Racing is alive and well in France, and New Caledonia is dominating
While much of the paddling world is still on event lockdown, Europe has been tentatively returning to the water over the past two months. We saw the 11-City Tour in almost all its glory last week, and every other day I see new race photos popping up on Instagram. But it seems the French have been more dedicated than most.
The Alpine Lakes Tour (home of the famous GlaGla Race) resumed two months ago (and held another event mid-August) before the country’s west coast saw four-straight weeks of solid racing that culminated with a classic hit-out in the surf on the weekend. The endless summer in France will continue on to the Fort Boyard Challenge next week followed by the Alpine Lakes hosting the flat-water French Championships on Lake Annecy (same spot as GlaGla) in October, the Corsica Paddle Trophy the week after that, a final Alpine event in November, and then, tentatively, the Paris Crossing in December.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The country’s national surfing titles were cancelled a couple of days ago, while the government hasn’t ruled out returning to event-killing restrictions if the virus surges. There’s also an asterisk hovering over the Paris Crossing given it’s attachment to the giant Paris Boat Show (which traditionally sees tens of thousands of people gather indoors).
But so far, at a time when virtually every big race in the sport has been cancelled, France has been a stubborn beacon of paddling light. And while races filled with domestic paddlers (as the recent French races have been) would be considered “regional” at best in most nations, France houses such a strong pool of talent that the past month has seemed like a mini world tour of sorts.
(This also highlights one of the benefits of the pandemic–many top paddlers are focusing on what’s in their own backyard, and in some places we’ve actually seen a revival of local racing.)
Well, if France is hosting its own mini world tour, the #1 and #2 athletes are pretty easy to spot. Deciding who’s on top, however, is a little tricky.
Titouan Puyo and Noic Garioud, both of whom hail from the tiny French island of New Caledonia on the other side of the globe (it’s a 3 hour flight from Brisbane, Australia; 24 hours from Paris) have utterly dominated the French summer of racing, swapping first and second spots on the podium at every event. Every single race (and there have been seven races across four events) has been a 1-2 finish for the New Cal crew.
The friendly rivalry began with the Vendee Gliss Downwinder where Noic took the signature ocean race and Titou the beach race. It continued on to the Brittany Championships, where Titou managed a clean sweep and then progressed to the Pornichet Paddle Trophy where the young gun got one back.
The fourth weekend headed to the famed wine region of Bordeaux and the delightfully-named Bord’Ocean Days (get it?), which featured a long, flat-water grind along downtown Bordeaux’s murky river followed by a classic surf race at the renowned surf town of Lacanau (the alternative Hossegor).
Once again, Titou and Noic swapped the wins, with the elder statesmen claiming the distance race before Noic took the win in BOP-style conditions. Just for good measure, the third of New Caledonia’s international stars, Clement Colmas, joined Noic and Titou on the podium to make it a total sweep for the proud islanders. (Tom Auber, Arthur Arutkin and Ludovic Teulade have been other shining lights in recent weeks.)
The surf race in particular provided a solid highlights reel, with punchy 3-4ft surf helping wind back the clock to the Battle of the Paddle-era golden days of our sport. I found a few shots on the event’s Facebook page that were too good not to share.
I’m still not sure what the SUP Racer World Rankings should look like these days (it’ll probably be a “combined season” with results from both 2020 and 2021 that I’ll start releasing early next year; the top two men from last year haven’t raced once this year, for example) and it doesn’t even really matter at the moment. But just for a laugh, based on the spreadsheet I’ve been keeping behind-the-scenes, Titou and Noic are a proverbial mile ahead. Not only have they dominated the summer, they also won the two biggest races of the season that took place pre-pandemic–Titou took GlaGla and Noic nailed the 12 Towers.
The icing on top is that Noic and Titou have actually been staying and training together in Titou’s family home in a little village on the west coast, meaning the entire peak of the men’s sport can literally be found at the one address right now.
More photos (and results)on Bord’Ocean SUPdays