The 2012 Carolina Cup turned what used to be a regional Stand up paddle race into an international paddling contest pitting some of the Worlds best paddlers against a course that would have just about every kind of condition a person could imagine. Beneficiaries Surfers Healing, SUP for Cancer, and the Turtle Hospital were there to spread the aloha and awareness. I was there to compete have fun and represent Starboard SUP on and off the water. Attracting over 300 competitors amongst the 3 divisions this year the Carolina Cup would earn recognition as the largest SUP event on the East Coast. A huge effort led by William Pope and John Beausang from Distressed Mullet who combined their efforts to put on a World Class Level professional event which has now become the pinnacle from East Coast SUP Racing. The course known as the “Graveyard” would truly test some of best in the sport of SUP with every kind of condition possible, and I was stoked to get it going and see how I stacked up not only against my competitors but against myself, my preparation and the elements.
Upon our arrival after an all nights drive from Orlando with Wave of Wellness’s Jessica Chicra and Jason Meehan we drove up to the front doors of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort and Hotel in Wrightsville Beach, NC. This would be the epicenter of the C-Cup for the next 2 days and Jason and his staff at the Blockade Runner were nothing short of top shelf service and the rooms were clean and affordable. We spent the day scouting the 13 mile course thanks to Jason at the Carolina Paddling Company, eating and getting some rest around the pool and few hot tub sessions of course were in order to loosen up the body for the next days Graveyard Race which was the 13 mile Elite race complete with cash prizes. In the Morning we hit the buffet breakfast which was a huge hit with the racers, and the morning of the race it was literally a who’s who of SUP down in the restrant packing in the calories for a big day.
Race day started out with the 3 mile short course for those who are just getting their feet wet in SUP Racing. About 30 minutes following the 3 mile start I could hear the calls of William Pope the race director on the PA system summoning the 6 mile racers to the line from the window of my room. In fact the BR is so perfectly situated on the intercoastal and the NC coast that it literally give you the option to paddle either waves, flatwater intercoastal, or an open ocean cruise. The Graveyard Race I was preparing myself for would be a grueling 2+ hour race combining all of the above with a healthy couple side’s of wind, current, groundswell, shallows, and boat wakes. I was excited to paddle my 14’ again and I tried to focus on how much fun the Starboard Ace Pro would be to paddle. I was jamming my Pandora selections as loud as possible trying to tamper the butterflies in my stomach that had me running to toilet every 20 minutes. I tried to eat and drink as much as I could but it was all I could do to ingest a few Pocket Fuel almond butter packs and another few liters of water. I did a mental inventory of my gear starting with the most important stuff first. I need a lot fo distractions in these longer races so I threw my gps, heart rate monitor, Radio Chum trucker hat, my Smith sunny’s, some more Pocket Fuel and loaded up my Dakine waist hydration pack with 75% water and 25% H2oOverdrive. I knew I would need a good supply of water and fuel for this race. I was firing on all cylinders and now it was 15 minutes before the race. I took the stairs down to the lobby and stepped out of the back lobby and into the NC sunshine with a 10 knot breeze coming out of the North I took note that this may even be harder than I originally thought. One more trip to the bathroom was in order. I started to feel like maybe I would need a diaper because for some reason I was more nervous than usual. On the beach the nerves were clearly visible as the some of the best races in our sport prepared for the race. Every racer on the beach just wanted to get the race started and get on the water.
Bam the gun went of and over 80 Elite SUP racers pushed of the sandy bottom in to the great Atlantic ocean for a 12+ mile race of epicness.
I focused on getting a good start and I believe I was right there as Danny Ching lead the way out several of us were spread out, I was at least 10-15 people fall in with in that first 30 seconds as we sprinted North towards the Masonsboro Inlet which was easily visible at about 1.5 miles down wind. Rounding the rock at Masonsborough Inlet was some of the worst chop we would see on the race. The reverb, current and 2-4 ft ground swell was making things interesting especially on my Starboard 14 Ace Pro, I had a good line albeit a bit slower than Jimmy T who surfed a bump past me. Now the grind would start as we made our way into the Intercoast Waterway you could feel the current pulsating beneath your feet and seemd the deep you reached the more current you could grab. I took a few sips of water put my head down and reached deep with my Starboard full Carbon 525 Elite paddle. I felt good and this was the time to hold your position and not make any desperate moves or tactical mistakes. I focused on my GOS and the Pandora I had bamming through my headphones. I need distractions for the pain it makes it way more interesting. My GPS was giving me some steady readings and I could tell my line down the center channel was gaining me time on the top 4. AT this point I was concentrating on being the smallest I could be because as we rounded the corner and started heading south the North East breeze was funneling straight up and filling in all but the smallest nooks and crannies behind boats and docks. I choked up on my paddle and reached towards the blade using the newly popularized “choke stroke” to hold my low profile position. I knew I could hold this 5.5-5.8mph average if I could just stay low. I looked up and WHOA! I was paddling full steam right into a dock. I put my paddle out and caught the dock with the tip narrowly avoiding a collision. However before I knew it the paddle got ripped out of my hands and literally pole vaulted 20 feet behind me. “Are you serious?” I exclaimed as I jumped straight off the back of my board and did a solid 50 meter crawl stroke to retrieve my paddle which was getting blown in the wind and opposite away. Oh well, a minor tactical I thought laughing out loud was all I could. Head down and back into the groove, and headwind, and current I was thinking this is hard work. It was getting Hot so sucked down a bit of Pocket Fuel and H2oOverdrive and seemed to catch my second wind. The little swim in the cool water didn’t hurt either, as it must have been nearly 80 degrees out and I needed a bit of cooling. The section of the inter-coastal was coming to an end and this is where the fun would start as we would have to navigate the un-jettied inlet of the Inter-coastal and make our way back out into the ocean for the final turn south and the finish. It was shallow everywhere here and the main deep channel through this inlet was out of the way to the north so I watched the 2 paddlers in front of me working together (AV and Remi), and drafting each other systematically. I knew they had about 100 meters on me so I decided to take the shorter and shallower route with less opposing current. Soon my fin was hitting the sandy bottom so I moved forward on my board getting the fin to rise up. Then I remembered a technique I had actually practiced last year in some really shallow water where I found my blade was getting stuck in the sandy bottom. So I flipped my paddle upside down and started using the handle to take strokes off of the sandy bottom. This was not particularly faster but it was easier to maintain the same speed and actually felt pretty good to be doing a slightly different stroke. My muscles were enjoying the variety. This worked for about 5 minutes as I made my way up the shallower North South end of the inlet. Now the waves, and lots of paddlers were going down out in front of me. My position was solid and I knew I could get to and hopefully past AV and Remi. The Starboard Ace Pro was I was dangerously close to being “lactic” which meant falling in would result in uncontrollable cramps and possibly loosing positions in the race. I took a wider line making sure to avoid the 2-4 foot ground swell that was peeling into the jetti on what actually looked like a pretty fun little right. The open ocean was instantly more challenging and as I got past the break and away from the inlet I looked up to realize this race was not even close to being over. My odometer said I still had 1.5 miles to go but I knew that couldn’t be correct as I could even see the final turn buoy. The swell combined with a rear quartering wind at 10-15 knots made for extremely short period combo swell that was very difficult to paddle fast in. Whenever a glide was to be had you would be heading straight in towards shore. However the turn buoy would be .5 mile off of shore so yo had to be careful not to get drawn in too close to shore or you would have to actually paddle straight to the east to turn the buoy and then come straight in. I had a decent gap on AV and I knew I wouldn’t catch Remi, Matt, and Byron. So I cruised at 70 percent making sure not to fall. My water was gone I was at 12 miles and still no turn maker in sight. Finally I spotted it and got a little boost knowing this grind was nearly over. I made the right turn and started heading into the beach looking for a wave to ride it. If there was one thing I really wanted to do that was not fall in on the final approach. I was a bit early and the wave I caught had already broke so I got low and stayed on my board with a clean finish at 2 hours and 27 minutes. I had to sit down as soon as I past the finish line because booth of the arches of my feet cramped up from running up the beach. Whew I was exhausted but felt pretty good. I figured I hit my goal of a top ten finish and now it was just smiles, high fives, and some photos with the other guys while we watched and cheered the rest of the racers as they finished. The women’s elite class was very heavily contested and Heather B. was able to take the gold followed by Brandi B. and Candice. I grabbed up my stuff and went for a supreme 1.5 hour soak in the hot tub to ease my aching body. My lats, and lower back were a bit sore but the hot tub had me back to almost 100%. I knew there would be the sprint races on Sunday along with a kids race clinic so I wanted to be loose and nimble and ready to go hard again. Then it was time for awards and an awesome catered dinner right there on the beautiful back lawn of the Blockade Runner before a full night out in Wilmington complete with rodeo bull rides and sharing good times with some of our sports fastest paddlers. A big huge thank you to William Pope and John Beasang from Distressed Mullet for organizing what has now become the largest Stand Up Paddling event on the East coast.
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