The SUP Company Hayling Island Challenge 2016 by Susan Jones
A guest blog entry by Susan Jones who completed the Red Paddle Co – Bridge and Back Challenge as part of The SUP Company Challenge Round Hayling Island event which took place on the 25th March 2016 from Hayling Island Sailing Club. Susan Jones is part of the Bray Lake SUP Club and regularly competes in SUP Races throughout the UK.
“What better way to start the racing season! The SUP clubs’ winter series are over, the days are getting longer and thoughts are turning to the year’s main racing calendar. The Hayling race, created by The SUP Company and hosted by the excellently positioned Hayling Island Sailing Club (HISC) is the perfect challenge to focus on for your early training and it’s a real breath of fresh air to look forward to!
All the way round Hayling Island is the true challenge, of course, and for the outrigger canoes and windsurfers, there is no other goal in sight. But for most people on a paddleboard, this is a challenge too far. Only the fittest and fastest of the SUP community can get all the way round before the tide turns and getting back to HISC becomes impossible.
The SUP Company Challenge Round Hayling has solved this conundrum. Not only is it a wonderful challenge, it is cleverly combined with choice. This is the uniqueness of the way The SUP Company has set up the race to offer possibilities for everyone and create one of the most inclusive events in the calendar. Not only are you on the water with other disciplines, you can SUP on any sort of board, at any level, with a choice of distances and courses, and still be in with a chance of a prize.
And a bigger plus – even when the race has started, your choice has not been fixed. You are still in control of how far and where you race. It gives you a sense of possibilities that you don’t get in other races. You know that by observing the wind, the waves and the other competitors, you will be able to create for yourself the best chance of a successful outcome.
On the start line, another unique and thrilling aspect of this race: where else am I lining up to start with the great and the good of the UK SUP scene, men and women, all types and lengths of boards, off and racing together?
Nerves were on edge, the water was choppier than expected and though visibility was a thousand times better than last year, you still had to strain a little to keep your eye on the flags that signal the race starts. Off went the OCs, then the windsurfers and finally us… for SUP, the red, white and blue Number 3 pennant, accompanied by first a red, then orange then green flag…one minute to go and some people were still way out of position! The tide had kept pulling us over the line so it was a real balancing act in more ways than one.
I hope I didn’t swear at the lady who came right across my bow in the opposite direction as we started! Narrowly avoiding a collision, I had no chance of performing my usual 30 fast strokes to accelerate off the line. Staying upright and moving forward was the priority in a stiff breeze off the right quarter creating a diagonal chop, which was tough. A minute or two later I was in the water, my board upturned and a trickle of cold sea inside my wetsuit. Not an ideal way to begin!
I heard shouts from behind but was soon back paddling and determined to lose as little ground as possible. The direction of the chop meant heading slightly further east that I would have liked but I guessed the main channel could give the advantage of a quicker stream on the still incoming tide.
The fastest paddlers were way ahead and the fleet was well spread out even as we passed the Witterings to the right and Emsworth started to come into view ahead. I began to work my way to the left to get the line for the turn towards the bridge, knowing that we were about on full tide so cutting really close to the shore would not be a problem.
To my right was a chap on an inflatable paddleboard, but on his knees. Intrigued, as normally the rule is maximum 5 strokes kneeling, I asked him if this was allowed. His cheerful reply was “Yes, it’s much easier, you really should try it!” Later I learned he was a windsurfer who hadn’t paddled before and had decided to switch to SUP just that morning. Where else other than the Hayling Challenge would you have that possibility?
I love this part of Chichester Harbour, gliding alongside the cows in the fields. I had turned the corner, the sea state had calmed, the sun was warm on my back and I could see familiar landmarks. This was enjoyable and fun. I was making ground on a couple of SUPs but still hadn’t seen any of my Bray compatriots by the time I was passing Northney Marina and in sight of the committee boat. Decision time was approaching. Would I go on to the Silver finish, braving the bridge and navigating across Langstone Harbour (which I have never done), or turn at the buoy and head back to the sailing club for Bronze?
Here is the magic of what The SUP Company has created. At this point you are well into race pace and have time to consider the situation and the options it presents. The head wind had freshened, there was no-one very close in front and I knew that the Bray Lake paddlers were keen to do the Silver course round to the Ferryboat if they could. If I continued into the wind and under the bridge, I would have to choose my own course and they might either follow and catch me, or choose a better line and overtake. Alternatively, going round the buoy and doing the Bronze “To the Bridge and Back” course offered a moderate downwind respite to the corner, and then a clean visible course back to HISC, albeit into wind, which I had practised a couple of weeks before.
And so it was, I turned at the buoy and enjoyed a welcome downwind run, exchanging friendly words with paddlers still making their way towards the bridge, before turning the corner and starting the long slog into wind with no tide advantage, the outline of the sailing club just visible in the far distance. I stuck to the channel, though I could see that the two guys well ahead had taken a completely different line much nearer the shore. I wondered if I might make up some ground on them. Last year, I had gone well off course to the right in the fog and was determined not to make the same mistake again.
Those last 3 miles are a long, lonely slog and I had to use all my tricks to keep focus and maintain pace even though there was no-one to chase and no-one chasing me. Counting down the marker posts and the buoys, I realized I had not made up much on the two guys ahead and indeed had a very nasty cross chop to navigate once the finish was in sight and I was still way out in the channel.
Finally I made my approach to the shore, jumped off the board and ran to the flag: first lady in, and third overall. I had made the right choice to complete the “Red Paddle Co – To the Bridge and Back” challenge and give myself a clear run to the finish.
Then, as I turned round, to my great surprise, I realised how mistaken I had been…. my Bray friends had followed me round and had been hard on my heels all the time!
Smiles all round as one by one they finished, a great sense of achievement for all of us, a wonderful day in beautiful natural surroundings.
This is a truly iconic event, my “race of choice”. I’ll be back next year, and what will I choose?”
Many thanks to Susan for taking the time to write about her experience and congratulations on a fantastic result (two years in a row as 1st lady home over the 9 mile long Red Paddle Co Bridge and Back Course!).