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.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Formula Windsurfing Boom Mount, 11.0 Sail

The seasons have just flipped here in Florida, from the overcooked rainy season to the drier and more comfortable, but still summery, season. In this season we often get wind from the Northeast, which is side-offshore on the Gulf Coast. Formula windsurfing gear can be fun in these conditions. Sunday evening I got out on my big 11.0 sail for a nice sesh in 5-15 knots of breeze. I tried a new boom mount position for the GoPro camera. It worked fine except for water droplets on the lens. Maybe next time I'll use some rain-x or a different shaped lens to reduce the water droplet problem. I also tried wearing my SpeedCoach SUP 2 gps on my head to track the session. Video and track are below.

Formula Boom Mount 10-9-16 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Hurricane Matthew related windsurfing session + red tide

Hurricane Matthew was a terrible tragedy for Haiti, and a major nuisance for some of the Southeast Atlantic coast. Here in Southwest Florida it was just a breezy Thursday and Friday. I was off work because the University had cautiously closed. So, I went windsurfing. This is a video of the session from Friday afternoon, which was the tail end of the strong wind. I went out on real small gear (4.7 sail, 83 liter board) and ended up having to rig a slightly bigger 5.5 sail after a while. The song in the video is White Riot by the clash.

Small board windsurfing 10-8-16 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

The only bad thing about the session was that the water was stinky and full of dead fish related to a Karenia brevis red tide bloom. The Florida Gulf Coast has had occasional red tides as long as records have been kept, but the scientific consensus is that the red tides have gotten worse in recent years due to coastal eutrophication; the pollution of nearshore waters by excessive nutrients from man-made sources like sewage and fertilizer. You can track Florida red tides on the FWC Red Tide website.

Monday, October 3, 2016

SUP Race Report: CGT Summer Race #8

Race: Race #8 in the CGT Summer Time Trial series.

Date it happened: 2 October 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: 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: It was sunny, hot and humid- this is South Florida, after all. The river current was a strong 1.75 kph, based on analysis with my paddling in current calculator. This is the time of year (the end of the wet season) that the river current peaks in strength.

Participants: There was a great turnout; 8 racers for the one-lap course and 12 for the two-lap. In addition to CGT race regulars like Meg Bosi and Mark Athanacio, there were some new or newish racers.

Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. A lot of other people were on Riviera's, too; Murray Hunkin on a 14x27, Mark Hourigan on a 14x23, Donna Montgomery on a 12'6x22, Meg Bosi on a 12'6x24, and Saralane Harrer on a 12'6x26. Hovie sups were also common. Mark Athanacio paddled a 14'x21, Justin DiGiorgio a 14x24, Devin Turetzkin and Matt Kearney 12'6x25s, and Cindi Gibson a 12'6x26. I think Jen Hayes used Mark A's 12'6x21.

Results: In the one-lap division Mark Hourigan had the fastest time- 21:45, followed by Bryan Herrick- 22:40. Pat on her kayak was third overall in 24:30 and Saralane Harrer was third sup in 27:11. In the two-lap division I was first in 39:26, followed by Mark Athanacio in 39:27. Matt was next with 43:21 on his 12'6, followed Justin DiGiorgio in 44:15 on 14', and Devin Turetzkin in 44:48 on 12'6. First woman was Cindy Gibson in 48:04, followed by Meg Bosi in 48:42, and Donna Montgomery in 57:24. Jon Weinberg was slower than usual because he stopped to pick up a sprouted, floating coconut that he plans to plant in his yard, but he still got 50:00 even. Full results will be posted on the CGT Time Trials page.

Play by play: It was tough lining up at the start because the current wanted to flip us around. Eventually we got it straight. I started in the first wave with Mark Athanacio, Justin DiGiorgio, and Murray Hunkin. I got out in front then slowed down to a moderately fast pace that I thought I could maintain. The other guys were right behind in the draft train. About 5 minutes into the race I moved aside for Athanacio to lead. He went about the same pace I'd been going, but in his draft I was able to save a bit of energy. Justin and Murray hung on until the first buoy turn, when Murray fell and Justin couldn't get around him fast enough catch Mark and I as we accelerated away.

Mark and I cooperatively swapped leads another time or two on the way upriver. It was tough fighting the current; our usual tricks of hugging the edges and the inside of river bends seemed inadequate. By the midpoint of the race I was at a miserable heartrate of 185, but I recovered slightly by drafting Mark when heading downriver. As we approached the downriver buoy for the second time, our equitable trading of draft positions shifted into side-by-side jockeying. Mark rounded the buoy first but I turned sharper and got into the more favorable current on the edge of the river. At this point I had to decide between trying to stay in front until the end of the race, or letting Mark lead one more time and hoping for him to tire out enough for me to pass. I chose the former, based on my experience that it's easier to defend the lead than to take the lead, especially going up a river, where the leader can pick the best path.

I paddled hard, especially when I heard Mark making a move to pass. One of Mark's passing attempts involved him crossing to the opposite side of the river. I hadn't been planning to take that side, but I followed to make sure I could block Mark's way. That was actually a strategy I learned from Mark- he says it's better to stay on your competitors than to separate, unless you're SURE that an alternate path will give you a big speed advantage. Anyway, I finished the race paddling as hard as I could and reaching a ridiculous 194 bpm heartrate, with Athanacio just one second behind in my draft. Whew! My time in this race was my slowest of the series, by an entire minute, but I think that's mostly attributable to the current. One thing I felt good about was my relatively even "splits". I.e., my first lap was 19:35 and the second was 19:38. Usually the second lap is a lot slower.

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

Congrats to everyone who finished this challenging, strong-current race. Special kudos to new racer Cindi Gibson for setting the pace in the womens' division and getting a surprise win over local favorite Meg Bosi, who is a couple decades younger. Ironically, Cindi did it on the 12'6x26 Hovie she just bought from Meg. Cindi also bought my 14x22 Riviera "the Blue Streak", and I expect she'll be fast on that, as well. Cindi and newish male racer Rudy Ambrosi (47:46) are my two "rookie racers to watch" this season, because they're strong and focused, but have lots of room remaining for improvement in board handling skills and race strategies and stuff. I would put Donna Montgomery (57:24) in the same category- she is still getting used to some big changes she's made in paddle length and board width and she should be picking up speed rapidly.

After the race we had the usual buffet at CGT, and we watched the Pacific Paddle Games (most competitive sup race in the world) on TV. Good times.

What's next: Next SUP event for me is the Imperial River Challenge downriver blast on October 22nd here in Bonita Springs. It should be wild this year with as strong as the river flow has been. I'll need to take a test run or two on the course to make sure I know where the hidden tree stumps and whirlpools and such are located.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Formula windsurfing session video

The other day I took a spin on my Exocet Turbo Formula II board with an 11.0 square meter Gaastra Nitro 4 sail. The wind was about 10 knots, which was plenty to get planing with that powerful board and sail combination. The video is below. I'm not risking putting songs in my videos anymore because I've been told I have just one copyright infringement strike left before they'll pull my vimeo account. I wish there was a simple way you could pay like, 5 bucks, and be able to have whatever song you want in the background of a video.

Exocet Formula 9-28-16 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

SUP Race Report: Lake Mary Jane

Race: 5th Annual Lake Mary Jane Paddle Race

Date it happened: 25 September 2016.

Host/Sponsor: Hosted by Wave of Wellness, a sup-based fitness / tour / yoga business run by Jessica Cichra. Sponsored by Albert Cichra Builders, a marine construction company that makes nice docks for lake houses and such. There were also many other sponsors who had tents at the event site or donated stuff for the raffle. For example: ECS boards and Boardworks Surf.

Location: Isle of Pines Property Owner's Association Beach Park on Lake Mary Jane, near Orlando, FL.

Distance: The main courses were 4.8 and 9.6 km races; 2 and 4 laps, respectively, around an M-shaped course. After that there was a free, 1.6 km race for beginner sup racers, then there was a sprint race, a board-tow relay race, and a kids race. I just did the long race, which I measured at 9.55 km on my GPS.

Conditions: This was a Florida morning in September, thus it was sweltering hot and humid with nary a breeze. The lake was warm and naturally coffee-colored from tannic compounds leaching out of the swampy surroundings. The water surface was nearly glassy, with "bumps" provided only by sup wakes.

Participants: There were 40 racers in the 9.6 km, 46 racers in the 4.8 km, and around 10 in each of the shorter race events. There were a handful of surfski kayak and outrigger canoe paddlers, but the vast majority were on standup paddleboards. Professional and sort-of professional sup racers in attendance were Ryan Helm and Kim Barnes (Riviera), Seychelle Hattingh (Mistral), Jeramie Vaine (Werner Paddles), Kieran Grant (Hoviesup), Alyssa Veres (Lokahi), and Mary Ann Boyer (Indigo). Windsurfing / Kiteboarding legends Isabelle Picard and Bill Kraft from the US Virgin Islands were also there. Top level surfski kayaker and pretty darn good sup paddler Reid Hyle was there, supping. From our local CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards "Tribe" we had a good turnout: Devin Turetzkin, Matt Kearney and I carpooled up (see picture), and we met Murray Hunkin, Jason Mastin, Jim and Quinn McIntyre, and Rudy Ambrosi. Also there were standout sup families Cat & Neil Uden et al. (Boga), Stephen Chase & Rachel Ferguson (JP Australia), and The Marstons (Hoviesup). Keeping things lively were bold characters Robert "Superman" Norman, Yensys "Hulk" Loyola, Adam "Speedcoach" Pollock, Karl "Wings" Eugster, and others.

Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP, with my usual Riviera Vantage R8 paddle and a 6" Fins Unlimited keel style fin. The pro men were on 14's and the pro women were on 12'6s, though there were also some men on 12'6 (e.g., Matt, Devin & Karl) and some women on 14'.

Results: Full results are posted on webscorer. Surfski kayaker David Rush was the first to finish the 9.6 km race, just a few seconds faster than men's 14' sup winner Ryan Helm, who had a time of 0:59:55. Jeramie Vaine was 2nd with 1:00:28, Kieran Grant 3rd with 1:00:46, me 4th with 1:01:41, and Bill Kraft 5th in 1:01:58. Seychelle and Kim were the first 12'6s and the first women in 1:05:07 and 1:05:13, respectively. First male 12'6 was 15 year old Will Marston (1:06:30), followed by Matt Kearney (1:07:03) and Jason Geiger (1:07:05). Third place woman (1st in 50+) was Isabelle Picard in 1:09:31. Murray Hunkin got 3rd in the 50+ men's division with 1:09:23. In the 4.8 km race, 14' division, Robert Norman won in 0:32:25, just ahead of fellow MHL custom board rider Jeff Berry in 0:32:36. Lanky teenager Peyton Thomas was third in 0:35:06. Devin Turetzkin won the 12'6 division in the 4.8 km race, and was first overall for 50+, with 0:35:13. Jason Mastin was 4th in 12'6 with 0:36:19.

Play by play: The day before the race the Cichras hosted some events on the lake for the arriving racers. Devin, Matt and I had a long drive up from SW Florida but we got there in time for chilling out and pre-registration at Albert Chichra's beautiful lake house. Central Florida, with its tall pines, cypress, and oak and maple trees, seems to have more in common biologically with the Carolinas than with tropical South Florida. The shady lake house fit nicely with that temperate woods feeling, and reminded me of good times with my Douglass relatives at a Lake Murray cabin in South Carolina. Jessica Cichra and the other race organizers and volunteers were very warm and welcoming, both at the pre-registration and at the race itself.

The hotel we stayed at on the outskirts of Orlando, the Courtyard Marriott Lake Nona, was sparkling new and sprawling, like much of Disney-centric Orlando. We were well rested when we arrived at the race site in the morning, and had time to do some warm-up paddling. I was a bit nervous about this race because I've recently attempted to change in my stroke technique, in response to tips I got at Ryan Helm's most recent paddle clinic. Ryan said that I really needed to work on getting a more "positive" blade angle at the beginning of the stroke; something that could be achieved with more bend in the top arm and more stacking of the shoulders. He also said that I was paddling too far past my feet, and ought to remove the blade from the water earlier so as not to waste energy on an unproductive phase of the stroke. I had incorporated those changes into my practices the week before this race, but I wasn't sure if they would "stick" once I actually got into a race situation.

For the start of the 9.6 km race, they lined us up on the water between two docks, which provided a convenient corral. I tried something a little different this time, lining up in the second row, behind Kieran and Ryan, rather than in my own slot in the first row. I figured I could fit into the gap they left behind when they zoomed off better than I could elbow my way through a bunch of slower paddlers. Reid Hyle tried something similar. What I didn't account for was how tough it would be to paddle through the chaotic wakes left by the fast-sprinting starters. After struggling with that for 100 m or so I ended up picking a wider line to get more clear water, and that helped me get around some people on the way to the first buoy. After the first buoy I believe I was in about 7th position, on the tail of Reid Hyle and Steven Bernstein. Between them and the leaders (Ryan Helm, Jeramie Vaine, and Kieran Grant) was a lone paddler on a JP board. It didn't look like Steven was going to close the gap on the JP guy (who turned out to be Bill Kraft), so I broke to the side and made a big push to catch up to Bill Kraft. Reid zigged when he should have zagged, and on his slower 14x26' not-quite-race board he couldn't follow me as I chased and eventually caught Bill.

Once I got in Bill Kraft's draft, I had it MADE. He was setting a fast pace; not quite matching the three leaders, but not going any slower than I would have gone on my own. It helped that Bill is a beefy 90 kg, which meant he was displacing a good bit of water and making an easy wake to ride. On the buoy turns I stuck really close on his tail so I wouldn't get left behind, and that seemed to work well. After I while I offered to pull, but Bill said his cutting-bow JP board liked smooth water better than the draft. I continued to draft until the beginning of the third lap when I went wide and took the lead. I kept about the same pace, but my heart rate went up considerably. I tried to keep focused on form, and to be aware of any little ripple or puff of breeze that could give me some extra oomph. I tried to do tight turns followed by quick accelerations to build a little distance on Bill, who remained just a few board lengths behind me. Ahead of me I could see the lead trading off between Jeramie and Ryan, and after a while I noticed that they had dropped Kieran from their train. Kieran was wearing a long-sleeved black rashguard and black swim trunks, which may have been a handicap in the scorching heat. We actually started to get closer to him in the last lap, though never close enough to threaten his third place position.

In the final one or two legs of the last lap I picked up my pace to as much as I could stand, and then picked it up some more to a sprint at the very end, just to be sure Bill couldn't sneak around me. I actually remembered how my leash was attached this time, and unbuckled it quickly for the run up the sand through the finish line gate. Whew! I was very happy to get 4th place in this competitive group, and felt good about my revised stroke technique and successful tactic of saving energy by drafting. Given how easy it was to sustain a pretty fast pace in Bill's draft, I couldn't help but wonder if I could have hung on to the really fast guys' draft train, had I been able to get on it at the start. The trick may be learning to get off the line faster without getting slowed down by traffic and wakes.

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

After the race there was a nice atmosphere at the site, with good Mexican food, kids playing in the water, adults talking about their water toys, etc. The race organizers tried hard to get the raffle and awards done as quickly as possible and they did OK. There were SO many raffle items and race categories that it still took a while. Matt Kearney made a suggestion that they could call all three finishers (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) up to the podium in one breath instead of waiting for each person to arrive and stand up before calling the next one out of the crowd.

What's next: There's a race in Clearwater on Saturday, and a local CGT race on Sunday. I'll definitely go to the CGT race but I'm undecided about the other race. Traveling 3+ hours to a race and staying overnight is tough to do two weeks in a row.