UK Women's champion Claire Blacklock was invited to take part in the Jever Hamburg SUP World Cup in July 2009, she now reflects on the experience.
When I got the invite to participate in the Hamburg World Cup a little over a week before it was due to be held I dismissed it completely. But it stayed in my mind. Amazed that I’d been contacted in the first place and wondering if I would regret not going. Then I thought, Why not? The very first SUP World Cup – not a lot of British people would be able to say they went let alone participated.
So the planning began. It was a long way so we decided to go as a family...the right decision when I saw how the kids loved every second.
We arrived on the Friday afternoon after almost 2 days of travelling. It was pouring with rain but I managed to get my way down to the registration. I immediately saw Brian Talma the ‘action’ man himself. Just getting over the shock of chatting to him, I look down into the canal basin and see Robbie Naish paddling round in the rain. It was quite a surreal moment. The site itself was brilliantly set out on a large, long pontoon with bridges connecting it to the street. Small marquees were set up as stands. Starboard, Magma and Naish were there showing their prototypes and 2010 boards. Naish have more than doubled their number of boards for next year and as such had their 21 boards taking up 2 stands!
Breakfast the next morning was surreal moment number 2, I had to force myself not to get the camera out! All the Pros were staying in the same swish hotel. It was like the SUP who’s who, I sat there whilst watching men I’d only read about in SUP magazines and online walk in to the buffet area. Ekolu Kalama, Brian Talma and Taka Kamaguchi were just a few. John Hibbard and Jan Sleigh had finally made it to the hotel at around 2 that morning after a nightmare journey (though the return proved to be far worse!).
As with the previous day a mini bus was laid on to take the riders and any kit to the venue itself. The race briefing was held as soon as all the competitors both Amatures and Pros were assembled. I can honestly say I have never seen so many Naish boards. They were everywhere...stacked up in stands and laying on the pontoon ready and waiting for those enthusiastic enough to get into the water at that time of the morning. The Competitors lounge was stacked with pros boards with fridges full of water, juice and of course Jever beer ;)
Heats had already been decided and they were posted on huge boards outside the Competitors lounge. John Hibbard went out as soon as time allowed to try out the Starboard prototype. 14ft with a 2 fin set up – The longer one of which was in the centre of the board acting as a keel. Similar in shape to the K14 but narrower and more streamlined. John used the prototype in the men’s semi while Ekulo bagged it for the final.
The Men‘s Amature heats started the weekend off. 8 heats in total with all the Amatures using the Naish 11‘6. These were closely followed by 2 Women‘s Amature Heats. Each Sprint race was 2 laps round a set of 2 buoys. A standing lined up start worked really well though occasionally it took a few goes for the paddlers to line up behind the imaginary line.
Whilst the amature races were taking place reality set in for me and what I classed as my distance board! I had brought my Naish 11‘4 Nalu which I have always used for distance paddling and it has served me well. This was by far the shortest, most rounded board out there, certainly not what these guys classsed as a distance board. Luckily for me I managed to have a trial of the 12ft Glide, so smooth and quick I jumped at the chance to borrow it for the sprint race. The Men’s Pros Semi Finals took place with the first 5 going through to the final. John Hibbard came third in his heat on the the Prototype which had a rounded bottom shape and I have since forund out is called the fourteensuperslim.
The womens final saw all the women on a Naish Glide. Sonja and Janni Honscheid were on 14ft ones while Jasleigh and myself were on the 12. Being the least professional professional rider there my goal was just not to make a fool of myself and I’m really chuffed to say I achieved it! The standing start was good fun and something I’d love to try again in other races. Lugging a board into the water puts me at a disadvantage every time! I came 4th but the glide worked well and I wasn’t too far behind the others. Sonja just sped off, her strength is incredible!
The Men’s Pro final was great to watch. John and a few other competitors held back from the start line in order to get more speed from the horn. It’s hard to say whether this gave them an advantage or not as Ekulo was so fast from the start. 10 competitors in the race made it a great spectacle to watch and everyone used such different paddling techniques! Our very own John Hibbard came a well earned third and Erik Terrien second, whilst powering through to a strong first was Ekulo Kalama.
Jever put on the evenings entertainment with lots of free beer. All I spoke to said it was great but with 3 little people to entertain and a 10km race to do the next day I wimped out!
Sunday dawned brighter and a little less windy though the forecast was for rain coming in later in the day. First on the list of things to do was the amatures finals. The Pros were invited by the organisers to a meeting to discuss how the event had been held and what improvements could be made. The general consensus was that the spectators and mix of Amatures with Pros had worked really well and just to keep going in the same vein.
The 10km race took a slightly different route than the sprint. Cometitors paddled round the jetty and spectators lined the route and bridges cheering us all on. All of us started together in 3 rows. A little scary at times but it worked really well and as far as I’m aware no-one fell off their boards! As lucky as I had been in borrowing the 12ft Glide for the sprint I had to use my 11‘4 for the 10km. As such is was by far the slowest board out there! I gave it my best though and although I couldn’t keep up with the other Pro women I did manage to beat the female Amature who took part.
All in all it was one of the best experiences I’ve had and I would encourage anyone who gets the chance next year, to go for it. The weekend ended with the winners sprayed with Jever Beer – not quite champaigne but somehow it worked.
I learnt so much in a short time and am determinded to put it to practise!