Austin Kieffer – Ocean Paddlesport/ Fenn Athlete Spring Training Update

What’s up Bellingham? Its been a while, I hope that you all are training hard, enjoying the lakes, bays, and ocean, but most of all enjoying the incredible Bellingham Surfski community! And of course paddling Fenn.

2013 is flying by in a whirl and I can’t believe it is already May! I have been so lucky to get a lot of racing under my belt and, at the request of our beloved DJ, the fantastically fast, first-time father in a Fenn, it’s time for a little Surfski Northwest update.

I’ve got to be honest with you, this season of racing has not been what I expected. I have raced in four SoCal races, one Wavechaser’s Race, and Sprint Kayak US Team Trials. If I have anything to report at all, it’s that way more goes into Surfski racing than my previous experience could have prepared me for. The California races this year have been a roller coaster of incredible and dismal performances. Coming out here I assumed that racing would more or less a result of who has been training the hardest and in the surf the longest. In truth, I had an incredibly naïve concept of the complex strategy that is Surfski racing.

The take away message for most of my racing was race smart. Unfortunately, that has not been my strong suit this year and I made a number of race and training errors due to a combination of pride and simple stupidity.

In the first race of the season (Mission Bay, San Diego) I was acquainted with ocean weeds and they in turn were acquainted with my rudder. The race started well and I easily jumped to the lead group, but over the course of the next five minutes, I watched the lead boat slowly make ground on me. I felt sluggish and out of shape and I berated myself for not training hard enough. I slogged along, continually losing ground, refusing the check my rudder for weeds, convinced that I was merely underfed for the race. It took me about twenty minutes into the race before I decided that my sluggish progress was more than just physical inadequacy and stopped to clear my rudder. It was a huge relief to see and enormous piece of kelp float off my rudder, but my stubbornness had nearly cost me the race. Mercifully, the race was long enough for me to painfully, inch by inch, pull myself back up to the leader and barely edge him in a photo finish. That race was probably the most painful I have yet experienced and it was all because of my refusal to check my rudder.

The second race was the Newport Beach flat-water race. I was more confident in my fitness this time and I was ready to give it my all. This race was yet another learning experience for me. I learned the importance of tactics and good efficient wake riding. Rich Sprout and I rode the wake of a K-4 for the entire race, but I couldn’t quite find the sweet spot on the K-4 wake and at the end of the race, when Rich and I made our break for the finish, he had ten times the kick left in his system and he left me in the dust at the finish line. I am not saying that I had the finish kick to beat him, but I could certainly have leveled the playing field if I had done a better job of effortlessly riding the K-4 wake.

The third race was the San Fran Wavechaser’s double-header in. The first race was a flatwater race in Redwood City and the second was a classic, longer distance, Fort Baker race. Revved up and ready to put the hurt on Rich Sprout, I launched off the start. Again, hubris was my downfall and I led the race for the first thirty minutes pulling the pack and letting Rich draft off me. After that we traded washes for the rest of the race, but, like Newport, Rich had twice the kick I had and aced me across the line in the finish sprint. I wont deny that I was frustrated, but it was also a wake up call for my racing. Two times in a row proved that I was certainly doing something wrong. Luckily, the second race was quite choppy and I didn’t need to worry about wash riding. However, as one would expect from 2013 Austin, the race was not without its flaws. Rich and I made a pretty serious line error and headed up the eddy after the Golden Gate Bridge, expecting to shoot up the eddy while the people in the current would be battered back. Instead of checking for myself in the warm up, I just followed Rich. It only took 5 minutes for Pat and the others in the middle current to shoot ahead and put substantial distance on Rich and I. Luckily, I had been doing a lot of rough water training and I was able to grind away and make up for my mistake finishing first.

The third race was perhaps my best strategic race this year. Rich did not make an appearance, but Phillip was there. I raced much more intelligently and made sure not to pull when I didn’t need to. My strategy was simple: don’t pull Phillip, ever, don’t let him make a break and drop me, and in the last two turns to the finish make sure to be on the inside. I accomplished all three of my objectives and as a result I was able to out sprint him to the finish. Coming off that win against Phillip, I felt like I was ready for all comers. Gone where the days of stupid mistakes, right? Alas, I was wrong.

When I herd that Dorian Wolters, the guy who dominated the 2012 Blackburn in a record time, was coming to the Malibu to Marina, final race of the SoCal series, I was very excited for a long brutal race. I was so fired up about my training and progress that I decided to train through the race, paddling a lot and lifting heavy all week, including the day before the race. They say that “pride goes before a fall” and I guess that this season mine was determined to have me bouncing down a whole flight of stairs.

Come race day, Dorian absolutely clobbered me. Dorian came to race and after my idiot week of training, I came to lose. To use one of my favorite surfski racing quotes by Matt Bowman, Dorian “had me today, he handled me like a small child with feathers in my hair”. For the entire two hours of the race, I watched Dorian shrink away while I barely plodded along, feeling weak and pathetic. And so I finished the race, ending a hardly auspicious SoCal racing series to start my 2013 season.

Luckily, there is nothing quite like a challenge, and instead of leaving me disheartened, my inconsistent racing fired me up for Surfski Champs this August! There were a few things I wanted to do. First, I wanted to work on that confounded finish sprint that Rich kept beating me on. So I decided to take a few weeks out of the ski and put time in a sprint boat, and what better motivation than US Team Trials to fire up my sprinting? I ended up finishing 2nd in the 1000m final and 5th in the 200m final. I wasn’t particularly pleased with either result’s time, but one thing was certain, I had learned a lot about sprinting and I was ready to take that edge back to my Surfski training.

So here I am, 12 weeks out from Surfski Champs, not exactly where I need to be, but paddling a Fenn Elite Glide (one of, if not THE best boat on the market) and excited about the challenges ahead!

I also realized that this SoCal racing season would be a complete waste if I didn’t capitalize on the wisdom I have learned: surfskiing is a complex sport and there is a lot of wisdom out there that I have yet to glean. The Bellingham Surfski Community is one of my favorites and a lot of you have been racing for much longer than I have, so I hope to make it back to WA soon to race with the seasoned pro’s.

In the meantime, please look me up if you are in San Diego and we’ll go chase some warm waves.  I’m on the 12 week count down to US Champs and looking forward to seeing everyone at the Gorge this summer.

Paddle Smart!

Austin (Bellingham Racer at heart)

Posted on May 17, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Keep at it Austin! You really are one of the good guys out there.

  2. Great tips Austin, Keep up the hard work. I’m from OH and paddle with Dorian sometimes. He can make anyone feel slow.

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