TC Waterman Surfski Race

2013 Marks the First “Official” TC Waterman Surfski Race

This year the Surfski race at TC Waterman became official moving from an exhibition race to an official event.   We had 23 surfskis racing this year with competitors ranging from 19-85 years old, but only one female racer.  We definitely need to change that for next year.   We didn’t reach the 30 I was really hoping for,  but still an amazing turnout that was over double the number from last year and by far the biggest open water surfski race in the Midwest this year.

As with any event that is heavily influenced by the weather,  the days and weeks leading up to TC Waterman were a bit stressful.   Todd Mackey, the race director, had several new challenges to contend with this year as his event continued to see exponential growth in the number of racers.  Additionally, this would be the first year Todd’s event was combined with Porterhouse Productions Great Wakes Festival.

Tough Decisions

Todd had several tough decisions to make in order to ensure a smooth race day, and one of those was to move the long downwind course from the afternoon to the morning.   I was not aware of this until about a week before the race.   Once I found out, I quickly reached out to Todd to lobby for the surfskis to continue with the afternoon slot.   The two main reasons for this were to ensure maximum wind and also to make the race feasible to do in a day for those coming from outside the area.

Todd was very understanding, flexible, and willing to work with me to keep the surfskis in the afternoon,  but there were a few trade-offs we had to make.  The chip timer was required for the big 3 mile SUP race (over 180 racers) and therefore would not be available to the surfskis.   Additionally, because of the large SUP race, we would not be able to finish at the main race venue/beach due to anticipated congestion.  I felt these were tradeoffs we could live with in hopes of wind and to accommodate the many out of town racers.

Murphy’s Law

As we got closer to race weekend Murphy’s Law of weather seemed to be rearing its ugly head.  We’ve had great wind almost all summer, and sure enough, for race weekend there was almost nothing significant in the forecast.  I knew many racers were making long drives in search of wind and waves and I didn’t want to disappoint them.   In order to make a weekend out of it, I planned group paddles on Friday late afternoon and again on Sunday afternoon.   For the group paddles we used Van’s Beach in Leland for better odds of finding something to surf with the predominant West winds.  Based on my experience,  if you get far enough out into the channel, there is always something going on.

Let the Weekend Begin

A group of us went out to Leland on Friday and paddled three miles out and did manage to get in some small surfing on the way in.   Although the wind wasn’t great, the sun and water were phenomenal as were the cold beers, pizza, and snacks afterward.   I don’t think anyone went to bed regretting their decision to come a day early.

Planning through all the logistics of the Expo booth, in water demos, capturing the day on camera, and helping to shuttle boats and paddlers, it occurred to me on Thursday that I was in over my head and could not expect to also do the race myself.  Based on the booth traffic last year and the expected growth for this year I expected it would be insanely busy.  Not racing was definitely the responsible decision to make, but I was bummed as were some of the other racers who had visualized making their move late in the race to overtake me.  (I won’t call out any names but initials might be something like GG…) Next year I plan to enlist more support and do more planning so that both my wife Kim and I can both join in the race (we’ll need all we can get to reach my goal of 40 surfski racers next year)

The Start

As we got closer to the 2:00 start I worked on corralling all the paddlers and getting them in their boats out in the water.  I did the best I could to describe the start, course, and finish and I think in the end it worked out pretty well, but in future years it should be a bit more organized, well marked/documented and explained so that there is no confusion for those new to the course and the area.

The gun went off and from what I hear, the pack exploded in a flurry of paddles and shot off the line at mock speed with everyone jockeying for that early position.   Rob Hartman and Erik Borgnes eventually pulled away from the pack, chased closely by Denny Paull, then Jon Sanborn,  then Greg Hintz, Greg Green, and Frank Latham.

Soon after the start I came to terms with the fact that our expo booth was not likely to see much action through the remainder of the day.   I decided to pack-up and head out to the finish to watch the action and snap some great close-up photos.

The Finish

Rob Hartman took the win following up on a Marathon K1 victory the week before at USCA Nationals and a 3rd place finish in the Masters Division at the US Surfski Champs in San Francisco the first weekend in August.    Erik Borgnes was a close second followed by Denny Paull in third.

TC Waterman Surfski Race

The racers reported “soupy” conditions with overall calm water but lots of boat wake and mixed waves bouncing around the bay which kept it interesting.   Some reported getting in a few small surf runs and they agreed there was a bit of an assist from the west wind at the start.   Overall the 23 racers were not too spread out with all finishing the 10.2 miles  in under 2 hours.

TC Waterman Surfski Race

Everyone Thoroughly Enjoyed the Luau

 TC Waterman Surfski Race

Following the race we enjoyed some beers in the sun at the finish then packed up the boats and headed back to the main venue to grab some foot at the Luau and awards ceremony.   Those who were able to stick around thoroughly enjoyed the food, beer, and music while watching a picture perfect sunset over West Bay.

tc waterman surfski race

On Sunday Erik, Greg Greene, Denny and myself headed back out to Leland in search of waves determined not to be skunked the entire weekend.   The big lake did not disappoint.   There was a nice west wind building as we took off and paddled 8 miles out toward the Crib Lighthouse between the Islands.   Once we turned around, we had nice clean 2-3 footers all the way back in.  We hit the beach and went for a nice swim taking it all in and fully enjoying the moment.  To quote Erik  “This is exactly how every summer weekend should be!”

Lots of Sun, Camaraderie, and Fresh Clean Blue Water

Overall it was an amazing weekend and we were blessed with perfect temperatures and lots of sun, which made it easy to show off all the great water we are so fortunate to have in Northern Michigan.  However, if we are to continue growing this race I am conscious that it will require more planning and some additional tweaks to ensure everyone has the ultimate race weekend experience.  Below are some of my initial thoughts and I definitely welcome feedback from all:

  1. We need to keep this as an afternoon race.   The 2:00 pm start is probably most ideal
  2. While there could be options for other routes on West Bay, it really makes planning complicated, so we should just stick with the course as it is and the ability to run it from either direction (on a North I would suggest going outside the island to position for cleaner runs)
  3. The existing course also ensures the racers are kept on one side of the bay and close to shore with most likely an on-shore breeze.  This provides a nice safety factor should someone get in trouble
  4. The course should be better marked with Buoy’s along the way and especially to guide racers through the finish
  5. The finish location at Bower’s will get cramped with more racers/boats, so we should have a plan for moving the boats out of the immediate finish area
  6. Shuttling should be well planned out so that racers can stage their cars at the finish (or if starting from Bowers –scheduled runs to haul racers/boats out to Bower’s)
  7. If finishing at Bower’s Harbor – should have signs/direction for spectators to find it
  8. Chip timing or at least numbers on the boats should be implemented
  9. Possible consideration of a short course option (4-5 miles out and back)


NOTE:  Lots more pictures can be found on my Facebook site