Despite a ton of rain, noticeably more security than the previous year, still the people came by the thousands to experience the music, the sporting events, and the amazing town of Embrun France, nestled high in the French Alps for 2017 Outdoor Mix Festival. The first thing you notice when arriving is how friendly all of the people are in Embrun France. The genuinely happy demeanor and helpful attitude made you feel like you were making lifelong friends with every local you met. The town is surrounded by snow capped mountains and punctuated by the La Durance River and huge lake called Lake Serre Poncon. I was extremely happy when I finally arrived at the festival only 24 hours before my first competition- So here’s my story.
I arrived at my departure airport 2 hours before my flight to learn that there was a 30 minute delay. Apparently when an airline delays a flight they can also choose to change the time back to their original departure time so despite being in the airport, I wasn’t at the gate and I missed my flight! I was put on stand up by with no assurance if I would get on, but that my bag (containing my Starboard Stream, Werner 3 piece Whitewater Paddle and helmet and drysuit) had made the previous flight and was on route to my destination already. When it came time to board the customer service agent deemed my carry-on bag (that I use every time I travel) full of clothes too big to come on board and tagged my bags all the way to France.
Finally in the air for my quick 40 minute flight, followed by a run across the airport to my connection to Germany. I was relieved to make the connection but a very full flight in the middle seat made it a sleepless night. I arrived in Germany Friday morning for my final flight to Marseille France where I arrived to find out that my carry on bag (the one that I was required to check) hadn’t made the trip. After filling out the required missing bag paperwork I was off for the bus with only the clothes on my back and my board bag. I was nervous about performing well after the stressful travels, but relieved to at least have my equipment with me.
It was beautiful weather when I arrived in Embrun that evening, but after checking the forecast it looked like we were in for a pretty big change. I awoke the next morning to the sound of pouring rain and thunder so loud I literally jumped out of bed, and joined my 2 buddies (Carsten and Arnd) for some breakfast of Museli and fresh cut fruit served hot. I could feel the chilly Breeze blowing through the windows of our nice little bungalow which I shared with my two friends from Germany, one of which I have known for 22 years. We knew that finding the motivation to get on the cold river in the cold rain and wind would be nearly as difficult as paddling the river itself, but we also knew that we were some of the only people sleeping with a solid roof over our heads as most of the people in the camp ground were sleeping in tents (approx. 2000 people!) The first SUP Cross event would start at 3:00 pm, and when we arrived at the starting zone on the River Durance a short walk from the festival area, and with an hour to spare we took several runs for practice because the course was short and a short easy hike back to the top only took about 10 minutes. The rain wasn't letting up! The river had literally changed from a nice clear greenish blue to a dark and angry looking brown color and level was visibly on the rise.
My 9.6 Starboard Stream was working well and stable which was paramount and after 4 practice runs I decided to save some energy for the race. The course had a beach start followed by a 100 meter sprint to the middle of the river where we were required to use the river left side of an old concrete bridge piling then required crossing back to the river right side of the course through the main drop which was about a 3 foot drop through a powerful jet of water and into a wave hole where the first turn buoy sat and this proved to be the most difficult and time consuming maneuver on the course. The second buoy on the left side had an eddy with which took a strong and technical ferry maneuver to the final “touch” buoy marking the finish. There were many micro eddy's that had to be navigated while ferrying across the river to reach each turn buoy and these were making it hard for some paddlers who tried to muscle their way across the river. When the preliminary heats began I decided to use my stream witch I knew would not be as fast as some of the other boards because it was a 9.6 foot long board and the length limit was 11 feet. In the preliminary rounds I was able to make it through to the quarter-finals and then the semi-finals by placing either 1st or 2nd as the top two paddlers from each heat advanced to the next round. I also realized at this time I may need to use the longer 11 foot Stream Crossover to gain some speed. The rain kept falling and the temperature kept dropping and after the quarterfinals the competition was postponed until the following day where the weather forecast showed and much better outlook.
After getting some dry clothes on and drying off and getting some much needed food we headed over to the main stage to enjoy some Reggae dub and a festival atmosphere.
When I awoke the next day I knew it would be a long day and the schedule had us down for the Whitewater Sprint race starting at 10 a.m. My German roommates whipped up some food for breakfast and we downed coffee like it was water all while getting our gear together in the crisp morning air that was dry and refreshing and sunny at last. At the start of the Whitewater Sprint I would be the second paddler to start the 3.5 kilometer Downriver Sprint through class 2 rapids with some large waves and sneaky eddy’s with the finish at the bottom of the sup cross drop. We would run 1 minute apart and there were some amped paddlers at the start warming up. 3-2-1 GO! I felt good and had great lines and technique throughout the race which was a sheer sprint the whole way unfortunately I had major bobble at the last drop and had to scramble to for a quick finish after falling in. I would place 2nd with only four one-hundredths (.04) of a second gap between first place and myself. For me the most important part would be to place the most consistent throughout all of the events on the river, and on the flat water because the emphasis for Outdoor Mix Festival Sup events was the Overall title. Immediately following the finish of the Whitewater Sprint we went into the semi-final rounds of the Sup Cross. Nerves were on edge and the sun was out finally, but it was time to race, and I had to turn the nerves into performance. My start position was upstream and my thinking was to get into the current first would be the fastest but I was mistaken and after the start I was in dead last. I was patient and let my technical skills come to fruition in the hard part of the course, and after the bridge move I found myself side-by-side going through the main drop with another competitor for the lead, he had the inside line and I got a little too stretched out on my paddle reaching for the eddy, and I fell from my board requiring me to jump back on catch the eddy below the buoy drop and hop over some rocks in a desperate effort to try to save the second-place position. I got back on course in 3rd place and luckily I was just able to get myself passed one more paddler at the very last ferry move on the course for a second-place finish to secure a spot final round. In the final round I had an excellent run and another second place for the day. Already feeling the altitude of the alps, the soreness in my muscles, and knowing there would be another long race later in the day we headed back over to the Outdoor Mix headquarters for some lunch and some much-needed rest.
The next race of the day would be the downwind felt water race on Lake Serre Poncon just 10 km down the road from Embrun. Luckily my Starboard teammate Carsten was gracious enough to let me us his 14 x 23 Starboard Sprint. For the start of the race there was approximately 40 riders lined up in a small cove inside a narrow arm of the lake. This race would be a one kilometer sprint off the line to where we would turn 90 degrees to the left and exit the arm of the lake into the main body of water where we would head straight down wind towards the finish in a straight line for 10km’s! The horn sounded and I had a clean start establishing myself in the hunt with some strong paddlers who were all sprinting for the lead. I caught a few bumps and traversed to the right to get into the leaders draft where I remained for the next 20 minutes until some high wind provided some nice bumps and connecting glides in the middle of the lake where I was able to get into the lead. The Starboard Sprint was working quite nicely in the small high frequency wind bumps on the lake and was surprisingly stable. The race conditions were super fun and when we got to the last bridge with only 1.5 km to go the bumps died down. I was completely out of gas, oh no! I had nothing as every stroke felt like harder and harder. I dug deeper and focussed on my breath for a strong paddle to the finish where we had to run with board and paddle over the line. I made it but it was another 2nd place for the day and I could barely walk at this point my legs were rubber and I barely made it back up to the van.
That night 4,000 people we're outside enjoying the music and the main stage mosh pit happening while at the same time hundreds of miniature inflatable aliens could be seen bouncing around and dancing above the heads of the crowd. The music was pumping and finally Mother Nature was cooperating with the weather too. The next morning we awoke to another gloriously sunny day, and at 8:30 a.m. the wind was already blowing white caps across the lake. Even the kite boarders were out early which is unusual and it was obvious that the Flatwater Sprint was going to have some difficult up and cross wind paddling sections. I was able to maintain my fourth-place position after a horrible start and Nascar style pile up int he first corner with boards and bodies flying in all directions! The course was tough and somehow I found a late burst of energy as I crossed the finish line knowing that I took out the Overall sup title for the second year in a row at the Outdoor Mix Festival.
We hit the awards, packed the van, and headed to Austria for the next adventure.
I would like to say thank you to all of the support that Outdoor Mix provided as well as my buddies from Germany, Carsten Kurmis and Arnd Schaftlein.
As for my missing bag, it finally made it to the event…after I left!
Thanks to Photography from Outdoor Mix/www.richardbord.com and Franc@ Get Up Standup Magazine.