2014 GL Race Series

2014 Great Lakes Surfski Race Series – Hitting Curve Balls

The best way for me to recap the 2014 season is to say that it was a summer of dealing with curve balls, and believe me, the Great Lakes can certainly throw a good one.     After the coldest winter on record in 100 years,  the cruel tricks weren’t over.   This summer proved to be about as unpredictable as the winter.   To be fair,  we had some amazing days ,and on those days it was all about living in the moment and making the most of it.

I started a new day job right at the start of the summer with travel to Dallas every week.    This meant that the weekends were precious and my family had to take priority,  so I didn’t attend as many of the races as I would have liked to.   In fact, I only managed to race once this summer at the Cheboygan Open Water Challenge.    As a result,  I can’t provide a first hand experience of all the races,  but I did always make a point to touch base with the racers to get their stories and experiences.

Mother nature 4, GL Surfski Race Series 0.

The common theme of the series this year was that mother nature was determined not to hand us a nice perfect downwind race day.    It all started with the first annual Sheboygan, WI downwind  that turned into more of an upwind.  Then we had the  Cheboygan, MI Open Water Challenge  race that had just a tad bit of bump, but nothing significant.    Next we had the TC Waterman downwind that turned into a brutal test of grit, determination, and beam wave stability.    Finally,  we had the Ride the Wave Regatta which brought too much wind to make for a safe downwind and the group fortunately showed some quick thinking, flexibility, and motivation to organize a largely flat water race.

The good news is that by and large, the racers had a great time at all of these races, in spite of mother nature.    It says a lot about surfski racers. We are an optimistic bunch and always ready to make the best of the situation handed to us.    The challenges this season have generated a lot of dialogue on how to plan for downwind races.    Between the logistics and insurance policies  it is certainly not easy.    The general consensus was to lay out multiple options in advance,  communicate them clearly,  and work to get your insurance provider on board with being flexible,  a very tall task indeed.  As I reflected on the TC Waterman in particular, I started to envision an alternative option.  Potentially we could try to build a “race weekend”  around each of the races and actually just accept that the actual race may not be a downwind, but assuming it is an AM race,  plan a group downwind paddle either the day before or the day of the race.    Paddlers could pay a small fee to cover shuttle drivers, more experienced paddlers to coach them,  and perhaps even an escort boat to tag along.

In addition to the challenges presented by mother nature,  and the fact that wind  in the Great Lakes doesn’t typically wake up until mid afternoon,   we also have the challenge of paddler skill level.    While there may be a handful of us dying to prove who is the top dog in the big stuff,  the reality is that we have a lot of beginners at these races and/or paddlers who don’t get to paddle in open water on a regular basis.   We definitely don’t want to discourage these paddlers from racing ,and if we can actually have an opportunity to coach them in downwind conditions, then even better.

The Other Races

Aside from the 4 downwind races,  we also had 2 mixed condition races including the infamous Washington Island circumnavigation and the Lake Superior Two Harbors Kayak Festival.  Additionally, we had 3  flat water races including The Grand River Race,  Kensington Metro Park,  and the Ohio River Festival.     I wasn’t able to attend any of these,  but to the best of my knowledge they all had great participation,  competitive fields and spectator friendly venues.

Overall we had 18 racers who completed at least 3 of the series races and over 200 total racers across the difference races.    I believe almost all of the races experienced steady growth and I’m confident we are still just at the tip of the ice berg for surfski and kayak racing in the Great Lakes.   Hopefully the opportunity to win a brand new Epic V12 provided incentive to many,  I can’t guarantee we’ll have a boat to raffle next year,  but I can say that overall, I don’t think anyone would dispute that for the cost, the paddle races are the best value going on the racing scene.   And in case you missed it,  Mark DiPasquale was our lucky winner of a brand new Epic V12.

Rob Hartman took the honors of the overall winner for the second year in a row.   Denny Paull was a close second and Greg Hintz had an amazing year paddling very strong despite a mid season accident that required major surgery and meant that he had to do one of the races with a cast on his foot in a sea kayak  (all upper body).    You can see the full results here.

Organizing Fun, Unique and Informal Races Locally

Locally in the Traverse City area we had some really exciting new races led by paddle everything ambassador Dan Novak of Race TC.   Dan organized several casual, low key,  low cost, and very fun and unique races around Traverse City this summer.    Dan’s passion and enthusiasm is amazing and I’m very optimistic it will lead to the development of a real paddle race culture in Traverse City.    It would be great if we could clone Dan,  but assuming we don’t get that figured out in the near future,  I definitely advise all the Great Lakes communities to take a look at what he has done.   In the end it is all about having fun on the water and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

Another great example of “paddle everything” fun was the hugely successful  OABI Beach Festival put on in the Detroit area this summer by Green Veil Outdoor.    This beach festival attracted over 700 interested paddlers many of whom were anxious to try out a surfski.    I see lots of potential in the Detroit Metro area to really grow the paddling community.

Looking Ahead

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the race series continue to evolve.   As I’ve mentioned in other blogs,  I do recognize that it covers a very wide region and it is simply not realistic for many racers to attend all the series races.  Eventually as the sport grows, I would like to see enough qualifying races within each sub region of the Great Lakes, so that racers don’t have to travel more than 2-3 hours to race.   I would envision that most racers only do one or two long road trips a season, and we all come together to battle it out at one or two premier events.

As always,  I am open to feedback from the community.   I can’t guarantee we will implement every suggestion, but I can guarantee if you don’t speak up,  we certainly won’t implement your ideas  🙂