A True Trifecta of Summer Paddle Races
I didn’t get the chance this summer to blog much on some of the great races I had the opportunity to participate in, so now that I have a little more time, I’d like to give a shout out to Dan Novak and Race TC for continuing another season of really cool, fun, low key, low cost and unique races.
Race Across West Bay
The season started with the Race Across West Bay. This was the second year Dan held this race to provide a warm up opportunity the week before the M22 Challenge. The first year it was pure coincidence that this race landed on the same weekend as my TC Surfski Immersion Camp. Incorporating the race into the camp was such a raving success that we both agreed to stay aligned going forward and now the race has become a mainstay in the Immersion Camp.
To simplify logistics and lengthen the course a little bit, Dan setup a route that had us launch and return at Greilickville Beach. The course was a nice short length coming in just over 4 miles. We had around 18 surfskis racing and for many of the camp participants it was their first time ever racing a surfski. The water in early June is a bit chilly, but typically pretty calm as well. I raced with my son Hayden in the tandem. We couldn’t hang with Rob Hartman and Erik Borgnes who quickly broke away from the pack, but we traded places with Tony Short and Greg Greene, eventually riding their wash and coming in just behind them.
The Race Across West Bay is a perfect beginner race, with the flat water and short distance, you can’t go wrong. Plus, there is almost always some complete beginners doing the Immersion Camp and getting out there racing for the first time. It gives them an opportunity to test everything they’ve learned in the prior days, while at the same time, not being so long that it wipes them out. We typically do downwind surfing later in the day, we so can’t afford to have anyone wiped out from the race.
In early August Race TC hosted the second annual Rapa Nui. This is a unique paddle, run, paddle, where you go from Bowers Harbor out to Power Island and back. The paddle is 3 miles each way, with warm, beautiful, blue water. The trail run is around 2.5 miles of quiet and peaceful wooded terrain, mostly two track with just enough twisty, tight single track to mix it up.
This year Dan had almost 50 racers including SURFSKIS, SUPs, and kayaks. Having not run in over 8 months, I knew my only shot at doing well was to crush the paddle both ways. Thankfully with a ratio of 6 miles of paddling to 2.5 miles of running, I figured I might have a shot at a respectable finish. As soon as the horn went off, I went out hard and took the lead into the choppy blue water. I didn’t look back for the first mile, but knew that Denny Paull was not far behind. Sure enough, when I did glance back, Denny was there. Denny always the sportsman stayed behind me for exactly 1.5 miles, then pulled in front and I followed him into the beach on Power Island. I knew once we hit the beach Denny would be long gone, and he definitely was. I managed to hold my 2nd place position until about half way through the run, when I was passed by Sean Kickbush who was flying through the woods running like a deer. When we hit the water I could just barely make out Sean but slowly over the first two miles I could tell that i was closing in on him. The conditions were choppy and Sean is still pretty new to the surfski, so I knew I had a good chance of reeling him in. At just under a mile to the finish I managed to power past him and on to a second place finish. Meanwhile, my wife Kim was battling it out in her Epic V8 taking the overall women’s first place title.
All in all it was a great day and a really fun and unique race. I’m really excited to see this race continue to grow and I’m confident next year we might just break 100 racers.
Sandstorm Triple Relay
The Sandstorm Glacial Hills Triple Relay was the third and final race of the summer season. This race was modeled after a similar event that Dan experienced in his early days in Eastern Europe. The race is a team only format, and I know Dan got a lot of grief for this, but I fully support the concept and having seen what some of these races have become out West, I believe there is massive potential. Having a team format makes this race unique and really kicks up the fun factor. Dan chose to host this in Bellaire, MI which offers some of the best mountain biking in Northern Michigan, along with a great trail running and paddling venue.
This year we had a spectacular late September day for the first annual Sandstorm Triple Relay. The relay format was setup as a 10 mile bike, 5 mile trail run, and a 5 mile paddle. Dan’s goal was to have each event right around the 40 minute mark for an expert athlete. Unfortunately the turnout in the first year was not what I was hoping for, as I know many of the athletes I know either had kids playing soccer or were mountain bike racing. Hopefully next year we may get the race on a Sunday to avoid these conflicts.
I was of course doing the paddle leg for my team, which was in the river that runs through downtown Bellaire. River paddling is certainly not my forte so I was a bit nervous and heeded Dan’s advice to pre paddle the first section of the route. I’m really glad i did, because there were definitely some land mines under the water that would not been fun to be surprised by at full on race pace speeds. After paddling the beginning route a couple of times I was comfortable that I could navigate without issue.
My team came together at the last minute with Dan running and Tony Short biking. I knew Dan would be up at the front of the run and I knew Tony would have a solid bike time, so I was optimistic we had a good shot at the victory. Dan was kind enough to not make the runners start their run with a big long climb out from the transition area, so we dropped them at the top of Glacial Hills. The runners launched and we headed back to the transition area to wait, where our bikers would eventually hand off to us. Women led the charge on the bike and the first two bikers in were both amazingly strong women who absolutely smoked the bike course. I heard that unfortunately someone had removed some of the trail markings so there was a bit of confusion with the riders which might have led to some of the varying times. My biker came in somewhere around 5th, and I was off to real in the paddlers. When I first started I really wasn’t overly optimistic I’d have enough time to reel everyone one, but just put my head down and started grinding it out with my Epic V10 GT. Fairly early into the paddle I managed to overtake a kayaker and then a SUP paddler. As I got out onto the lake I could see Ulli Sherer in an Epic V8 and in front of her was Dan Novak racing the paddle leg for another team. It felt like a long way to go to catch them, but I kept on the pace and got past Ulli as soon as we got back into the river. I then chased Dan and eventually managed to overtake him and come in for the overall victory, making me 2 for 2 in race victories this summer with the V10 GT. It might just be the boat.
The paddling was actually tougher than I thought. I managed to take a clear line all the way through and never bumped anything, but between the shallow water, curves, current, and wind, my average speed of 7.3 mph was much lower than I would have expected.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stick around to receive the sweet trophies that Dan had made for the event, but I heard from all of those who did that they had an awesome time both collecting the trophies and hanging out and drinking beer at the Bellaire Harvest Day Festival. For those of you who may not be aware, Bellaire is home to the infamous Shorts Brewery, so no doubt there was plenty of awesome beer on tap.
All said and done, Dan has created quite the trifecta of summer races. Unique, casual, great awards, open to all paddle craft, multi-sport oriented, and just plain fun! And that is why I am convinced Race TC is the best kept secret in Northern Michigan. I really look forward to watching these races grow as the paddle sports and waterman communities continue to thrive and expand in Northern Michigan. Keep up the great work Dan!