Sean Rice wins the 2018 EuroChallenge Surfski Race Sean Rice wins the 2018 EuroChallenge Surfski Race
“Kenny flew off the line,” said Sean Rice. “I had to consolidate, stay on his wave to the buoy. I knew I couldn’t give him an inch… I went hard for 3km to try to open a gap; looked around, he was still right there!” And what he didn’t know was that “Flash” Gordan Harbrecht was also right behind him…
The paddlers were dicing in the first big international race of the European season: EuroChallenge 2018 off La Vila Joyosa, Spain.
With a good 20kt forecast WSW wind, there was no doubt which course the organisers would chose: Start on the beach at El Campello, 500m out to sea to a buoy, turn 90 degrees left and head 17km straight downwind to the finish in the harbour entrance at La Vila Joyosa.
EuroChallenge Route (and Kenny Rice’s race data on Strava)
“They were really unlucky the first few times they ran the race,” said Sean Rice. “The event got a bit of reputation for hot, flat conditions. But things have changed completely; four out the last five races have had good downwinds.”
The event had declared a two-day waiting period with a lifesaving-style knockout event scheduled for the “other” day. Race Director Antoine Ferrer chose to run the main event on Sunday to ensure the best possible downwind conditions.
“The lifesaving event was great fun,” said Sean Rice. “Perfect for getting on the water and loosening up a bit. The race threw a bit of prizemoney at it too, and all the top paddlers took part.” Esteban Medina (Spain) won the men’s final with Jenna Ward (South Africa) winning the women’s race.
The day of the main race dawned, the paddlers checked their boats on the trailers, picked up and activated their tracking units and made their way to the buses to be transported to El Campello.
Sean Rice got to the beach even earlier. “I’ve spent so little time on the sea this year,” he laughed, “that I actually went down for a paddle on the morning of the race just to get a few minutes more in the waves before the race.”
“I’ve won this race before,” said Chloë Bunnett, “but this time we had real opposition!” Top Spanish athletes including Judit Vergés Xifra, Amaia Osabo Olaberri and Aurora Figueras Palomeras were lined up, as well as South African Jenna Ward.
“The conditions were pefect,” Bunnett said. “The wind was more westerly than normal; direct from the turn buoy to the finish, with a big swell coming over your right shoulder.”
After a quick glance at the buoy to see where her opposition was, Bunnett focussed on the waves. “I decided to ignore the others; to concentrate and put the hammer down, link as many as possible and ride the big ones where I could.”
She had her GPS showing 1km splits, which told her how well she was progressing. “It was really exciting: the splits were great, and I knew if I could keep it up, it would be tough for anyone to overtake me,” she said.
Having paddled the course many times before, she knew exactly where she was and which line she wanted to take into the finish. By then the wind and waves had both strengthened and she concentrated on achieving her best splits over the final 2-3km.
“It was my fastest average speed in a race ever,” she commented.
But when she arrived at the finish, there was a problem. When she asked where she’d come, the reply was, “oh, you’re definitely in the top 40!” Not what she wanted to know… and in the turmoil of wind, waves and skis, it was another 20 minutes before she found someone to confirm that she had in fact won the women’s race!
“I was super-stoked,” she said. “I’ve been training really hard; a superb start to the season.”