It has been a few months since the ISA World SUP and Prone Championships in China, an event which I attended as a member of the GB Team, taking part in the surfing category. I have been able to reflect on what an amazing experience it was and what it was like being part of a national team.
The journey began a long time before meeting at the airport with the fabulous guys at SUP Junkie (our media team), David Fergusson (our manager) and various others raising corporate funds for the team to help us meet substantial cost of attending this event. Thanks must go out to all those sponsors (see at the bottom of this report) and my personal sponsors (Tiki, Married to the Sea Clothing, FCS Fins and 2XS) and my family and friends who were very generous.
When we finally met at the airport the excitement was high, followed by an extremely frustrating experience checking in our equipment, where the China Southern check-in agent refused to allow some of our kit to fly as it was too big (it wasn’t, we checked and double checked). They really ripped us off, I had to race back to the airport carpark and leave my back-up board behind. We all had to pay a significant sum to get our boards and paddles on the plane (Aaron Rowe had to stump up £650 for a double board bag and 4 paddles).
We made it through customs (just) and headed to the plane expecting it to be absolutely packed given the huge price we had paid. In fact there were only 60 people on the flight meaning we each had a row to ourselves for the 12 hour flight to Sanya on the Island of Hanain, just off the Southern coast of China. The flight staff were lovely, teaching David to speak Mandarin and serving up some tasty food.
We arrived at Sanya to see palm trees and sandy beaches, a stark contrast from a cold London. A bus took us and all the surf kit (prone and distance boards were coming in via another route with Nick Ayres and Holly Henderson via a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong) to Riyue Bay, the site of the contest, where our Hotel was. One of the first things that hits you in Hainan is the lack of people who can speak English. It does not stop you getting by with lots of pointing, smiling and a little bit of Mandarin. Our Chinese hosts were very tolerant!
The next morning we awoke to the sound of surf breaking, always a good start, and myself and my room mate Nick went to sample the breakfast, a second cultural shock!) which consisted of the sort of food you might order on a Friday night from the take away (although a lot tastier). Noodles, soup, dumplings stuffed with pork, stir fried cabbage, plantains, coconut cake, melons – you get the picture. This continued for the rest of our stay, I still miss the noodle soup!
We had arrived at Riyue Bay a week before the contest which gave us plenty of time to train and get used to the conditions. We all headed to the beach, trying to shake off the jet lag, to catch some waves. The waves were small and we trained hard, stopping for lunch and then getting back into the water in the afternoon. The water really warm (26c) and the air temperature was in the high 20s early 30s for the stay, so shorts and rash vests all round.
This routine continued for the first week, with David, the team manager, standing on the beach and encouraging us as well as giving feedback where needed. Sarah and Anthony from SUP Junkie also shot video footage as part of the media updates, this was absolutely invaluable for us to pour over to see how we could improve techniques for the next day.
The surf started building towards the end of the first week and we got the news that the running order of the contest had been switched, with the surfing and technical racing now taking place before the distance racing (taking part at Shimei Bay about 30 minutes drive up the coast). So all hands on deck at Riyue Bay to prepare. A typhoon swell had arrived and there was much talk of 6-8ft perfect waves reeling off the coral reef point break at the far end of the beach. We didn’t quite get that swell size, but a very contestable 4-5ft swell arrived and stayed with us over the duration of the contest.
The opening ceremony started with all teams parading down the beach with national flags flying. The GB team had no shortage of Union Jacks on display and I think we won the biggest flag competition. Next up was the ceremony itself – we had dancing girls, Chinese martial art demonstrations and lots of speeches from party officials in Mandarin.
The next day the contest opened with the first surf heats. It was obvious that short, low volume boards were the order of the day. I really enjoyed my heat against Australian ripper Nick Walker and Spaniard Oscar Ruiz, the waves were amazing, it was a privilege to surf the reef with only three of us out, I didn’t progress, but had another chance the next day in the repechage heats. Unfortunately the other member of Team GB, Aaron Rowe, also had a really tough heat, despite surfing really well he was into the repechage as well.
Tina Beresford also made her way into the repechage, with Marie Buchanan staying in the main heats after progressing from round one. The next day was a tough one for me – I was back in a heat with Nick Walker, but managing to hold onto second place up until the last minute when Patrick Boyum managed to snag a wave. After a nervous wait he made it through by a 0.1 margin win. Aaron smashed his way through repechage round two and three before taking a third in the fourth round bringing an end to his campaign. A respectable 13th place in the world is nothing to sniff at. Tina progressed to the second round then lost out in a very tough heat with eventual contest winner and world champion Shakira Wesdorp. Marie didn’t progress in round two of the main event and was round three of the repechage where her contest ended.
The standard was through the roof. Standout SUP surfers were Daniel Hughes of Team USA, with his amazing warm up routines (and party dance moves), Luiz Diniz, the event winner and Caio Vaz his Brazilian team mate and bronze medalist. In the women Shakira was amazing to watch in action as she battled with Spaniard Iballa Moreno, eventually taking the win. Another stand out SUP surfer for me was Yuuka Horikoshi from Japan. She absolutely rips and has a long career ahead of her.
Following the end of the surfing Team GB were in the top 10 and looking forward to the technical racing on both SUP and prone boards. This was held at Riyue Bay on the same spot as the surfing, with the course enabling the racers to take advantage of the swells breaking across the reef on the return leg of the circuits. Marie Buchanan and Ginnie Odetayo were racing for GB with both ladies making it through the heats to the final. Marie claimed 11th place and Ginnie 16th bringing some fantastic points to the team. The juniors were up next with Ben Moreham coming 11th in the boys and Elle Veale 8th in the girls. Finally the prone racers Nick Ayers and Holly Henderson were up for the technical race with Nick coming 8th in the mens and Holly 9th in the ladies.
Now the contest site moved 30 minutes drive up the coast to the Shenzhou Peninsula, where the rest of the racing was to take place. While the site was being set up we had a lay day and the team headed off in different directions to explore Hainan. Myself, Aaron, Nick, Ben Pye and Irish team member Rossco McGarry decided to head to a Buddhist temple on a mountain outside the regional capital Wanning. The New Zealand team also turned up and the Canadians with Ginnie. It was an interesting day place to check out.
For the next two days the contest was back on at the new site. This was a really up market location with huge hotels, swimming pools and pristine beaches. The distance races were held in sweltering heat with racers needing to be cooled down with buckets of ice as they made it back to the beach. The medical teams were busy! On the mens race Ben Pye made a very respectable 25th place, unfortunately Aaron had injured his shoulder in the earlier contest, despite Marie’s amazing physio skills it flared up during the race and he was unable to finish. To say he was gutted was an understatement.
Ginnie and Marie were all fired up for the women’s race and had worked out a drafting strategy to make sure they helped each other out to achieve the best result they could. It worked with Ginnie claiming 9th and Marie 10th just seconds behind!
The prone racers went next with Nick getting 8th overall and, with a torn achilles injury, Holly managed 9th. The last two races were the sprint and team races. Team manager David picked Elle and Ben Moreham for the sprints and Ginnie, Nick, Elle and Ben Pye for the team races (with team GB coming 10th overall).
All of a sudden it was all over, and in the baking heat the final ceremony was held. Australia won the overall title, with USA second and France third. Great Britain managed 10th place, the best a GB team has ever come in a World Championship. We were all absolutely stoked, but we also know that we can improve on that in years to come. All that was left was the after party and a 3am trip to the airport. Some of the team decided to party right through the night and head straight to the airport, while others managed to get a bit of sleep before departing.
Thanks to our friends, supporters and sponsors who made this possible: