Team GB in Fiji

After two weeks of sun, sea and island hopping Team GB return home with a solid 12th place, equalling previous year’s final position. Improving upon previous results let alone breaking into the world’s top ten seemed a challenging task to say the least; without previous team captain and talisman Ollie Shilston combined with the complete withdrawal of the prone team 12th was a fair effort. With a team of fresh faces, although some less fresh than others (the team had one of the highest average ages in the competition), ambitions were nonetheless high with seasoned campaigner Marie Buchanan remaining as the single constant among them and the greatest hope of breaking into the top ten.

From the start, months before departure Fiji was promising to be a unique challenge particularly for the racers attempting to squeeze 12’6 race boards on any flight that would have them – let alone surfing and racing at World renowned Cloud Break, a hefty left hander breaking along frighteningly shallow reef off-loading over sheesh kababs in front of the Quicksilver tower. The competitors were not alone, how the ISA managed to handle the logistics of holding an event 30 plus kilometres out to sea is a small miracle. Miracles aside, it was far from perfect, at every turn schedules succumbed to what is known as Fiji time – in Kernow we would call this ‘Drekly’ or ‘Manyana’ in Spanish accept with added gravitas! At times it seemed that the local school sports day was better coordinated! Often competitors were left bobbing about in the middle of the pacific for up to an hour waiting for the start of an event, course adjustments and race briefing.

In spite of this, competition was nothing short of epic. Cloud break showed up waned, disappeared and then reappeared with vengeful potency for finals day. Distance races were, well, distant, with the women’s race finishing in fasters times than the men’s the previous day. Fiji time had the men waiting out on the water for 45 minutes waiting to start before announcing that there would be another 45 minutes before race officials would instigate the starting process. The knock on effect left competitors in the teeth of raging currents on the biggest tide of the year between the islands of Tavarua and Namotu.

The surfers took the bull by the horns and showed real British bulldog spirit – what isn’t overly apparent when surfing Cloud break is just how shallow it is and how vertical the sections are as the wave bends around the reef toward Sheesh Kabab’s. From the channel every wave looks not only makeable but down right manageable. Jump in and all thoughts of hooking up under the lip quickly evaporate and you are soon charging for the mercy of the shoulder. Tina, Charlie and Alex surfed outstandingly well for Brits. This should not be taken as a pejorative term, nothing in the UK can adequately prepare you for this break, it is challenge enough to surf it is let alone put a paddle in your hands. Both surfers advanced into the repecharge rounds unfortunately, Charlie did not get the rub of the green and exited early on in the event. Tina and Alex however, continued eking their way forward refusing to roll out of the event quietly. In the 3rd round facing elimination and needing a 2.8 to advance Alex could be seen taking two strokes toward a tiny lump before exiting the view of the camera with less than thirty seconds left. Sat on tender hooks, those watching the live stream leapt as Murry placed second in the heat and moved forward one more time toward finals day on Saturday. Tina, a relatively new entrant to the world of sup surfing is by no means wet behind the ears proving her pedigree winning the BSUPA event at Watergate and taking second at the short board nationals this year at Perranporth. Faced with decreasing swell size through the contest Tina held her own laying down some solid turns and charging a couple of hefty sections to finish 11th overall in the women’s division. Alex went on to surf what can only be described as an epic swell of solid proportions on Saturday’s finals day. Similar to his previous heat the waves were not quite going his way until the dying minutes when he lined up for the last of wave of a monster set, with caddy’s scream in the channel and spectators whooping Alex pulled into arguably one of the best waves of the day at that point. So good, the ISA used the image for the banner on their website – if you’re going to go out, then this is how it is done.

On to the racers, and the stalwart of British paddling Marie Buchanan powered through in every event she entered cementing why she is Britain’s highest placed performer. Finishing tenth in the technical race for the third consecutive year belays the significance of her performance. At face value, results would seem static however, the speed and depth with which female paddling continues to improve year on year masks that Marie’s consistency reflects tangible improvements. To finish 9th then is by no means an easy feet and reflects singnificant improvements from the paddler.

The male paddlers then, had a challenge on their hands to match the combined performances of the surfers and female success. Despite Ollie Shilston’s absence Team GB again managed to sneak a paddler into the world final of the technical race with first time team member Glenn Eldridge finishing a credible 14th, after finishing second to Slater Trout in his heats. In a bid to keep the points rolling in Glenn joined both Damian Warner and Paul Simmons in the distance race the following day. Conditions were a brutal 17km taking a winding route from Cloud break to Malolo Island between Tavarua and Namotu. Competitors were quickly strung out leaving the British pair to grind it out on their own for the majority of the day with heat exhaustion getting the better of the two finishing 21st and 30th respectively. Eldridge however, a previous national champion in the board struggled on a further 30 minutes in the midday sun to finish 19th overall in two hours and forty nine minutes in the distance prone and garnered the team a valuable 380 points.

With a top ten placing established as a goal for the team prior to the wholesale loss of the prone contingent the team were struggling to hold onto points in the later stages. Positioned 14th overall in the national standings behind the tied Brazilian and Swedish teams finishing anywhere near the top ten was a going to be a big ask. Sunday saw the last of the races for the event with the team relay culminating with the show case 200m sprint. Unfortunately, despite best efforts the team were unable to progress out of the heats but garnered enough points from the relay to stayed ahead of Sweden in the final placings along with Brazil. Ultimately, 12th is a credible finish for the team considering that a possible 1500 points had gone awry in the prone division – had a full SUP and prone team competed breaking into the top ten was more than realistic.

A huge thank you must be given to those who supported the team; BSUPA who paid for team entry fees. And our kit sponsors, without whom we would not have looked as professional on the land or water; Vaikobi provided the team with amazing technical paddling kit giving us the edge in the extreme heat and Fetch Surf Co who at the last minute turned a group of rag tail paddlers into a respectable looking team.

BSUPA Team RiderPosition(s)Points
AlexFinal joint 16th413
Charlie Grey31st330
Marie BuchananTech 10th
Distance 9th
Glenn EldridgeTech 14th
Distance 19th
Damian Warner Tech joint 21st
Distance 21st
Paul SimmonsDistance 30th335