I think we can safely say that the 6th year of the Icon Classic was a real cracker! It was a close call as to whether the alternative course (start and finish in Combe Martin) might be used instead of the traditional Woolacombe Beach start and navigation of Morte Point. The decision was made on Saturday morning and it was game on!
When I turned up at Woolacombe Village Hall for registration, I was faced with lots of paddlers waiting outside, eager to find out what the decision was. When they heard it was a Woolacombe start there was an under tone of “Yes, it’s on” and a bit of fist pumping due to the exciting thought of testing ones skills on a technical downwind course. As any race organiser knows, even a flat day can throw up its challenges, let alone a 3 to 4 foot surf with 20mph SW winds. This gave me quite a lot to think about, but it’s a real comfort knowing you have highly competent safety teams in place.
This was also the first year we had a SUP contingency in the line-up and from the post-race feedback I think the guys and gals will be back next year! I think Tids (David Tidball) might be getting a few more inquiries for 2016! A decision was made earlier in the season that the SUPS would do a shorter course and start from Lee Bay. This seemed to work well as it meant that ski paddlers and SUPS would finish at a similar time. It also meant that the SUPS would get the best of the downwind without the washing machine effect of Mortepoint.
The first wave of paddlers left Woolacombe Beach at 13.05 which coincided with the SUP start time at Lee Bay. By this time there were some descent sets rolling in. I did hear talk of 6 foot, but it was 4 at the most I can assure you. Like many paddlers I was expecting the surf to provide a greater challenge for the early starters. One very clear memory sticks in my mind, of looking down the first start line and seeing some paddlers holding their skis, ready to sprint into the water. Whilst others were stood next to their skis, looking straight out to sea, probably wondering what on earth they were doing! Never the less, within a few minutes, everyone had negotiated the break and were on their way towards the challenges of MortePoint.
So there’s nothing like a bit of pressure! The first wave of paddlers are gone and away and it’s now left to the supposedly ‘more competent’ paddlers to show their skills. To be fair, I think the second wave of paddlers got hit by some tasty 4 foot sets, resulting in a few swimmers! I have to say ‘hats off’ to everyone as we very rarely race in any surf let alone a 4 foot beach break.
With the surf successfully negotiated it was time to chase the slightly tricky cross wind runners towards MortePoint. This is a slightly more technical skill to pick up and requires a lot more practice than going directly with the wind. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the first wave got through Morte Race without any drama. Now the fun could really begin! Heading for Bull Point with a great tail wind for pretty much the rest of the course. Although racing, I’ve still got my organisers hat on at all times. So you can imagine my ‘feel good factor’ when I went past one of the early starters and shouted “How’s it going?” to be greeted with “I love it, this is amazing!” Backed up by a massive grin from ear to ear. My next contact with a paddler was passing a SUP just past Ilfracombe. I gave Tids a loud “Whoop” as I picked up a runner and all I could hear was “Whohooooooo” – someone else quite clearly having a lot of fun!
On the finish line, you know when people have had a good race. Their facial expression gives it away. It’s a combination of exhaustion, a look of ‘did I really do that’ and a grin telling you it was awesome! You also get their other halves saying. “I can’t believe they did that” and “they loved it”.
Congratulations to all who took part and especially those who earned a top three spot. I think many competitors went home having upped their skill level a notch or two. The medal winners were:
Open Men: 1st Mark Ressel, 2nd Gus England, 3rd Jonathan Boyton
Masters Men: 1st Simon Garbett, 2nd Nick East, 3rd Adrian Croucher
Open Double: 1st Andy Blow/Jonny Tye, 2nd Richard Folland/Mike Lambert, 3rd Richard England/Mark Hogan
SUP: 1st Oliver Shilston, 2nd Paul Simmons, 3rd Damian Warner
Full results can be found at www.oceanski.org.uk
With all 53 competitors accounted for, it was time to relax and grab a fresh scone if there were any left. Appetites must have been healthy as 130 were demolished and not a crumb or trace of clotted cream in sight!
With the serious part of the day done, it was time to gather at the Tides Inn in Woolacombe for a good feed, some light refreshment and some tall stories! A very pleasant time had by all.
Finally. A big thank you to all involved in making this event happen. Without you the event wouldn’t be possible.
Looking forward to seeing you all next year. It’s my ambition to get 100 competitors on the line. Maybe 2016 will be the year. Enjoy the photos on our Icon Sports FB (taken by Gordon Dryburgh – unfortunately his waterproof camera sprung a leak halfway through the race). Please feel free to drop me a line with any feedback you think might help improve the event next year.