On Saturday 17th May I made a 6am start for the hour and a half journey to the Thames Sailing Club in Kingston Upon Thames for Battle of the Thames 2014. This race holds special significance for me as it was here last year (in the presence of the great Jamie Mitchell) that I had my first ever proper race. I arrived at around 8am and the car park was already beginning to fill up. This was due to be the hottest race of the year so far with temperatures set to exceed 20oC.
The key to making it the full 10miles around the 3 laps of the oval course would be correct fuelling and hydration. Bacon butties were the order of the day washed down with water to help maintain fluid levels.
I was pretty nervous in the lead up to this race as in the previous 2 UK SUP club races I have suffered with issues linked with hydration. I was trying something new and wasn’t sure how it would affect me during the race.
Race briefing was at 10:15 and we were all to be on the water for 10:40. All the usual suspects were there plus a lot of new people who were making this their first race as I had the year before.
At 10:42 as the 3 minute warning went off I tried to line up at the start. Even though during the race brief it had been said that the flow was minimal I found myself drifting downstream and over the line. As I tried to spin back around I got tangled with Scott Warren (Starboard UK) who was also being caught in the flow. After some quick positioning we were all on the line square and ready to go. The horn blasts went and the 2014 Battle of the Thames was under way.
My start was better than normal and I quickly found myself in a draft train with Ken Harmer. Ken and I both paddle in the same area and we have had battles for position in other races. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this (I hope not) but Ken is possibly the oldest member of the race fleet yet is the ultimate competitor. He regularly beats people half his age (me usually!) and because he doesn’t finish in podium spots he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. I stuck with Ken as I know he usually has a sensible race plan and is known for his consistent pace. If I could stay with him I would be in good shape for the race. We made the first lap and other than having a better buoy turn than a couple of others we held position. At the end of the first lap I started to make my move on Ken and as we passed the start/finish line I made the push to get level. I got alongside Ken and couldn’t sustain the pace long enough to get around him. He put in a burst of pace and pulled away from me. I couldn’t get back on to his draft and he opened up a gap. This made my head drop a little as it was a foolish move so early on and I should have waited. I lost two more places after this and I had to get myself in to gear and stop letting things slip. I upping my stroke rate and got back into it with the two guys that had sneaked through.
We all battled through the back straight on the second lap and by this point the 12’6 riders started to come through and Peter Kosinski (Starboard UK) came past us at speed. Swiftly following these came Jo Hamilton-Vale (Starboard UK) and Jay “JSUP” Manning (K66/Fanatic UK).
I wasn’t going to let Jay past me and I dug in hoping for him to make a mistake on his buoy turn. As we rounded the upstream mark for the penultimate time I knew I was going to have to reel him in as we paddled with the flow. I hunted him down as we crossed the start/finish line to start the last lap and we were neck and neck all the way to the final section under the Kingston Road Bridge. As we rounded the buoy I was just in the lead but knew he would be strong on the final upstream leg. I kept on pushing to try and open a gap over Jay. While I did this I gained on the two guys that had overtaken me the lap before. I drafted with one of them briefly but I was moving quicker than him and found that drafting slowed me and put me at risk of being caught by Jay. I passed them as we approached the final buoy turn knowing that the short stretch to the finish was with the flow and that my buoy turn was more confident than theirs. I made a good turn when I really needed it and pulled away a gap finishing the race as strong as I could.
The race finished with Ryan James (Starboard UK) taking 14’ Men’s, Joanne Hamilton-Vale (Starboard UK) taking women’s 14’. Peter Kosinski (Starboard UK) took men’s 12’6 and Fran Blake (K66/Fanatic UK) took the women’s 12’6 honours.
This race series is really fun and even if you aren’t at the sharp end of podiums, prize money and lovely trophies there are battles happening throughout the fleet. Also a big draw for me is the personal battle. As you can see from the picture above I’ve come a long way in my paddling in a year and I never thought I would be able to do what I have done in the last 3 races.
Some thank you’s from me – First and foremost my wife Katie. She has given me the time to train and race this season. Then thanks to Brian and the team at Blue Chip for organising such a great day. Dave White and Georgia Wharton for the photos. Thanks to Loco SUP for quality kit to race on and Hot P Surf wear for some sweet threads to keep me looking cool when the temps rise!
Keep paddling and remember never give up!
Words: Phil May
Photo Credit: Dave White