Updated: Oct 30, 2020
When you come up with an idea and without giving it too much thought, run with it and others do too …... this was that time!
Going to China with the GB SUP and Paddleboard Team 2018 was one of the best things we could have done together. This was not about us, this was about promoting the team before, during and after the event to bring their story home to friends, supporters and family. We hope we achieved that - It was exciting and daunting to be included in the Team, some of whom we had never met, but we were truly embraced and appreciated.
We knew it was going to be a challenge travelling to and reporting back from China and getting there was just the start. China was not the easiest place to get to with 12’6” race boards and we were not the only team who struggled but I think we were the lucky ones, arriving with 5 race and prone boards intact. The cost of arriving at the destination with race, prone, SUP surf boards and paddles was huge and so all the fundraising done beforehand really did help. Anyone reading this who was involved in the fundraising in any way at all, deserves special thanks and there are far too many to mention but you know who you are.
We were never going to compete with the big boys at the ISA for their live feed and reporting, nor did we want to, but what we want to do was showcase the GB Team who compete at World level but often get overlooked in coverage. As a photographer of SUP events, I have always tried to photograph every last competitor, not just those in the top 5! This is what we wanted from the event and our Team did not let us down with some of the most exciting surfing and racing we have ever seen. Is this because we knew it was on the world stage, there was more pressure and our competitors were with the best in the world? Probably so.
Week one had a switch in the schedule with the SUP surf being brought forward due to a passing cyclone. Riyue Bay is a well-known left-hand surf break and, in the days leading up to the competition, there was no shortage of spectacular time on the water from the best in the world. We were also witness to some pretty exciting beach starts and beach break buoy turn practice featuring the Team Manager David Ferguson standing in for that buoy in the water. That is commitment for you!
Trying to get the team together for photoshoots for Sponsors was like trying to herd cats, they all just wanted to be out and about on the water! Who could blame them, the conditions were perfect for practicing and the Team were often out before breakfast and most times out 2 or 3 times a day.
We want to say thank you to some of the team for joining us on commentating and filming. We had the surf experts Matt Argyle, Milky Veale and David and the two Bens of the team who became our double act #bensquared. It was great fun and so helpful especially with the technicalities of the SUPsurf, something we admit to not knowing a huge amount.
Our SUPsurf team of Matt, Tina, Marie and Aaron did us proud and earned valuable points towards the overall team score with some really exciting surfing, especially (and I don’t think the others will mind us saying this) from Aaron Rowe who was one to watch and progressed the furthest in the competition with many other teams keenly keeping an eye on him. This was after being hit on the cheekbone by his board in the first round. Filming our athletes’ rounds was also helpful for them – they could look at the video and immediately critique themselves before the next round.
So, have we mentioned injuries yet? Well here goes: Day 1, Ben Moreham’s father had a surfing accident and popped some ribs and sliced his toe open which put him on a chair for the next two weeks. Very frustrating for him. At the SUPsurf competition, Tina sliced the bottom of her foot open and in between heats had to go to hospital with our resident “Doc” Nick Ayres and came home with a couple of stitches. On the same day, Marie had a battle with a sea urchin and came away with spikes deeply embedded in her heel. Both of them battled on with the competition but these injuries were certainly not ideal. That was not to be the end of the injury story.
Next up were the Technical races – such an exciting format but unfortunately for us watching but fortunately for the athletes perhaps, there was no massive PPG style beach break. Still those paddlers had to come in with the surf, run around a flag and back out again and we know that races can be lost and won on that! These were stacked fields and all the athletes from the Team who competed in this discipline performed well in their respective tech races.
The event was then moved up from the cooler surf vibe beach of Riyue Bay to the more manicured and larger hotel style beach resort at Shenzhou Peninsular. This was now going to be the venue for the sprints, distance and team relay culminating in the overall Team prize.
Both of our Juniors Elle and Ben Moreham had been entered for the sprints which really gave them a flavour of racing against some of their idols. Can you imagine standing next to one of your heroes on the start line. It was a simple straight line format and Ben performed well but was out in the first round. Elle kept us and all of the Team on their toes when a photo finish to see her through to the semi final round took at least half an hour to decide. The tension was huge but not as huge as the roar from the Team when she did get through. These youngsters performed well but no finals for them this time!
On the morning of the distance the heavens opened and racing was delayed for an hour. After that the sun shone and the heat rose – perfect conditions for an 18km distance race!
It was in a 6km loop in the bay and it was fairly difficult to keep an eye on placings whilst they were so far away from the beach. There was a nice beach break buoy turn and we and the Team Manager stood thigh deep in the water to film and cheer on the distance racers. Plenty more flag waving from the other team members on the beach too.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury forced Aaron out of the race – there were quite a few DNF’s that day due to heat and body exhaustion. Such disappointment for Aaron. Ben managed a credible 25th which bettered his placing from last year by quite a way so he was really happy. Nick and Holly did well, especially Holly who raced with an Achilles injury which meant that she could hardly walk. Again, great points scored for the team.
The excitement levels rose again with Ginnie and Marie coming in at 9th and 10th in one of the most exciting distance races. Ginnie had borrowed a board and absolutely flew with the two Team mates then pushing each other on in the final lap, one going better upwind and the other in the down winding sections. We saw them come in and onto the beach in 9th (Ginnie) and 10th (Marie) , one so close behind the other with the joy and elation of knowing their incredible placings.
All the athletes from the 26th countries were really pushing hard on the final days as this was the business end of team placings and we had been holding 7th in the ratings. Just the team relay to go with Nick, Ginnie, Elle and Ben Pye up in a very, very exciting race. Watching Ben Pye fly off the start and be literally airborn over the first wave was something to behold.
With the results from those last events we managed a very credible TENTH place in the Team placings just behind South Africa, Denmark and Italy.
Such an honour to watch our athletes perform so well and see the camaraderie between the teams.
It was quite strange helping to pack up after the closing ceremony knowing that this was it – it was over – we came and saw some wonderful racing, supported our Team and hopefully did a good enough job in getting information back to those back home which was always our brief.
One thing that wasn’t going to be reported on was the after party – what happened in China, definitely stayed in China – Supjunkie were tucked up safely in bed knowing that at 3 a.m. the next day we would be off to the airport and going home. We were exhausted but the adrenalin fueled athletes kept going for another few hours – good luck to them!!
Thank to you all for your kind comments and support – it really meant a lot and continues to do so – an experience we shall never forget – the ISA World Championships in China 2018 and TENTH in the WORLD! 🙂