Nelo Summer Challenge 2010 - Race Reports

Friday, 03 September 2010 08:21 | Written by  Andy Blow and Ben Brown
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[Editor: UK paddlers Andy Blow and Ben Brown sent us these great reports on the 2010 Nelo Summer Challenge. Andy kicks off...] This year’s Nelo Summer Challenge was always going to be a tempting event for the Brit surf ski contingent. Cheap flights to Porto, warm weather and a 10km downwind race for 2010 added to the round the cans action of 2009 saw a good number of us head out to chance our pasty white arms against some of the best in the world.

Day 1 - 10km Downwind

Due to some canny timing (just after sprint world champs) and decent prize purse the event succeeded in bringing many of the great and good from the worlds of flat water and surf ski paddling together for a competitive but largely friendly 2 days of racing over a 10km downwind race on day 1 and a round the cans knock out competition on day 2. Serious names at the event included Tim Jacobs and Michelle Eray (predictably as they are paddling the new Nelo ocean skis in 2010), the ever so slightly hyperactive Jasper Mocke and Barry ‘Jeep’ Lewin representing the surf ski corner as well as a ridiculous list of past and present Olympic Champs, World Champs and medallists from the world of flat water including Tim Brabants, Ken Wallace Erik Larsen, Ivan Lawler, Ronald Rauhe and Manuel Busto to name literally just a few. The pre-race training sessions and meals were a unique chance to paddle with and chat to some of these legends and at the harbour the Aussie sprinters went pec to pec with Rauhe on a daily basis, psyching everyone out with chiselled arms and Olympic ring tattoos on full display!

Andy Blow

Pomm at large - Andy Blow in Portugal

Good Show

Nelo know how to put on a good show and even on the training paddles in the days preceding the event safety craft guided us over the course and trailers whisked the boats back up the coast from the finish – undoubtedly the best way to go upwind.

Unfortunately in the build up driving back was more ‘up breeze’ than upwind though as the Atlantic did a good impression of the Mediterranean and the usual NW winds failed to show. A few rolling swells appeared at one point but the talk was of a relatively race flat day and some of the kayakers probably felt a bit more confident of their chances to get in amongst the cash.

The Wind Finally Arrives

Then on the Thursday a good old fashioned rumour of wind and waves was started and sure enough Wind Guru started to agree. In a brilliant bit of decisive decision making Nelo delayed the start until 4pm (from an 11am plan) to catch the best of the 2m swells and 15knot winds that were predicted to come in later on. Their decision was vindicated when the flags picked up and the race began at the best point in the day – a victory for common sense over timetabling if ever there was one.

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

Preparing for the start

After a mildly chaotic start in the Pavoa De Varzim harbour the race got underway at a furious pace set by the front runners eager to get the prime set just outside the sheltered area at 800m. Olympic Champ Kenny Wallace took the prize with one of the favourites, Tim Jacobs falling back to just inside the top ten at this point. South African Bridgette Hartley then took the women’s prime ahead of favourite Michelle Eray. After going up wind for a couple of kilometres the route turned downwind to run, run and run back to the final turn 1km off the Azzura beach and finish line.

At the Sharp End

At the sharp end the turn downwind shook the order up in both races as Tim Jacobs took control of the men’s event almost immediately with a couple of good runs. He then proceeded to skilfully use the chop and swells to spend more time going downhill than anyone else and win by a relatively comfortable margin from Ken Wallace at the finish. In the women’s Michelle Eray similarly used her vast experience to surf away from the competition and take the spoils by over 2 minutes. (Apologies as my commentary on the action at the front is limited to this due to trailing a few minutes behind during the race!).

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

Plenty of paddlers were dumped in the shorebreak at the finish

UK Paddlers

The race for first Brit was always going to be an interesting one with Glenn Eldridge, Ivan Lawler and Mark Ressell all usually banging heads during our domestic races and Ben Brown (leading K1 marathon world cup at the moment) motivated to give them a run for their money (Ben’s report is below). In the end only about 35 seconds covered all of them with Ivan nicking it in 45min 45sec (12th overall) despite claiming to be only on light training duties these days. Not too many minutes behind Ivan, coming in 56th and 64th positions respectively were 16 year old UK paddlers Josh Newing and Tom Bolt who did amazingly well in their first proper long distance race – the first time they’d been outside of the UK too.

For those of us making up the numbers the conditions made for an awesome paddle and I even managed to get my heart rate up to 192 chasing a run at one point according to the Garmin; that requires a lot of motivation I can tell you!

Day 2 – Round the Cans

Day 2 saw an early start and the round the cans sprint racing at Azzura beach (finish site of day 1). An array of Nelo Spec skis were lined up, matching coloured vests for the athletes adding a nice touch, and the first of the 800mish sprints got underway with the first 5 from each heat advancing through to the next round, semi and then final.

As a relative newcomer to paddling I was obviously delighted to find out I’d be drawn in heat 1, lining up next to Tim Jacobs without any chance to see how the hell you were supposed to do this kind of thing. Somehow I managed a clean start (maybe a bit of a fluke) through the small shore break and was in 2nd place approaching the first turn buoy, arms going like a humming bird as I tried to hold my position. I knew I might start to run out of steam and was not in the least surprised to see the yellow boat of Jon Schofield (European K2 champion) cruise past as the lactic acid took its toll on my ruined body. I kept the pace as high as possible definitely believing a top 5 was on but started to sense other boats catching me up on the final wave into the beach. I sprinted across the line with limited control of my legs but just got ran out for 5th so was put in the repacharge (aka losers) heat to have one more chance to progress. No worries I thought, a good start like that and I’ll be in....

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

On the way to a clean start...

Watching the top pros and life saving paddlers was amazing as they battled through the heats with Jasper Mocke, Barry Lewin, Glenn Eldridge and all the Aussie guys looking highly impressive on route to the final. Once again young Josh Newing did brilliantly getting 5th in his first heat and then leading his semi out off the line before the guys with biceps bigger than his whole body gradually hauled him back and out of a qualifying spot.

The repacharge proved that my great start in heat 1 was perhaps a bit of beginners luck as I simultaneously leapt onto one side of the ski and off the other, making it just about impossible to catch up and qualify for the semis. I did manage to grab a couple of consolation places back in a sprint but afterwards at least got to sit and watch the pros going head to head in the finals.

Jasper Mocke

After being a touch disappointed with 5th place in the downwind Jasper Mocke (one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic guys at the whole event it has to be said) took charge of the sprint final from the start and lead it home for what felt like a very popular victory on the beach over an impressive field beating Aussie David Smith into 2nd. David had a great weekend overall being the only guy to get on the podium in both races (3rd in the 10km and 2nd in the sprint) showing amazing versatility in his skills.

Bridgette Hartley used the same sprint power that won her the day 1 prime to take the win in a very exciting ladies event with Lani Belcher and Michelle Eray rounding out the top 3.

Party Time

After the racing the partying started with the young and young at heart heading to see Vanilla Ice at Europe’s biggest beach party (apparently a highly graphic video of Ivan Lawler’s dancing is in existence but whether it will ever be broadcast is unclear) and others in the British group seeing if they could drink the hotel bar out of red wine (not quite but it was a good effort).

The whole event and experience was a great advert for Nelo, for the sport of surf ski racing and paddling in general  and given it is only year 2 the summer challenge I am sure it will grow in the future.  I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who paddles a boat or ski. All of the results from the races are available on the Summer Challenge website with videos and photos being added daily so it is well worth a look.

Ben Brown’s take on the event

Last weekend the famous boat manufacture Nelo ran their annual Summer Challenge Surf Ski event in Villa Do Conde in North Portugal. For those readers who might not be familiar with Nelo, get yourself out from under that rock, have a shower and listen up; Nelo make racing kayaks and canoes. Their boat designs, build quality and service (all as standard) is unrivalled in the Flat Water racing community and they now make Surf Skis too. With the majority of Olympic medals won in Nelo boats, they don’t do things by half measures, and when they announced their new range of Surf Skis people started to get excited.

However, from what I understand the Surf Ski community is generally small and there are already a handful of companies making very good skis that all the top athletes are happy with. Nelo, with their new style K1 influenced skis won’t find it easy to break into this market, so they need a lever to ping the new boats into the arena; the Nelo Summer Challenge. As well as being a perfect excuse to host a weekend long party, with its growing popularity this event will quickly settle into both the surf ski and flat water racing calendars very nicely.

Ben BrownNelo Summer Challenge 2010

First Time in Surfski

For the majority of people like myself the event began a couple of days before the first race on Friday, having never done Surf Ski I needed all the help and practice I could get before the races, and I wasn’t alone.

Last year there was only the Spec Ski ’round the cans’ 800m race on the Saturday; this year included a downwind 10km race on the Friday as well. Not forgetting Saturday night’s entertainment, which conveniently is Europe’s biggest Beach Party!

It’s no coincidence this event is held the weekend after the Flat Water Sprint World Champs, invited athletes included Olympic Champions; Ken Wallace (AUS) & Eirik Larson (NOR), our very own Tim Brabants and other Olympic/World Medallists such as René Poulson (DEN), and with the exception of the Ozzie bunch the flat water paddlers are mainly useless in a Ski, and are mostly there for the party. People love to line up with these guys though, having the chance of beating Olympic heroes is pant-wetting excitement for most.

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

Boat prep

Training Session

The first training session on Tuesday evening had 20 boats, and the next morning saw well over 30 boats practising the 10km course, I think most people were pleased to have flat windless conditions for their first try, but I was mainly bored after 2 completely flat 10km slogs and just wanted some hard core conditions!

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

Where's the wind?!

Fortunately the wind did pick up the next day, but was going in the opposite direction of useful, so another slog but into a headwind this time, it wasn’t until Friday, the day of the race that the wind and the waves came.

Delayed Start Time – Good Move

The wind was low in the morning and due to pick up late afternoon, so the organisers simply moved the start time from the morning to 4pm. Good move; the conditions were perfect, 2m swell and strong NW wind. For most racers this was pretty scary stuff, but for the seasoned ocean racers it was a mere ripple.  It very quickly separated the men from the slap-supporting, buoyancy-aid chewing, capsizing, safety boat following boys.

The start was in the safety of the harbour, on a small beach where 200+ competitors were never realistically going to fit, we had to start in the water to fit everyone in, standing next to your boat up to your tits (for me anyway) ready for the ideal start; to leap graciously into the vessel and lead it all the way to the €2000 hotspot at the entrance of the harbour 600m away. Some people were sitting in their boats, so not wanting to be left behind I got in mine too, I then got out once the starter threatened a 2 min penalty for starting in your boat, this didn’t stop some people cheating though, not naming names but the guys who’s names rhyme with Samuel Doosto (ESP) and Flyvan Trawler (GBR), lucky for them the penalty was just an Idle threat! Anyway, I managed to get in my boat first time which put me out the back of the two front groups, about 20th I think, the €2000 hotspot was never for me, but Ken Wallace (AUS) managed to scoop the beer money.

The numbers soon dispersed when we raced out of the harbour leaving the flat water behind, big rolling swells and a head/cross wind for 2km west northwest put me around top 10 at this stage, we then turned south to go with the wind. Everything changes at this point and people tried telling me “don’t work to hard into the wind, you will suffer when we go downwind” they were right. Catching the “runners” is the aim of this game, the small waves created by the wind that are moving faster than you can paddle, catch one of these and you accelerate along with a most satisfying lack of effort, and then the wave drops away and you practically stop. This is where the pros read the water, they move around and ‘link’ the runners so they limit the stalling effect, therefore increasing their average speed and with less effort too. This, is very hard to do, short intense 10 stroke bursts of effort are required to sprint onto the runners and move from one to another. This is hard work, particularly if you are used to just working quite hard constantly for 2 hours on flat water!





Last Turn

The second and final turn buoy was about 1000m straight out from the finish, but I was concentrating so hard on catching some runs I headed too far in to the shore and had to deviate back out to make the turn, this I think lost me about 4 places, oh yeah then I got really tired, and bloody Eirik Larsen, Ivan Lawler and Glen Eldridge came steaming past me in the home straight!

I caught a wave into the beach, leapt out the boat, leaving it behind then a quick run up the sand and it was all over. “Man that was amazing! Where did I come?!” is what most first timers were saying straight after the race, myself included. Turns out I came in just behind Glen Eldridge (GBR) in 16th place about 5 minutes down on the winner, not bad really, but at the time I was mainly annoyed at not scooping a top 10 and taking some prize money! Although the results online said I came 28th, I can assure you this was a mistake, I will explain later in the post.

We then stood on the beach watching the other competitors get eaten by the 6ft shore break that was picking up boats, bodies and paddles and dumping them on dry sand; brilliant entertainment, although a little worrying at times!


Tim Jacobs (AUS) won the 10km race beating 2nd place Ken Wallace (AUS) by 45 seconds, 10 seconds later 3rd place went to David Smith (AUS). Considering the event is only in its second year, there was plenty of prize money if you could place top 10: the winner of the 10km took home €3500, second place €2000 and third €1500, add the €2000 hot spot and you’re on to making some good money.

Round the Cans Racing

The second day of racing involved the Spec Skis, and as far as I could tell they are simply shorter and more stable than the Ocean Skis, with more volume at the front for getting through breaking waves. On paddling one I soon realized they turn way faster, are much heavier and are actually not much more stable! We didn’t really have time to use them much before the first heats were off, there were 2 races worth of boats and we just had to move the footrest to suit leg length, memorize where it went and change it in your allocated boat just before your race.

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

They go out...

Racers started about 30m up the beach with just your paddle in hand, boats waiting for you down near the sea. Fortunately the hideous shore break was gone, which made for slightly easier getting in, you then sprinted off round 2 buoys about 300m away and back home, trying to catch a wave to surf in, then jumped out the boat and ran up to the finish line, same as yesterday in the 10km.  The top 5 went to the Semi-finals.

There were over 12 heats in total with repacharge races for those who didn’t make it through 1st time. I managed to pull a sweet heat draw with no Ozzies or South Africans, and went through to the Semi quite easily, which paid off in the Semi as I had some energy left and once again managed to progress to the final…

Nelo Summer Challenge 2010

...and they come back

In the final was quite a hefty line up, including most of yesterday’s top 10; a few world champions; last year’s winner Ekaitz Saies and a heap of dangerously inexperienced flat water paddlers (like me). Fortunately for me some of the big guns like Wallace and Jacobs (AUS) got tangled up with each other just after the start, allowing me to have a clean race and just nip into 9th place!

Women’s Races

The women’s racing was very competitive, with Bridget Hartley (RSA) winning and taking €2000. Lani Belcher (GBR) took full advantage of the fact that anything can happen in these race and scooped €1500 for coming second, just ahead of Michel Eray (RSA) who came third adding €1250 to her €3500 win the in the 10km the day before.

Women's startWinners

Women's start - and the winners (Bridgitte Hartley, Lani Belcher and Michele Eray)

Only Complaint

This was not without its difficulties though, and this has to be pretty much my only complaint about the whole event; the finishing officials were useless. They had decided to funnel the racers who had just crossed the line through a fence and take their competitor  number on the way out, unknowing to almost all the racers this was their finishing list.

I and others had stopped just after going through the finish line and had been overtaken by people before we walked out of the finish area, causing our end result to be worse. In my case, in the 10km I stopped and chatted to people for a few minutes before I left the area! I realized what had happened when I wasn’t called up for my prize money after the sprint event, and asked to see the video footage of the finish, my result was then corrected but by that time they couldn’t recall all the money etc, I still got my €150 though, and a telling off for not “finishing properly”. Speaking to the top guys at Nelo they did not know this was happening, and I am assured it will be fixed for next year.

Vanilla Ice

While all of Saturdays racing was going on, just behind the Nelo stage and racing area Europe’s biggest beach party was being put together, a huge stage with heaps of bars, eating places and lights everywhere, Ben Farrell and I did a little wee with excitement when they cranked the volume up for the sound check during the day, we would be back around 11pm. People didn’t really turn up until about 1am, but the music was good and the raised up Nelo stage and bar made us feel like we had our own VIP area, we were also treated to a live performance from Vanilla Ice, causing us to mainly sing ‘Ice Ice Baby’ which changed to ‘Arse Arse Baby’ after we heard the South Africans ding it with their funny accents!

Brilliant Weekend

All in all, a brilliant weekend, very well organized. I would like to thank Nelo for their limitless hospitality, they seem to love looking after people, hosting parties running events, I am sure the number of competitors will double next year, and hopefully the prize money will too! As for me, I am trying to decide what color to order for my new Nelo Ocean Ski…

For more information on this event click here:

[Editor: Ben’s report first appeared on his website, and appears here with his kind permission.]

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