21 Apr 2013
Stand Up Paddleboarders came from around the UK to attend the most prestigious of all events on their calendar – The Head of the Dart Challenge. Saturday 20th April was a fine day.
Totnes and Dartmouth rowing clubs invited the paddlers four years ago, when just a small local group of 12 joined in with their historic race the length of the River Dart from Totnes to Dartmouth. The direction of the race alternates each year. On Saturday at precisely 14.15hrs (which is how the rowers like to run events), 98 Stand Up Paddlerboarders, of all abilities headed down the Dart on a 10 mile journey.
The organisers had to change the start procedure because getting 98 paddlers in a line on the narrow stretch of the river at Totnes was impossible to control. They introduced a rolling start sequence which allowed the lead start boat to accelerate during a count down of 3 minutes towards a start line. It was a colourful and spectacular sight for all spectators.
Like most water sports, paddleboarding is best suited to fair weather, and this Saturday was the best day of the year. Jeremy Robinson of Dart Adventures who helmed the lead rescue boat said “ I have never seen the Dart so picturesque. I had just bought a new lens for my camera, and as the racers came around each meander I was snapping away like mad. Thankful the weather was so good we were not busy rescuing”
The event was also a very special tribute to a local paddler Andy Cole. He was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago and kindly offered to donate trophies for the key classes. He died just five days before the event. He will always be remembered.
Dave Hackford from Starboard, the key sponsor commented on the race. “The reason the event has become so popular is because it is a personal challenge for many, rather than an out-and-out race. And being associated with the rowing clubs gives it a great, friendly feel. I am sure some paddlers set off from Totnes not actually realising that their destination will not be where their car is, so everyone joins together with car lifts back, and paddling back is out of the question”.
The UK’s best racers did come as well. Ryan James, who competes on the World circuit led the race from the start and never missed a stroke. Race officials thought this was the year for the record time to crash, with an outgoing tide with flow of river. It was 1hour 8minutes. And it still is. The south easterly breeze, which was discussed in detail by every participant at Dartmouth, was enough to peg back times. Ryan James crossed the line in 1hr 24mins.
Two special awards go to Anna Shekhdar – first women (1hr 48mins) and a young 16 year old who flew from Ireland to compete winning first youth, first ‘first timer’ in the race but also , most impressively 2nd in class and 3rd Overall, Peter Kosinski (1hr 29 mins).
The sport is growing at a phenomenal rate Worldwide and there is a chance that this great event will be part of the International tour in 2014.
For more photos check out the Starboard UK Facebook page HERE