Travis Grant: “the most hardcore race in the history of SUP!” – RedBull Heavy water’s story
Travis Grant: “we all kind of switched from “race mode” to, “let’s maybe play it safe” mode
When did you arrive at Ocean Beach, San Francisco?
I took the late “red eye” flight on Thursday night from Hawaii to San Fransisco. Not an ideal situation considering the task that lay ahead of me. I have a super busy work schedule (I do canvas boat work full time outside of my paddling) and with a 1-year old baby, I need to maximise every minute at home to help my wife and keep customers happy! So, I had to leave the night before and just hope to get a few minutes shut eye on 4.5-hour flight to San Fran. I arrived at Ocean Beach, San Fransisco, at 5am for this epic event.
Of course, I was nervous with the forecast predicting 15 to 20ft surf! But you can’t dwell or think about it too much. I know my ability so I tried to relax and work on my breathing and last-minute breath holds. I downloaded some relaxing breathing deep sleep podcasts to try help me drift off on the plane ride knowing when I land it’s time to go! Of course, the plane was full and I sat next to a guy who I think was related to the Incredible Hulk. He was huge, so there goes my shoulder room. He was a super nice guy and just wanted to chat. I kindly said I’m really sorry I have a big event when I land and I really need to try get some rest. He respected me as I pulled down my eye mask, put my headphones on and hoped the podcast I downloaded will help me sleep.
I kinda got some rest but not sure how long and how good it was, but before I knew it we were landing, so I guess I did get some rest.
“It is what it is”, I told myself. Perfect – I’m rested, recharged and ready. Just by chance Kody Kerbox’s Dad, Buzzy Kerbox, was on the same plane. He was there to come watch his son in this monumental event. So I got a ride with him to Ocean beach. We left the airport at 5:45am headed for the coast, via a cafe to grab some breakfast. At 6:30 we were eating breakfast, pretty much right on schedule. The sun didn’t rise until 7am that day which was the same time Red Bull called the morning meeting to decide our fate. I have never been to Ocean Beach before, let alone paddled out there. So to say the least, I really wanted to see the ocean to try and figure out the break as quickly as I could – but the car park is a long way from the beach. We arrived right at 7am. You could feel the new energy had arrived, but didn’t look as monstrous as I was expecting. It was still dark and the ocean was a mess, waves were breaking all over the place. The ocean seemed angry that day my friend! Haha. The swell was up and expected to peak mid-afternoon while building throughout the day – and build it certainly did! So after the quick cold race meeting, we then had to hustle back into our car and drive to the marina to load the boards and ourselves onto a boat.
Why was this race so much different?
This year the race started out the back of the break. A unique way to start a race and in surf like this it was a good way to start a race.
We basically did the course in the boat in reverse. It was pretty cool being in the boat and running from the finish to start and looking at the currents, checking out Fort Point (the break right under the Golden Gate Bridge). It was a good way to bring us all together. It was kind of like a bonding moment for all the athletes. It was pretty fresh on the boat and we were all trying to hide from the wind. The boat ride was a long, a lot longer then we all thought. By the time we got to Ocean Beach the surf had definitely picked up. It’s hard to tell from the out the back where or what to aim for so we all kind of switched from “race mode” to, “let’s maybe play it safe” mode on the first lap.
Everyone was slightly nervous; how could you not be? A building swell is not ideal as we start basically blind from the back of the break and don’t know what to expect. 20 guys charging in all at once in 15ft surging, powerful waves that are breaking all over the place!
The Red Bull jet ski counted us down; drone hovering close by – then away we went. The speed of the start wasn’t like other races, it was fast, but with so much water moving around under us everyone was a bit shaky. We were all looking behind us from the start, trying to see if a bomb set was coming and talking to yourself: “If I can just ride the shoulder of a wave,”…. “Don’t get caught inside!,”… “Don’t get caught inside a big one!”.
To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I got in, we all kind of just got pushed in as the waves were moving so fast and all over the place they were actually hard to catch and hard to avoid. So, we all ended up just being washed in, some more elegantly than others, but I don’t think anyone rode a wave all the way to the beach, it was a series of waves, some nice but very fast-moving rollers around half way, before turning into avalanches of uncontrollable fast moving white wash! Needless to say the adrenaline was up and so was the fun!
Once we all got to the beach for leg one of the 4 laps – the race quickly turned into more of a survival challenge of who will actually make it out the back? A lot of us stood there on the sand trying to make sense of what the ocean was doing. Where is the hole? Where is my best chance of getting out? Nobody had it figured out.
When new swell hits any beach break, all the old holes or gutters or places the water would usually travel back out to sea are gone. It was anyone’s guess that day where or how to get out the cleanest. Now I grew up on the beach in Australia, so have been around beach breaks my whole life. As I was trying to work out my game plan I realized I was looking, or hoping, to find the flash rip. A flash rip is an Aussie term I think for exactly that – a flash rip. I’ll try to explain: So as all this water is breaking on the beach, it all has to go somewhere right? Eventually it all has to go back out to sea, and since it’s a new big swell and it’s a sand beach break, not a reef or point break, the water sometimes doesn’t know where to go. So eventually it will just make its own path back out to sea – enter the flash rip! They can last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. That was my ticket to get out. The white wash was so powerful and relentless the only way a human on a 12’6″ race board was getting out was not by going through this white wash but more between it all. Every now and again a flash rip would appear and it was honestly by luck or chance if you were near it to try follow it out the back. The skill was recognizing it and trying to utilize it to get out the back and that is what I was looking for. That’s how I got out. Basically, it’s luck being in the right place at the right time when the rip occurs, but also you need to recognize it, as it can sometimes be right next to you. So, by paddling sideways or more angling to get it will make or break your chances of getting out.
My plan worked twice for me – I was able to save energy by trying to sit and wait, which is not sitting at all, it is working your butt off in the middle of the ocean waiting for the sea to let you out via this flash rip I’m talking about.
The whole race I had no clue where I was, no one did as far as position goes. I thought I was last but everyone did too, as it took us all so long to get out. At one point I will admit, I thought, no one will finish this race, I really did. But of course, if you’re patient, know what you’re looking for, and in the right place at the right time, you will get out. 14 out of the 20 ended up finishing the race, more than I expected. (Congratulations to everyone who finished!)
Once I got out the back for the second time, I was like – “Yes. Victory! I’m going to complete this course!”. I was so happy just for that. Then I looked around and saw no one, there were only two SUP paddlers in front of me and that’s it. I couldn’t believe it! “Okay”, I said, “Even better I’m third. Just don’t blink for this 6-mile paddle and you’re in the money Travis”. Again, easier said than done, your legs are so shaky and exhausted. You have just been taking a beating for 30 plus minutes now you have to race 6 miles. You’re tired, thirsty and in a wetsuit – so your starting to overheat once all the swimming is done with – haha.
But again, you don’t care, you’re going to finish. The organizers try plan the event so we have an incoming tide with us. The tides in San Fransisco bay are very strong so we needed the tide with us to even make it to the finish. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge, but of course it looks closer than it really is. It’s a long way to paddle when your already so exhausted, hot and thirsty!
Since there was so much swell, the water had a lot of energy to it and was very choppy. The swell hits the beach and or cliffs and then runs back out to sea in all directions creating a very bumpy uneasy water state. It was not very windy but with a very confused ocean it was very hard to read the bumps. The tide was pretty much our only assistance. I was stoked to get third racing in such an epic swell! Congratulations to all the racers who took on some truly Heavy Water out there – that would have to be the most hardcore race in the history of SUP!
Alain Teurquetil told us that you never trained on the Puma before this race!? Was it the first time you were paddling on this board? What was your feeling on this Puma during the race?
I was using the NSP 2018 PUMA 12’6 race board. First time ever actually, well of course it is a 2018 model. The 2018 range for all NSP Boards is the best yet!
NSP have made all the boards more stable by adding a flat spot. We still kept the round rails though which for ocean racing or bumpy water is a must. I knew this and was very confident in the new board, even though I have never stood on it before as I knew the extra stability would be huge – and it was. I did not fall as much as I was expecting in the rough ocean.
All 2018 NSP boards have the flat spot in the middle theory applied to them but with the round rails. We have been testing the 14 ft and Unlimited all this year with the flat spot in the middle and we all agree they are faster boards. NSP has been having amazing results in Europe, Molokai, Hood River and PPG – all on the new design 14ft and Unlimited boards. So I knew the 12’6 version of this would be great!
The season is almost finished what’s your last race to end this successful year?
The SUP racing season feels pretty much nonstop, it’s almost a year-long calendar. This event was not my last, I have to head Downunder, back to my home country Australia for a big downwind unlimited board race in West Australia called “King of the Cut”. Then that’s the last one for 2017. Phew!
Thank you NSP for the amazing boards! Each year we keep getting better and better! We don’t radically change much, it’s a constant evolution of our designs, and each year they get a couple percent better, more balanced, more refined – in the constant search for perfection!