Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cali SUP trip part 2- Battle of the Paddle by Robert Stehlik

Battle of the Paddle pictures courtesy of Doug Hopkins and Jeff Warner
Battle of the paddle 2009

Saturday, October 3rd 2009 was the big day that many of us had been training for- the second annual Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle. Probably the biggest SUP event of the year with four races, a SUP expo and $25K in prize money. Sparky, the owner of Rainbow Sandals had a great vision and this second event was great. I did not make it to the first BOP and was excited to be in Dana Point for this event.
The first race in the morning was the age group race. This had to be the biggest field of SUP racers ever, with hundreds starting in each division from the beach in a staggered start. Mark Raaphorst had the fastest time and Zane Schweitzer came in first in the Stock division with a 5th place overall, beating a lot of guys on unlimited boards. My training partners Jeff Chang and Edmund Pestana got 1st in their divisions- good job guys!
Follow this link for complete race results. I did not enter in the age group race as I wanted to save my strength for the Elite race which started at 1:30 pm.
There was a big crowd of people on the beach and many companies had demo boards available to try. Check the video I shot of the race, pretty amazing to see that many people racing.

Battle of the Paddle 2009 age group race video from Zen Waterman on Vimeo.

The Elite Race
With a $25K purse and a spectator friendly format this invite only event has established itself as the most important SUP race of the year. I did not go to the first Battle of the Paddle last year and was not on the invitee list for the Elite race but I really wanted to be part of this ultimate SUP race. I e-mailed and called organizer Barrett several times with my race results and asked to be allowed to enter with no replies and was getting worried. I finally got a message a few days before the race that I could enter- sweet! Just being part of the event as one of the Elite racers made me feel pretty darn good.I printed out this map and spent some time studying it before the race but was still confused by it. The route turned out to be easy- just follow the other guys!
I was so pumped up and ready for the start. I had visualized and practiced the start many times and my heart would start racing just thinking about it. I really tried to stay cool and keep my heart rate down as we were standing close to each other on the beach, holding board and paddle, ready to charge into battle...
BOP 2009 elite race start
Doug Hopkins took this picture, I'm in the middle just about to get up. I got off the beach and on my board quickly and had no paddlers next to me in my peripheral vision for the first few strokes. Then I saw Aaron Napoleon leading the charge and a bunch of guys appeared all around me- the pace was frantic. The waves were fairly small and gentle but during the Elite race there were some pretty good size sets coming through which made the race super exciting. After passing the outside buoy, the course was M shaped with the third buoy marking a 180 degree turn inside the surf break. With many racers on each wave approaching this turn, the announcer was having a field day with collisions, pileups and just general mayhem at "the hammer". I kept hearing things like - "Ooooooh, they're having another yard sale at the bone yard!"
The Elite women division was launched a few minutes behind the men. Candice Appleby on the left getting ready to launch.

After completing the first round, we landed on the beach, had to run through the "chicane" with the crowd cheering us through the 75 foot beach run and launched back into the surf. Jeff Warner was my board handler and had the 12'6 Everpaddle board I was using ready on the other end. The low tide made the launch tricky as my fin touched bottom quite often. Next time I'll bring a fin that's not as deep.
Jeff in the Legends "sweeper" uniform did a great job handling my board and keeping me going.

Everything went fairly well and I went into the third round close to the lead pack probably in 15th place or so. I kept thinking I should have trained harder as the level and speed of the paddlers around me was fast and furious. I usually try to be relaxed and focused while I race but that went out the window, I was going all out and relied on my instincts to get me through the race. As we came down the outside stretch in the third round, Ekolu called out one of the day's biggest sets approaching. I turned the buoy just in time to catch the first set wave from all the way outside and started riding it towards "the hammer". Other racers took off on the wave and we were angling towards the inside buoy. I somehow angled too much and as the wave jacked up and broke, I was not able to straighten out in time to control the board and got flipped off. Without a leash, the board took out the rider next to me as well and got washed inside with the whitewater. I started swimming in with my paddle, hoping to body surf the next wave to get to my board. The next wave came full of racers hollering at me to watch out as I actually considered body surfing between the out-of-control boards and wide eyed racers but opted to put safety first and dove under the wave. By the time I reached my board, more than 10 racers had passed me and I could not make up the lost time. I finished in 24 th place and in one piece, the battle was over.

It was the most exciting SUP race I have ever been in and I have compared it to riding bumper cars, gladiators, ice hockey, windsurfing slalom racing, and demolition derby. The format and close interaction with the crowd on the beach made for a highly charged event. Respect to the impressive top two finishers Jamie Mitchell and Slater Trout and congratualtions to all finishers. Thank you Sparky for the vision and Rainbow Sandals for putting together an amazing race.

Evan Leong of took this picture of Hawaii racers Kainoa Beaupre, Edmund Pestana, Zane Schwietzer and Robert Stehlik after the distance race on the day after the Elite Race.

Robert Stehlik

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