Going Full Circle, 11 days to go – Rio Olympic Games, & some SurfSki updates

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In 11 days time, I will be attending my 3rd Olympic Games. I am super stoked to have come full circle, after competing in 2008 for South Africa in the Women’s K4 and K2 events (making the final in the K4) and then being in London with Bridgitte Hartley (my K2 partner from Beijing, I helped her by being a training partner in the lead-up to London 2012 where she medalled in the WK1 500m event) and now going into the Rio Olympics as Team USA Olympic Coach to my athlete, Maggie Hogan.

It’s kind of cool seeing the sport from so many different angles, and I am very excited about this next phase of my career. It’s 11 days until the opening ceremony, and we have a lot going on before then!

I was just in Portugal (possibly my favorite country!) I was just recovering from my jetlag (we were there in June for the 3rd Canoe Sprint World Cup – where Maggie got a silver medal in the 5k) and all of a sardine-tin found myself back on a plane heading across the globe.

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Maggie silver medal World cup 3 WK1 5000m (please note my Rio themed-board shorts!)

I can’t say I was upset at having to return to Portugal… Great wine, pastel de natas and cooking downwind! The Nelo Summer Challenge is one of the best events on the World Series, and is also an ICF World Cup race.

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Thanks Macca Hynard for the cool photo!

As usual, Andre, Marisa and all their team staff put on a spectacular event. The wind delivered and we had great conditions for racing.

Schoogirl error on my part cost me my 5th NSC title, as I casually jogged up to the finish line not realizing that Angie Mouden had caught up to me as I played it cautious through the surf zone. Great race Angie, and good to see some younger talent coming through.

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I managed to sneak a last-minute trip to Hood River for the Gorge Downwind Champs. Strangest thing, doing a downwind on a river! A lot of fun, and we caught a good day of cracking wind on Thursday and again on Saturday. Unfortunately race day (Friday) was pretty flat, and didn’t quite go how I would have liked. Teneale Hatton showed her strength on the flatwater to paddle away from the women’s field to take the win. Great to see so many good female paddlers from all over the world taking part (NZ, Australia, Spain and USA).

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Yes, those are Zebra print paddling pants! (Slipins)

The whole team behind the event, led by Energizer Bunny Carter Johnson, put on a great few days. Seamless downwinds with a daily, repeating shuttle, a beer garden, and great food all made for a fun break!

And now the countdown begins, we leave in a week, and I am very excited about being a part of one of the largest and most successful Olympic teams in the world. (Underneath my Team USA t-shirt my blood is green, and I am also super excited about seeing my other team mates go out and perform on the world’s greatest sporting stage!)

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Go Team USA & Team South Africa!

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The Curse of the Wooden Medal

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Marathon Racing is taking a lot of flack right now, with the ICF releasing new rules and a 30 second penalty box similar to water-polo for paddling offenses. It’s been interesting to read the discussion on the FaceBook page where some of the sports greats are debating the rules.

For me personally, nothing beats racing my surfski, that being said, marathons are a great way to stay fit and the racing is intense!

Over the past few years I have had some success racing the World Championships, with a bronze medal at my first ever Worlds in Gyor, Hungary in the WK2 with Nikki Mocke.

Racing to a bronze medal in 2007

Racing to a bronze medal in 2007

After that I stayed away from marathons until Portugal in 2009 which was a hard race, top 10 in the K1, and a DNF in the K2. The following year began my “Wooden Medal” curse.

After a terrible start in the K1 race, I managed to catch up and race a fantastic 26km, until the last portage and a small hiccup, leading to being out sprinted for the bronze. The first of my “Wooden” medals.

Banyoles 2010

Banyoles 2010

The following day Bridgitte Hartley and I hopped in a double, and once again, got out sprinted for the bronze, #2 of my “wooden gongs”.

2011 saw me injured and miss the Worlds in Singapore. The following year in Rome, saw my 3rd “wooden” medal in the K2 with Robyn Kime. Not out sprinted this time, a nasty penultimate portage saw us lose the bunch and therefore be out of contention.

Rome 2012

Rome 2012

This year see the World Marathon Champs (new rules and all) being raced in Copenhagen. I am in the K2 with Bridgitte Hartley again. Lets see if we can turn my curse around! Here is the link to the website: Click me

However, first up is the FIRST EVER OFFICIAL WORLD SURFSKI CHAMPS in Portugal in 4.5 weeks time! I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. A huge step forward for the sport of SurfSki, and a pretty cool event to be a part of! I can’t wait!

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Beach Talks

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Here is an interview on the Nelo Summer Challenge website. Click on the photo below to find out all about the first ever World Surf Ski Champs happening in July this year.

Beach Talks | Michele Eray

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Name: Michele Janine Eray

Age: 33

Location: Between Plett & The World

When and how did you started surfskiing?I started back in my school days as part of the life saving movement here in SA. As you move up from the Junior (Nipper) to Senior you need to be able to paddle a surf ski to be able to take part in the Ironwoman event. Canoeing was a also a school sport, so I did that in the winter.

Has your season already started? How’s it going so far? I took a break after the 50km cape Point Challenge in December, and have started training again. No races this year yet, just trying to build some base fitness.

You’ve won the all the Summer Challenges you’ve entered. Do you feel it’s lucky charm event for you? Lucky charm? Ha-ha, I believe you create your own “luck”, but yes, I think momentum is important, and I have always had so much fun when I come to Porto, so I am always in a good head space. I love the event, and the venue, so I can’t wait to race there again.

As a South African and being RZA a major surfski center, do you think that Portugal (and the Nelo Summer Challenge) was a good choice for hosting the 1st World Championships? I think Portugal is the perfect place for the 1st ever World Champs! It has great downwind conditions, is easily accessible by most countries, and the event has a great tradition of awesome organisation, so I think you guys will set the bar nice and high for the rest of the world, for future World Championships events.

EuroTrip Part 2

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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!

EuroTrip 2012 so far…

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So far my trip has been AWESOME! I basically hit the ground running, and have only now started to relax and have some time to do  normal day-to-day things, like write this blog post!

Unfortunately I picked up a nasty chest infection before I was due to leave SA, which meant I had to miss the first race on my schedule, the Crestuma marathon in Portugal. It did mean I got to spend the weekend in London, which was the Olympic opening weekend. I managed to get tickets to the opening concert in Hyde Park, which was spectacular. Catching up with old friends, and memories of the short stint I did in London back in 2003, all made the first weekend a great experience.

Before I could get too comfortable, I jetted off to Asturias, in the North of Spain, for the International Descent of the River Sella! This race has been on my to-do list for a very long time. My first coach, and the guy who played a major role in not only teaching me to paddle, but also creating my work/training ethic and general attitude towards training and racing, won this event back in 1997. I always remember him telling me these cray stories about this race. The masses of people, party goers, the manic start and the great vibe.

Here is a short video clip about this year’s race, showing the crazy start:

Here are some photo’s from the race:

Michele Sergio and Birgit, tripping before the race

Team RSA

The race can only be described as crazy! The start is not in batches like at home, so over a thousand paddlers line up along the banks of the river, for one mass start! And it’s shallow. This year in particular was pretty low!

I had a great race, and ended up winning the women’s K1 race, just 2 minutes off Mara Santos record set in flood conditions. I will definitely be back, maybe in a K2!

Thanks so much to Fernando and Florentino of Parreskayaks for all their help, the boat and their perfect English!

The best English speakers in all of Arriondas!

The next day I got fetched my my “manager” Gonzalo, of Elite Kayak. Thanks for all your help, from translating, to boats to lifts! I was paddling a K2 race in Busto’s hometown of Villaviciosa with Danish Marathon paddler Birgit Pontoppidan. The race was pretty short, only 6km, but with the rushing tide and wind, it made for some tough racing. We paddled hard and ended up with a 3rd place behind Sella K2 2012 Champs Mara and partner from Spain, and the Argentinian crew.

Birgit, me & Team Manager Gonzalo

Monday we headed off to Riba de Sella (where the Sella Descent ended) to race a K4 event. Initially  was going to paddle with Ant and Cam, but luckily they found some male partners and I ended up paddling with Birgit and 2 young Spanish Junior paddlers. After getting seeded right in the worst position, we made a great tactical start, and were in 2nd place. After some hard racing we ended up in 3rd, with 2 tired but stoked Juniors!

K4 race in Riba de Sella

And that was that, one super duper week in Spain! Thanks to Ant for being chief organiser, and to Fernando & Florentino for all their help and the boat, and Gonzalo for being the best manager ever!

I got back to London in time to see Bridgitte smash her final at the Olympics and take South Africa’s first ever canoeing Olympic medal! All her hard work and sacrifice has paid off and I am very happy to see this around her neck!

Nandor!

The Olympics were amazing, London put on such a great show! I am looking forward to Rio! Now we just need Ocean Ski to become an Olympic sport…

Tourist

I got to see some special friends that I haven’t seen in years, and make some new ones! Thanks to Nelo and the Legends at #47 for making me feel so welcome and my stay so great!

With the craziness of London, the Olympics and trying to fit in some training sessions, I am relieved to be in Poole with my friends Chloe and Pete, for some surf ski training ahead of the Nelo Summer Challenge. The wind has been blowing, and we are getting some great sessions in. Can’t wait to get there!

Eurotrip 2012

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My bags are packed again. As much as it is always super to come home, this chilly weather has me super excited to hop on a plane and get going on another Eurotour!

First up is the Crestuma Marathon (click on name for link to race website), part of the ICF Classic Marathon Series, and the venue of my first Marathon K1 Champs back in 2009. I am flying via London, and I am sure the hype of the Olympics will be amazing to feel, even if I am just passing through!

Next up is something that has been on my bucket list for a long time, The Sella in Spain! Or more officially The International Descent of the River Sella . I am super excited, and as a junior Daniel Conradie used to tell me epic stories of the race, the party and the whole vibe of this crazy sounding race! There is a good group of South Africans going, with race winning hopefuls, I will be sure to post more on that so watch this space!

There are a few other races in Spain, and I have secured an international partner, so it’s looking exciting!

Then it’s back to London, to watch my friend and K2 marathon partner Bridgitte Hartley smash up the field in the women’s K1 500m event at the Olympics! 4 years ago we lined up as a very last minute crew for the K2 500m, and made it through to the semi-finals. (I also made the K4 final, and I am sure it’s going to be an emotional experience watching the K4 race in London).

I will then be moving down to Poole, to spend some time with good friends Chloe and Pete, for a 2 week surf ski training camp, before heading off to Porto in Portugal for the Nelo Summer Challenge, and possibly the best event of the year! I won it the last time I raced back in 2010, and had to very sadly sit out last year with my wrist injury. It is also the venue for the inaugural World Surf Ski Champs to be held next year.

I am stoked to be going back for it, and the whole team at Nelo goes out of their way to make this one of the best events in the world!

Here is a cool video off the website (click on logo above to find out more about the race)

Then its home Gerome, in time for Spring!!

Train hard people, and remember, this is not the warm up, you are living the Main Event!!

Mich

Highs and Lows

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It’s funny how things work out. Expect the unexpected, always.

I had a 4 week trip planned, as I mentioned in a previous post. 2 weeks in the US, 2 in Portugal. 6 races, a lot of flights, and much fun to be had.

I picked up tendonitis in my wrist a few days before I was meant to leave. I thought an anti-inflammatory injection would sort it out, as I had visited this particular scenario 5 years before (although that involved 50km of Cape Point paddling, and a highly staked Foosball game), and this was the solution that finally kicked the butt of an annoying, and frustrating over-use injury. Hence if something works… So I repeated it, hoping for that same result. The body changes, as does the mind, and the cortisone did nothing for me, and even less for my wrist. One painful paddle under the Golden Gate Bridge had me reaching for the wrist brace, and the whisperings of a terrible thought started in the depths of my brain. 10 minutes into the actual race a few days later, with a stabbing pain in my wrist, making it increasingly difficult to paddle, let alone enjoy the runs, and that terrible thought became a reality. I would have to cancel the rest of my trip and head home. No point in flogging a dead horse! Best to head back to SA, get the wrist sorted and get back into training. I still have the Fish River Marathon in October to think about, as well as World Marathon Champs in Singapore later the same month.

So began my Low. Not only did I want to defend my titles in Portugal, but I was worried it would take a long time to heal, in effect ruining the rest of my 2011 season. I especially wanted to race the Nelo Summer Challenge. Not many races and event organisors respect the women paddlers out there enough to actually offer equal prize money. I really try to show my support to those that do, and the Nelo Summer Challenge is one of the few. Gutted to miss it.

I had a week planned at my friend Kate in Beaver Creek, Colorado before heading to Portugal. I was hoping to get in a lot of training-trail running and whitewater, but with my wrist and upcoming races over, I decided to just enjoy my trip, and really try to see and do as much as possible. Enter Kate, the World’s Best Host and Tour Guide!

And so began the High. And I mean HIGH! Beaver Creek sits at about 8000 feet above sea level. My first run left me gasping after only 3 minutes. Not one, but many, old folk passed me walking their dogs while I stood holding my sides, wondering where all the oxygen went.

What an amazing place! There is way too much to do. We went rafting, SUP down some small rapids (although on that board they were actually pretty challenging!) hiking, Jeep 4×4 trip, my first Rodeo and even a Demolition Derby! Americans… Such a diverse place, and I only saw a tiny smidgen of the place.

Corn Dog

We drove up and over Independence Pass, at a lung crushing 12 100ft, into Leadville (10 200ft) where the infamous Leadville 100 miler trail running race takes place.  We wished SA’s Ryan Sandes good luck, before he went out and won the event in the 3rd fastest time in the history of the race!

Spent the last night in Boulder. Great place that, oozing with sporting talent and great little eating spots. Met up with Dan Hugo and some of his training buddies. I see why he has picked this as a training base.

Unfortunately it was time to board the 1st of 5 flights to get home. Quite a trip, especially when the first 3 were delayed by hours. The real low point was sitting in a hot, overbooked flight with no aircon waiting for it to be repaired. I kept thinking, should we be flying in this plane? Anyway, the high point came on the final 2 flights, 3 seats to myself, great food, and awesome service on Qatar Airways! 3 days later I got home, love that my dog is always so stoked to see me!

Hoping this wrist heals really fast, as I am going nuts not paddling! So it’s lots of running and cross training at the moment, and easing back into the paddling. 8 weeks until Marathon World Champs. I am hoping I haven’t lost too much. The Low’s have been frustrating, however, maybe the rest has been a good thing, it has been ages since I have had a break from paddling that is longer than 1 week!

Thanks Kate for having me and keeping me super busy! I think we might have done all the fun things to be done in Colorado!

Paddling and being a full time athlete can make one so selfish and self-absorbed. While I was away there was a terrible shark attack in Plett (my hometown). Local surfer Tim van Heerden lost his life doing something he loved. I was moping around just because I couldn’t train and race and the Lowest of Lows happens.

Makes you think. RIP Tim.

To end on a happy note, here is one final beautiful photo and the great news that Bridgitte Hartley qualified for the London Olympics by paddling the fastest 500m time in history! Go Bliggie!