Writer: Jasper Mocke - For the past four years I’ve been fortunate enough to thaw out in the European summer chasing runs in some of the best ocean conditions the continent has to offer. This year, albeit a bit shorter, was no different as I made my annual migration north.
Nelo Summer Challenge:
This is probably Europe’s premier downwind event. In 2012 I won it in a tight battle with my brother, then in 2013 and 2014 it was used as ICF World Champs and European Champs respectively. This race has been held at a different venue every year. This stretch of Atlantic coast just north of Porto is characterized by wide open beaches interrupted by a small fishing harbor at every village. Of course the steady North Easterly that blows parallel down the coast doesn’t hurt. The race, just about 20km’s, was from Viana to Praia de Ofir.
A perfect venue translated into a quick “le mans” start. A light breeze meant small runs, unfortunately not fast enough to put your paddles down. I pulled from the beach, not interested in wash riding. It was my first race in the V14GT and the advantage of such a light weight surfski was significant, especially in relatively flat water. After the intense start Sean Rice and I opened a small gap on Dawid Mocke and Ken Wallace as we raced side by side. We split up, me going deeper out to sea for a direct line to the finish and Sean hugging the coast. This was however still early in the race. It unfolded as a type of individual time trial where every man judged his own pace and set his sights on the finish. With 1km to go I was out of contention for the win but my 2nd position was under threat from a charging Ken Wallace. Fatigued and with no assistance from the ocean I simply had to maintain a high stroke rate to stay ahead. Sean Rice won, I held Ken Wallace off for 2nd. Dawid Mocke finished 4th with Europe’s form surfski paddler at the moment, Esteban Medina, 5th.
Full results: http://summerchallenge.nelo.eu/new/results
Epic Kayaks has a strong presence in Tarifa. It is undoubtedly one of the earth’s finest coastlines for wind sports. The evidence is everywhere. Wind sport enthusiasts fill every nook and cranny of this ancient coastline with heritage dating back to Roman settlements. The special thing about Tarifa, especially as a citizen of a relatively young country, is that it allows you to experience all the nuances of heritage with the added benefit of having your adventure activity in the mix. Tiny cobbled roads, street café’s and Tapas often mean taking some time off training but not here.
Preparing for two world championship races here was a pleasure. It was the perfect training week with a good measure of rest in between hard interval sessions and downwinds. I used a V12 Ultra and thoroughly enjoyed the way it maneuvers. There are lots of currents churning through this narrow passage between Africa and Europe as water rushes in and out of the deep cold Atlantic to the Mediterranean. That’s good for surfski paddlers as the combination of wind and currents always dish up some turbulent water for us to enjoy. Perhaps the biggest challenge about Tarifa is weaving your way through all the kite boarders, many of whom are still learning.
World Marathon Champs:
Together with Epic Kayaks team mate, Hank McGregor, we then travelled to Gyor, Hungary to compete in ICF World Marathon Championships. Fears of arriving with a South African passport in the middle of a refugee crisis were unfounded. Although train stations were a bit crowded it seemed that life was carrying on as normal. Our minds were totally set on one thing, defending out k2 title from last year and Hank defending his in the k1.
The race was on a river. Everyone knew this beforehand but I think they underestimated the “river-ness”. In the k1 race Hank was able to paddle out of the current going upstream and conserve himself for when it counted. At one stage he was 50 seconds behind the front two. Not many expected him to close the gap. We had discussed the exact scenario of possibly being behind and how to go about closing the gap. His plan (and execution) was to compose himself and settle into a rhythm and then use the full up-river leg instead of frantically chasing like a cape flats dog. Make no mistake, this takes some steel kahunas, but it worked and he hauled them back and held a boat lengths lead over the finish. Title number six in the bag.
The k2 race was full throttle from the start. Four boats, the same four as last year, set themselves apart early. It was us, the two Spanish crews and a Hungarian pair. We would test each other on every portage, every turn, prying for weakness to exploit. Early on the pace would go from red hot then settle down to a canter as we jostled for position. Two thirds through the race we shook off one of the Spanish boats. To me this was testament to the ferocity of the pace. Finally, on the second last turn, a minor infringement meant that our turn was hampered and we were out of position going into the final portage. Being on the back foot against two hungry Hungarians going into the final 1000m was tough and they had a phenomenal sprint to edge us out.
Honestly I was and am disappointed. Giving everything, yet losing by such a narrow margin hurts. And revising every little detail, wondering “what if?” is exhausting. The expression on friend and family’s faces says it all as you unravel and describe the finer details of the race to those who followed on screen. Yet there lies the gift.The privilege of thousands of people taking interest in our progress is humbling and a fresh reminder of why I paddle. In a silent moment, standing on the riverbank, I asked Hank,
“Have you ever come 2ndat worlds?”
“No” he said, “and you?”
Silence turned to a grin.
“Well” I said. “At least that’s a first.”
Watch the k2 race: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTDdtYzWzIM from about 5:46:00.