A quick 3 trains, and a short flight and it was goodbye English summer (what!) and hello Portugal! As usual I was blown away by the guys at Nelo and their amazing efficiency and organizational skills. They always seem to be one step ahead, and have all areas of a race covered. From airport shuttles, to hotel choice, to boat setup, they leave nothing to chance. For me a personal highlight was having an espresso machine in the tent ON THE BEACH, with uber cool bean bags to lounge around on while waiting for the wind to blow!
And did it blow! Take a look at this video made by Greg Kitto of White Hot Media of a little downwind we did on the Thursday before the race…
Besides going way too shallow and having to punch through a few big ones on some reef, I had a super time out on the water. Not as super as others it seems. Rene Poulson, who is no slouch with a paddle in his hands (Beijing Silver medalist, World Cup medalist, London 4th place and more) had a rough day out, and I am pretty sure he now has a greater respect for the Atlantic (and any) ocean! The part I took away from the day, was that we are blessed to grow up in a water culture such as South Africa, where Mother Nature gave us all a klap growing up, and taught us to never forget who is boss, and to try and equip ourselves as best as we can with the skills needed to enjoy what she has to offer.
Vila de Conde has a lot going on, with great beach runs in the rising sun, a lengthy promenade, cafe’s and good restaurants, and a quick train ride to the city of Porto for some sight seeing. With Mercedes being one of the event sponsors, each day we got chauffeured to the beach in style!
Race day arrived, and I would be lying to say I was not nervous. First ski race back after injury for me, and after only being in a ski for 2 weeks since my op in March I was hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. The game plan was to go out conservatively until we turned onto the downwind section, and then go for broke. 10km is a deceiving distance, it’s not short enough to be a flat out sprint, but not long enough for you to have any breaks, in pace or concentration. So basically you are left with a race at about 98% pace…
The whole morning the water was flat and glassy, and I had almost given up on the idea of a Ski race, when the wind started picking up, as Andre had said it would. You could hear the collective sigh of relief from all the ski paddlers, and the groan from the flatwater sprinters! But that is what we were here to do, GO DOWNWIND!
Getting a good start is crucial, and with all the guys jostling for a good spot on the start line, it was actually easier to get out of the hustle, and start mid-beach. Us females just don’t have the strength and start speed of the guys, so the plan is usually to tuck in behind a fast, heavy slip and hang on into the headwind section. Paddling against Olympic medalists in the relative calm water of the start is always going to be a hard task. After turning onto the downwind section, I tried to place where all the other women in the race were, pretty tough when everyone looks the same with life jackets and hats on. I passed Bridgitte Hartley and Beatriz Gomes pretty quickly and spotted Kiwi Teneale Hatton in front of me. From this point on I concentrated on the run in front of me, and trying to string as many together as possible. The rest of the race is a blur, I know I came past Teneale after about 10/15 minutes, and then tried to work my way a bit deeper. The last 1km with a side wind was brutal, and I knew that if we hit the beach together I would lose the run up to the flag. Fortunately I got there before and could jog across the line.
Winning this race is a great feeling! I am stoked to race against such a high quality women’s field, and that Teneale pushed me so hard. Women’s paddling is certainly on the upwards spiral, and it’s great that Nelo recognizes this and rewards it in their prize money. I am looking forward to the first official ICF World Surf Ski Champs to be held in Porto in 2013!
The guys had a cracker race with the South Africans dominating! Jasper Mocke, Dawid Mocke and Sean Rice making up the top 3 (and Sean taking out the hotspot against all the sprinters!) Dawid wrote a great piece, read it here.
Day 2 brought on the “round the cans” racing. Flat surf means it’s Olympic Sprinters time! I didn’t really have much of a chance, but gave it a go nonetheless! I managed to catch the smallest of bumps, getting myself back up to 3rd, 4th & 5th group, but ended up with the 5th! Naomi Flood showed them how famous iron women surf life savers start, and smashed it, making up for her boat admin disaster on the downwind race.
Full results here.
I haven’t that much fun on a tour in a long time! Beach parties, racing, beach runs, great coffee, great vibes, awesome people… I can’t wait for next year 🙂 Thanks Andre, Marisa and the whole crowd at Nelo for one fantastic week!