The Head of the Dart SUP – my second ever SUP event. Having taken up stand-up-paddling last summer I had heard about the HoTD, and it being a big event and beautiful route, naturally wanted to take part.
Being a bit (i.e. very) soft about the cold…. and not owning any winter paddling kit, training was somewhat lacking. That’s being generous – it was pretty much non-existent. However, I hoped my general fitness from other pursuits would see me through, and with a bit of luck I wouldn’t fall in (that being the main aim of the day!)
Also, having spent a lot of the preceding week training in an ocean rowing boat (I am preparing to row the Atlantic in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 2018), I was feeling physically sub-par. Ocean rowing is another new thing to me, – forget the long, sleek boats such as were at the Dart-Totnes Club, ocean rowing boats are something like trying to row a tank.
So, at the event start, where I had arrived ridiculously early to bag a parking space, I was feeling achy, tired and sleepy already, and struggling to find motivation in the dismal weather! A light lunch and a strong coffee didn’t help, but on return to the start and with the arrival of lots of other paddlers from all over the country, race atmosphere began to take hold, and with it a little surge or adrenaline and excitement. I’m local so am lucky enough to have paddled the route before, and was looking forward to the familiar, picturesque twists and turns or the River Dart, although a little apprehensive about the potential headwind on the way out.
The event briefing provided a good opportunity to warm up (crowded room!), and ask any questions. I was alarmed to find out that the options of turning back on the shortened course and / or kneeling on the board were not available to 14ft race participants! Was thinking perhaps I should have been in the leisure fleet….
Last minute deliberations about what to wear…. I noted an alarming prevalence of shorts! – it was 12 degrees – unless you’re Scottish – no! I opted for wetsuit bottoms and boots, drysocks and a windproof top… and a bobble hat. Might have mentioned, I’m a bit soft about the cold.
Once the event was underway, although I quickly found myself near the back, I started enjoying it. It was a pleasant change not to be the only paddler on the river, and fun to share the experience with a great variety of friendly folk.
Sections of the race were a little tough due to the headwind / crosswind… and occasionally tailwind, which made me apprehensive about having a headwind on the way back when tired. But at least I warmed up…. quite a lot, in my cold weather kit! Shorts next time!
By halfway I had got used to the effort of going at “race pace” (haha! – for me just continuous paddling without photo stops!), and felt quite up for continuing down the river and making a day of it – seemed a shame to turn back and end the fun. But, I didn’t think the race organisers would appreciate a desertion, and a large cup of tea was calling me, so I duly turned back to Totnes.
The return from Duncannon to Totnes was great fun with the tailwind most of the way, and a brief shower did nothing to dampen my spirits – if anything it added to the exhilaration. I crossed the finish line, not really wanting to stop, but satisfactorily tired and pleased to have stayed on the board.
Despite the shortened route and not great weather, I found the HoTD a great introduction to SUP race events. More than anything I loved how it was very inclusive; paddlers of all standards enjoying the event, and no-one seemed to take the competitive side too seriously. Part of me wants to keep SUP as a recreational activity… so I can just enjoy it… but with prizes like Salcombe Gin and the amazing feeling from the faster sections… I think I will be trying to improve asap!
So, what’s next for me? Well, as I mentioned, I’m training to row the Atlantic, starting December this year (check us out at http://www.atlanticalbatross.com), so I won’t have time for as much SUP as I’d like this year. But I will be taking part in the Battle of the Thames, and the Thames Ultra (gulp)… and am keenly looking at longer events (and a faster board!).
I’ll also be at the SW Paddlefest 1st-3rd of June (www.southwestpaddlefest.com) for paddling, and with our ocean rowing boat, Blue Steel! Look forward to meeting other paddlers there!
Many thanks to the organisers and all the other paddlers. 🙂