I certainly couldn’t have chosen a better race to finish off my season! I was one of those last minute entrants that all organisers (including myself) could shoot! There’s always one who decides to enter after the deadline and starts firing loads of questions when the info is actually available online. Yes, that was me! Thankyou Joep van Bakel for answering all my questions in super quick time and giving me no excuse what so ever for not booking the flight and being on the start line. In the space of 20 minutes, flight, accommodation and ski booked. Holland here I come! A nice little flight from Bristol to Amsterdam, half an hour on the train and I was there.
When it comes to organising a ski race the Dutch Coast team know how to do it and they have a great set up. With briefing on Saturday at 11am there’s plenty of time to get to the beach, register, load your ski on the trailer (if it hasn’t been done for you already) and enjoy breakfast at one of the many beach bars near by. Or if its just a coffee you need, you can pour yourself a freshly filtered cup at the club house and have a good social start to the day.
With briefing completed, we were on the coaches and off to the start line. On any other weekend, I think the journey would have been about half an hour. However, its good to know that the British aren’t the only ones who do road works in style! I can safely say that had I been driving, I might still be looking for the start! With everything covered by the organisers, there was nothing to get stressed about. Infact, it was a good opportunity for Joep, Oscar and myself to have a catch up and predict our top five finishers at some other race that was happening that day in Tahiti :-). Note to self, if they ever produce a set of Ski Paddler Top Trump cards, don’t let Oscar play!
A line up of 70 paddlers on the start line is always an impressive sight and this was no exception. With everyone having completed their warm ups and placed their skis in the exact position that they do (only a ski paddler knows how crucial that is :-), we were ready to go. Although I have to say, I’m normally a lot more nervous and twitchy when I’m in the starters hands. Well I would be, If I was paying attention! ‘Casual’ is an understatement, but maybe it’s worth further thought as it saved a heap of nervous energy and my start wasn’t too bad! I just hope my 13 year old nephew doesn’t read this as I’m always telling him he needs to pay attention :-).
Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t delivered on time and wouldn’t be arriving until Monday. 18k of hard paddling ahead. However, the sea is rarely completely flat which meant there was the odd runner and pulse of swell to pull onto. This made it interesting in the lead group of three (Gordan, Joep and myself). Every now and then, the lead paddler was able to pull on to something which just upped the pressure on the other two. If it had been possible to string 5 or 6 runners together it might have even split the pack. With about 4k to go, Joep laid down some extra power, Gordan responded and I was out the back! It was down to a two horse race with Joep taking the honours. There was a great showing from our small GB contingency with Lizelle Kemp taking 3rd in the Ladies, Gus England taking 8th in the Senior Men, Onno Bokhove and Martin Tongue taking 11th and 31st in the Masters. I really think the shape of GB Ocean Racing is going to change over the next few years. For quite a while the focus has been in the South West, but there is lot happening around the UK, particularly North Wales and Scotland. We may get a true GB Championship event in the calendar soon!
Racing complete and formalities done. Time to chill out at the beach restaurant and sample the Dutch beer. Thanks to Martin Tongue, I sampled a few too many! Again, the evening do was another example of the great planning of this event. Right down to the live streaming of the World Surf Ski Championships in Tahiti – yes, that other event :-). How best to describe the after party? Great food, great beer and great company!
Sunday morning. First stop KanuCentrum, http://www.kajak.nl/ Thanks Arjan, for opening up so we could take a look. If ever you’re in the vicinity, make sure you drop by. This is probably the biggest kayak centre in the world, with a fine collection of wooden Struer kayaks hung in the rafters to the very latest of racing technology from all manufacturers. Well worth a visit.
Time for the beach and thanks to Oscar for putting on a ski clinic. Its always great to take away a few more tips that challenge what you do. Particularly from a man who has caught more runners than all of us put together! To follow this was the spectacle of the weekend. Double ‘ocean kayak’ plastic ‘sit on top’ racing! Quite clearly this was the blue ribbon event :-). Joep might have thought I’d make a good doubles partner and many might have been thinking our pairing was a little unfair! It couldn’t have been further from the truth. Sorry Joep, I guess you can’t win it every year :-). I can safely say I was more shattered after a few rounds of fighting it out in a plastic tub than the previous days 18k. Thanks to Rick Daman for providing the boats. If only you could have shared a few more paddling tips with Joep and myself!:-) If you ever fancy a fun day on the sea in Holland, drop Rick a line – he’s got all the gear! http://kanoschool.nl/
With the weekends activities complete, there was just enough time to chill out at the beach bar and reflect on a great weekend. Yes, you got it – more coffee involved :-). A massive thank you to the Dutch Coast Ski Race Team. You put on a great event and were great hosts. Looking forward to next year already! 🙂