UPDATE: We’re Halfway Through The “European SUP Racing Tour” Presented By NSP; Here’s What’s Happened + What’s Coming Up

 
European SUP Racing Tour update
We’re halfway through the six-week European SUP Racing Tour (presented by Travis Grant’s buddies over at NSP) and so far we’ve had three big weekends of racing. Plenty of action has gone down and there’s plenty more big races coming up, so it’s time to look back and do a recap, then look forward and see what’s in store…

We started the 2013 Euro Tour in France at the end of May and have since been to Germany and back, with trips to Spain and Belgium coming up. Seems like forever ago that I was sipping wine in St. Tropez with Jimmy and the boys, but here we are, three weeks and countless miles on the road later…

WEEK #1: The SUP Race Cup, St. Maxime, France

2013 SUP Race Cup

Connor Baxter was on fire in St. Maxime, leading from start to finish in the Beach Race, before narrowly losing to Travis Grant in the long distance race the next day (© Michel Terrien)

Many of the world’s best paddlers have been in Europe this Summer for some big races, the first of which was the SUP Race Cup in St. Maxime.

The event started on a mildly chaotic note though, as the French mistral winds blasted down off the alps to give us some rather extreme conditions. It actually would have been perfect for a downwinder, if we could get a return pickup from North Africa that is… but instead we had to grind it out on the modified Beach Race course on Day 1 of the Euro Tour, Saturday 25th May.

A few paddlers struggled to adapt but the pros showed their style and rose to the occasion, with Connor Baxter getting an explosive start and leading from start to finish. He was well challenged by Aussie Travis Grant but held on for a well deserved win. Another Aussie, Angie Jackson, took out the women’s race ahead of the two local contenders Olivia Piana and Celine Guesdon.

The following day it was the Distance Race. The SUP Race Cup is modelled after the BoP, where Saturday’s Elite Race takes massive precedence over the Distance event, but over here it almost seemed like the Distance Race was the main event. Maybe it was the fact that Sunday provided more enjoyable weather, but either way it was a hotly contested race.

Again, Connor was up front most of the race, but this time had to settle for the runner-up spot on the podium, as Travis Grant showed his true class to claim a very impressive win. The Aussie (and NSP team rider) beat not only Connor but a whole stack of international names; Beau O’Brian was 3rd, Paul Jackson 4th and Chase Kosterlitz 5th.

All said and done, the SUP Race Cup dished out $15,000 prize money to the paddlers (with a good chunk of that going to Connor and Travis) and despite Saturday’s apocalyptic winds, no doubt provided some great memories for the competitors.

>>> 2013 SUP Race Cup RESULTS

*****

WEEK #2: The Lost Mills, Brombachsee, Germany

I was looking forward to this event more than any other in Europe. I was at the 2012 Lost Mills and had a blast, so was stoked to come back and be joined by my international friends; the Aussies were in town, Jimmy Terrell and the Zur duo flew in, Connor and Bart were on location as well as defending champ Chase Kosterlitz. They were joined by Europe’s finest, led by the likes of Eric Terrien, Casper Steinfath, and a hungry bunch of young French kids.

There were four main races at the 2013 Lost Mills; the “Fastest Paddler On Earth” time trial, the Jamie Mitchell Survivor Race, a 4km “fun” race (it’s never just fun when this many competitive paddlers are in the one place) and then the main event; the 18km Lost Mills International SUP Race.

It was an awesome week. The setup was all time, and with many of the top names camped out in the excellent Strandhotel Seehof, which is situated right beside the start/finish line, the whole event had a really good vibe to it.

I still can’t figure out how the organisers pulled this off. We were out in the middle of nowhere in the Bavarian countryside, yet the event site looked better than just about anything I’ve seen at a SUP race, even rivalling the BoP for sheer grandiose. There was even a massive beer tent with room for 3,000, which filled up on the Thursday night as the locals turned the Lost Mills into a mini-Oktoberfest…

The only thing that sucked was the weather; rain and cloudy skies kept away some of the fans (though amazingly we still had a solid crowd cheering us on during the time trial) and kept the temperatures down, though the racing was still a lot of fun, not to mention extremely competitive.

It started on the Thursday with the Fastest Paddler On Earth, a unique, 200m time trial with electronic timing gates that’s never been seen before in our sport. Despite everyone throwing themselves at the course, Connor Baxter once again blitzed the field to walk away with a $7,000 Breitling watch. No kidding. A $7,000 watch. For 53 seconds work… Meanwhile Krisztina Zur showed her strength in the women’s event and picked up some bling of her own.

The next day we had the Jamie Mitchell Survivor Race on 12’6 inflatables. If you know this format you’ll know that even though it’s short, it’s an absolute killer. We had five rounds of racing back-to-back (at least the top guys did; I was out in round 3) with only two minutes rest between each race. To mix things up Jamie also introduced a new rule this year; the winner of each round would carry a time bonus into the next race, giving them a head-start over the rest of the field. It proved both innovative and decisive.

Not surprisingly Connor Baxter once again took the win, but the manner in which he did it was still a shock to everyone watching. The kid did all the work, leading from start to finish to win every single round, and was only ever challenged by, again, Travis Grant.

By the time Saturday rolled around we were all ready for the 18km distance event (but also all secretly hoping it would somehow be called off). It was going to be a long, tough race. Not so much a physically punishing affair (it wasn’t going to be easy, but we’ve all done longer races), but rather a pure mental grind that would test the composure of many of the world’s best guys and girls.

There was close to 100 paddlers on the start line including some of the biggest names in the sport; Mitchell, Baxter, Terrien, Steinfath, Grant, Kosterlitz, Jackson, Jensen, O’Brian… The watches and the inflatable races were a mere pre-cursor to this; this was the main event and the one everyone had been training for.

I’d predicted that the whole race would be a massive, tactical draft fest, with the run legs in between the two lakes the only thing splintering the field. I was right, to an extent, except for one position; the race leader.

Straight away the field got settled into draft trains after the start, with the top 25* guys eventually finishing in two main packs, all within three or four minutes of each other. I say top 25 with an asterisk because it was actually positions #2 – #25 that finished relatively close; there was one guy noticeably absent from the front two draft packs, and he was in the lead the whole time…

Eric Terrien decided before the race started that he had one shot of winning this race. It was a ballsy strategy that would take a good start, a lot of hard work and some serious mental will power to carry it off. Eric shot off like a rocket at the start, took the lead, dropped the field around the 500m mark and never looked back (metaphorically at least, he actually looked back several times, and saw his lead grow and grow every time he did…).

Nobody could stay with him or close the gap after he got away. Nobody. Not Connor Baxter, not Jamie Michell, not Travis Grant, not Casper Steinfath, not Chase Kosterlitz… it was amazing to watch.

From my vantage point back in the pack I could see the lead growing and growing. By the halfway point, when Eric turned with a good 100-150m lead, I thought it was a courageous effort, but that there was no way he could hold off the pack all the way home… especially with whipper-snappers Connor and Casper leading the chase.

But then something happened. Something snapped in Eric’s mind and he just went for it, putting the hammer down and pulling off one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen on a SUP race board. By the time Eric was rounding the buoy with around 4kms to go (see the pic below) he had a virtually unassailable lead. He was at least a minute or two ahead and seemed to have broken his rivals. It was now a race for second place.

In the end, Eric Terrien won the 2013 Lost Mills by well over two minutes. An incredible effort considering not only that he was up against many of the world’s best, but also that this was a pure flat water race, the kind of event where it’s near-impossible to break away and race on your own. But Eric did it. For almost two straight hours.

So my hat goes off to you Eric, a brilliant paddle that will no doubt go down as the performance of the Euro Tour, and perhaps the performance of the year full stop. Jamie Mitchell summed it up best on Instagram:

“@ericterrien what a effort. One of the best and gutsiest paddles I’ve seen! U deserve it! Great race mate.”

Meanwhile big credit also goes to Sonni Hönscheid for taking out the women’s distance event. While the men’s race had the drama & excitement, the women’s race heralded the arrival of a new paddler at the top of the scene. Sonni has been racing for years but has never been considered in the Elite bunch of girls that rule the sport. Until now… Look out for her name on some big podiums in the months to come.

So that was the Lost Mills. Epic event, epic setup, epic racing (…and crappy weather).

If you want a fun, well-organised and very lucrative SUP race, book this one in for 2014… Over $20,000 in prize money was dished out, as well as another $12k in prizes (including Connor’s bling watch), easily making it the most lucrative event of the 2013 Euro Tour (and perhaps one of the richest SUP races of the year, period).

>>> 2013 Lost Mills RESULTS

Lost Mills Eric Terrien

The photo that summed up the Lost Mills distance race; Eric Terrien looks behind during the second half of the race and sees nothing but daylight between him and the chasing pack… (© Roland Blaschek)

*****

WEEK #3: Oleron Island SUP Challenge, Oleron, France

Oleron was the third stop of the 2013 Euro Tour and the first of the Stand Up World Series events on the continent this year.

The weather gods continued to show their disdain for stand up paddlers though, as wild storms lashed Oleron Island and forced a total reshuffle of the infamous Long Distance course. Instead of an epic 30km paddle round the island, it was reduced to an 8km (or closer to 6.5km according to the GPS watches) middle-distance grind, with half of it upwind and half downwind.

Kai Lenny, having been in the shadow of Connor Baxter for much of the 2013 Stand Up World Series, broke through and took the win, looking in good shape to take his first overall event victory of the year. Connor had other ideas though, with a massive performance in Sunday’s knockout sprints relegating Kai to second overall and keeping his own perfect record in tact at this year’s World Series (Connor won in both Chile and Brazil prior to this).

Annabel Anderson was, to the surprise of nobody, totally unstoppable in the women’s, taking out the field that included Angie Jackson and Olivia Piana and defeating most of the men in the process (the Kiwi finished an incredible sixth overall in the distance race…).

>>> 2013 Oleron Island Stand Up Paddle Challenge RESULTS

Oleron Stand Up Paddle race 2013

Connor continued his love affair with Europe by claiming the Oleron event. The kid hasn’t finished any worse than second place all Tour… (© Waterman League)

*****

So what’s next?

So that’s the first half of the 2013 European SUP Racing Tour presented by NSP done and dusted. We’ve seen some big races, some big names and some big prize cheques. But what’s next..?

Some of the big names have gone home, namely the Aussie contingent, but there’s still a bunch of the world’s fastest SUP racers on the continent, or at least heading this way. So here’s what’s coming up over the final three weeks of the European SUP Racing Tour…

Week #4: III Deep Noja SUP Race, Noja, Spain

Week #4 is the closet we’ll get to a “rest week” in Europe. No $10,000+ races this week, though there are still plenty of regional events happening. The biggest will be in Spain; Chase Kosterlitz and a bunch of Europe’s finest will be in the beautiful Basque town of Noja for a weekend of racing at the III Deep Noja race, where there’s both Distance and Beach Races on offer and a purse of $3,000 up for grabs.

Week #5: Bilbao World SUP Challenge, Bilbao, Spain

Just up the road from Noja is the second of the Stand Up World Series “European Trilogy” (the first being Oleron and the third coming up in Hamburg mid-August). This’ll be the second most lucrative event of the European SUP Racing Tour, with $20,000 in the pot and stars such as Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny confirmed to compete.

Week #5: Happy Summer SUP Challenge, Namur, Belgium

While some big international names (and plenty of Euros) will be in Spain for Week #5, there will also be a stacked field 1,000kms to the north in Belgium, with the 2nd annual Happy Summer SUP Challenge happening in the city of Namur.

Look for France’s leading lights such as Eric Terrien and Olivia Piana to lead the Euro charge, though with $10,000 up for grabs they’ll no doubt have plenty of competition.

Week #6: Massilia SUP Race, Marseille, France

Another event that was a favourite with the Euro paddlers in 2012, the Massilia SUP Race is set to cap off the 2013 European SUP Racing Tour in style, with another $6,000 in prize money nudging the total purse for the 2013 Tour over $80k.

*****

So there you go. The 2013 European SUP Racing Tour presented by NSP has given us a lot of fun so far and we’re still only halfway through.

It’s really awesome to see so many big SUP races and so many of the world’s best paddlers in this part of the world at the one time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Europe is going to be where the big growth for international SUP racing comes from.

So look at California and Hawaii, you’re officially on notice, Europe is coming…