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Racing the Train - Year 3

So, 2022 has been a bit of an odd year so far, mostly thanks to COVID, so when I saw that Tony from Green Dragon in Bala was running the Race The Train event again, it seemed too good an event to pass up. The only realy snag was thanks to a mix of post COVID and Hayfever, my lungs were definitely not working as they should.

I've a real soft spot for the Race The Train. Apart from the quirkiness of the event (Paddleboard vs Steamtrain), it's a fantastic location and a good excuse to drag the family away from a warm house for a night or two of camping. But at least they get to ride the train!

The other reason for wanting to go is that it is was my five year Supversary. Five years ago, I was let astray by a pack of SUPers who said that it's fun to go racing, and my first proper experience of SUP was a 5KM race down a mirror smooth, but freezing cold Bala.

Calm water at Bala
Five years ago

With all that being said, we booked the the campsite at Glanllyn, purchased the train tickets and set off to Wales. After a quick tent pitch and a dash to the local Co-op for supplies and Kebab house for essential nutrition, we settled in for the night.

The weather gods were definitely showing their sense of humour as the forcast was windy, with 35mph+ gusts being forecast. We had a message from Tony from Green Dragon to say that the course was the reverse direction to normal thanks to the wind and would be starting next to the Sailing Club at Bala end of the lake. We had a quick drive around the lake to get the lay of the land and stopped off at the Sailing Club for lunch (the cafe is great - recommended!).

After a quick change into a wetsuit, it was time to pump up the board and hit the water!

I'd been thinking about taking my hardboard to Bala this year, but after seeing the forecast, decided that I'm too much of a wimp to paddle a 24"wide board and took the 12'6x30" N1SCO. And after a quick paddle across the lake, it certainly felt like the correct choice. Even at the top of the lake, with relative shelter, it was an interesting paddle!

Windy conditions
Windy conditions, even at the 'sheltered' end of Bala

After a while, there was the unmistakable sound of a steam train, and the engine pulled into the station and disembarked Tony and Alexandra, my fellow competitors, kitted up and ready to go!

New arrivals

Once on the water, we half paddled and half got blown along to the sailing club, which was our start line, and with a quick Toot Toot from the train, we were off!

Ready to go!

The race itself is around 5km, and the further down the lake we headed, the bigger the swell. I kept reasonably close to the shore, which was probably a mistake as it did mean cutting across the chop more to avoid some of the outcrops of land, but the biggest issue was near the end where I sort of got lost and started paddling into the wrong bay! Not too much of an issue, but it probably lost me around 1 minute due to missing out the assist from the wind and waves!

Catching some bumps

For most of the paddle though, it was ace! 5km of downwinding. It definitely wasn't a relaxing paddle as you were having to constantly trim the board and a few short sprints to try and pick up the bumps. One moment you're surfing, the next the board has started to slow due to hitting the back of the wave in front, it then accelerates again when the wave behind tries to pick you up again, so a fair amount of moving around the board and quite a few wobbles (especially front to back as the board speed changed!), but fortunately no swims, which was surprising as we had over a foot of swell in places :-)

The race finishes on the shore of the lake, and the driver has to leave the train to get to the finish line. This year, I beat the train, but I suspect this was mostly due a charitable lack of running from the driver!

At the finish line

From there, it was just a gentle paddle across the water back to the campsite for a well needed shower.

Whilst it would have been great to see more paddlers out, the conditions were definitely 'challenging' so it wasn't a shock to see only 3 of us completing the race. Having done the race three times now, this was by far my favourite.

Huge thanks to Tony Bain at Green Dragon Activities in Bala, and the crew of the Bala Lake Railway.

Roll on next year!

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