This past weekend 127 paddlers converged on the small town of Snow Hill, MD, for the 1st Annual Return to Goat Island paddle sports race. The event was organized by Walk on Water and Evolve Paddle Boards. The event covered two days of paddle sports racing, including an open 3 mile and elite 6 mile race on Saturday, followed by 17 mile solo and team race on Sunday. The 3 and 6 mile races circled Goat Island, a small island on the Pocomoke River, surrounded by lily pads and the home to 2 lonely goats. The 17 mile race course flowed straight down the Pocomoke.
I participated in the 3 mile race with about 60 other paddlers. The majority of the racers were on SUPs, with a few kayaks in the mix. The race started on the water, from a kneeling position. At the sound of the start, racers had up to 5 paddle strokes to get to their feet and battle for position. The river was fairly wide and the first buoy was a short distance from the start, which made for a very turbulent first turn. After the first turn, everyone started to fall into line as they battled a strong headwind for half of the course. Unfortunately, there never really seemed to be a tailwind to take advantage of!
The competition was just the right mix of competitiveness and fun. My pace was very consistent, at around 4.2 mph, which is an improvement that I was very happy with. With each race, I find myself getting faster, better prepared, and significantly less nervous. In hindsight, I made a few mistakes that likely cost me a position or two, but they were all learning experiences. I always learn something at these races, and at this race, the number one lesson was: BUG SPRAY. I was well prepared with sun block and other necessities, but bug spray never even crossed my mind… until the last lap of the race. At some point in the last lap, I started to get bit by flies… at first I shooed them away without loosing my stride, but it was not long before I started to feel like I was being eaten alive. I contemplated jumping in the river to escape them. I was getting bit on my arms, my legs, and my face. I came around the last buoy, headed for the finish line with my arms flailing as I smacked myself relentlessly. I probably lost at least 1-2 minutes on my total time due to swatting flies. When I crossed the finish line I dropped to my knees and splashed water on myself to rid myself of the man-eaters. I asked the people who I raced with if they were getting bit, and they looked at me like I had 3 heads. So I guess it was just me…
Another lesson I learned was about the importance of drafting. I knew there would be some wind coming around the first turn, so I thought it would be wise of me to fall behind someone and draft them while we paddled into the wind. I’d use their efforts to my advantage and I would pass them when they exhausted themselves. It was a great plan, except, I haven’t practiced drafting much at all, and I totally blew it. There was another girl racing on a Solace Spear (the same make as mine), who was neck and neck with me. I decided to ease up a little and fall behind her to draft. The wind made it difficult to pick up speed, and especially difficult to stay in a straight line. I found it too difficult to stay within draft range, and I voluntarily gave up at least 1 position when I tried to fall back to draft. That would have been the difference between 4th and 5th place. Stupid! So, the lesson I learned is that drafting is extremely advantageous, especially in headwind, however, don’t give up your position to try to draft. I should have waited for her to eventually pass me, if she would have, and then moved into place naturally, instead of trying to slow down, maneuver into position, and speed up again. I will definitely be practicing my drafting technique.
The event was a great time, as the races always are. The paddling community is fun, supportive, and embracing. The event was held at Byrd Park, which is a very quaint, peaceful park on the banks of the Pocomoke River. There were a few vendors, live music, corn hole games, goats… YES, GOATS! They had a freakin’ goat petting zoo, with baby goats no less. It was delightful. The overall winner of the event got to name a goat, which would be released on Goat Island to live out its days, wild and free, with the island’s two other resident goats. Kind of a weird consolation prize, but I can dig it. I am already looking forward to next year’s race. Maybe by then I will be ready to participate in the 17 mile race! In the meantime, check out my video below of the 3 mile open race, filmed with my GoPros: