Kayak Time Trial in Llyn Padarn
You know me, I always have a new project on the go! Recently I’ve patched up a very old surf ski that I have. I’ve been out for little jaunts on the estuary on it. The surf ski is old, it still takes on a little bit of water and its very unstable but I’ve been having fun on it. Whilst browsing the web looking at newer surf skis and paddles I managed to stumble across a of Kayak Time Trial. It was held on Llyn Padarn in Llanberis and organised by the Dyffryn Conwy Paddlers. Soon I was in email conversation with the main organisers and decided to turn up and give it a go.
Llyn Padarn Kayak Time Trial
I took a leisurely drive up on Saturday morning. My surf ski is quite long, a little too long for my car really so I was taking things easy but still arrived quite early. As I did so, I could see a few people out swim training in the lake with a kayaker as a support vessel. As they came ashore the guy in the kayak said hello, asked if I was racing today and commented on the ‘retro’ ski on my car. I said that that was the plan and then corrected myself by saying that I was going to give it a go. ‘Racing’ was far from my mind as this was a taster and I had no idea how I would stack up against the competition in my old-fashioned ski.
I also made sure that he and everyone else I spoke to as others arrived were aware of the fact that I may well end up swimming! The surf ski is very unstable and I’m not that good on it yet. The fact that there was a stiff wind blowing along the lake wouldn’t help matters and I could see quite a few white-caps out there too. It could get interesting!
Other people started arriving and we all had a bit of a chat. I was of course the newbie but everyone was really welcoming, They were all quite ‘interested’ in my surf ski but in a nice way. Yes, it looked old and a little odd and they weren’t sure what I’d be like on it but they were all encouraging and were keen to offer help, advice and tips. I took a look at some of the other craft that people would be using. There was quite a selection of ocean kayaks, modern skis and racing kayaks. All of which looked nice!
We soon got changed and headed off across the lake towards the start. The wind was picking up all the time and it was quite choppy. I was feeling decidedly unstable on the way across and hoped I wasn’t the only one. Everyone seemed to think I looked OK though. Little do they know how much concentration and effort it was taking for me to stay upright!
We gathered at the end of the lake, sheltered by the trees from the wind. James who was in charge or proceedings had worked out everyones seeding from previous races. People would be set off at times he had calculated.
The Kayak Time Trial is a 5km out and back route along the east shore of Llyn Padarn in Llanberis. The idea is that it is a handicapped race start with the aim that everyone would finish close together for a race to the line.
Having not raced before or done anything like this James had made a guess at where I’d be after assessing my abilities on the short paddle across the lake. I was worried that he may have over-estimated my abilities though. It’s a small world and I had met James a couple of years ago at a business meeting in Conwy. I was cycling the 100 or so miles home from the meeting and he was riding he 5 miles or so home. He therefore know that I had some fitness – I just hoped he didn’t think that would transfer into any skill on a surf ski! After his assessment of my abilities and fitness I was to set off in the middle of the field, 5 minutes after the first person and with others hot on my heels.
We waited around for a while and then the first person headed off at 11am. I sat there with my legs dangling in the cold waters of Llyn Padarn. Dangling my legs over the side of the ski is much more stable than sitting on top of it, so although I had cold feet there was at least less chance of going in completely. A few other people set off in front of me and then it was my turn.
I set off at a decent pace but not too fast, following the shoreline and keeping inside the little orange buoys set out to mark the course. I was soon out into the wind and the chop though. The wind was stronger than we’d thought and for now it was a tailwind, slightly from the left-hand side. This meant good speed as the wind and the waves pushed us down the lake. I soon overtook the two people who had set off 2 minutes and 1:30 ahead of me and made the most of the running waves, trying to ride them as best I could.
The person who had set off first 5 minutes ahead of me was a little further ahead still but I was catching her. I couldn’t see her that well through the murk though as I was concentrating on staying upright and keeping up a decent speed. As I came to the rock that I thought was the turning point I could still see her further down the lake. Uncertainty set in as to whether this was the turn around point or not. I hesitated a while, checked the distance on my GPS and decided that I had it right and she had gone too far.
I started to make the turn and struggled to get around. My Surf Ski needs a lot of space to turn around as it isn’t the most agile of things. I ran aground trying to make the turn, stopped and had to push myself off the rocks. I made it in the end though and then headed back out into the full force of the wind.
Into the Wind
The people behind me were now approaching the turn so I checked with them that I’d turned in the right spot. I had, so now it was full speed ahead back to the start/finish line.
Full speed ahead wasn’t really accurate though as the wind was now howling. There would have been plenty for windsurfing as it was a good 25 knots. This was whipping up white-caps and steep chop that the nose of my sur ski was cutting through sending up spray into my face. It was hard to make headway against this but I was loving it. The nose of my ski was lifting up over the chop and then diving down behind it and into the face of the next piece of chop. The spray was pelting my face and the wind was trying to rip the paddles from my hands as I was pushed one way then the other by the chop and the wind. It was cold, it was wet, it was grey and wild. I was getting soaked onboard an old, retro-ski that was a little out of place. I was working hard against the elements and there was a race on. I was in my element!
The gusts around some of the headlands almost brought me to a stop but I battled on making progress the whole time and keeping my effort measured. I couldn’t put a huge amount of effort into trying to generate much speed though as most of it was going into staying upright. A couple of people from behind overtook me. They were all staying in as close to the shore as possible to get some shelter from the wind and waves. I was too worried of getting blown into the banks to do that and besides I was enjoying the ride where it was a little wild.
A third person from behind overtook me – I did know all of their names but have forgotten them already so can’t say who she was. We were getting closer to the finish line now though and I still had quite a bit left so I stayed with her and then upped the effort for the last few minutes so as to retake the place and pull away from her.
We waited at the finish line in our boats as the others finished. It was quite a wait though as a number of people struggled to make headway against the wind and took close to an hour to complete it. It was a little chilly waiting so I paddled around to keep warm and chatted to the others that were waiting. The sun did come out in the end though which was nice. Once everyone was back and accounted for we headed back across the lake to the pontoon.
I had a quick go with a set of wing paddles that someone let me borrow and then a quick go in James’s ski. The paddles felt good so will be going on my shopping list soon and the ski was nice too. As I first got on it it felt as though it was going to be more unstable than mine but I’m not sure that it was. It was difficult to tell with just a short go and difficult to tell if it was faster too, but it was certainly lighter and more maneuverable than mine. If it’s faster and more stable too then I may just have to do some shopping soon!
Coffee and Cake
We then packed up and headed into the shop for coffee and to my surprise cake too. That clinched the deal for me, I’ll be back for more races in the future. Everyone was nice so I stayed there chatting for a bit talking about kit and the different types of kayaks and skis that are available. I then headed off as I was planning on running along some of the coast path for the afternoon.
I crossed the line with a time of 35:30 which I was pleased with.
Better still I remained upright and didn’t make a fool of myself. Everyone was saying that the conditions were pretty much as tough as they get for these races and most peoples times were a few minutes off what they would normally do. I’m not sure that I’d be able to knock 3 minutes off that myself though as I quite like the rough stuff. We’ll see though as I’ll be back for more and will hopefully get to do it on a calm day soon.
I haven’t seen the full results yet but I finished somewhere in the middle with a fairly decent time for my first attempt in fairly challenging conditions. The wind certainly had an effect though. I was averaging around 6.5mph on the way down the lake with the wind behind me. This dropped to around 4mph on the way back, with just an increase to around 6mph for the last few hundred metres to the finish line.
All in all a fun day out and a good group of people to race against. I don’t think I’ll ever be challenging for a top spot though as some of the others were pretty good! Thanks to everyone for the welcome, for letting me try their boats and paddles and of course for the cake!