This past weekend marked the end of the 2014 surfski racing calendar and a rare opportunity to compete in a doubleheader with the 20km Northshore Cup Saturday and the 10km Hunting Island Paddlefest on Sunday.
This years Northshore Cup on Lake Marion had added a significant prize purse and actively recruited attendance from some of the east coasts finest paddlers. In attendance were Reid Hyle (FL), Jesse Lishchuk (PA), Wesley Echols (CT) and Holm Schmidt (PA) in addition to the Carolinas best including Eric Mims and Andy McMarlin. As a result, the 2014 Northshore Cup was going to be a heck of a race. Just to further spice things up, bitterly cold weather had hit the night before bringing temperatures down to levels more common in New England than South Carolina.
Right out of the gate I found myself pulling the race favorites of Reid Heyl and Jesse Lishchuk toward the hotspot 4 miles up wind into the hand numbing breeze, with Eric Mims, Holm Schmidt and Andy McMarlin chasing right behind. I realized I’d started too hard so slowly bought things down and before I knew it, Reid had caught on and took the lead with Jesse and I in tow. The horse play for the hotspot soon followed and I quickly understood that I needed to race my own race rather than attempt to play with the two race favorites at this break neck pace, so I dropped off the wake and settled in. As we continued towards the hotspot I had a ring side seat to witness Jesse put in a strong 200m effort in an attempt to drop Reid, but he was matched with every attempt. With 500m to go before the hotspot, it looked like the two of them were giving it everything they had, with Reid just edging out the young talent for the hotspot cash prize.At the hotspot we did a big turn and then had a fun 5 mile downwind to the next marker. I was about a minute behind the leading duo of Heyl and Lishchuk with Mims 30 seconds behind me and McMarlin another 30 seconds back. Things felt much warmer with the wind on our backs and with small wind driven waves to bump up the speed, things quickly got interesting. Reid had gaped Jesse and I chose a right of center line to find better swells and soon found myself starting to close the gap. Meanwhile, Eric had chosen a more direct line on my left and was now closing in on me in these, his favorite conditions. I used everything the course would give me, including boat wakes, and was able to barely hold off Eric and at the 9 mile marker at the highway bridge I was a tantalizing 25 seconds off Jesse.
I stayed between the bridges for as long as I dare to minimize the effects of the wind and try and close that gap on Jesse but it wasn’t closing quickly enough. I picked up the effort but it just wasn’t going to be enough. As we rounded the last buoy and headed for the finish line Jesse kept looking over his shoulder waiting for me to pounce but I just couldn’t respond to his challenge. Reid Heyl took first in dominating fashion, followed by Jesse Lishchuk, myself, Eric Mims and Andy McMarlin. It was a indeed a heck of a race.
Sunday’s Hunting Island Paddlefest saw warmer temperatures and an equally stacked field of talent. While some of Saturdays participants could not make this second race, we added Pete Greene (who has won here more than anyone) and Morgan House from Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club, one of the best Sprint paddlers of his generation.With an incoming tide and and an onshore wind conditions were going to be very mixed. We’d essentially be paddling upstream and downwind heading out of the lagoon and then have a downwind, down current sprint to the turn around before heading back home into an incoming tide and head wind before entering the lagoon where the wind would remain in our faces but we’d have a strong incoming tide. Tactics and reading the water were going to play a large part of doing well here.
I had another strong start and ended up pulling Morgan to my left and Eric to my right. As we entered the narrower parts of the lagoon we’d cut close to the reeds looking for eddies to minimize the incoming current, which forced those on my side wakes to move off to the rear or other side. At one crucial point, Eric moved to a more center line to find better wind but ended up finding strong current so lost the wake, allowing Morgan to move sides and stay in contact. The pace remained high as we exited the lagoon and I was able to round the pier buoy first and immediately found some swells and gaped Morgan. I worked every bump I could find realizing that once again, Eric Mims was hunting somewhere right behind me in conditions that he excels in. As I rounded the turn around buoy I was able to see what was happening and sure enough, there was Eric just getting ready to pounce on Morgan and then turn his attention to me. The upwind, up current slog back to the lagoon entrance was exactly that, a slog. As we entered the lagoon I dared to grab another glimpse behind me and there was Eric just 20 seconds back baring down on me. This was going to be a drag race to the finish. I pegged my heart rate and pushed the V14 hard, trying to find as much helpful current as possible from the incoming tide. It hurt a lot but seemed to be working and I was able to cross the finish line first to win Paddlefest and take the overall 2014 Southeast Paddlesport Championship Series win. Eric came in a close second, followed by Pete Greene and Morgan House.
What a great weekend of racing.