Thrown In The Deep End At The Paddleboarding Dragon World Championships

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Pictures: International Photographs

For many athletes, collaborating on this planet championships is the end result of a lifetime of dedication and sacrifice. For me, it has concerned a few hours of mild apply within the Caribbean sunshine. The largest sacrifice I’ve made up to now has been to delay the time of the day’s first rum and Coke.

The occasion I’m collaborating in is the inaugural Dragon World Championships, a stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) race organised by board maker Purple Paddle, based in 2008 by former windsurfing champion John Hibbard. Advances in know-how signifies that they’ve been in a position to create an inflatable board inflexible sufficient to remain rock-solid with a number of individuals standing on it. That’s why this competitors – happening in Carlisle Bay, off Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados – will see groups from across the globe battle it out on four-person, 22ft (6.7m) Dragon boards, with Hibbard readily available to supervise proceedings.

The format on day one sees factors allotted in accordance with the place you end in your warmth. Your rating determines your seeding for the knockout rounds on day two. Till a couple of minutes earlier than the beginning, I’m feeling fairly relaxed about the entire thing as a result of I’m meant to be a part of a ragtag group of journalists for whom the pen is mightier than the paddle. However an harm to a different competitor means I’ve been drafted into The Grand Masters – a group comprising seasoned watersports fanatic and windsurfing teacher Bob, and a pair of Purple Paddle distributors from Germany referred to as Etienne and Marion. I’m instantly made to really feel a part of the gang but when we have been the Beatles, I’d be our second-best drummer.

Feeling the warmth

The primary spherical is forgiving in that we’re paddling for factors somewhat than combating to remain within the competitors, however the opposition is as stiff because the board I’ll be using. We’re up in opposition to a group who’ve flown from Russia to be right here (and aren’t precisely exuding an it’s-the-taking-part-that-counts aura) and a neighborhood quartet who could also be new to Dragon board racing however are effectively versed within the bay’s swells. 

Our techniques are easy. Marion is on the entrance and can name the strokes. I’m buried in second place, with the opposite two guys on the again appearing because the engine room. We make a strong begin however I’m so busy concentrating on staying upright that my strokes are extra mild pats than highly effective pulls. The course takes us straight out to sea, then right into a left flip after 200m, persevering with till we full the 800m roughly-square route.

The Russians velocity off with decided effectivity, leaving us to battle it out with the locals. They’re most likely quicker however they’re spending extra time within the water so we edge previous them and float up the shore for a second-place end. We’ve bagged priceless factors however I’ll want to drag my paddle out if we’re going to get previous the second spherical.

After watching the remainder of the heats I’m going in the hunt for some knowledgeable recommendation from the REDSUPLadies group from New York. They’re composed, sleek and tactically shrewd and I need to know the way they do it. “The key to our success is teamwork and understanding how every particular person works,” says group captain Jennifer Hung. “We concentrate on synchronicity and communication. You let everybody know what’s developing and what’s happening so everybody on understands the right way to transfer forwards.”

Her clever phrases give me one thing to consider as I recuperate, as all aspiring world champions ought to, with a cocktail within the setting solar.

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Board silly

Again on the bay on day two, there are 4 groups in our warmth however the solar (and presumably final night time’s cocktails) have gone to my head so I race off down the seashore too quick, failing to present Marion time to rise up onto the board and leaving us adrift of the competitors. We additionally take a poor line across the first buoy and by the point we hit the again straight we’ve got some severe catching as much as do. Nevertheless, we settle right into a rhythm and begin to reel within the two groups in entrance.

This looks like an actual battle and on the third buoy we take an aggressive inside line in an try and take out the groups forward. The gamble pays off and we’re selecting up velocity simply as we flip parallel to the seashore. A second later all 4 group members, our paddles and the board go flying. In our haste to get previous our opponents we didn’t take a look at what the water was doing and have been worn out by a tsunami (OK, a 2ft tiddler).

Within the house straight Marion is struggling to seek out her stability so I compensate by pulling even tougher. I additionally begin to name the strokes, mounting a last-ditch try to supply a quick end. It’s to not be and we drift in to the seashore in final place. Our podium possibilities could have sunk with out hint however I give myself a pat on the again for my heroic efficiency.

Then I give myself a slap across the face after I discuss to somebody who is aware of what they’re doing as a result of it seems my actions ruined our possibilities of progressing. “It’s all about gliding,” says Jason Cole, group captain of Paddle Barbados, a quartet of native SUP instructors who’re favourites to change into champions. “It’s not likely about energy. If you happen to don’t get a glide then the timing will likely be off. If somebody behind you pulls too onerous when you’re adjusting or altering sides then you definately’re going to fall backwards,” he says, as I nod sheepishly and study my flip-flops.

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Warrior spirit

I spend the subsequent couple of hours watching Cole and his team-mates destroy the competitors and change into the primary ever Dragon World Champions.

Luckily I’ve obtained an opportunity to redeem myself within the Dragon Warrior Dash, a handicap race the place each group within the competitors begins at intervals in accordance with the place they positioned in the principle occasion. The course snakes round a couple of buoys earlier than heading again to the seashore, however there’s a shock in retailer as a result of 25m from the shore we’ll have to pull our board over two different boards within the water manned by Hibbard and his Purple Paddle colleague George Shillito. They’ll goal to halt our progress by prodding us into the water with Gladiator-style pugilist sticks.

Our penultimate place end (the journalists did the career proud by propping up the desk) in the principle occasion means we’re going off second. Having realized from our errors we take it steadily in the beginning and we quickly overtake the journo crew. As we close to the flip for house we’re nonetheless in first place however there’s a pack of paddlers behind us. Beneath strain we take a large flip for house and about half a dozen groups sneak in on the within.

By the point we attain Hibbard and Shillito the ocean is a froth of boards, our bodies and paddles. We drag the Dragon over the boards, going shoulder to shoulder with our outdated foes, the Russians, and storm up the seashore for a creditable eighth-place end. We could not have troubled the winners but when your last standing was decided by how a lot enjoyable you had, then I’ve simply conquered the world.

The 2018 Dragon World Championships will likely be held at Lake Fuschl, Austria, from 31st August-2nd September 2018. For particulars, go to dragonworldseries.com.