So there I was looking at my calendar with a huge gap staring me in the face so I decided to fill that gap with a Canadian Sup Racing adventure in British Columbia at the Kalmalka Classic SUP challenge put on by Kalavida Surf Shop up in Vernon BC.
After the smooth and beautiful 8 hr drive from Hood River up the HI 97 through Washington and across the border I found myself in a climate zone very similar to my home in Hood River, Mtn’s, foothills, and beautiful glacial valley ripe with wineries, orchards, and fresh produce. I was happy to be in a land of vitality and after all I was pretty much following the path of the Columbia River. It had been raining a lot lately and the weather has been stuck between spring and summer so everything was electric green and the rivers and creeks were flowing chock full of water.
Saturday morning would start out with a course race of 5 laps for about an approx. 5 mile total distance. The horn went off and I quickly found myself battling it out in a full on sprint to the first buoy and I had company. Getting there in the #3 position was not my plan, but I stuck to my line and battled it out with 2 other super strong Starboard Canadian Team members Stuart Robinson and Mike Darbyshire.
We paced out for a few seconds so we could get into a rhythm and get our breathing back under control. My eyes were bulging and heart was pumping after the 200 meter sprint, my heart rate was at 170bpm and I needed to mellow out if I was going to make it the whole way. I had a good position but 1st place seemed to be stretching his lead out. Stuart Robinson and I paddled together with Mike Darbyshire trading positions at nearly every buoy on the first lap. The 3 of us jockied for position on the 6 turn course coming into the beach virtually side by side.
The short run jacked my heart rate up but I knew a good beach start to the 2nd lap could get me the advantage I needed. I sprinted for my board and made a chancy but good call and literally ran up the back of the board into position and w/o a missing a stroke got the hole shot and 2nd place position. I knew these guys were on my tail and three of us continued to trade paint and grunts at the turns.
Meanwhile as we battled it out Norm Hann stretched his lead out undisturbed or contested for the whole race. So it was a battle for 2nd, and battle it would be with several more lead changes amongst our group of 3 until the last lap where I told myself. “enough screwing around Dan dig deep and pull away” and with that internal voice that is just what I did putting a few board lengths between myself, Stew and Mike on the final 300 meters to the beach. These are some fit and tough competitors so I was happy to have hit the beach first amongst us 3 but it was literally seconds that separated us. I knew there were some formidable paddlers in BC but this much competition was impressive and surprising.
Next was the sprints and I thought maybe I might have an advantage in the this event but that was obviously not the case after tseeing the level of paddlers in the course race. I would need perfect starts, a perfect turn and some serious anaerobic endurance to win this event which would take being top 2 out of 4 in several qualifying heats. I won every heat going into the final which was no surprise to see Stuart and Mike on the start line. The whistle sounded and I had the worst start I had all day putting me in 3 as we neared the turn buoy.
I had to dig deep and started to make my move when I noticed Stew going for a right turn around the buoy, meanwhile Mike and were going left turn around the same buoy! UH OH something was going to happen here and it was a bit of a roll of the dice but I came around just a smidgen sooner to cut Stuart off his board was forced to turn 180 degrees in the wrong direction via my chins I as I came around to complete my turn and hopefully catch Mike for the win. I apologized to Stuart very quickly as I choked down and sprinted for the beach. It was too little too late and I would take another 2nd, and Mike Darbyshire would take the much deserved win after a perfect start kept him out front the whole race.
The camaraderie was almost as thick as the humidity and then the clouds opened up for a torrential downpour only to let up just before the evening festivities were to begin. I killed the time with a hot tub poach and a micro name in my OSV Blackbox Van. I was happy with 2 second place finishes for the day but my muscles were still achy and I needed some fuel to get my body ready for the 10 mile distance race the next day.
I was currently tied for 1st in the overall with Mike so all I had to do is get to the beach before him or so I thought? There was a complicated scoring system for the overall title but I figured all I had to do was make sure I hit the beach before Mike for the win after all that is what the announcer said. Note to self-never believe everything you hear, especially if it’s the announcer… We ate some seriously tasty grinds and enjoyed the sounds of Andrew Allen who is, by the way, a total badass and will be a huge star someday. Even has a top 40 hit but you would never know to us he seemed like just another fit SUP Paddler, however when you hear him play and sing you know he has a special gift. AMAZING!
Upon awaking in my van on Sunday morning it was off to the coffee shop for my traditional 4 shot start to the day. The coffee shop was chock full of SUP racers and it was obvious there was some serious caffeine fanatics and paddling fanatics that have found something in common-STIMULANTS that wake you up and make you have to poop are good for racing SUP’s.
The start of the race would actually be in a different lake than Kalmalka, but the way the valley is around this area meant it was really a string of lake in the valley connected by short little rivers and creeks. We would start at Omaya Lake and then cut through a 300 meter connector creek and into Lake Kalmalka. This meant a beach start and then a 200 meter sprint to the first turn buoy which was a 200 degree left turn! This was concerning because I wanted to be the first one there and that meant a good turn, only one little problem!
The board I was on being 23 inches wide I would have to go slow and easy as to not hit the drink. I figured no prob I will be all by myself right? WRONG, as we started and jumped to our boards I was in a dead even horse racing sprinting 100% to the first buoy. I was already tasting a little of everything I had eaten that morning and we were only 20 seconds into a 10 mile race!
My heart rate soared to 170bpm but I kept the pace and made sure to not make any paddle switches all the way to the buoy and through the turn which got me a brief hole shot but to my left I could see the “oil rig” pumping past me and no surprise either to see it was Norm Hann. He wanted the lead and wanted to put a exclamation on it by pulling hard for the first mile. We were averaging 6.4 mph and I was gassing. I would need to settle into a pace SOON!
Beau Whitehead and I fell into a drafting team trying to reel Norm back but he was stretching it out and I knew if he got any farther ahead I would never have a chance to contest him for a possible win. I had to go NOW.
I found that it was impossible to catch him from directly behind because my board would get stuck in his making it very difficult to climb the bumps his wake created. So I cut out to the side and rode some of the diagonal wake bump to the side and then had to sprint into the next trough then comeback into a drafting position. It took me 2 or 3 circuits of this and after about 15 minutes I was on him like a hungry Canadian on free bacon! I had to stick with him and create a game plan this guy was fast and we were pacing out pretty quick for a ten miler.
Our moving average for the first 3 miles was 6.1 mph. We were cranking and I was sweating. There were rumors of tail winds and downwinders but these remaind elusive notions as we paddled into a 5-7 knot headwind! There would be no downwinding, gliding, or getting any external assistance for the paddle. This was head down flat water grinding and it could easily come down to another sprint to the beach. We were at 3 miles and starting to catch some of the other classes that started before us. I had to be careful because I was in a terminal state of misbalance and putting in the hardest stroke I could with each pull. Reach, pull, breathe, reach pull breathe reach pull breathe that’s about all I could think about for a solid hr as we raced, drafted, and changed up the lead a few times.
The water was glassy now and we could start to see the finish line buoys. I could see a few hesitations in Norm's stroke and each time I would take over the lead he would answer with some serious efforts to get it back. We were going to have a nose to nose horse race to the finish and I was stoked to be in the moix for the win. Darbyshire was way back there so I was happy to know I had the overall win and hopefully a little $ for my efforts.
With a mile left Norn and I put in our greatest effort of the race maintaining 6.35 MHP all the way to the finish. Unfortunatly I tried to make my move too early and gasses out with a mere 300 meters to go. I dug and dug but Norm had 3 board lengths on me and there wasn’t enough distance left to get the win. I still put in a good hard pull to the beach and virtually collapsed upon my arrival back to earth and my weary legs felt like rubber bands.
Norm and I gasped, hugged and celebrated with some kind words for each other. It was an intense 1 hr and 40 minute battle that had us both stoked out of our minds. A few minutes later and still hyperventilating I cheered in my USA NW Teammate Beau Whitehead for a strong 3rd place finish.
That is when I heard the news from the announcer stating Norm had taken the oerall win! I was like WTF? But after understanding how the complicated points system worked I realized I had made possibly a 500.00 mistake by not paddling and trying to win the 12.6 which may not have been any easier to win, but had I won I would have taken the King of the Beach Title.
Oh well runner up works but I can't honestly say I was stoked to find this out. So I found a glass of water and pured it on my head in route to locate a beer. After all it was Canada and beer flows like water from the taps so it only took a few seconds before my lips were graced with the magical post race elixir of joy.
Along with the disgust and frustration in myself for giving up the overall win on the water this tasty Canadian beverage washed all the negativity away and I was simply super stoked to be in the “mix” for the title.
As the 60 or so competitors arrived at the beach we cheered and clapped until the very last of the paddlers arrived after an epic journey which I learned for several was one of their first SUP paddles! You could see it on their faces as they hit the beach elated to not only be done with such an epic accomplishment but also know they could even complete something that difficult.
Photo Credits: Nikki Rekman Sales and Catherine Salinas