Field Notes: European Adventures Part VII

I can buy our ticket home! Yesterday was the main event of my European SUP trip. The Lost Mills International SUP race at Lake Brombachsee, Germany was an 8.3-mile flatwater race with most of the top European paddlers in attendance. The money class was 14′ so I knew I would be feeling more comfortable than the 12’6 race in France a few weeks back.
The race started under partly cloudy skies and a comfortable temperature in the low 70′s. The water start went well as I paddled hard to get to the front of the pack. After a solid 5 minute sprint I felt that I had the lead. I pulled in front of the main draft train that was to my left. Rounding the first buoy I was in front and would stay here until the finish. Leading the entire race is not as good as it may sound though.

Eric Terrien and Casper Stenfiath are two of the best paddlers in Europe and in the world. I knew that they were waiting for their moment to take the lead at any time. Both paddlers were battling it out behind me to stay on my draft. I was working hard to make sure they couldn’t relax, but I knew that they were resting a bit while they were drafting. A unique aspect of our race was that we had to run with our board about 300 ft. The course took place on two lakes separated by a large dam. The running was about a quarter of the way into the race and would prove to be an exciting element.
As we approached the dam for the first time I knew that Casper and Eric would try to pass me on the run as they are both good at beach starts and runs. After standing stationary for an extended period of time, bounding onto solid ground can have the effect of a few too many beers. My legs soon remember their job as I shook them loose and sprinted up the beach. After a run up the beach, over a bike path and down to the next beach, the 3 of us hit the water side-by-side. Passing on the run can be much easier than passing on the water. Casper had a good re-entry and tried to pull ahead but I was able to cut him off and keep the lead.

As we rounded the course on the second lake I remained in the lead. I felt strong but the pace was fast and I started to think about strategy. Should I slow the pace to rest? What if Casper and Eric are just resting while I pull them along? I need to save some energy for the next dam run and a spring to the finish. These thoughts are what make racing fun and exciting. Sure I would like to win by a mile but this was heated competition!
After rounding one of the last buoys in the second lake, Eric and I were able to separate from Casper. We made our way to the dam where I knew Eric would make a move on the run. We hit the beach with photographers running along us snapping pictures and fans ringing cowbells. It felt like we were real sport stars. I ran up the dam as close to the barriers as I could so that Eric wouldn’t take the inside and pass me. Being a tough competitor he would leave it all on the line and shoved the nose of his board in between the barrier and me. I continued to push him into the side so he couldn’t pass and as we came down the other side of the dam we were battling board to board. A tree was fast approaching and I had the choice to squeeze him hard into the side or to give way and enter the water at the same time. After some whoa, whoa, whoa’s by Eric and some jostling, I let his board through and we hit the water simultaneously.

Both of us stood up, took a couple of strokes, and had a laugh. This is what racing is all about. We both wanted to win just as bad as the other guy but it’s always friendly competition. I didn’t need to shove him into the tree in order to win the race, but it would’ve been pretty funny! All kidding aside, it was definitely one of the most memorable moments from my SUP racing career thus far.
After we caught our breath with some slow strokes we battled for the lead. I was able to pull back in front with about a mile left. We rounded one more buoy and had a straight shot into the finish. I knew that Eric would make a push but didn’t know when. I decided to take control of the situation and make a push as soon as we rounded the buoy. After a solid minute of sprint paddling I felt like I had gained some separation. Looking back, I saw that I had gained about 4 board lengths but we still had a half-mile until the finish. My legs were shaky and I felt fatigued. Fearing that I had made my move too early, my mind started to race. I didn’t have much left in the tank and I knew how strong of a paddler Eric is. I gained some more strength and made another push in order to let him know I still had some left. This happened about 3 more times until we were finally within 100 ft of the finish. It wasn’t until here that I knew I had the race. I finished 7 seconds ahead of Eric in one of the most exciting and challenging events I have done.

The entire event was executed with perfect precision. I celebrated with an oversized German beer, good food and good friends. The SUP community here in Germany has been friendly and welcoming all week. I look forward to coming back next year to defend my title!