Race report – Leamington Spa Race, Warwickshire

Fairfield Canoe Club’s Alex Boyd is spending a year getting to know the English countryside – and doing quite a bit of paddling as well!  He writes:

Recently I had the opportunity to race in one of the British Canoeing Hassler Series Races out of the Royal Leamington Spa Canoe Club.  This event probably most closely resembled a Vic Winter Series Race.  Despite this there were vast differences.  Firstly the numbers.  The number of people of all ages and skill levels was closer to what you might expect at the Australian Marathon Championships, rather than a State run race.  It was a sight to behold, seeing so many boats on the water at once.  There were 9 divisions of racers in total, racing from 8-19km, as well as a couple of U12 divisions which raced a modified course of about 5km.

The course itself was one of the most interesting (and most scenic) courses I’ve ever raced in marathon.  Instead of being a standard circuit course with a portage, it was split into three sections.  The First was a typical circuit from an Aqueduct through to just near Warwick Castle (it was truly beautiful to see a castle in the distance while paddling). Divs 6-4 did two laps of this, 3-1 did four laps. The second part of the course involved turning onto a side-river for a couple of kilometres before doing a portage. Unlike in Australia, this portage was not put in there purely to enhance the race.  It was put there to avoid a weir. The final part of the race was a dash through a narrow stretch of river which soon turned into canals showing off the picturesque English Village of Leamington Spa before finishing outside the canoe club.

Each division was filled to the brim with K1s, mine alone had 14 fairly evenly matched boats. Prior to coming over to the UK I had been warned that the Brits “are smart” when it comes to racing.  I dismissed this advice a little too quickly and soon found myself in a race with paddlers who not only had the paddling strength and speed for racing, but the smarts too.  Having never raced particularly aggressive paddlers this came as a bit of a shock to me mid-race.  After a collision involving a fishtailing incident I resolved to make sure the person who’d been doing it for the past few km did not beat me.  And then the chase began!  After a quick portage I managed to gain some ground on him and overtake him around the final turn about 800 metres before the finish securing a hard fought third place.  While I may have been shocked by the clever tactics employed by so many of the British paddlers, they too were shocked.  For the river was high, fast and a little choppy in places.  The British paddlers struggled with this.  However, while the river was high and fast, the chop was few and far between and the Eddies do not compare in any way to the Eddies on the Murray River, so after having raced Frank Harrison in February this was easy! There were also very few snags and sticks to be wary of, unlike the Yarra or Murray.

One of the best parts of the event was the display of club spirit, Worcester Canoe Club happily adopted me to race for them and treated me as one of the family.  Many of the other clubs too displayed strong comraderie regardless of age, gender or speed.  There is also a mandatory requirement to wear club gear.  This worked really well to show that people were there as a team. If anyone were to get the opportunity to race in a Hassler race in future I’d highly recommend it, but be prepared the Brits are there to race, and race hard.  I have no doubt my race-craft will have improved after this race.

Alex Boyd, March 2018