ISA World Champs Long Distance Race: Drama, Excitement And Plenty Of Gold For Australia
What a race… On Day 2 of the ISA World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championship here in Miraflores, Peru, the Long Distance event delivered excitement, drama and a clean sweep for the golden Team Australia.
This was one of the most exciting SUP races I’ve ever seen, period. And as far as distance races go (you know, those ones where everyone paddles off into the distance and returns at random intervals two hours later?) this was definitely the best race our sport has ever witnessed. So check out the full race recap below as well as results, photos and video of the action…
The day started slowly with fog forcing organisers to postpone the race start by three hours. This set the start time for 12 noon, meaning it was hot and humid, and with the customary sea breeze failing to deliver a comforting breeze it also meant competitors were in for a slog.
Right from the start this race was going to be unique. The course itself was unlike any other Distance Race event; 3x 8km laps with turning buoys set inside the waves at each end. This set the distance at roughly 24km with seven in-and-outs. It was basically a marathon Battle of the Paddle style race.
Four separate races were combined into the one event; men’s SUP, women’s SUP, men’s prone and women’s prone, with a staggered start separating each group.
On the start line of the men’s SUP race the favourites were clear: Eric Terrien (France), Fernando Stalla (Mexico), Paul Jackson (New Zealand), young gun Casper Steinfath (Denmark) and the formidable Aussie duo of Jamie Mitchell and Kelly Margetts.
Being the #1 seeded nation, Australia got first choice of where to stand for the beach start. The water entry here at Playa La Pampilla is pretty tricky; a steep bank of stones and a punchy little shore-break make a good start even more important, though with their years of race knowledge in tow the Aussies made easy work of it. Positioning themselves so they had the shortest possible paddle to the first buoy, both Kelly and Jamie got a clean start and rounded the first marker in the top two spots. The rest of the favourites and a couple of dark horses followed, and off they went into the distance.
One minute later the prone men hit the water, followed by the SUP women and, finally, the prone women. Ten minutes later and the last of the back-markers had disappeared into the fog, which despite the three hour delay had refused to disappear completely and was now actually threatening to come back in thicker and heavier than ever.
That’s usually where it ends with Distance Races. Everyone on the beach goes back to what they were doing and the leader returns two hours later, maybe with one or two guys in tow. But this distance race was different. Three laps gave spectators (including the thousands watching the live webcast) four chances to watch their heroes up close; the start, the end of the first lap, the end of the second lap, and then the finish of the race. Plus the four different divisions spread the field right out along the course, so by the second laps there was a constant stream of paddlers going round in front of the main contest site.
Out of the four divisions, the Men’s SUP race was definitely the most exciting and was always going to be the main event; it was the fastest, it had the most number of competitors, it was the one most stacked with talent and it was also the most wide open. There was very little splitting the six favourites on the start line and any one of them could have taken Gold. Despite a bunch of dark horses popping up at this event, the six lead men stepped it up and produced a commanding lead on the first lap, though they were joined by the plucky Javier Jimenez of Mexico who managed to hang on until lap three.
From my fortunate vantage point in the upstairs commentary booth, I got a good view of the top guys approaching the end of the first lap. You could see in the distance there were two lead groups; three guys working together out front, then another four drafting off each other about 100 metres behind. By the time they neared the turning buoys and the start of lap two, we could pick up who it was: Kelly Margetts, Paul Jackson, and Jamie Mitchell were setting the pace, with a small gap back to Eric Terrien, Fernando Stalla, Casper Steinfath and Javier Jimenez.
The waves at both ends of each lap really mixed things up. In total the paddlers had to negotiate the waves seven times, which helped break up the draft trains you usually see in these races. But also meant the leaders were never safe…
At the end of the second leg it was still Jamie, Kelly and Jacko doing the work, but as they turned the buoy to start the third and final lap the ocean went flat. All three had to paddle almost the entire way in from the outside turning buoy to the inside transition buoy without the help of a wave. Then, as if sensing the crowd’s desire for a contest, the ocean delivered the complete opposite for the next four guys; an outside set that let them catch right back up to the lead group and turn it into a seven-man battle for Gold.
So off went the seven challengers, back into the fog for the final, gruelling leg of this marathon paddle. The clock had already ticked over 1 hour 35 minutes by this point, so we were looking at a two and a half hour race. It was hot, it was humid, visibility was very limited and there were now seven guys pushing each other past their limits in the name of individual glory and national pride.
The young Mexican Jimenez was the first to crack, dropping back as the six favourites upped the ante. At the halfway turning point of the final lap, the Danish Viking Casper Steinfath got a wave from under the group and stole a good 50 metre lead as they rounded the buoy for the final 4km sprint home. His time out front didn’t last long though, with the chase group reeling him in and setting up a six man sprint to the line.
By this point the race had taken on a mysterious tone for us back at the finish line. The fog had became ridiculously thick and we couldn’t even see the outside turning buoy, let alone off into the distance from where the paddlers were coming. Commentary lead man Beau Hodges summed it up best when he said it was like waiting for rock stars to walk onto stage through the smoke.
As the clock ticked over 2 hours 20 minutes we knew the lead pack had to be close. We were tipping a 2 hour 30 minute finish and sure enough the silhouettes appeared 200 metres off the beach almost exactly on the half hour.
The two minutes that followed were equal parts drama and excitement…
First we saw Jamie Mitchell, Casper Steinfath and Kelly Margetts catch a wave, with Paul Jackson missing out by half a stroke. It looked like it would be a three way battle for Gold, but then Kelly got caught too far inside and fell, while Casper had to bail in order to avoid the rock wall and better position himself for the beach run. This left Jamie Mitchell as the only guy on the wave and gave him a clean shot at glory. But after 150 minutes of gruelling paddling, the champ’s legs started giving way and he caught his rail while trying to step back on the board, forcing him to pull off a spectacular barrel roll.
The next thirty seconds were absolute chaos. With the front three paddlers all losing their lucky wave, the next three guys saw their chance and pounced. Fernando was on the next one and caught up to Casper, with the pair surfing the wave in towards where Jamie was paddling the final few metres to the shore.
(Video courtesy of “SUP for all”)
Jamie still hit the beach first, but only a few seconds ahead of Fernando and Casper. The 10x World Champ’s legs were clearly cramping as he hobbled up the line, possibly not realising how determined his rivals were to catch him. Casper got the best jump onto the sand and hit the beach run ahead of Fernando. From there the young Dane almost stole the glory, charging up the final chute towards the finish line while Jamie hobbled.
In the end, Australia’s Team Captain held on and won the Gold Medal, quite literally falling over the line and collapsing in a heap as Casper charged through a second later to take Silver. Fernando was right on his heels with the Bronze, while Paul Jackson was another few seconds back in 4th, taking out the Copper Medal.
Unluckiest of all was Kelly Margetts. The Aussie had been setting the pace for much of the previous 2 hours 30 minutes, but a slight mistake in the final 30 seconds relegated him from a Gold or Silver finish into 5th.
France’s Eric Terrien, who was one of my picks at the start of the race but never really seemed to match the pace of Jamie, Kelly and Jacko, also fell coming in, showing just how tired these guys’ legs were. The Frenchman crossed the line in 6th, claiming some valuable points for his country but no doubt leaving a slightly empty feeling in his stomach.
But the story of the day was Jamie Mitchell’s victory. Now well into his 30’s, the first true superstar of the paddling world has had to contend with a younger crop of kids eating into his glory the past two years. Jamie would also be the first to admit he’s not in peak shape, the result of a gruelling travel schedule that’s been virtually non-stop since January 2012.
Today though, the champ reclaimed his crown and added an extra layer of cement over his place in the world of paddleboarding. JM gave everything to claim this victory, something that was made very clear as he lay motionless on the finish line for a good few minutes.
Casper Steinfath also deserves huge praise. Denmark only joined the ISA last week in order to enter a team in this event, so to go from being a non-existent member to a Silver Medal winning nation within a matter of days is a pretty cool achievement. It’s also great to see another star paddler helping Eric Terrien put Europe on the SUP racing map.
Casper wasn’t at the front for most of the race, but he was up there when it counted. A smart, tactical paddle combined with a never-say-die attitude gave the young gun his place on the podium.
This truly was a spectacular finish, but it was only the beginning; there were still another sixty plus competitors out on the course.
With one Gold Medal safely in the bag, Sydney’s Brad Gaul made it two from two for Team Australia, comfortably winning the men’s prone race ahead of team mate Lincoln Dews and South Africa’s Ryan Butcher. The Aussie duo made a break early and stuck together for the first couple of laps, but the defending Molokai-2-Oahu World Champion Gaul put the hammer down in the final few kilometres to win by a couple of minutes.
Angela Jackson soon produced Australia’s third Gold of the afternoon, shaking off an impressive Olivia Piana (France) and the dark horse Shannon Bell (Canada). The first two laps were dead even between the leading three women, but on the third and final lap Angie used her superior strength to break free.
As the clock ticked towards three hours Jordan Mercer completed the clean sweep for Australia. Mercer, the two-time defending Molokai-2-Oahu World Champion and daughter of Ironman legend Darren Mercer, cruised to victory despite a spirited fight from South Africa’s Anna Notten. The Aussie star’s performance was even more impressive considering what she had to go through just to make the start line; Mercer competed in Queensland on Sunday then hopped on a plane and flew Brisbane-Sydney-Los Angeles-Lima to arrive at 2am on the morning of the race.
The Aussies now take a commanding (and most likely unassailable) lead on the overall team points table, giving them a very good shot at defending their Team Gold Medal from 12 months ago.
And this was just the first race of the event… Coming up on Thursday is the heats of the Technical Course SUP race, before the finals hit the water on Saturday along with the Team Relay.
The 2013 ISA World Championship is missing three big names in the world of Stand Up Paddle racing world: Danny Ching, Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter. But if they, or any other competitors that aren’t here in Miraflores (for one reason or another) were watching the live webcast of this race, I’m pretty sure they’ll be here next year. I can’t think of too many SUP races that were as exciting as this, let alone a distance race. This was one for the ages.
2013 ISA World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championship
Complete Results From Today’s Race >>> ISA Paddleboard World Championship RESULTS
Long Distance Race MEDAL WINNERS
Gold: Jamie Mitchell (Australia)
Silver: Casper Steinfath (Denmark)
Bronze: Fernando Stalla (Mexico)
Copper: Paul Jackson (New Zealand)
Gold: Angie Jackson (Australia)
Silver: Olivia Piana (France)
Bronze: Shannon Bell (Canada)
Copper: Laura Quetglas (Spain)
Gold: Brad Gaul (Australia)
Silver: Lincoln Dews (Australia)
Bronze: Ryan Butcher (South Africa)
Copper: Luiz Escudero (Peru)
Gold: Jordan Mercer (Australia)
Silver: Anna Notten (South Africa)
Bronze: Rocio Larranaga (Peru)
Complete Results From Today’s Race >>> ISA Paddleboard World Championship RESULTS
Full Event Coverage >>> 2013 ISA World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Champinoship