Battle Of The Paddle: The Golden Buoy
Tiki Racing Month continues… In partnership with Starboard, we’ll be giving you daily Battle of the Paddle updates right through September, culminating in our big LIVE coverage of the BOP on September 28th & 29th. Previews & predictions, interviews & insights, history & highlights… Starboard + SUPracer.com = Battle of the Paddle.
Today we continue our far-more-in-depth-than-is-really-necessary look at the seemingly insignificant yet extremely important Battle of the Paddle BUOY TURNS. A couple of days ago we highlighted just how important (and chaotic) the Battle of the Paddle “Hammer Buoy” can be. Well now let’s go one step back and take a look at an even more important buoy turn: the very first one.
The first buoy turn in the Battle of the Paddle Elite Race is unique. For starters it’s only used once… The Elite Race Final is three and a half laps, with the first half lap using a slightly different course, where paddlers sprint out to a far, outside buoy before turning almost 180 degrees and coming back onto the regular, M-shaped course.
The first buoy can also make or break your Elite Race more than any other. Even more than the Hammer Buoy. That’s because if you get there early, you get around fast and have a clean break from the rest of the field, while if you’re caught up in the middle of the pack when you hit it, you’re going to exponentially lose time on the leaders.
Think of an accordion being pulled wide open; that’s the pack as it rounds the first buoy. The leaders gain even more of a lead because they have clean water and a fast turn around the buoy, while the pack loses more and more ground because there’s rough water and about 30 boards and paddles bashing into each other, making the buoy turn slower and slower the deeper you are in the pack.
The first buoy is also usually yellow.
So for these three* reasons: only used once, most important buoy in the race and usually yellow, I’m nicknaming it the Golden Buoy.
Golden Buoy (don’t you just love how Americans say “bu-ey” while Aussies just say “boy”?) is the most important buoy turn in the Battle of the Paddle Elite Race. Ask any top guy or girl and they’ll often tell you that “The sprint to the first buoy is the race.”
While the race isn’t entirely over if you’re behind at the first turn (and you’re also not guaranteed a podium spot if you hit Golden Buoy in the lead either), it is a pretty good indicator of the end results. If you get there in the top five, you’re in a very good position for the rest of the race.
That’s why you’ll see the likes of Connor Baxter, Danny Ching and Jamie Mitchell in all the photos going around Golden Buoy. Which brings us to another point: Golden Buoy makes for some AWESOME pictures.
While the Hammer Buoy provides plenty of carnage shots, Golden Buoy gives us a great perspective on just how intense the Battle of the Paddle Elite race can be. There’s always at least one photographer out the back, just behind Golden Buoy, snapping epic pics as the entire field sprints towards them and then takes a sharp left-hand turn around the buoy.
Case in point, here’s the sequence from the start of the 2012 Battle of the Paddle Elite Race Final:
Yes, Golden Buoy is awesome.
It’s not so awesome for the paddlers, who just want to get around it without losing too much time (or, even worse, falling off and being the cause of a mass pile-up), however it is totally awesome for the fans, who get to see excellent sequence shots like the one above.
Here’s the same sequence from the 2011 Battle of the Paddle Elite Race Final. Notice that three of the first four guys around the buoy are Jamie, Connor and Danny, aka the top three at the end of the race…
I also have my own personal affinity with Golden Buoy, after gaining my 15 seconds of BOP fame at the first turn last year…
Twelve months ago I was in the overly-stacked first qualifying heat for the Elite Race. There were about 75 guys in the heat and only 35 would make the final. I could count at least 40 or 50 who were, on average, way faster than me. Or in other words: I really had to punch above my weight to make it through to the final.
My whole goal for the whole BOP last year was to make the Elite Race final. I REALLY wanted to be there. But I hadn’t been training as seriously as I wanted to and knew I was a long way behind the top guys, so I had some work to do.
I’d spent a few days with Jamie Mitchell in the lead up to the BOP, familiarising myself with the Doheny State Beach course and getting some 10x World Champion insights. The one thing that stuck in my mind was Jamie telling me to just go as hard as I could and reach Golden Buoy as fast as possible. Forget saving myself, just sprint hard and make sure I was in front of the main pack at the first turn. I had to go all in. If I could do that, I’d make the final.
And that’s exactly what I did, though I’ve gotta say I did get very lucky along the way…
Lining up on the far, far right end of the hundred or so paddlers for the shoreline start (there were around 75 guys and 20-25 women; it was crowded), I got a good quick start and had my own clean water to paddle in. But that wasn’t enough. Golden Buoy sits a few hundred metres from shore and seems a LONG way away when you’re sprinting. So I had to do more than just get a good start off the beach, I had to get some luck.
A few seconds after the start and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Jake Jensen, the young Aussie charger who I’ve spent a lot of time training and racing with and who is always a fast starter. I knew straight away what I had to do: Get on Jake’s tail and wash-ride him all the way to Golden Buoy.
So I sprinted over, jumped behind Jake, muscled out the other two guys who had the same idea, then just put my head down and drafted. Hard. All the way out to the first turn.
To my amazement, when I looked up and saw Golden Buoy just in front of me, I also saw practically no other paddlers. Somehow, one of the slowest guys on the course had made it to Golden Buoy in third position.
Granted this was only the qualifying heat, and in the Elite Race Final, where it actually counts, I would go on to perform the exact opposite, reaching Golden Buoy in third last position. I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with Golden Buoy…
But anyway here’s the sequence showing my 15 seconds. This is Golden Buoy as seen during Heat #1 of the 2012 BOP Elite Race…
That’s Danny Ching rounding the buoy in the lead (by a long way), Jake Jensen second on the yellow board and then some guy who had absolutely no right to be there rounding in third place, on the blue board. Behind me are Noa Ginella, Connor Baxter, Slater Trout, Kai Lenny, Beau O’Brian, Casper Steinfath and Mo Freitas. In the last shot of the sequence you can see the other 90 odd paddlers that were in the race… Yes, I was surprised too.
ALL PHOTOS © RAINBOW SANDALS
* Oh and here’s a bonus fourth reason why I nicknamed it Golden Buoy: