Spanning two days and in two timeframes – day and night, the second Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi Stand-up Paddling Race saw an improvement over last year. Compared to last year’s single, 28km long distance race, participants were faced with three races: a 7km morning race in the mangroves for the first leg, a technical night race at the Beach Rotana, Abu Dhabi for the second leg and the final race was a challenging 33km relay race from the Beach Rotana up to the Yas Marina. The introduction of the new distances and races proved to be a welcome and challenging introduction to the event this year.
The participants ranged widely in terms of skill and experience, everyone from seasoned professionals to students of the Sorbonne competing for fun was present. The university had three teams to compete in the race and generous sponsors such as Naish and F.One also had their own teams. The former, Naish brought their best athletes along such as Jen Scully and Nick Yates of Live Love SUP fame, as well as Guy Welchman who has been an athlete with Naish for quite some time.
Day 1 – The Mangrove Leg
Starting in the wee hours of the morning, the Mangrove leg of the race was designed to warm up all of the participants with a brief yet challenging race. The race started opposite the Anantara Mangrove Hotel followed by the paddlers going along the Corniche and eventually taking a turn into the mangrove’s narrow passages to complete the 7km distance.
The turn to the mangrove proved to be challenging for the participants as they were presented with a narrow area where a lot of attacks took place. The first leg was won by the Sorbonne 1 team with a healthy lead of 198 points against second placer, Naish with 169 and F.One with 131. The race was followed by a sumptuous pizza snack close to shore.
After the race, the organizers and the participants stayed at the Beach Rotana hotel which was provided by supporter, Nirvana Travel.
Day 2 – The Rotana Night Ride
At around 6:00 in the evening, Alex – the head organizer of the event started to call on the participants to gather around the board where the layout of the race was discussed. The night race is a first for the event and I can see the look of alertness among the participants. It was beginning to become dark in this side of Abu Dhabi, despite the course being surrounded by the bright lights of the Beach Rotana hotel and the adjacent Cleveland Clinic. After orienting the teams, Alex then went down the jetty and ran the course alone to show the participants the direction of the race. It was at this time when the wind started coming in from the left and while this may help some paddlers gain some speed in the impending race, it may also prove to be a hindrance to them as the finish line requires them to paddle against the direction of the wind. The jetty was packed with every single team member, queuing up for their turn so much that the jetty tipped slightly sideways! Surprisingly, I saw some paddlers that are quite new to the night course and one of their members were teaching them how to make their way around the course. Unlike the fun and adrenaline packed race in the mangroves, the night race seemed to be filled with silence — but this was changed quickly as the first batch of paddlers made their way along the course and everybody on the jetty began cheering for their teams. Intense paddling was exhibited by the top two teams – Naish and Sorbonne 1 as they battled neck to neck during the heats of the race. The night leg was one by Naish topping the overall results against Sorbonne 1. Guy Welchman, one of the Naish paddlers spoke about the course: “Brilliant race, one of the nicest sprints I have ever done – night time, beautiful scenery and overall great competition.”
Day 3 – Rotana to Yas Marina
Arguably, the longest and most intense leg of the race, at 33km, the Yas Marina leg was the ultimate challenge for all teams and paddlers. After a brief orientation at the hotel beachfront, the teams were then led to their respective team boats. The race was a relay race wherein every single team member had to paddle a certain leg of the race. The teams can select whoever they want to paddle when.
As soon as the teams lay comfortable on their boats, it was our turn to board the lead boat that was tasked in overseeing the race. At the helm is Alex who directed the team boats and of course sent the first batch of paddlers fiercely clawing at the water with their paddles. It was very intense and a clear lead was secured by the Sorbonne 1 team with the Naish closely following. After the third turn, going through Al Reem Island, the distance was becoming more obvious as everyone tried to make their way through the narrow waterways of Reem Island and out into the mangroves. It was at this point when our boat made its way towards the other end of the mangrove where the team boats were waiting for the first set of relays. Transfers were quickly made and the action in the boats went two ways, one member dived in and swam towards the SUP board while the other member swam towards the team boat to be hoisted up by their respective support crew.
After the relays, the new set of paddlers made their way towards Yas Marina through a fairly accessible area of mangroves and land banks which saw another change of paddlers. By this time, the paddlers were extremely far from each other as they made their way towards the mangroves and through private islands with one certain island near Yas even having its own heard of gazelles which our skipper and Alex pointed out to us. Under clear skies and the wide open seas, the leading pack was nearing Yas Marina and of course the finish line.
In the silence of Yas Marina with only the waving of the flags of the sponsor’s village being the only sound, the Naish team paddled their way to victory at the final leg, winning two of the three legs of this year’s Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi SUP Race. On the Marina, after everyone has crossed the finish line, a raffle ensued followed by the awards ceremony. Rounding up the top three were 1. Naish (904 pts.), 2. Sorbonne 1 (698 pts.) and 3. F.One (591 pts.) they all received luxurious prizes courtesy of the events various supporters. The day was closed off with a barbeque by the bay with all the participants snapping photos as they regale in their own individual victories for the event.
Congratulations to everyone!
- Naish – 904
- Sorbonne 1 – 698
- One – 591
- Frogs – 545
- Sorbonne 2 – 235
- Sorbonne 3 – 60
- Thales – nil
Words By: Keith Perena
Photos By: Ihab Mokayed