It was the end of the SUP racing season, and my last big event. I had been on this weird train-taper-train-taper schedule that I was sure wasn’t the best for my racing fitness. Every time I thought it was time to train, and event would pop up that I wanted to do well at so I would do a mini taper. The importance of writing out your race schedule and working it into your training schedule cannot be stressed enough, but we will leave that post for another day. Corey and I drove down from Wilmington, NC to St. Petersburg, FL. I threw my mom in the car so she could visit with her friend while we were there. That, too, is a whole other story.
I was stoked to be heading down to where the sun was shining and the weather was warm. Most of my friends had headed to Tennessee for ChattaJack, the 31-mile grind that I participated in last year but needed a break from this year. Before heading down to sunny Florida, I had discovered that I was in the top 3 for the Salt Life Cup rankings. The Salt Life Cup was new for 2014, and a welcome incentive to attend World Paddle Association national races. In years prior, I had attended my regional races, but rarely had the chance to travel to some of the bigger, national events. This year after the Carolina Cup came to me, I trekked north to Connecticut for the Soundsurfer Waterman’s Challenge. After those, however, the busy summer set in and I was unable to find any other National Races that I could make it to. That was enough, however, because it seems like other paddle racers have the same problem. Dani Schmidt was leading the point rankings with her win in New Jersey and other strong finishes. Helga Goebel was second with a Key West win and other podiums. And I was third, one win in Connecticut and one 9th place at the Carolina Cup. The points weren’t really close. To pull off the Salt Life Cup, I would have to not only get first, but Dani couldn’t come in second. Being one of the top female paddlers east coast and riding for 404, Dani was a strong contingent for second, if not first. Helga, was also vying for first place for team Riviera, but our points were closer. She is hands-down the fastest female in Florida and another leading lady of the east coast. The stakes were high.
In the men’s division, the suspense was between Danny Ching, Ryan Helm, and Chase Kosterlitz. Danny made the trip to Florida even though he was 10th in the points rankings, he is arguably the fastest paddler around and stood a chance to win with the double points on offer in much the same way I did. Chase was however in a strong lead in the points rankings and could come in either second or third to take home the additional $5,000. Not to be overlooked was Ryan Helm, ranked 6th in points entering the event, and one of the better technical paddlers. Again, a nail-biting heat!
Day one was the technical race for the WPA Championships and the race that counted for the Salt Life Cup. It would be my first time on my new Hobie board, and riding for team Hobie. I took it out for a few spins to play with it before the race. But, it was still a case of me trying something new on race day! We lined up on the shallow sand bar a few yards off the beach as the winds whipped at 20mph. Before I had the chance to think, the men were off. Danny, Ryan, and Chase were fast off the line and way out front. They turned right around the first buoy of choice. The course was interesting because you had the choice to go left or right, selecting different areas of upwind and downwind that you thought could be advantageous. After watching the men make the turn, I decided to go right as well. It looked that the wind may have been making that half of the course shorter anyway! They blew the horn for the women, and we battled out into a strong cross wind. I was the first to the buoy before turning into another cross wind. The final stretch to the beach was the closest we would get to a downwind, and I was thrilled when I had the chance to catch a bump. We rounded the course 4 times, around three buoys. Each turn I would try to catch a glimpse of the ladies behind me to see how things were panning out without losing my balance. I could never get a good look. In the men’s division, I could clearly see Danny in the lead, followed by Ryan killing it in the wind, and then Chase in third, which would still secure his bonus. When I crossed the finish line first for the women’s, I was elated, but turned quickly to see Helga in second and local badass Kim Barnes in third!
All of that excitement and we had only completed day one! Although the first Salt Life Cup was in the books, we still had the WPA Distance race to attend to. This day Danny Ching opted to race an outrigger, which was amazing to watch. Chase Kosterlitz had taken his Salt Life winnings and had a wedding, his own, to attend to. Those of us around for day two lined up for a water start. When the horn sounded everyone sprinted off the line, and spread out pretty quick. It was at the first buoy that I fell in. Not thinking anything of it, I kept paddling. Helga and Kim caught up to me and drafted for a while. Then I took lead of the draft train. All the while, the field was (thankfully) spreading out. It was when I was in the lead of the train a little over half way through the race when I saw it.
I froze and pulled away from the draft train scrambling to cover myself. Because the field was so spread out, I seriously doubt anyone saw my boobs. Still, I hollered at Helga and Kim, “Why didn’t you tell me my top had come off!?!?” They continued to paddle away, “We didn’t see!”
There I was, hurriedly trying to tie up my girls so I could catch back up to the other girls. I wondered how long I had been convertible racing, you know, with the top down. My best guess is that the top string came undone when I fell in at the buoy turn and the top had slowly worked its way down with each paddle stroke until finally, I was exposed. At that point, I had lost some ground and really had to paddle hard to catch back up. By the last outside buoy I had regained ground and was able to draft to catch a break on the final stretch. As we drew closer to the final gate I made my move. Sprinting out with every last bit of energy I reached the final buoy first. Helga was right on my left. A small wave rose up behind us and she caught it and therefor caught up to me. Thankfully I was able to catch the same runner.