Frangipani SUP at the 2024 ECA SUP European Championships

The 2024 ECA Canoe Sprint, Paracanoe & SUP European Championships in Szeged Hungary was a professionally run international sporting event at a truly world class venue, which welcomed SUPs for the first time. A MASSIVE thank you to the ECA, the Hungarian Canoe Association and all organising committees for including us and to the phenomenal Canoe Sprinters and Paracanoeists for being patient with us.

As a stand up paddler, if you get the opportunity to compete here, do it!  I have had the opportunity to SUP Sprint at three purpose built venues, PaddleUK Holme Pierrepont UK., Royal Thailand Navy RCTC Thailand and here – and this is by far my favourite. Hard to explain it but I felt incredibly comfortable and relaxed here and part of something historically very special.

We flew from Stansted Airport to Budapest and then used a bus and train to get to Szeged. Once through airport arrivals we took bus 200E and paid cash (HUF Hungarian Forint) on entry. About 5 stops later is Ferihegy Station (the bus stop here is called Ferihegyi repuloterre vezeto ut.) We crossed the footbridge to furthest platform and used a card in the automated ticket machine to purchase Intercity IC train tickets to Szeged, being assigned seats in a specific carriage. I share this travel detail because it takes a bit of fathoming and may save you precious time! About 2 hours later we arrived in Szeged, a university city in the southern great plain known as ‘The City of Sunshine’ (it rained hard on both my race days but was hot by English standards!). It boasts impressive Art Nouveau buildings and speciality fish soup. The locals are helpful but the language is a tough one! The Hungarian for “thank you” is “koszonom.”

We stayed at a family run guest house on Szentharomsag within easy walking distance of the main station, the old city sights, the River Tisza and one of the event’s free shuttle bus pickup points, as the venue is a few kilometres outside the city.

The race schedule gave us the  opportunity for a little local city sightseeing on foot which we enjoyed.

The venue provides state of the art racing infrastructure and facilities with ALL the moving parts! Security, athlete ID and registration, officials’ offices, green screen room, medical and doping control, board weight and measurement, full audio visual capabilities, efficient Board Control, all-athlete catering, SUP board racks, SUP athlete chill out marquee with changing rooms and a never ending supply of free chilled water, a motel, a friendly cafe for drinks, interesting exhibitor stands and even live drumming for us as we battled it out on the water.  Prize-giving ceremonies were efficient and impressive. 

There were literally dozens and dozens of volunteers in pink, who did so much for us during the event; attaching holders and plastic numbers to our boards for the Tech and Sprint heats, lying down and holding our board tails off the starting pontoon (in the rain!) taking our boards through the weighing/measuring check point and marshalling us through Board Control; they were brilliant. English was spoken everywhere at the venue, thank goodness, as my Hungarian is “F Fail – please see me after class!”

Once again Andrei Kraitor of Union Paddlers provided a Sunova 14’ 23” Allwater FAAST Pro, the identical board that I paddle at home. He’s such an approachable and helpful guy and congrats to him for adding two more titles this week to his impressive collection! Renting a race board in my experience is SO much less hassle than travelling with it to, from and through airports. This week I was shown yet more photos of damaged precious 14’ race boards that have been through airport ground handling traumas.  So I try to just travel with paddles and fins when possible.

The SUP schedule was Wednesday Technical 1000m Open heats in the morning and Sprint 200m Open heats in the afternoon. Thursday saw the 9000km Distance race for Junior, Open and Master categories starting late afternoon. Friday was Sprint finals and Saturday was Tech finals, plus the inflatable race which saw nearly as many participants on the water as the main Distance race.

In between heats we had time to explore the exhibitors’ stands.  We had organised to meet up with Vivien and Atilla from PaddleMate, who I have been talking to for sometime, and with whom I’m delighted to be collaborating in the UK for my own training and coaching work. More on this great product in another blog soon!

Technical race heats started with a tail hold off the pontoon (a fair way to start but you need to practise this as it feels weird) and then an approximate 500m straight line tussle to the first buoy, where a left turn marked our return back towards the start. Then another left – then right, left, right turns and a short sprint to the electronic finish line (with sound beeps, video etc.)  The general consensus was that the first buoy was too far from the start, creating a rather processional race, but then again I could see the challenges with the locations of the extra long starting pontoon versus the very necessary electronic finish. Heat timings ran like clockwork. 

Sprint racing doesn’t get much better than this. Electronic starting buckets (never easy on a SUP but as fair as it gets), very patient starting officials, well marked out lanes, an automated finish line plus it has a reputation for being a fast track with prevailing tail winds. Loved it. 

Distance racing over approximately 9km was gender and age divided into Junior, Open and Masters categories, with 3 minutes between starts, all tail held off the starting pontoon. Then straight down to a far buoy, turn, back to a buoy not that far from the finish line, 4 laps between these two buoys then onto the finish. 

I launched like everyone else in front of Board Control and then congregated on that side, the left hand side of the start line.  However, several competitors were already on the opposite side and were congregating there, to be ready to bag themselves good right hand side pontoon spaces. As my right side is my strongest side I wanted to be there too. So as soon as I could I paddled head down across to the other side, thinking “this could well be a ‘crossing in front of the startline’ rule infringement, hope not!” It was a good decision and I got a decent start. Talking of rule infringements, there was some chat at the venue and on social media about a somewhat controversial unpenalised buoy rounding in one of the women’s Technical quarter-finals. As the sport matures and our collective experience and understanding grows, no doubt such issues will get ironed out for smooth runnings.

The Distance race course was very busy with over 130 of us racing fairly short laps around the two buoys.  The Masters participants (57) outnumbered both the Open (46) and Junior (33) age category paddlers.  I choose wider routes to get cleaner water, using the lane buoys to keep me straight in the very muddled wash. The Sunova 14’ 23” Allwater FAAST Pro handled these conditions with the utmost of ease and made my life as easy as possible. One pesky distraction though, was that the bite tube sprung off my hydration pack at the start of lap three, flew completely away and I got sprayed in Secreto Energy, not ideal!  But as ever, useful lessons are learnt. 

Mike, Julia and Dawid (both Polish Team riders who live and train in England) and Vivien and Attila (from PaddleMate in Hungary) were all shouting their heads off for me at buoy two, thank you! I could hear you but I couldn’t look across at you as I had too much going on!  My mate Mimi who lives and trains in England but paddles for Sweden was on the Distance race course too, congratulations to her for a very impressive 7th in the tough Open category. I was pleased with 12th in the Masters category and even more pleased that I still have 4 months to really focus on preparing for the ICF Worlds in Sarasota! 

Finally, I’d like to say a koszonom to – the organisers and volunteers for all their hard work and congrats to all medalists.

Anni x


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