The Head of the Dart is an iconic British SUP race. It’s consistently been one of the biggest events in the UK for years and the past results read like a who’s who of UK paddling excellence. The races success in my opinion is due to a people-centred approach and a huge fleet of keen leisure paddlers. This year marked my 3rd participation in it and the weather gods had not been kind on the run up, nor were they on the day itself. I’d spent some training sessions in the weeks beforehand wondering if I’d been sucked into some parallel universe that required excessive amounts of neoprene and knitwear just to stay alive. Even on race day, the narrow and shallow river made the start line an awkward bed of brightly coloured foam and fibreglass. Nonetheless, the gun went and my pre-planning and tactics decided to elope with it as I then got broadsided by rivals on one side and a 4 man dragonboard team (with the turning circle of the orbit of Saturn) on the other. My day was going south fast. The best analogy for my start is like being on a bouncy castle whilst everyone is trying to beat you to death with a kipper whilst throwing buckets of water at you. It was far removed from my daydreams on the drive down of surging into the wild blue yonder powered by little more than athletic prowess and happy thoughts. I spent the next half an hour trying to work my way back to where the action was. However, I realised that whether you were 1st, 5th or 195th, the action was all around you -everyone always had something or someone to go for.
The weather was breezy and choppy at times. Even some of the best took the odd dip in the brine as the normally benign River Dart threw everything it had at us on the way down to the turn. Still, whilst we’re not all in the same boat, we’re all on the same route. Memories of training and youtube help video’s slowly disappeared over the course of my race into someone desperately looking for whatever calories that a bowl of sorry looking oatmeal that morning provided. Every bend of the river coming back looked like the final one until you realised it wasn’t. My enthusiasm/panic [delete as appropriate] surged as I frantically tried to catch up to those in front whilst defending myself from the paddle-wielding wolves chasing me down from behind. As with all great sporting moments though, I was having the world’s greatest comeback….. that nobody saw. I eventually finished just outside the top 10 which was further down than I wanted. However, bearing in mind I’d been so far back at the start that I thought the organisers might send search parties out with flashlights, it was a decent effort. Everyone had a hard day out there but its smiles all round on the finish line.
The reason this race is as good as it has become is because it has all of the right ingredients. It provides a challenging distance to all paddlers over a scenic and safe course and is a slickly organised event that supports everyone (irrespective of ability, board or fitness). Ultimately, it provides everyone with a good tale afterwards……and let’s be honest, everyone loves a good story. Hell, give me another 6 months and I’ll tell you this race had whales, icebergs and 15ft waves.
Bryce Dyer, 2018