Six months ago my son Tyler let us know that he and Jen would be getting married in the summer. The date had not been set so I naturally give my Fatherly input. I let them know that the Blackburn Challenge is July 22 and asked if they could pick any weekend but that one. They did, so August 5th was the wedding. Whew!
In 2002, I was unaware of the this race until my sea kayak training partner at the time, Pat O’Brian told me about it. He had done it the year before. My need for speed started then, realizing that racing sea kayaks that I did for a number of years, was hard work! So I sold my Greenlander Pros and bought a Seda Glider which I completed my first Blackburn in. The next year I bought a Thunderbolt and then my quest of the perfect surfski began. Seeking out different surfskis and racing them has been my passion that continues to this day.
This year I decided to finally change my training schedule and focus on just a few races while training through the rest. So the Double Beaver, Blackburn, and next up the East Coast Surfski Champs(L2L) would be the races I would try to peak for. The Blackburn is really an endurance race since it is over 2.45 hours and requires another level of training to race the 19.4 miles. If you don’t do put the miles in, you will either bonk or slow down significantly by mile 15 or you will get the double whammy: boat fatigue and physical fatigue resulting in a miserable last 5 miles of the race.
So every year, my number of long paddles over 2:45 hours gets reduced and so does my interval work. Nevertheless, my goal was to finish in the top 10 in the HPK class(mostly surfskis with lone hold out Brian Heath in the his favorite Westside Marauder). Since 2005(Surfski America) I have finished between 8th(2010) and 18th(2013). I knew I had a good chance this year with many locals choosing to experience the Gorge Downwind Champs with all the glory of paddling with the stars of the surfski world as well as 400 like minded paddlers.
I knew in order to place in the top ten I would have to come ahead of some fast paddlers and have a good race myself. The Blackburn is a long race with many variables. This year it was not the wind(lack thereof), waves(flat), but WEEDS. If you paddle in New England, you can expect eel grass and some kelp, but this year we had weeds in the form of what seemed like straw, that was unavoidable for a large part of the race. The inexperienced paddle or the inattentive paddler who choose to paddle the 19.4 miles without a weed guard, small rudder, or swept back rudder paid the price this year. I chose the 4 inch rudder with a weed guard and got nary a weed. A few of those fast paddlers I needed to beat got weeds. Many make the mistake of paddling for miles questioning themselves “have I got weeds?” Weeds play mind games with you. Some try to ignore the answer to the question by paddling even harder. Mistake! My sage advice to a few of the newbies is “if you think you got weeds, you got them”. So stop, back up, and watch them float by you. If you still got them, dismount and go to your rudder and remove them. If you paddle the Blackburn long enough you will get weeds.
My Race was was uneventful by my Blackburn standards. I suffered far less. I only got a fleeting cramp in my right hand and one in my leg. Typically I have several of these that last longer. With cloud cover and mild temps, the heat was a non factor too. I also was alone for 15 miles of the race. After I dropped a few paddlers at mile 4 and passed Robert Lang(weeds) at mile eight, it was me trying to keep up the pace via monitoring my Garmin Heart Rate monitor. As expected, I slowed at mile 15 and lost time from this point on. With no one in striking distance, and no 2 mile sprint from the Dog Bar to the finish with is most often the case, I succumb to “just finish”. However my “just finish” was good enough for 11th place and I felt the best I ever had for a Blackburn.
Be sure to look at all the wonderful photos Leslie and Donna took.
Leaders of the Pack
The top racers, Craig Impens, Erik Borgnes, Mike Dostal had their problems with weeds too, having to stop and start a few times. This did not stop Craig Impens who won his 2nd Blackburn in good form after a solid training plan. I saw Craig early in the season at the ROTC 6 mile race where he voiced he was not in good form but would get their by the Blackburn. Indeed he did! Craig averaged 7.2 mph for 19.49 miles, 2:42:59, on a slow course with the tide against us most of the way and flat conditions.
Local Massachusetts resident, Matt Drayer, placed 4th. Matt has come a long way since I met him at the Narrow River Race. Matt was very proud of his wooden sea kayak he had built and raced. We told him eventually if he kept racing, a surfski would his boat of choice. Matt was skeptical, but he continued paddling up the surfski learning curve. Now he is a top contender in any race. Congrats of Matt on his Blackburn!
Another shout out goes out to Tucker and Sarah who won their tandem class and all the surfskis doubles in a Nelo Waterman. After the race I congratulated Sarah and she was beaming. After being away from paddling for a few years, Sarah told me part of the training plan her and Tucker took part in to paddle that boat to one of their best finishes. The training plan was impressive as their win.
Congrats to Pam Boteler, the winner or her SS20 class, and 1st women with a time of 3:14.44 and that time put Pam 15th overall. Chris Chappell won the men’s class SS20 with a time of 3:09.58. Both Pam and Chris paddled the new Nelo 520. Sara Jordan place 1st in the HPK class.