The sea was angry that day, my friends.
Week 2 of the Euro Tour and we found ourselves on the idyllic island of Mallorca for the classic Port Adriano SUP Race. The event that kicked off the 2014 Tour – the first official season of the Euro summer – returned in style with blue skies and good vibes.
I was eager to see the local “kids” take on some of the biggest names in the game. I’ve been staying on Mallorca every year since 2013 (sans covid) and was thus excited for more reasons than simply commentating a race for the first time in two years. This was a homecoming of sorts for SUP Racer.
The host of the Port Adriano race, Mar Balear SUP Club, has created one of the best junior squads in the world. Over the past decade, I’ve watched these ankle-biters become fine young adults. They were 6 to 12 years old when I first visited. Now the youngest of that first generation is 15 and the oldest is a fully fledged adult.
I guess we can’t call the kids “kids” anymore.
But while much my interest surrounded the home team, this outpost on the Mediterranean had attracted a pretty solid starting lineup.
Boothy was a surprise. We hadn’t expected him til next week. Similar with Titouan – his girlfriend pushed him to come race because Mallorca looked so nice in the pictures. Suddenly, we had arguably the best two paddlers in the world on the start line. Throw in Esperanza “Espe” Barreras from the Canary islands – my “world number two” pick from last year but potential #1 in terms of tough distance races – and it was a big-time trio.
Aussies Ty Judson and Kaelan Lockhart, French wunderkind Ethan Bry, Spanish mainlander Manu Hoyuela and Israeli darkhorse Liran Machlev were all podium contenders as well.
If you watched the livestream you’ll know how the race went. What we expected to be a flat, grinding race of 12.5km around two rocky outcrops quickly turned into the “battle of the bathtub” as wind, swell and distant megayachts whipped up bumps that slammed into the vertical cliffs and rebounded to create conditions that could politely be described as challenging. “Blender” is the term locals use. “Washing machine” would also be apt.
Despite the bumpy conditions, the top paddlers somehow managed to surf the bumps even though it was anything but a downwinder.
Boothy looked strong early. Ty was probably his biggest threat. But it was Titou that put on an ocean masterclass to seal the win.
After rounding the first of two giant rocky buoy turns, Titou – who at that point told me he was struggling just to maintain Boothy’s pace – managed to triangulate a cacophony of swell directions to find the “Bump from God” and quite literally surf away from the field. It was surreal to watch, as if a wave had broken in the middle of the sea and Titou was right there to catch it. Within a minute he was a hundred metres clear. The gap would more or less stay the same for the next half hour as Boothy tried in vein to reel him in.
Ty fought hard in the bumps but couldn’t catch his compatriot, though the most impressive performer was perhaps Ethan Bry (“Et-aan Bree” as they say in France) who stuck with Boothy almost all the way home. This kid is one to watch.
Further down the field, Manu Hoyuela staked his claim as Spain’s top starter by eclipsing the local lads. He finished fifth to build on his big podium result in Paris at the end of last season. Sixth place was the ultra darkhorse from Isarel, Liran, who has a knack of taking down scalps on the Euro Tour. Behind them it was the local boys led by Aaron Sanchez and Lucas Simoncelli.
But while the home team had to accept a lesson from the big guns on the men’s side, the women’s race was a different story entirely. Leading the charge for Team Mallorca was ICF junior world champ and winner of the opening Euro Tour event in Italy two weeks ago, Duna Gordillo.
Duna was 10 years old when I met her. Scrawny and scruffy and stoked on paddling without knowing what she was getting herself into. Nearly a decade later, the 19-year-old young woman is an absolute powerhouse. It wouldn’t be overstating things to say she’s going to be a star.
Right from the start on Saturday, Duna made it clear she didn’t just want a minor place on the podium for Mar Balear, she wanted to make a statement and win. Sticking to the tail of powerhouse Espe Barreras would have been impressive in flat conditions. With the washing machine in full effect, Duna’s ability to hold the lead pace was downright extraordinary.
In the end, it was only an uncharacteristic fall from Duna mid-race that allowed Espe some breathing room, though the result was probably inevitable. Espe is just so damn strong and her training conditions at home in the Canaries aren’t too dissimilar to Mallorca; she wasn’t uncomfortable at all on Saturday.
So despite the rise of young guns like Duna, it appears Espe isn’t in a hurry to cede her European #1 crown to the next generation. It’s an exciting time in the women’s sport, and the fact that Espe herself is relatively new to the scene – we hadn’t heard of her prior to 2018 – shows just how incredibly strong the Spanish scene is.
France has always been the powerhouse of Europe but Spain is starting to nip at their heels and on the junior side I’d say they’re already ahead.
Espe and Duna were joined on the podium by Caterina Stenta, and we saw glimpses of another hometown hero in Aiida Nepoola who’s not far off Duna’s level. Throw in French duo Iona Rivet and Anais Guyomarch (4th and 5th respectively) plus Denmark’s Caroline Kuntzel, who was on the virtual podium early before retiring from some sort of sea-sun sickness, and the future of our sport in Europe looks very bright.
And nowhere is that future brighter than in Spain.
Thanks to all the crew from Mar Balear, the Euro Tour and Port Adriano for a great day on the water. I hope y’all enjoyed the seat-of-my-pants livestream from a wild and woolly ocean. It’s good to be back.