by April Zilg
In a stark contrast to the previous week, the 5th stop of the Euro Tour was downtown in the large city of Bilbao, Spain. Where the Lost Mills was in a rural setting with cuckoos singing on a serene lake, the Iberdrola Bilbao World SUP Challenge takes you right past the Guggenheim modern art museum and through downtown Bilbao in a river with walls on all sides. The course will never be noted for water purity or cleanliness, but paddling past the Guggenheim, under modern and historic bridge spans, and past the architecture of the Old Town is beautiful in its own right. Just don’t pay any mind to the dead rat floating past your board. I’m not joking about it being beautiful, though… really… as long as you don’t look down.
On Friday night, you have the chance to swing by the pre-party in the 23rd floor of the massive Iberdrola Tower but only if you register for the elite category. It’s an amazing vantage point to take in the whole city; one that you wouldn’t have the chance to see if you don’t do the race.
On Saturday, the distance races start a little after siesta time. The meeting and lunch are at 1pm, and then everyone relaxes and digests. The race started promptly at 4pm from the Guggenheim start line. The event organizers have coffee and food trucks on site, as well as tickets for 2 lunches and a dinner for racers. You can grab all the water and refreshments you need from the racers tent. In terms of board storage, they assemble a giant “locker” tent. Once you get our board to the race, it lives in there with security and you check in and out when coming and going with your board. The man-modified river makes the start of a “flat-water” race very interesting, with the chop from the racer’s start bouncing of walls in every direction until everyone finally spreads out. However, it also provides the best venue for a spectator-friendly event. People were along the walls the entire length of the course taking photos and cheering. Some even went up on the numerous bridges to get a bird’s eye view of the action.
Sunday is incredibly laid back, with some sprints for the younger kids and the open categories. For the elite racers, they have a giant supsquatch sprint. It ends with awards and music right on site next to the river.
– If you’re coming in from Lost Mills, load your SUP in the Euro Tour Trailer and take a flight from Nuremburg or Munich. Bilbao has a huge airport.
– If you’re coming straight over for just this race you can also fly into Bilbao, but some of the planes are smaller if you were going to try and fly with your board. Barcelona is not too far away and is a larger airport.
– It’s a LONG drive from Lost Mills, about 15 hours total. But, this was the route I chose… and although it was long, I truly enjoyed it. I stopped off in the Black Forest in Germany for some hiking, paddling the inflatable, and cuckoo clock shopping. Then in Switzerland, I stopped at two different castles built on the water so I could paddle there. Oberhofen Castle is a MUST-STOP if you do the drive. It was the easiest to park, put in, and go. If I ever come back, I would grab a hotel in the town too. The people were incredibly nice.
– There are plenty of hotels and hostels in a variety of budget ranges very close to the race site. You won’t have a problem there.
– Even if you decide to stay further away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there is AMPLE, easy public transportation to get you anywhere you may want to go. The train is your best bet to get around, even if you have a rental car.
– If you have a rental car, you will want to ensure any in-town accommodations come with parking. If you can’t find one with free parking, just stay further out of town, where you can easily park, and use the train. Taking a train is always fun anyway.
– In either scenario, your board is at the site for you to check out and paddle any time during the day starting on Friday.
– There are plenty of ATMS, hotels, restaurants, and anything else you could possibly need all at your fingertips.
– You get 2 free lunches and a free dinner, and they are delicious, save some money and use your tickets.
– Iberdrola has ensured that you have all the water, soda, or alcohol free beer you need for free, so don’t waste time packing a huge day-bag with pounds of liquids. That way you can walk from your hotel or take the train and not lug too much.
– After racing in the river, you’ll absolutely want a shower. Be sure to take that into account when packing for your day or planning a trip back to your room before awards or dinner.
Where you need to go & what you need eat:
– Definitely go to the Guggenheim. Modern art is a fantastic reminder that you can really be horrible at something and still be famous. Kidding… not kidding.
– Walk the Old Town of Bilbao. Scope out the architecture and the cathedrals. This is also where you can pick up any souvenirs.
– Pick a café in old town for a coffee and pintxos (tiny tapas sandwiches) to break up your walk. Just head to the bar and point at the pintxo you would like. Pay when you’re done.
– Before or after the race, if you’re waiting on people or just need to relax with some wifi, stop at the café right on the corner. Kurding Club. They have great coffee, pintxos, and nice waitstaff.
– If you’re from my neck of the woods, you’ll be thrilled to learn the most popular desert is a puff pastry topped with meringue and coated in chocolate, called the “Carolina.” With a name like that, you know its the best!