

Date it happened: 20 November 2016.

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Distance: Approximately 5.96 km / 3.7 miles. The course goes downriver ~1.5 km, around a permanent buoy, back upriver to the start, then around an inflatable buoy and downriver again for a second lap. There is an option to do just one lap (~2.97 km), and several people took that option this time.

Conditions: The morning was cold by Florida standards, long-pants weather, with a North wind blowing. The river current was moderate, about 0.7 kph, based on analysis with my paddling in current calculator. Is hasn't rained for about a month, so the freshwater input to the river has gone way down.

Participants: There was a great turnout with a mix of the regular racers and some first-time racers. On the womens' side, Beth Schadd was back from her summer in Idaho and paddling a new 12'6x24 Riviera RP. Donna Catron and Jen Hayes were on 12'6 Hovies, Meg Bosi on a 12'6 Bark, and Cindy Gibson on the 14x22 "Blue Streak" Riviera that I sold her a while back. Saralane Harrer paddled with one large dog on her board, and Damien Lin with two dachsunds on hers. (Damien had done a 12 km race in Miami the previous day.) Patricia tried out her new BOTE board for the first time. On the men's side, "Superman" Robert Norman drove down from central Florida with his 14x21 MHL custom board and his charming beau Carigon. A guy who was visiting from New Jersey raced on a rented Riviera. Two dudes were on Naish raceboards- Steve Fleming and teenage Tadem Stewart. Mark Athanacio had done the Miami race the day before, so he wasn't in full competitive mode, but he used opportunity to test out his new 12'6x23 custom Hovie, which has rough-water / all-around design with a concave hull similar to the Starboard Allstar. Mark Payne showed up with his 18' long unlimited SUP, but ended up swapping boards with Justin DiGiorgio and paddling Justin's 14x24 Hovie Comet GT. Matt Kearney was on a 12'6x24 Hovie Comet ZXC, Mark Nicoletti on a 12'6 Boga. Devin Turetzkin and I were both on 14x23 Riviera RP boards, and Bryan Herrick was on a custom 14x23.75 Riviera. Murray Hunkin was on his 14x27 Starboard Allstar.

Results: I had the fastest time in the 14' sup class, with 38:23, followed by Robert Norman in 40:06. Mark Athanacio was fastest 12'6 with 40:20. Cindy Gibson was the fastest woman, and set a personal best time of 43. something. Full results will be posted on the CGT Time Trials page.

Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to log in to Strava to see the details.

Play by play: I started in the first group, with Murray Hunkin, Devin Turetzkin, and Tadem Stewart. We were all about the same speed off the line, but I stayed in clear water and angled into the lead after 100 meters or so. Murray got in my draft, and I think the other guys got behind him. I did my best to set a fast-but-sustainable pace, but I felt slightly out of tune physically. I had lingering symptoms from a cold earlier in the week, and sore muscles from doing an awkward bench press test on Friday at Dr. Jose Antonio's sports physiology lab in Ft. Lauderdale. (Matt Kearney and I were both there participating in a new study. More on that later.) My pace wasn't fast enough to drop Murray. He stayed on me all the way downriver to the turn-around buoy, but he fell rounding the buoy so I dropped him that way. Heading upriver I didn't doing anything super special, but I did try to strategically pick the parts of the river offering the best shelter from headwinds and currents, or if that wasn't possible, the deepest water and the most direct path.

Race director Nick Paeno announced my split time as 19 minutes when I reached the start/finish line at the end of the first lap. I knew I'd need to maintain that pace for the second half in order to get an overall time on par with my 38.something average for the series. Seeing Robert Norman charging hard at the lead of the second group of starters also helped me stay motivated. That guy is only 23, and strong and agile as Bruce Lee, so I reckon it's just a matter of time before he starts beating everyone. Anyway, to go fast on the second downriver part I thought fast thoughts. I tried to "feel" my paddle grabbing the water and my board sliding forward, and I willed the wind to push at my back. On the final upriver leg I focused more on forcing my body to work harder, knowing that the end was coming and that I should use up every drop of energy remaining. It seemed to work OK, and I was happy to finish with the time I got. Murray was next to cross the line, and he looked like he was still paddling well. I think he had a good race despite the one fall. Robert Norman seemed to have pulled ahead of the guys who had been near him before the second lap, and he was really flying at the finish. Beth Schadd also had a charging sprint finish, with a rapid cadence and more effective looking paddling style than I remember her having last season. Maybe she practiced in Idaho. Bryan Herrick, who has changed up his training to focus more on injury-reducing recovery and developing a strong endurance base, reaped the rewards of his training by improving on his previous best time by nearly a minute, and averaging a very respectable 8.4 kph over the entire race.

After the race we tried out some of each others' toys. I got a kick out of paddling Mark Payne's long unlimited board. It didn't accelerate very well, but it could cruise at high speed with a little less effort than would be required on a 14' board. I also got on Mark Athanacio's 12'6x23 custom all-water Hovie, and I really liked the feel of it. Light and efficient feeling but remarkably stable, perhaps because of the very wide tail and concave hull design. It will be interesting to see how Mark does on it at the next rough water race. Robert Norman bought a 12'x19 Riviera prone paddleboard from CGT and tried it out while we all watched and commented. His first move was tip it over and immediately fall off, then he ran it into the bushes, but pretty soon he had it going like he sort of knew what he was doing. Then he impressed us by standing up on it and using a paddle like it was a standup paddleboard. It was obviously very tippy, but just the fact that he could stand up on it at all was pretty impressive. Since Robert doesn't live near the ocean, we're speculating that he could use the prone paddleboard as a rough water simulator sup, since it's as hard to balance on in flat water as a normal board would be in very rough seas.

When we got off the water we had the great buffet at CGT, enhanced by some exotic dishes brought in by healthy chefs Bryan Herrick and Cindy Gibson. Never heard of avocado pudding before. Good times.

What's next: It looks like the next big SUP race won't be until after the holidays, but I'll keep up with the thrice-weekly workouts that coach Mark Athanacio assigns, and try to do some race-length paddles like more Lovers' Key roundings. Hopefully we'll get some good wind and waves for surfing and windsurfing, too.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

SUP Race Report: Englewood Beach PaddleFest

Race: Englewood Beach PaddleFest

Date it happened: 12 November 2016.

Host/Sponsors: Hosted by "Hooked on SUP Paddlesports" and a bunch of other sponsors and volunteers listed on the race's paddleguru page.

Location: The Gulf of Mexico off Englewood Beach, Florida, and into Stump Pass inlet.

Distance: There were three race courses- a 9.2 km one, a 4.8 km one, and a 2.4 km one. The long one went south along the beach and briefly into Stump Pass inlet, before coming back out and going north along to the beach to the start / finish. (See my GPS track.) The 4.8 and 2.4 km courses were 2 and 1 laps, respectively, around a triangle course in the ocean centered around the start / finish. I did the long race and my awesome wife Rhonda Mason did the short race.

Conditions: The weather was perfect for a race on the ocean- light offshore breezes with virtually no waves or chop on the clear, blue-green water. It was cool enough for sweatpants and long sleeves in the early morning, but became pleasantly summery as the day went on. An incoming tide added technicality to the inlet entrance / exit at the halfway point of the long race, with strong localized currents of varying directions sweeping over shallow sandbars.

Participants: There were 48 in the long race, 57 in the medium race, 38 in a short race, and a some in a kids race. Most people were on SUPs, but there were a handful of outrigger canoeists including John Beausang of the Distressed Mullet paddle website, plus a prone paddleboard and a kayak. In the shorter races many of the competitors were on surf-style sups, which were scored in their own division separate from 12'6 and 14' race sups. Though there were some tough competitors, the event had an overall friendly, "family" vibe. Since Englewood is relatively close to my town, lots of people from my local club/team, the CGT Tribe, were there. In the 14' class in the long race we had coach Mark Athanacio, Murray Hunkin, Mark Hourigan, Justin DiGiorgio, Jim McIntyre, and me. In 12'6 class we had Cindy Gibson, Meg Bosi, Matt Kearney, and Devin Turetzkin. Jason Mastin and Jen Hayes did the medium race on 12'6s. Justin's spouse Jessica DiGiorgio and my spouse Rhonda Mason did the short race on 12'6 race and 11'8 surf style boards, respectively.

Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. Rhonda used my 11'8" Exocet WindSUP, which qualifies as a surf-style board. Mark Athanacio used a 14x21.5" custom Hovie Comet GT, Matt Kearney used a 12'6x24" Hovie Comet ZXC (a little narrower than his usual board), Meg Bosi used a new 12'6x25 Bark Contender, and Murray Hunkin used his new 14x27 Starboard Allstar.

Results: The results were a little goofy because they gave awards based on age classes (under 18, 18-49, and 50+), but some of the teenagers and 50 plussers were faster overall than the 18-49 year olds. The overall fastest sup in the long race was 50+ Mark Athanacio, who finished in just under an hour, followed about a minute and half later by me. The next two finishers were also very-fit 50-plussers; Bruce Day and Jim Valenti. Teenage Will Marston was the first 12'6 finisher, with millennial Matt Kearney just a few seconds behind him, and 50+ Devin Turetzkin a few minutes back in third overall but first for his class. 50+ Cindy Gibson was the first woman to cross the line on 12'6, a bit ahead of younger Meg Bosi and Amy Carden. In the mid-length race, a tiny young boy named Dylan Geiger impressed everyone by getting first place overall, ahead of 50+ Kevin Glatfelter, who was ahead of 18-49 class Jason Mastin! Young Hailey Marsten was first female in the mid-length race, ahead of Jen Hayes. In the short race, I was overjoyed to see Rhonda get FIRST in the 18-49 year old surf sup class. Jessica DiGiorgio also had a stunningly great first race, getting second overall on her 12'6 sup. I'm not sure if Rhonda and Jessica's victories were because of or in spite of incessant advice and goading from paddling obsessed husbands. Probably in spite of. The full, complicated results and times are posted on PaddleGuru.

Rhonda with her TROPHY.

Play by play: I felt weird before the start of the race. I wasn't sure if it was just nerves or maybe something physical, but as I write this I've come down with a major cold, so my funny feelings may have been the beginnings of that. Despite feeling off, I started the race pretty well, with only hard-charging Mark Athanacio and wirey Will Marston out-sprinting me from the beach to the first buoy. I passed Will shortly after the buoy and found myself a few board lengths behind Mark. I wasn't close enough to be fully in his draft, but I think I got some benefit from being on about the 4th "wave" of his draft. I debated trying to sprint right up behind him, but the pace we were going was already close to my full sprint and I was worried that going too hard at that point would ruin me for the rest of the race. Nobody else was matching our pace, so it was clear that, barring disaster, Mark and I would be the only ones in contention for first and second.

After a while I moved out of Mark's wake and took a line more inshore of his, working my way up to about parallel with him. In retrospect, that would have been a good time for me to cross back into his draft and really stick there, but I assumed (wrongly) that I'd have another opportunity later. I didn't have that opportunity because Mark put on some more speed and stayed just out of reach as we moved into Stump Pass inlet. The gap increased after we rounded the buoy in the inlet and headed back towards the Gulf of Mexico. That was partly because I got too shallow hugging one side of the channel in my efforts to avoid the incoming tidal current. Something I should have learned from our practice paddles around Lovers' Key is that Mark somehow sneaks over shallows without losing as much speed as I do, so I'm better off staying deeper and not following his exact path.

I briefly regained some distance on Mark when he got caught paddling in place in a river-like tidal current exiting the inlet. I thought I'd try crossing over the strongest part of the current before turning against it, but I ended up falling off when the currently suddenly caught the nose of my board. Though I recovered quickly, Mark put more distance on me as I struggled through the sucking region near the inlet. At this point in the race I was feeling physically enervated and now demoralized with the realization that I probably wouldn't catch up to Mark again. Though my heart rate wasn't quite at it's maximum, and I wasn't having any particular muscular failures, I nevertheless found it impossible to squeeze any more speed out of myself. That might have had something to do with my oncoming cold, or with over-training in the gym and on the water this week. Or it might have been entirely a mental thing. I'm not sure. Anyway, though Mark continued to slip further ahead, I at least didn't let anyone sneak up behind me, and I held onto that second place. My average speed for the race was 9.12 kph, which is not much worse than my best-ever speed for an hour-long paddle (9.32 kph for a Lovers' Key rounding on August 20th). With Mark paddling really well lately, it looks like nothing short of my all-time best performance, or something even better than that, is going to match him.

After the long race the team hung out on the beach, and cheered Rhonda and Jessica in the short race. As is typical of big SUP events, it was a while after the races were over before we got through all the lunch and awards and stuff. I spent part of the time trying out some QuickBlade paddles that were available for demo. The awards and raffle were run efficiently, but the awards still took a while because there were an outrageous number of divisions. 3 age classes x 3 board classes x 3 races x 2 genders x 1st through 3rd place in each = 162 trophies just for the SUPs! Both Rhonda and I were happy to get our first place plaques, though, and we felt pretty boss driving home with them. Go team CGT!

What's next: There's going to be one final race in the season's CGT Race series on November 20th. In the meantime I'll continue my training with coach Athanacio and the team. I'm not planning any major changes to gear or training strategies, other than maybe going to a smaller paddle blade. The Riviera R8 I've been using is 106 in^2, but a lot of of people are switching over to 80 - 90 in^2 blades with good success. For example, Athanacio's strong second-half performance may have something to do with his switching to an 86 in^2 QuickBlade Trifecta paddle. (The smaller blades are supposed to reduce skeletal muscle fatigue and increase endurance.) Riviera makes a 93 in^2 blade on a paddle called the "Bump 7.0," which I have tried and which is likely to be my next paddle.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gamer Girls, by Rhonda

In addition to being a multi-published science fiction / fantasy writer, my talented wife is also an adept video game player. She was recently commissioned by the video game news website "Gamers Sphere" to write a blog article about her personal experiences as a "Gamer Girl." As you may or may not have heard, there has traditionally been a lot of sexism / misogyny / immaturity in the video gaming community, which can make it a treacherous environment for women. Rhonda Mason is not one to stand for that shit.

You can read the article here:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sexy Space Opera, Part II

My wife, Rhonda Mason, is a published author. Today is the release of her second book, Cloak of War, which is the follow-up to her critically-acclaimed sci-fi debut, The Empress Game. You can order both books on her website, or find them at Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

SUP Race Report: Imperial River Challenge 2016

Race: The Imperial River Challenge.

Date it happened: 22 October 2016.

Host/Sponsors: Hosted by the town of Bonita Springs. Sponsored by CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, and lots of other Bonita Springs businesses including the Shangri-La Springs yoga/spa/resort, Stan's Subs, Wells Fargo Bank, Heaven Shakes Ice Cream, Heaven Scent Flowers and Tuxedos, the Everglades Wonder Gardens, and Benson's Grocery.

Location: The Imperial River, from Kent Road (West of I-75), downriver to Riverside Park in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Distance: Approximately 4.1 km / 2.55 miles, sometimes more than that depending on river levels and how you negotiate the turns and obstacles. The course is one-way, downriver. This is a GPS track from a practice run I did earlier in the month- I didn't use a GPS during the actual race because I didn't want to have to stop if it got knocked off the board by a branch or something.

Conditions: It was pleasant, sunny, breezy weather, not too hot and humid. The river level was much lower than it's end-of-wet-season peak about a month ago. The water flow was relatively slow, but swift enough to create challenging eddies and vortices around the bends and submerged objects. I'd been concerned about some impassable obstacles (fallen trees, etc) that appeared when the water level went down- I had to portage around them when I did a practice run on Tuesday. But between my last practice run and the race, the city had gone up the river and chainsawed the obstacles out of the way. Whew!

Participants: There were a mix of kayakers, canoers, and SUP paddlers, with a majority doing kayak or canoe. In some years there have been serious race kayakers in skinny boats, but this year it looked like mostly slower recreational kayaks. The fancy gear and race-minded paddlers were concentrated in the SUP class. On the women's side there was Damien Lin on a 12'6 Hovie Comet ZXC, Donna Catron on a non-race SUP, and Heather Olson on a 12'6x24 Riviera RP. On the men's side the three top contenders were Mark Athanacio on a 14'x21.5 Hovie Comet GT, Robert Norman on a 14x23 Naish Javelin, and me on my 14x23 Riviera RP. Solid racers John Weinberg and Joe Gladieaux were also there. Four of our usual racers were absent because they're in Tennessee for the torturous 50-km Chattajack race.

Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. The Riviera production boards have really good resistance to cuts and dings, so I wasn't too worried about taking my beautiful board through the "rapids".

Results: I narrowly got first in 26:49, with Mark Athanacio at 27:00, and Robert Norman at 30:29. There was drama when Robert's time was originally announced as an "amazing new course record" of 20:29, and we had to talk to the committee to uncover their timing error. First woman was Damien Lin in 32-something, followed by Donna Catron and Heather Olson. The SUP paddlers were faster than all the kayakers and canoes this year. But canoeists won the costume contest, with a pair dressed as a Gorilla and a Banana.

Play by play: Since the upper river is really narrow and twisty it would be a demolition derby if they started everyone at the same time. So they started us one by one, about a minute apart. I was terrified that I'd get stuck behind a slow kayaker or something, so I bullied up to the front of the line and got to start first. Athanacio started second, and Robert Norman third. The first part of the course alternated between briefly sprinting and awkwardly negotiating sharp turns. Sometimes I would step back on the board to do a proper "buoy turn" aka "pivot turn" and other times I would do some variation on the "cross-bow" turn without stepping back. It's hard to know what is the fastest sometimes. Athanacio says his strategy in that part of the course was to stay back on his board the whole time to pivot it around, not sprinting too much but mostly saving his energy for the more open water later in the race.

There were about three times that I ALMOST fell off my board and caught myself by using the paddle as a crutch. It wasn't the turns that were throwing me off, it was where a swirling current would shift the board under me unexpectedly. By the time I got through the upper part of the course I was feeling a lot of cardio fatigue and muscle fatigue, but I tried to stay fast and find a rhythm for the rest of the course. I didn't have my speedcoach GPS on the board because I was worried it might get knocked off, so I just gauged my effort level and speed by how I felt. In the last several hundred meters I took it up a notch, and when I saw the "FINISH" banner and balloons stretched across the river at the end I went as hard as I could. I rested in the water until Athancio finished, and was relieved when he said his time was a few seconds slower than mine. Too close for comfort, but good enough to get the first place prize basket and $100... which Athanacio will get anyway because I'm paying him to train me. :)

Congrats to everyone who finished this challenging, adventuresome race, and big thanks to the race organizers.

What's next: There's going to be one final race in the CGT Kayaks summer series, and a race in Englewood in early November.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Snorkeling for "Work" at the Florida Keys Marine Lab

I spent the last four days snorkeling with Rhonda and my Florida Gulf Coast University students at the FL Keys Marine Lab on Long Key. It was delightful, and educational for the students, of course. I've posted an annotated picture album, and put a couple video clips together in a very short video. (See below.)

KML Fall 2016 clips from James Douglass on Vimeo.