To say that the Chinese SUP and Paddling community loves to paddle would be an understatement. Fresh from the ICF in Pattaya, Starboard Dream Team rider Daniel Hasulyo travelled to Jiangle, nestled in the mountainous region of Fujian Province, for a challenging yet fun 50 km of paddling over the course of 2 days. Over 300 paddlers participated in the 2024 Jiangle Canoe & SUP Marathon ready to test their limits whilst being surrounded by nature on beautiful waterways set in jaw-dropping sceneries. The organisers put on a stellar effort to deliver yet another event of a world-class standard from start to finish. Daniel recaps his experience with some amazing action shots below.
I can not emphasise enough how impressed I am with the attention that the event organizers are putting into every detail of the event, the banners, the goodie bags, registration, spotless timing and dynamics on and off the water, the categories, the gala dinner, the involvement of the local authorities, but most of all, the structure of each race, created by paddlers for paddlers, making sure that each of us returns home positively charged and with memories that last a life time, creating race formats that makes flat water paddling and ultra distance paddling exciting for everyone.
The event was split in 2 days, for an accumulative 50km of distance. On day 1, we paddled 16kms each of us competing for our own result, while on the second day, we paddled 34kms either in teams of 3 or 4 depending on the category.
Saturday’s event was the 8th edition of the China – Jiangle Canoe & SUP Marathon, a traditional event on the Chinese SUP and Canoe Calendar as the season-ending battle and celebration. This time we had very good weather on both days, with mystical fogs fuming on the waters early morning to later dissolve and unveil blue skies and beautiful sceneries of the Jinxi River and the mountains around covered in forests presenting the multiple faces of autumn. I personally love paddling on rivers and this year the surrounding was truly mind-lifting.
To make the competition even more exciting with the TOP Chinese paddlers, they created a challenge in the challenge, with a chase the leader format. The last time I was here I gapped the 2nd athlete by 3:18 seconds, so there was a bonus for everyone who could possibly lower the gap, or for me, in case I could increase it.
Fired up to race and push my limits, we set off with a mean pace, but to my surprise this time, 4 of the Chinese athletes, Black, Jianglei, Shi Bijiang and Zhengyu, managed to stay on my tail for the first 5kms. The boys were becoming faster and faster off the start line, but I also knew that there was a fierce battle among them, so with one ear on my back I was waiting for the right moment to give an extra push. About 6km into the course a media boat passed on the other bank and I knew that the waves of the boat would form somewhere on the river at some stage. The guys behind me also noticed and it was time to accelerate.
With the boat long gone, eventually, somewhere in the middle of the river the waves came alive but with a very odd angle compared to the route, regardless I decided to edge the board and try to make a move before the current would wash the little ripples away. It paid off, with lots of concentration, I stayed on top and had enough push to keep my momentum going while the rest of the field decomposed behind me and from there I never looked back. I really wanted to make sure to extend my lead and stroke after stroke I paddle home for victory, completing the course in 1 hour 29 minutes and close to 4 minutes to the 2nd paddler.
The last 5kms were far from easy, the gorge channelled solid headwind over the river, but I knew what to do and didn’t drop the pace, instead, pushing hard when the elements were against me. Most honestly the boys could have probably narrowed the gap, slightly, if they focused on working together rather than against each other to put a foot on the podium, but that is some very healthy racing and I couldn’t be happier to see their improvements!
I believe next year it will be an even more intense battle! To me, one of the highlights of Saturday was to see the junior category, where many under 10-year-old little rockstars paddled 12km on the same course and handled the headwind with fierce determination and although with times close to 2hours+, but didn’t give up, showing a bright future ahead and the potential of the next generation!
Sunday it was all about Ultra Distance, up to date, probably my favorite race format. There is something extremely satisfying in pushing beyond comfort and conquering achievements that are extraordinary. Just like a marathon, in ultra distance paddling, every finisher is a winner, because they proved they can. The release of high amount of endorphins and that sense of euphoria that overflows body and brain when crossing the finish line, I believe connects us all in the journey. Adding a Team Race format to ultra distance paddling, is a true breakthrough and I think it amplifies the experience of each participant, as you not only suffer but also live every moment of joy together.
As most of the Chinese Starboard riders were busy in another great event over the weekend, in a northern province, I didn’t have a team to tackle the other 5 brand teams in the battle of the Brands, where each paddler paddled a single quiver in a team of 3. So I have participated to the Battle of the Clubs, where each team was composed of 2 single quivers and 1 tandem, so 4 people in the team. In both cases, it is the last Team Member’s time that counts for the whole team. In the Club’s Battle, changing quivers among the members is allowed and also towing each other with ropes is allowed (as common practice in other kayak expedition races) which is a key factor in the racing tactics.
Team China Splash (PFL Academy) was composed of Joe, MaeMae, Joey and Myself – Joe, Manman, Zhouwei and myself. Joe was paddling an All Star, I was on my favourite Sprint Zero and the girls were on an inflatable tandem.
Our biggest opponents were a team from Shuzou, the Shumbaba Team, that came out with 3 boys, and 1 girl, and they had a custom hard tandem board, looking very focused to win.
I knew that like in every ultra event, the real race would start after the half-point mark, and I did trust in my experience but Sunday’s race really put me on the edge and I had to gather all my might to help our Team triumph.
About 5-6km into the race, the Shumbaba Team was long gone. I was paddling ahead of the girls and Joe, trying to indicate a pace that would keep us in competition, but the leading Team was just too strong, keeping their average around 9.4km/h. It quickly became clear that we had to do something, so around km 6 we decided to connect and reform. With clips and ropes, we formed a train, Sprint – Tandem – AllStar and from there, it was game on. Even with the load behind, when I started to pull we could push our unit above 10-10.3km/h which was a forced pace on my teammates, but with constant hydration and the right mindset, we took off on the chase.
At the 15km halfway point there was a dam with a 350m portage. I knew that if we got to the half point together with the other team we still had a chance to overtake, otherwise, the game would be gone, as the Shumbaba Team was very well coordinated on land and water. From 11 to 15km, we pushed really hard and almost completely closed the gap by the halfway point, but at the portage and right after, our opponents gapped us again by a good 300m. We kept calm and I knew that we were just starting. Our comfort pace was around 8.5km/h, when all paddling was synchronized we could keep 9.5-7km/h and when it was time to go I could help to push above 10km/h, so from there on the race became REAL! We didn’t want to accept being defeated, squeezing with all our power, around km 22, we finally got on the other team’s tail.
I knew that we crushed them, and for me, it was enough to paddle up to their leader and have a feel of the powers to know that we could eventually pull away. Before we reached them, they realized we were coming and rapidly tried to also tie themselves together to make sure that they all paddle together (and maybe keep their gap) but I saw their intention and before they could form we made sure that their last team member wouldn’t have time to be attached to their train and with a slightly stronger pace and a couple of change of directions rather than keeping a straight line, to create confusion, we secured to lose their last paddler.
That I believe was the most defying moment of the race (as much as the big push before the halfway marker) Some real tactics, were delivered in full action. Everyone was truly tired, all muscles hurting, but we went on for the final push and for the last 6kms we put a mean pace on the water and paddled home for victory. It was a real team effort and I am extremely thankful and proud of my team because I know they all paddled the entire distance out of their comfort zone, almost in delirium at times, but they followed all instructions and kept the pace, helping our 3boards4men unit flying on the water. Having such a close battle with the other TOP Team, and living victories and defeats stroke after stroke gave a true spice to the entire race and I would like to congratulate all finishers for their energy and their effort for creating such a memorable experience on and off the water!
I can’t express enough my gratitude towards the organizers and sponsors for putting together such an Incredible weekend of racing and for flying me in to live this experience together. Truly looking forward to the 3rd edition of the 50km Legend, next year and could only invite all paddle enthusiasts to come and live the magic.
Now, I’m solidly numb, the feeling that I guess we all are looking for when we sign up for an ultra race, it takes courage both from organizers and all participants to commit to such a distance, but the result always pays off!
This was my last race of the season, in a few days I’ll be flying to India to conduct India’s first Professional SUP Workshop with their best national athletes to conclude this years SUP adventures.
In the meantime, once again, many thanks for PFL Academy, Joe, Liu Min, Paddlers.cn and all local organizers for another great weekend of racing and enjoying nature at the highest levels!
Can’t wait for the next one!
See you on the water ~ Daniel