Racing the Train – Bala
Updated: Apr 25
Originally published 30th May, 2017
My name is Glyn, and I’m a SUP Racer.
The story sort of starts towards the end of 2016. Having a background in canoeing, I’d seen people Stand Up Paddling and thought ‘that looks fun’. I’d found a group online, PeakSUP, who meet at Carsington Water in Derbyshire and managed to miss the last session of the year. Spool forward to January 2017, and it popped up again in my Facebook feed – this time for a series of pool sessions in Ashbourne. Thanks to work and family commitments, I managed to miss all of them bar the last two, but had a great time mainly kneeling in the pool and falling off.
Anyhow, after trying it in the pool, I was looking forward to May when the open water sessions would start again at Carsington.
In the meantime, I’d also heard of Saltwalk, based in Derby, who were looking to run some sessions on a Monday. Great stuff 🙂
And this is where it gets a bit odd.
A post popped up asking for people to join to a race team. No experience necessary (Great!), but a willingness to commit to certain dates, and a basic level of fitness would be an advantage (we’ll gloss over this one…).
A few e-mails later and it looked like I was in 🙂
The first race of the season was in Bala, North Wales on April 8th 2017. Normally, Saturdays are difficult due to kids activities and I wasn’t looking to go to Bala. But late on Thursday I managed to blag a lift with Mark and Helen from Saltwalk from Derby to sunny Wales.
So 36 hours after arranging a lift, and at a stupid time on Saturday morning, I was heading west towards my first ever taste of SUP racing, as well as my first ever go on open water!
Arriving into Bala earlier on Saturday morning was utterly glorious. The sun was burning off the early morning mist and the lake was mirror calm.
Glorious morning for a paddle
The race was being held at the Glanllyn Caravan & Camping Park toward the bottom end of the lake. A few other SUPers were already there and we were soon ready for some basic instruction on the lake.
A few basics on dry land (board, air, pump, etc) and we were ready to get on the water.
For those of you who don’t know Bala, it’s a narrow lake hidden away in northern Wales, and spends it days quietly collecting ice cold water from the surrounding mountains. My purchased-the-night-before-cos-my-old-one-was-too-small wetsuit suddenly seemed very flimsy for the amount of time I was expecting to spend in the water.
So, with fins fitted and leashes attached to legs it was time to find out what the SUP thing was all about.
First impressions. Bala is cold. Wading out from the launch area to a fin safe depth was a tad chilly.
Second impressions. The bright yellow Naish One Design boards are long, narrow and wobbly!
Myself and fellow noob Craig were soon being put through the paces for the next couple of hours by Mark, Helen and Deke from Saltwalk. Having had a fair amount of paddling experience in canoes and kayaks was definitely an advantage, but the strokes, whilst similar all felt alien whilst stood on the yellow racing banana, and there were some striking differences in paddle technique and muscle groups compared to the non-standing sports.
After a couple of hours on the water in the bright spring sunshine, it was time to grab a bite to each and register for the races.
Too late to turn back now!
The format for the day was short sprint racing, with a single turn, and then a 5K race down the entire lake to try and beat the small steam train that ran along side.
The sprint racing was carnage. Imagine Touring Car racing, but on water. It’s very much a contact sport in the inflatable SUP classes. I bravely decided to let the faster, more experienced paddlers to get ahead in my heat. A decision which was by no way helped by a lack of paddling experience and fitness! A quick turn (sort of) and back to the beach. I’d completed my first race and wasn’t last!
The second race was the 5K down the lake race. This involved paddling across the lake and waiting for the train. After various whistles being blown we were off down the lake.
The lake is quite deceptive. There’s a small sticky out bit of land that you pass, and then realise you’re not even half way! After a wobbly start, I settled into a gentle pace, swapping sides every dozen strokes or so. After a while, I started feeling more confident, and then fatigue and waves would strike and I nearly ended up in the water. After rounding the headland, you could see then end of the lake in the distance and it was head down and try not to think how much effort it was. Landmarks on the shore would slowly drift by, punctuated by the odd wobble. My arms and back were starting to ache, and it was an effort to keep going. Six buoys left to the end, five buoys, four, three, two, one and finish! Absolutely knackered!
And that would have been the end of it. Craig and I decided to catch a lift back in the van and were out of the water, when three tonne of invisible peer pressure (or Sarah…) suddenly appeared and we decided to paddle back as well. The paddle back was much easier as I spent most of kneeling, and paddling back canoe stylee with a shortened paddle.
So how did we do?
We got wood! Wooden medals, that is.
Somehow I managed 1st place rookie and 2nd place in my class. Which is impressive until you saw how many were in my class, but we’ll gloss over that as well!
A fantastic day out, with a great bunch.
Special thanks to Mark, Helen and Deke for chauffeuring me.
So, am I doing it again? You bet 🙂
See you at the next one, and please be gentle when you overtake!