Friday, July 31, 2009

Chapter 4--Internet connectivity

So internet connectivity here is really spotty. I've been trying to post for days, and I keep losing the connection. So be warned. Also, posts will change as I add photos later.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chapter 3--Quick update

Team trails started today. I paddled one heat today, and one tomorrow. I was still last in my heat, but I also got some nice scores, and was only out of 3rd place by <0.15 points.

The good news: I'm officially tied for 7th in the world in my age group in individual standing.

Tomorrow's heat is early--time for bed.

Chapter 2--The Closet Under the Eaves

So the hotel where I’m staying is nice, and it certainly is inexpensive: €30 per night. I am in room 401, to which Maria, the nice lady who runs the desk and who speaks no English, directed me by pointing upstairs and saying “sempre, sempre” while gesturing in an upward spiral. So up the stairs I go, to discover my cute room on the top floor.

Where I can stand up straight only at the center of the room.

And where I can’t stand up straight in the bathroom at all.

The first night I bashed my head three times in quick succession when getting ready for bed. (OK, I was jet-lagged and I’d been to the Opening Ceremonies where I’d washed ashore with some of the Scotland team and consumed what was arguably too many mojitos.)

So now I’ve pretty much got it wired. Haven’t hit my head since that first night.

But I feel like Harry Potter.

Chapter 1--First Report (Saturday, July 25)

My first competition of the World Surf Kayak Championships was early this afternoon. I'll skip straight to the results and say that I didn't advance from my heat. It was nonetheless an extremely interesting and ultimately fun experience.

I competed individually in the Grand Master's Men's High Performance division. Sounds pretty impressive, huh? Well, you could easily call it the Old Guys Division—it is the 50-and-over crowd.. The good news before I started is that there were a total of 10 competitors-- by definition I am top ten in the world!

The format was 15 minute heats, with the top two advancing to the next level. Best two waves are totaled for total score.

The conditions were sort of marginal--pretty windy, with an extremely rough paddle out through a dumping break, and a very strong longshore current that would sweep you out of the competition area once you got caught inside. Our competition was after the Woman's HP, and it was a bit disheartening to see people get pounded and swim in earlier heats. One of our women won her heat, while the other caught one wave and was trapped inside and couldn't get out to score a second wave and so didn't advance.

I was in the third and final heat of my division, and my teammate in the first heat got swept out of the competition area and didn't advance either.

As I sat on the beach, getting ready to paddle out, I had four goals, in the following order: 1. Do *not* swim. 2. Have fun. 3. Score some points (i.e., catch at least *one* wave) 4. Surf well enough to advance.

Paddling out for my heat, I got *pounded*. It was so bad that at one point I was seriously worried that I'd not even make it out for my heat. But finally, after getting dumped and pounded and at one point getting swept all the way back to the beach, I made it outside.

Once there, though, I missed the signal for the start of the heat. My plan was to hang waaayyyyy outside and pick of some of those waves, then head inside for more scoring opportunities if possible, despite the possibility of being trapped inside. But without knowing how long we had left, and forgetting the signal board on the beach that color-codes how much time is left, I panicked and went inside to at least catch one wave. The problem was that I was then trapped inside. At one point I was swept to the beach, and my teammates came running down to tell me that I was still really close to second place and if I could catch another wave, I might make it into second. Unfortunately, I could never get back outside to catch the second wave.

But in the final analysis, it was pretty fun (though exhausting and with moments of severe thrashing), plus I never swam (there were 2 in the second heat of GM that reportedly took some big swims--I'm sorry I wasn't in that heat!!). And I got a score for my one wave. So although I didn't advance, 3 of 4 goals were met. I think I'm probably 8th or 9th after all the scoring was done, but I haven't seen the standings.

Next up is the team competition. It isn't clear yet what the format will be for this part of the competition, and we don't yet even know when it will begin. We are thinking maybe Monday, but we will know more this evening. Things are always a little up in the air, and we've learned that things seem to happen about 2 hours after posted times.

Meanwhile, it turns out that this event is much bigger than I thought. My expectation of the event was that it would be a prosaic little event with a bunch of kayakers on the beach. Whoa, was I ever wrong. It turns out that we are a part of the extremely large Santa Cruz Ocean Spirit Festival, a music festival with surfing/kite board/skim board/wave ski/surf kayak competitions added on. There is this *huge* tent city set up, with a humongous stage, bars, restaurants, ATMs, a swimming pool (!) plus the contest infrastructure. The whole thing can be seen online at – it includes streaming video, live I think.

Anyway, that's the news from sunny Portugal!


Preface--The Surf Kayaker of Serendip

So how the heck does a guy living in Delaware wind up on the USA West Coast Surf Kayak Team and competing in the World Championships?


It turns out that many of the people selected for the US West Team weren’t able to actually go to the Worlds, so with a month to go the team put out a call in their newsletter (which I receive for some reason) for volunteers for the team. On a whim, I threw my name into the hat, and it turns that because of my experience as a surf kayaker during my postdoc years in San Diego (1983 – 1991; I was pretty seriously into it) and, more importantly, because they must have been fairly desperate to fill out the team, they invited me along for the ride.

She Who Is Small But Mighty ok’d the deal (did I mention that we are all mostly paying our own ways here?), I had enough frequent flier miles for a ticket to Lisbon, and I started to frantically whip this poor late-middle-aged body in shape.

And here I am.