The Highland Spring HIHO race in the British Virgin Islands is not your average event. First of all its 6-days of racing; secondly, each race is different with a start and finish at a new location; thirdly, the organizers take food and parties very seriously; and lastly, everyone lives aboard captained yachts as the event winds its way through the islands.
Long famous as a windsurfing race, HIHO now includes SUP competition in both Open and one-design. Open class racers can compete on any 14' board while the one-design class uses identical 12' Fanatic Ray boards which are shipped down for the event. Open racers compete on longer races, and often in open water conditions while the Fanatic one-design class keeps to more sheltered waters, usually within a bay or on the leeward side of an island.
The event started with racing off of Virgin Gorda. The lunch location often determines the course and for the first race of the event the Open class competitors jumped off a yacht and paddled downwind to a finish on Sir Richard Branson's Necker Island. The racers hit the beach and relocated to the island’s enormous pool where lunch was served.
SUP action on day two saw the Open class embark on a 5-mile course with a start from Leverick Bay heading downwind to Mountain Point, before turning and lacing their way along Virgin Gorda protected West side. As the open racers turned past their first mark the Fanatic One Design class joined them for a 1-mile paddle to Mountain Trunk Bay.
After two races Fanatic pro-rider Chase Kosterlitz had established himself as the one to beat. While his Spanish team mate Belar Diaz could stay with him it was always Chase in front at the finish. It was a more interesting race for 3rd with South Carolina SUPer Don Alderman nabbing a 3rd in race #1.
The Fanatic team were riding the 14' Fly flatwater raceboard which proved fast and versatile- good in the both flat water and in open sea. "Good fast boards," confirmed Kosterlitz.
Race three was an interesting "thread-the-needle" course through The Baths, a majestic collection of giant boulders and tiny beaches. The racers had to find buoys anchored in each bay as they headed to a turning mark at Devil's Bay, then sprinted back to another mark at Valley Trunk Bay. While One-design did one lap, Open did two. It was Kosterlitz and Diaz in 1-2, but by now Australian racer Adam Cole had established himself in 3rd.
Short to medium races are the order of the day at the HIHO event. Pace is most important as each mornings racing is followed by an afternoon of snorkeling and adventure, then dinner and dancing at night accompanied by Red Stripe and rum.
The penultimate day of racing saw an "event-within-the-event" with the inaugural Painkiller Cup. A 13-mile downwind race, the Painkiller Cup mandated that each 3-person team include a women. The start was off Trellis Bay on Beef island. The course was due West, through the Guana Island cut and into flatter water before the course opened up off Tortola’s North Shore and the seas got bigger. The teams, each shadowed by a yacht, stroked downwind towards Jost Van Dyke.
Team Fanatic set the early pace. Kosterlitz, Diaz and Sarah Bryne went ahead after a couple miles and didn’t look back leaving a race for second. Team St. Thomas stayed well offshore of Tortola’s to avoid the refraction off the islands headlands and points. This worked to their advantage and the team, comprising Colin Butler and Gail and Eric Walker were a solid second overall. The race for third was between the Aloha Express and Team Antigua with the latter, led by America’s Cup pro sailor Shannon Falcone, along with Nik Bohachevsky and Joy Chien making a critical last-minute team switch and poured it on for the final length to the powder white sand beach at White Bay. The Soggy Dollar is a famous beach bar and the hundreds of sunbathers and tourists cheered as the racers sprinted to the finish flag set amongst the coconut tree near the bar.
The Fanatic team earned $4,000 for the efforts, and a round of famous Painkiller rum drinks. Team St. Thomas picked up $600 while the Antiguan's took $300.
Fittingly the event came to an end on Little Thatch, a small private island off Tortola’s West end. SUP class finishes terminated on the beach where, after a refreshing cold Highland Spring water, racers ambled up to a lunch area where they could make their own pizzas and eat them under bohios in the shade.
Chase Kosterlitz and Belar Diaz were 1st and 2nd while Don Alderman bagged third overall. Australian and BVI resident Adam Cole squeaked in for 4th ahead of Tom Pace in 5th. Key West Lazy Dog SUPer Heather Gaines was the top woman. Jenny Alderman won the Fanatic One Design class, while Barbara Sage was 2nd and Brian Dickhaus 3rd.
For more info, visit: Go-HIHO.com