One regular Saturday morning in the middle of Latvia in Vaidava, Koceni parish the largest dedicated SUP event "SUP Fests 2018" took place. With the weekend dedicated to SUP fun, racing and music, excitement was high for the ultimate team SUP race on the 22ft inflatable Red Paddle Co Dragon. Some teams had been training for months, some were formed on the spot (having to test their team spirit in just a few hours time), but all 11 teams were ready to take on the challenge to unleash the dragon.
With the race route announced and dedicated practice time coming to an end, teams got ready to go head to head for the qualifying rounds. The challenge - 4 turns around the buoys whilst paddling against some strong side winds.
Anticipation was in the air as the first two teams; Wet Turtles and Delawake approached the start line, hearts racing as the countdown began 1, 2, 3 . . . race! And with a symbolic wave of the paddle the teams were off, reaching the water at the same time, paddling hard to get their engines going. It was only as they entered the first turn that team Wet Turtles headed by their captain Normunds Barinovs (president of Latvian Surf and SUP association) took the lead, maintaining it to the finish.
The next heat was on for teams The Team and Teteri, where different strategies were being tested. The Team were co-ordinating their actions with loud and firm communication, whereas Teteri kept their actions secret to competitors. The Team took the lead after the first turn and reached the finish line first. Teteri, with possibly the youngest Dragon racer on board kept fighting till the finish line was reached.
The rest of the qualifying rounds did not disappoint. Seeing Speedys and the Chillers master their Dragons in a very close and competitive race. However it was Speedys with their mass paddling experience who came out on top. This was followed by the neck and neck race of The Dragons and DragonFly 2.0 where a photo finish was necessary to prove DragonsFly 2.0 as victors!
It was then time for the last qualifying rounds. Local team Vaidavezi and Lipstick Racing were ready. Vaidavezi were using the competitive advantage of the home-based and with huge support from the spectators took the lead and won the heat. To complete the first round team Apini raced against the time, their strong family spirit helped them reach finish line with 9th fastest time.
Semi finals came with an unexpected surprise, the organisers changed the race track and now the four leading teams will be paddling a shorter distance to test speed not stamina and will be facing not only turns, but also some track obstacles.
The first heat of semi finals placed The Team against DragonFly2.0 who for most of the distance raced paddle on paddle, but the track obstacles proved challenging and The Team reached the finish line first,. after a very successful coordinated group jump.
Then it was the Wet Turtles turn to challenge The Dragons. With The Dragons paddling in perfect synchronisity they took the lead off of the start line however with a fumble at the first turn Wet Turtles squeezed round and came out on top.
It was now time for The Finals and the race organisers were not going to make it easy. The paddling route was updated to combine the qualifying and semifinals track, including long distance, four turns, sit-downs plus a group jump near the finish line. It was going to be a race to test everything that means to be a Dragon Slayer - co ordination, stamina and team spirit. With victory in their sights Teams Wet Turtles and The Team took their place at the start line ready to race; and what a race it was! From the first strokes they were head to head, neither team managing to break away until the last turn when The Team lost their speed, leaving Wet Turtles to secure the victory and be crowned the Latvian Dragon Slayers!
However, Wet Turtles are not stopping here. They will be joining Red Paddle Co for the ultimate team Dragon race at the Dragon World Championships on August 31st - September 2nd. We wish them the best of luck and hope they continue to slay!
For more information on Latvian Dragon events visit our facebook page.
Sign up to the Dragon World Championships in Austria here.
Photo - Viesturs Lācis