11 Cities "Lock Out" and why tactics such as this should not be the way of the future
Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association (SUPAA) recently wrote an article, regarding Making SUP Racing Great Again which I find overall somewhat distressing, given that such an article needs to be written at a juncture when the sport has barely started. It's good stuff, but worrying nevertheless.
Outrigger Canoe paddling and racing by comparison, goes from strength to strength and racing and the sports appeal, has never been more popular or well attended. With formalised racing and the implementation of rules since the 1950s and gentleman's rules from the 1920's in Hawaii and in Tahiti, long before this, the sport prides itself on honour between competitors and acceptance of the cultural and traditional ties it is bound by.
Perhaps this is a reflection of the sports maturity and which when mirrored comparatively with SUP racing (a paddle sport incase anyone has forgotten) SUP appears lacking of any such maturity or the resonance of 'Aloha Spirit' which binds OC sport and keeps it in radiant good health. I sense an unpleasantness creeping into SUP racing, made worse by some Race Directors and Officials, seemingly unwilling to refer to the rule book and administer it, with the full force of its intended purpose and more especially in referring to it at the upper elite end of the gene pool where behaviour out of desperation to win leads to ambitious behaviour, but least we forget, rules are rules and there should be no exceptions.
For the September 2016 11 Cities SUP Tour event in Holland, the sun shone and the event lived up to its usual expectations and while each and every competitor takes on this race for differing reasons, the front runners are there to win for their own benefit and for that of their sponsors. These sponsors of course invest substantial amounts of money, money they cannot afford to waste, money which can be invested in a wide and diverse manner if they so choose.
Sponsors and indeed sponsored riders add to the atmosphere, the theatre and drama, the anticipation and given this committment, it's only reasonable such investment is rewarded with excellence of race co-ordination, implementation of the rule book and an assurance, all paddlers are afforded the right to compete on a level and fair playing field and that any such breaches or infringements are recognised and dealt with to an appropriate level of outcome.
At the elite end of the event, there is in fairness, a relatively small number of paddlers who are under intense pressure of mind and body in the pursuit of podium placings. Their results 'matter' not just to themselves, but to their sponsor in particular, the board designers, the revenue flow, the marketing efforts and the brand's image (to take nothing away from all those who participate in this gruelling event).
The latter point can be bettered or worsened simply by unsportmanlike behaviour and like one person was to later go to say on social media, 'Winning does not make you a Champion.' Within this maelstrom of competitiveness, there are what we know as 'rules' which can be considered a measure of protection against unreasonable treatment, behaviour, tactics and gamesmenship. It's the glue which holds the entire process together, without which there would be chaos.
As it happens, by the end of this 2016 event and perhaps unwittingly, Chris Parker's (SUPracer) overview, choose (appropriately) to use language which summed up the modus operandi by which the race was won and these are his words I would stress, not my own or at least someone portrayed this to him being Chris was not present.
"On the men’s side, Team Starboard and the Hasulyo’s performed a perfect ‘lock-out . . .the brothers aggressively defended their lead and made sure Steeve couldn’t get in a position to make a break."
In this summary, you have to understand its implication.
1. "The perfect lock-out" is to use the vernacular is if it were a merit of honour, the perfect race tactic which led to a meritorious victory, when of course, we should consider what implications it has for SUP racing. As to whether such tactics fall within the vaguest realms of the rule book, is apparently wide open for interpretation.
2. The overview of the writer, makes it implicit, neither brother was paddling as an individual competitor per se, but indeed as a collective whole; they are ipso facto, 'as one', hence 'Hasulyo's' and 'brothers' when we should in fact be speaking in terms of individuals.
3. Chris further goes on to say, ‘Steeve was fine with the 'rubbing is racing tactics’ and that ‘Steeve didn’t have much to say about the close attention he was receiving . . .’ is about as erroneous a statement as could be made, in the absence of being present.
Steeve may be laid-back, but if he was not saying anything, it simply is not his style to do so and a measure of his self control and professionalism. What he was feeling on the other hand, was pure frustration in being dealt with in this manner.
By his own Admission, Steeve Lost his 11 Cities Title on Day One.
His tactics were to be the same as 2015. Sit back a little at the start, slot in with a paddler of similar pace and inch by inch, work toward the lead. In 2015, he had been super fortunate in hooking up with Dode Florent paddling with Bic. They shared and continue to share a warm synergy. Steeve from French Polynesia and Dode from France, paddled and conversed and the atmosphere between them was convivial and a joy to watch as they systematically took apart the competition, finishing in 1st and 2nd podium places, some 20 minutes ahead of their nearest rivals, the Hasulyo brothers.
Steeve, though he did not have a paddling partner for want of a better description, he did not count on the collusion of two individuals, who would redefine the boundaries of gamesmanship and additional contenders, who appeared either disinterested, unwilling or lacked the belief, experience or ability to contend for the lead in any meaningful way, let alone work with Steeve to their collective benefit.
While Day 1 was a Miscalculation on Steeve’s part, Day 2 was a No-Brainer.
Gun goes, stay with the brothers. He did, as did others and it resulted in a close finish for Steeve into 3rd place. But it had been a tough day, which led the brothers to unleash their special brand of gamesmanship in 'locking-out' any opposition.
Collectively, the brothers and Steeve, were the 3 fastest paddlers on the water. Day 1’s primary infringement had been blatant boat-wake riding and when on Day 2 it continued, others copied, because it seemed only reasonable to do so, or be a looser for not doing the same. No protesting or sighting by Officials had been noted . . . nor the 'lock-out' tactics.
Steeve passed on his concerns in relation to the days events and a relaxed but dim view of the matter was noted, until Day 3, when Steeve managed a 2nd place finish, having been able to break the deadlock on a wide stretch of water. Crossing the line, Steeve was calm but visibly and unusually frustrated as a result of being obstructed, taken off-course, rammed and verbally toyed with and made clear he had no place in becoming part of a ‘draft train’ as it where. ‘Get a partner’ was the rebuff.
Steeve had Genuinely had Enough.
He was ready for the airport and sponsors Mistral, were tempted to take him, pull out the flags and leave. This is not how he wins canoe races and certainly none of his multiple list of World Championship Titles in either OC1, V6 or V1 have been won in this fashion. Neither is this how SUP races are won and lost in Tahiti, nor is it what he signed up for.
It was perfunctory to pressure him to protest and at one point when a respected paddler remarked the brothers were fitter and better paddlers and this was the reason Steeve was being beaten, it was clear the reality of the situation was not being understood and that is was overwhelming the organisers who clearly did not want to get involved or indeed 'take charge'. Their solution was to enlist Bart de Zwart from Starboard to intervene; hardly neutral territory. Too many vested interests made their positions untenable.
At an impromptu meeting before the beginning of Day 4, one of the brothers announced to a not insignificant gathering of individuals and a Race Officer ‘I can do whatever I like on the water . . .’ without intervention or challenge. Here was a competitor acting in a manner, in which he believed he ‘is the sport’ the one calling the shots; meanwhile, officialdom, to all intents and purposes, were seemingly unworthy to be stood in his presence. Sadly, officialdom stood and listened without reaction?
In all my 40 years of competitive ocean sports, I have never witnessed either such a level of disregard for fellow competitors or race officials, nor either such a level of impotence on the side of officialdom.
Furthermore, Bart de Zwart confirmed the brothers admitted to their tactics and further bragged to Mistral rider Seychelle Hattingh in 'locking' Steevie out. Of course the damage was already done. I could hardly believe what I was hearing frankly.
The Rules, Race Directors and Organised Lawlessness
The rules of SUP whether adopted from the WPA, SUPAA or other by the 11 Cities Race Committee, clearly embrace many of the essential elements contained therein and left no doubt as to the actions that should have been taken, up to and including possible disqualification.
Since when, has SUP racing become a team sport and not even in the fashion we associate with cycling, but more along the lines of a roller-derby of lawlessness, where it is no longer a race about individuals, but a race where two persons race as one, with neither one competing strictly against the other, but together in a unified force to be reckoned with.
We are now hearing noises from those wanting to expand upon Team Racing in the belief this will be racing's salvation if not SUP sport itself. And just how will officials, race directors and the rule book police such a scenario when they are flat out dealing with individual racing at its most basic level - will they for example use the model from the Team Cycling Rule Book?
Rule 9. “Wilful misconduct from participants amongst each other or towards the organisation will be charged with a time penalty or disqualification.” Misconduct - read, deliberate collision making, closing gaps, taking over-taking paddlers off line etc.
Race rules are all well and good, but it’s their implementation which brings them validity, but neither is it mandatory they are only ever cited in the case of protest hearings lodged by those competing.
International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe Marathon Competition Rules
BECAUSE PADDLING IS NOT CYCLING FOR THE DIMS WITS WHO INSIST ON THINKING THAT IT IS. BECAUSE SUP IS A PADDLE SPORT AND PADDLE SPORTS HAVE BEEN AROUND A LONG TIME. BECAUSE WE DO NOT HAVE TO REINVENT THE WHEEL WHEN MODEL CODES OF CONDUCT EXIST.
24. Group racing and overtaking (ICF)
When a canoe or kayak is overtaking another canoe or kayak, it is the duty of the overtaking craft to keep clear of other competitors at all times. When a canoe or kayak is racing in a group of competitors it is the duty of all the competitors in the group to keep clear of other competitors at all times. This rule also applies to any manoeuvring within the group and is applicable for all parts of the course including the portage and turns. (ICF)
c) Collision or damage
Any competitor who is considered by a course umpire or race official to have been responsible for a collision, or who damages the canoe or kayak or paddle of another competitor or unnecessarily deviates from the course may be subject to a penalty. If it is considered that other paddlers have only had some minor disadvantage as a result of the incident the responsible competitor will get a time penalty of 30 seconds. If it is considered that the incident has given other paddlers a major unfair disadvantage the penalty will be disqualification.
Rule 10. “The gentleman’s rule applies when it comes to over-taking your opponent. When your opponent stops to eat or drink, you should not sprint away. Fair play.” So it’s OK to lock-out opponents and behave wilfully in an unsportsmanlike behaviour on the one hand, but be sure to back off when such perpatrators are in need of sustenance - in outrigger canoeing this rule would be laughed at, but then again wilful misconduct is rare in OC.
Race Directors, Race Officials, Boat Drivers and all Support Staff should be (must be) versed in race rules and should they witness 'wrong doings' as a result of vigilant observation, it is incumbent upon them to act in respect of the safe and fair participation of all comers, thereby maintaining the highest standards of competitive engagement. It is not suffice to say, the role of competitors to police the very event in which they are participating, when much of what may be going on around them is difficult to judge in the moment, in the here and now. Rules are founded to create order out of possible chaos, designed to curb the behaviour of those whose gyroscope of right and wrong is somehow malfunctioning or impeded, so as fair play can be established together with universal agreement. They are also in place as a matter of risk management, the safety of competitors and other water users. For the organisers, issues of duty of care are not unimportant.
Notwithstanding rules created and applicable to SUP racing are rules relating to COLREGS (Collision Regulations) for both Inland Waterways and Marine Waters, which in effect govern the safe conduct of all water craft, whether paddled, sailed or motored. They exist to provide safe practice and an accepted level of protocol for the benefit and safety of all, including that of property. Ultimately, they are not unimportant in the grand scheme of things and they should have some baring on general courtesy and behaviour in the context of SUP racing and especially within enclosed waterways.
Rule 13. “All racers must be respectful of the rules on the water . . . failure to comply with local rules may result in a penalty. This covers, but is not limited to, paddling on the right hand side of canals, passing bridges on the right hand side, giving right of way . . .” Ambitious being as all paddlers very probably violated this rule no doubt at one time or another.
Protesting, Sportsmanship, Gamesmanship, Race Directorship
While protesting is the avenue open to competitors by which to contest the actions of others, it is deemed for the most part an unpalatable course of action, almost as unpalatable as the behaviours of the offending perpetrator/s. It’s often protracted, contentious, painful, personal and the antithesis of what sport should be about. Indeed you may be forced to protest against a ‘friend’ or team mate which further escalates resistance to lodging a protest. Bad blood can only come from it.
Ironically, Mistral were ultimately criticised for failing to protest on a daily basis over the course of the 5 days, for the infringements which were clear and obvious in respect of two paddlers whose modus operandi was, to paddle ‘as one’ using defensive and agressive tactics to maintain position. Ultimately, the decision rested with Steeve, who comes from a world where protesting is not the way in which to win races. He did however lodge his own respectful views on the matter on his own Facebook pages to the support and outcry of thousands of fellow Tahitians back in the islands and beyond.
This is a race in which strangers from strange lands come together to compete, to endure and share hours of grinding away over the 220kms. A race in which there should be brotherhood between paddlers, not antagonisation and downright hostility by actions and or words, whether known to you or unknown, liked or disliked, from the same sponsor or opposing. At days end, paddlers (should) share a common bond with that of water and the love of paddling, often encapsulated in that emotional prism referred to as the ‘Spirit of Aloha’ - regrettably, this spirit seems ever more elusive in the quest for podium finishes and about as misrepresented as the notion of what a ‘Waterman’ (or woman) is and should be.
Rule 7. “A paddler shall only use the paddle, waves and wind to propel the board forward during the race. No outside assistance from boat wakes . . .” This was violated in the first few minutes of the race on day one with support boats contributing to this issue on account of boat drivers being ignorant to what they were doing.
Rule 8. “Any assistance from boats or people . . . will be an automatic disqualification.” See above.
Rule 11.” Drafting is not allowed behind any boat or other motorised device.” See above.
Of course, it begs the question why was this not policed by officials? If I tell you, some of the wake-riding was taking place behind the lead boat (and other support boats) manned by inattentive helpers, you can guess the rest. I questioned the lead boat drivers on the first stop on Day 1 and they had no idea of wrong-doing and told me they were told to stay ‘just ahead’ of the lead paddlers, when in fact they should be greater than 200 meters ahead to limit any chance of wake riding.
Sportsmanship is an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors. Gamesmanship on the other hand, is the dubious method employed to win or gain a serious advantage. It has been described as, ‘Pushing the rules to the limit without getting caught, using whatever dubious methods possible to achieve the desired end’.
Ultimately, Race Directors, must assume control of ‘their’ race over and beyond the rules in place. They must act to control and direct. They must dictate proceedings to an acceptable level of conduct and behaviour they see fit. Failure to take-charge, assume responsibility, implement the rule book up to and including speculative issues of sportsmanship versus gamesmanship, versus outright unreasonable and unfair practices, either with or without the auspices of a formal protest being lodged, can soon see an event fall into disrepute and anarchy.
In respect of race briefings, failure of Race Directors to assert their authority, ensuring they are delivered in a manner which is authoritative, audible and includes issue of dynamic risk assessment of the days conditions, race course, race start, safety procedures and reappraisal and reminder of the race rules, reiterating the need for safe practice and co-operation, are all essential to gaining the respect of all competitors of all levels.
Where race briefings are incoherent, noisy, distracting, lack-lustre and devoid of a sense of authority, you can assume the Race Director is failing in their duty to take charge of what is in effect, their race, which they must have overall control. Once you’ve attended many hundreds of Race Briefings, you soon get the idea between good ones and bad. One Race Director in Australia became famous for announcing each year ‘I shit you not, you will be disqualified’ in respect of being over the line at the start of a particular race. It was 'his' race of which he had ultimate authority. He had our ears and our respect.
The Evolution of Win at all Costs
When Starboard’s Connor Baxter decided to run fellow Aussie team mate Michael Booth into a Spanish wall during the 2016 Euro Tour as Michael attempted to pass on his inside thereby securing victory, Michael was understandably incandescent with rage, as this is not the behaviour he had expected and nor is it proper, correct, noble or honourable. Aussies take their sport very seriously and it’s a wonder it did not get uglier than it did.
"There was a bit of post-race drama though, with Boothy protesting the tight line that Connor took close to the side of the river over the final hundred metres. The Aussie claimed that Connor boxed him out, Connor said it wasn’t intentional, while the organisers took a very close look but essentially concluded it was “rubbing is racing” and that the Hawaiian’s win stands."
Altering course in order to shut someone out in the context of paddlesports is where the rule book should be thrown at the instigator with full force and vigour. Maybe the organisers were correct, I'm not judging, however, It is neither clever, skilled, honourable or the way in which to stand with pride on the podium, in the knowledge you were being out-paddled and choose the lowest form of tactic available to you - period.
It's about time this sport grew up and began supporting the actions of the honourable and rejecting the behaviour of the few, in what amounts to an act of shame in the context of on-water duals between competitors.
And it does not end there of course, as the SUP racing world is fully aware of the no-love-lost status quo which has at times manifested between Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter, exemplified in open displays of outright provocation and demonstrative action.
At the recent Spanish Championships a collective of Spanish paddlers, decided to take-out someone who was not Spanish by dealing with him in their own 'special' way, while on FaceBook some ex-racers, expressed this is why they no longer compete, on account of the lawlessness and failure of officials to act.
Short out bursts of random irrational behaviour are of course indicative of the competitive mindset when under duress and pressure, outbursts which can of course be explained and are more often than not, regretted by the offender, who in short ‘lost it’ in the rationality stakes. It does nothing for professional integrity, popularity nor indeed the brand with whom the individual is associated, even if in the case of the Baxter vs Booth incident they represent the same brand.
"Rubbing is not Racing", Period.
This ridiculous cliché and throw-away line of casual indifference that 'Rubbing is Racing' is about as damaging an anecdotal misconstruction of reality as one could imagine. First we had drafting permitted because apparently it was too difficult to police, now race official have decided actively ramming, colliding, rubbing, infringing, interfering, annoying, hassling, banging, knocking, smashing, striking, thumping, jolting, contacting, slamming, sideswiping, impacting, hitting, blowing, nudging, smacking, obstructing, crashing, conflicting, are apparently all fair tactics and that it is all part of racing . . . and we wonder why the interest in racing may be slowing.
They probably all think it's unavoidable and a factor of competition and associated with the difficulty of board handling under such conditions, when in fact, most all of this behaviour is deliberate.
If this is how it is going to be and make no mistake, it is now going from bad to worse, we can assume right here, right now that SUP racing is on the out, because if this is truly how so called grown adults supposedly 'in charge' of events are happy to embrace and support this behaviour, then the next question is, why bother with race officials, rules or any of it; in fact, just let paddlers slug it out in the car park.
Drafting has been permitted in SUP racing more or less from inception, purely on the basis that it’s simply too hard to police in the case of deeming it illegal. It’s more feasible in flatter waters and as a result, drafting, or following in another’s wake, one behind the other in single file, has become the standard practice in order to conserve energy. Central to drafting is an accepted protocol of sharing the load and rotating turns at the front of what’s know as ‘the train’. Ironically, drafting is a functional going concern if deployed ethically, but utterly dysfunctional if not.
It’s technical and requires skill, but it’s also based on a degree of mutual consent, trust and pecking order. Ideally a train of paddlers tends to be more or less of a similar speed and ability and of course this becomes a self-governing process as the race progresses. Larry Cain has a nice piece on this topic http://larrycain.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/drafting-on-sup.html
At certain key moments the deadlock in formation of a train of paddlers must be broken in order to create a force majeure in respect of establishing podium places. Just how this manifests and when, can take several forms, but of all reasons separating out the winners from the losers, one expects it to be as a result of the winner, ‘out-paddling’ all-comers in a fair dual of ability, skill and fitness, in addition to the deployment of some elements of tactics; course deviations which lead to faster hull speeds (use of naturally occurring waves, currents etc) but not so as to hinder or impede your opponents.
Passive Aggressive Tactics
A variation to this has now manifested and one which offers little or no hydrodynamical benefit associated with drafting, whereby two paddlers paddle side by side, neither attempting to out paddle the other, but simply maintain form, side by side, in a passive-aggressive holding pattern.
Benign as it may seem, this formation sets in motion a disruption to the natural order of things. This of course in itself is not contentious as such. Greater confusion of run-off water is created for the paddler/s behind, who now also tend to follow in tandem as a consequence. No great issue with this perhaps, but it immediately throws into question collusion and mutual co-operation between the two paddlers and the onset of a raised level of gamesmanship.
What was witnessed in Holland was a morphing of the sport from friendly individual solo rivalry into that of outright hostility, in paddling not as one paddler, but ‘two paddlers as one’ and before you state that this is simply team racing, pairs racing, call it what you will and you see no issue with it, you need be fully aware of the implications and tactics being used in this ‘two paddlers as one’ approach.
Simply put, where two paddlers collude to work together against all-comers up to and including an open willingness to sacrifice individual positioning in order to ensure, that one of the duo maintains the lead, by preventing a third party from overtaking, by altering course to the left or right or by closing open gaps, deliberately colliding with, obstructing and or interfering with said third party, or failing to share lead positions, you realise this is very much more than the benign action action of ‘working with each other’ in the context of drafting. Indeed, this is outright aggression and by any other name it is unsportsmanlike behaviour and disqualification must become the ultimate penalty for behaving in this manner.
It was blatantly clear, neither paddler was in competition with the other, save for perhaps the very last few hundred metres, but even then, the primary modus operandi, was to divide and conquer whomever wanted to overtake either one of them and by any means.
The rules must be clear and unambiguous in respect of disqualification. Two (or more) paddlers colluding and acting out defensive / aggressive strategies to dominate the lead or indeed attempting to prevent a paddler joining a train in the normal accepted manner, has no place in this paddle sport or any other.
Whatever happens next year, the Race Directors and Officials need to take stock of this years 11 Cities event. There is no question of its validity and I am a huge fan and supporter, respectful of all-comers who compete or merely take-part. I’m also aware how much work it is, having been involved as an organiser and official and many large international outrigger canoeing events.
I note they intend allocating 50km as a time trial for 2017, presumably in bite sizes pieces which fails to address this issue at hand of the remaining 170km.
Critically, SUP racing globally needs to come under heavy scrutiny to ensure rules are not just meaningless scribbles, but made real by application and every race that stands up and makes this implicit will gain kudos and support, this too is implicit.
You won't find much negative in what Steeve says, he knows it's not his place to police or implement rules. He takes it in his stride and on camera, he's smart enough to say only just enough.
It seems inevitable not only are some emerging paddlers already being put off racing, but brands may well cease investing if their paddlers are given special attention without consequence. If no changes are implemented in respect of enforcement of the rules, training of officials both on and on water, to observe and take part in the adjudication process, it could be brands will invest elsewhere in favour of a level playing field where race directorship standards are higher and / or where a self governing process, ensures this type of paddling allegiance is mitigated.