King of the Island SUP Race, Bergeggi

This weekend the "King of the Island" SUP race took place in beautiful Bergeggi. I was on my way down there but my campervan started loosing oil big time after Brennero, I tried refilling every 50km but it soon became apparent this is a major leak, so I stopped at Nogaredo Ovest at noon Saturday, found a nice parking space and even a hydraulic hoist (banco elevatore – a bit of Italian helps….) at the Shell station there.  While asking friends also experienced in driving old T3s for advice via Facebook chat, SMS & phone, and keeping Annabel and Luigi updated on where I am, I already got a feeling I would most likely miss a truly great event.

While waiting for AAA I tried to find the leak myself and I received messages from Annabel how great the water is, how stunning the scenery and how great the hospitality from Luigi and the Adrenaline crew. By the time I heard they were having a BBQ at the beach in Genova, I had found the leak oil pressure line and sent away the breakdown lorry who had offered to take me to a garage who "would maybe be able to look at it on Monday" – FB and phone advice from Markus and Robin (thanks!) had indicated this could potentially be fixed there and then. Robin, one of the most amazing men on the planet, actually drove down from Munich with his van. If you open the trunk of this van, you will see a KTM motorbike, surfboards, a snowboard and 3 boxes of all possible tools you can imagine, which came in very handy. He arrived when the sun was setting and magically repaired the faulty oil pressure line – the only assistance I could give was making coffee and helping out with sand paper in all possible granulations (from my surboard repair kit).

At 11PM the repair was done, I cooked a rice dish on the campervan stove, we shared a beer and went for a test drive, me in front, he following me, connected via wakie-talkies, taking the next exit Rovereto. We stopped before the toll station to check, no oil leaking, but it was almost midnight we were both really tired and did not trust ourselves to drive another 360km to Bergeggi, also we were not sure if there had been any damage to the engine from loosing at least 2 liters of oil, we looked up and the road signs behind the toll station read "lago di garda" so that was kind of a no brainer to head there instead of Bergeggi. Sorry to Annabel, Luigi, Fred & the rest of the SUP crew for not showing up, a 10.00 AM race start just seemed impossible.

So while Robin and I investigated tandem paddling on a Fanatic Fly Race Carbon 12'6" on Sunday, the race in Bergeggi took place in the most beautiful weather. Nearly 100 competitors, from pros to amateurs, took to the start in what is quickly becoming the biggest race in Italy. Organized by Federico Piccinaglia and his team, Naish Italy was pleased to be a partner in the successful event.

Starboard Team Rider Annabel Anderson made a fabulous return after being hospitalized for a very bad infection in her leg and magically won the 7km women's race on a Starboard Race 12'6 x 27.5" glass (not even the carbon version) before Slyvia Merlucci! Congratulations, this is absolutely incredibe! She told me she "felt pretty in the race", so I can't even begin to imagine what a non-rusty Annabel can do….here she tells her story:

Annabel Anderson King of the Island SUP Race Italy

"Ciao and grazie pretty much sum up my grip on the Italian language, but with my leg healing well from staph-induced surgery and an unexpected hospital stay in France a fortnight earlier, the prospect of warmth, water, sunshine and going to Italy for the first time was too good to turn down.

I had known about this race, the King of the Island Race in Bergeggi for a while and included it in my schedule…until that nasty staph infection caused a dash of interruption to my plans!

The usual logistics exercise of organising boards, flights, airport pick ups, somewhere to stay and how to get down the race was deployed, this time from London where I was catching up with some old ski racing and running friends during my enforced week of post-staph infection rest.

Gianpiero the Starboard Distributor for Italy would be at the event as well so I was looking forward to catching up with him and many of my other French paddling friends who were also coming to Italy for the event.

The race, was part of the Italian Naish Pro Tour and a 4 star Eurosupa sanctioned event, making it an important date on the European paddling calendar.  The work of Eurosupa to help guide event organisers and national SUP bodies in Europe to ensure that events are run professionally, safely and inline with other events internationally is critical to the development of the sport as it grows in Europe. And it is all thanks to the tireless effort of a few key individuals whose passion for the sport is incredible.

Bergeggi, the venue for the race and very close to the coast town of Savona is just north of France on the Mediterranean coast.  Famed for it's diving in the marine sanctuary surrounding the island which we were to race around, this part of the Italian coastline is truly spectacular with the mountains literally tumbling into the sea.  This also makes for and incredible drive as you weave in and out of the numerous tunnels that make up the coastal highway.

I was fortunate to be hosted by the incredible Genoa (Genova for the Italians) locals Gigi Rhegetti and his beautiful fiancé Meri. Both are passionate paddlers and have the best surf shop on this part of the coast, the Adrenalina Surf Shop.  Gigi, a former top Italian ski racer (meaning we had another passion in common!) had always dreamed of having a ski shop in winter and a surf shop in summer. He is truly living his dream and sharing it with many other people.

From the moment Gigi and his good friend Fabio picked me up from Genoa airport, I sensed I was in for a few days of fun. Little did I realise what they had in store for me straight off the plane….!

With some pumping tunes in the Adrenlina Surf Shop van (which just happens to have a hand written note to Gigi from Andy Irons from a surf trip last year gracing the dashboard and I have since been gifted with the USB stick playlist!), we wound our way through Genoa taking in the sights of this picturesque Italian city. We pulled up along the beach and I was taken down to one of the private beach clubs in front of the city. I like how these guys roll….straight from the airport and straight onto the water. This was becoming reminiscent of the kiwi crew in New Zealand and LA which means only one thing….fun!

The beauty of travelling to many countries is learning about different cultures.  Little did I know that in most parts of the Italian coast, it is private beaches where you either belong to a beach club or pay to rent a deck chair on the beach.  It makes my infinitely thankful for the free access to thousands of miles of coastline in my homeland of New Zealand.

Getting wet and playing on water almost made me completely forget the 'entertaining' couple of weeks I had just experienced in hospital in France.  It is funny how water has the ability to do that! That evening we were joined by many others who were also travelling to the event for an amazing BBQ at Romi Bagna beach club on the sand organised by Gigi and Meri. Such is the hospitality of this amazing couple that they had eight of us to stay that evening!

We were greeted by a rather early wake up call (5.20am) the next morning as we needed to be in Bergeggi early to help set up the event.

Italians flock to the seaside in their droves in the summer months from May until September.  I quickly learnt the 'Italian way', that if you want a good spot on the beach, you have to be up with the birds to get it…and likewise to find a parking sport! We arrived in Bergeggi before 8am and we were parking 2km down the road already!

The weather gods were shining on us on this Sunday morning and after two weeks of much rain and poor weather, it was a welcome sight.  People were raking the beach and clearing driftwood while we got set up.  It is fair to say that Gigi is a well known local celeb around these waters. How else do you have full fridges of Red Bull as well as a gorgeous couple of  Red Bull girls in a Red Bull mini turn up? He also has a signature ski boot and drove the safety car for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix one year….but that is another story altogether!

Gianpiero arrived with our Starboard set up and I had been reunited with my bags (and paddles) after three weeks apart. I was set! Three weeks of wearing the clothes I had walked into hospital wearing and nothing else was a life lesson in simple living and it is amazing how little you really actually need!

The Mediterranean can be pretty rough and today was no different as the short choppy small Med swells hit the coast….with a dumping shore break depending on where you are. More on that one in a bit!

The Pro race was 7km and would take us around the island just off the coast and through the marine sanctuary, with a shorter race catering to the many people who are just starting to get into paddling.  The gun went and I am not sure where my head or my balance were, but I came off as I ran jumped and pushed off the start line, something I don't normally do – I'll put it down to a small dose of nerves as I had no idea how I would feel pushing my body for the first time since being sick with staph.

If there is one vital part to a race, it is the start and while I sprinted through the small choppy sea swell I just missed the draft train of the first few men.  With my good friend Eric Terrian leading the field around the first bouy, we headed up hill to the next buoy off the island.  I settled into my rhythm and was thankful that I was feeling ok. Definitely not my strongest, but I was simply thankful just to be back on the water doing what I love!

The chop and current kept everything honest as we made our way around the island, catching as many little cross swell bumps as possible as we made our way beside the coast for the short run into the finish.  A couple of guys around me fell and I used this as my opportunity to pounce and pass on the runners when I could.

In typical Italian style, the finish was a run up the beach to ring a bell….yes, a bell! But what is not italian, but universal was the camaraderie shared on the beach at the finish as everyone and all the crowd cheered each paddler onto the finish, celebrating every person as if they were the winner.

Photos, a rinse in fresh water to clean out my leg, which I still had stitches in and onto the fun part, an afternoon in the sun on the beach! Prize giving was equally as fun and I truly wish that I could have take home the beautiful paddle which I was given as a trophy, but the constraints of travelling with my life in my bag at the moment simply prevents that luxury.  Something tells me that it has found a good home at the Adrenalina Surf Shop!

As the day drew to a close, it was time to farewell new friends and old. The growth of padding in Italy and many other European countries at the moment is huge and it is so much fun meeting and sharing the SUP love.  Believe me, the standard is here with the men and there are plenty of talented and fit girls coming through that will seriously challenge on an international stage in the next couple of seasons."

You heard about the great hospitality of Luigi and the Adrenaline Crew was, so be sure to check out if you ever are in the area.

Eric Terrien, who already won the 7km St. Maxime race, won the men's 7km race before Leo Nika and Gaetan Sene.

Men's 7km Results

  1. Eric Terrien (Nidecker)
  2. Leo Nika (Naish Catalina 12’6”)
  3. Gaetan Sene
  4. Fabrizio Gasbaro
  5. Kosta Tielly

Here is a video of the Start of the Race

3.5 km Race

  1. Alfredo di Pulvia
  2. Stefano Padovani
  3. Maurizio Carlini

Amateur Race Results

  • Surf Race – Men: Alfredo di Fulvio ,1st place (Nalu 11’6”)
  • Surf Race – Women: Ilaria Galassi, 1st place (Nalu 10’6”)
  • Glide Race – Women: Meri Valentina Ciaburri, 1st place (Glide 12’0”)
  • Congratulations to all winners and big thanks to the organizers who pulled together a great event!

Here are some photos courtesy of Annabel