Head of the Dart was SUP North’s first distance race when we all took part in 2013. It was supposed to be an easy cruise with the downstream flow and outgoing tide…. Cut to 3 races later and I was tackling the Dart solo, as Alan was on a family holiday surfing in Fuerteventura, and Simon ws taking on his first SUP surf competition in Ireland. The forecast was….a headwind!

Saturday was spent on a pleasant cruise down the River Avon, trying out various Starboard SUPs courtesy of Tushingham’s Paul Simmons and Scott Warren. The 14′ All Star felt amazing on the water, definitely a desirable board length if you can transport and store it! It’s rare that we get to try too many boards, living in the North west, so it was a welcome opportunity. (Update – Starboard Tiki Tour is coming to Southport in June 2015 – more details on our Facebook event page here)

The proposed surf demo session in the afternoon was less popular due to the windy and choppy conditions. I made the sensible decision to stay dry, despite a great choice of Starboards on offer. When I woke feeling relatively fresh on Sunday I knew it was the right choice.

Race day weather was overcast, with wind gusting to 30mph, resulting in a change to the course. Rather than paddle from Totnes to Dartmouth we were to head downstream 3.5 miles, turn and paddle back to Dartmouth, avoiding the more open area of the estuary, where particularly the inflatable boards in the field would be badly affected by the crosswind. This was slightly disappointing to many, who wanted to compare their performance to previous years, but the right decision given the huge variety of boards and paddling experience on the start line.

The start was shaky for me – concentrating on staying on board during the start-line chop! As I’d raced the previous two years, I had entered to race rather than cruise – the class this year was called ‘elite’, so I wondered if I was out of my depth, and was the only female on an inflatable in the 12’6 class. The field soon spread out, with a small draft train of guys at the front and Emily King disappearing ahead! I stayed in touch with the next two ladies, and exchanged position with a man on a Red Paddle Co inflatable (he passed me again on the upstream leg!).

As the wind dropped after a bend, I found myself closing on Belinda Smith – a fast and strong contender. I passed her and pulled ahead, keeping her comfortably behind, or so I thought… As we neared the turning buoy, Scott Warren shouted to watch for the side wind. ‘How much worse can it get?’, I thought, and soon found out. The river opened up and the bank was flatter, so the wind was howling across from our right. It was a battle to stay on course, with one guy missing the buoy altogether and having to turn back. I had to put in a couple of bow turns to get back on track, nearly stopping dead in the process. I had decided we were all going to be kind, and give each other space to get around the buoy after that battle – silly thought! A male paddler pushed his way through on the inside, slowing me further, but that’s racing…

That short, exposed and extra windy leg had taken its toll, and I felt slower heading back upstream. Come to think of it, the current and outgoing tide will have significantly increased the difficulty, and the wind was now mostly in our faces. Belinda Smith soon passed me and pulled confidently away, back in her stride. I took a straight line to the next bend, figuring the headwind was just as bad everywhere. This seemed to be a mistake and I should have stayed further right, near the bank, as the nearby boards pulled away.

The lady in second appeared to be flagging and I kept her in my sights as long as I could, keeping my motivation strong. I found little opportunity to take a drink, never wanting the paddle to be out of the water for any longer than necessary! Gradually the two ladies ahead got smaller and my motivation became the end of the course. I was frustrated to be passed by a couple of men who I had overtaken earlier – more stamina required!

I knew my form was deteriorating towards the end, and I was relieved to put the last stroke in to cross the line. When the results were in I was pretty pleased – first female inflatable, 3rd 12’6 inflatable overall and 4th 12’6 female.

Thanks to Starboard and Dittisham Boats for superb organisation as usual, and well done to all of us who took part – a tough race day that I might rename ‘Headwind of the Dart’!

Full results here