SUP Racing Patagonia Style
My first trip to Patagonia happened when I had no capacity to retain any mental photos or experiences, I was two. Took me 25 years to go back and it happened by chance. In 2013, I went to Cordoba, a province in the heart of Argentina, on a family vacation. I Looked for a place to paddle, of course, found one, rented a board from Mauka SUP, had a lovely afternoon with the crew and was told to contact the board shaper who lived in Buenos Aires. As soon as I got back to BA, I got in touch with Lucas, met him at a McDonalds in Tigre (where we did not eat), and talked about our water lives; he was in his early stages of forming LAX SUP Co, which is now a paddling school that has three locations in the country. He told me about this race coming up in Bariloche and asked me if I wanted to go. Other than the one-hour paddle I’d had in Cordoba, I hadn’t been on a board since October the year prior, I had never ever participated in a race before, and was obviously out of shape, but when someone asks if you want to head south to Patagonia, a smile the size of Alaska transforms your face and very committed, you say HELLS YES.
Now on the 4th edition, with three times the attendance, a huge kids race, a Monster Board championship that is hilarious and international participants, the Patagonia SUP race is a classic annual regional race. It attracts both the local crew, paddlers from all over the country and from our neighbor on the other side of the Andes, Chile.
This year’s event included some Patagonian winds as well, but with a modified course, the races went on. It was a battle out there. The wind was so strong at times, it was hard to get air into your mouth. I kept thinking, “this is what it feels like to jump off a plane.” Fun. But we were all in it, and everyone was keeping at it, so we all grasped for air and kept digging hard.
Cris Almonacid, a local paddler came in first this time and it was A PARTY. Everyone was beyond happy for him. Juliana Gonzales, the incredible lady who took gold in the Pan American Games in Peru last year, took first place, as she does every year. She’s amazing, works hard, paddles even harder and deserves every win. While the pros get a chance to show off, the event is truly all inclusive. There’s a 7k and a 3k option as well. Everyone can take part and why wouldn’t you? You’re there. All you have to do is get on a board and paddle away. The party mode really extends to all participants. It’s as fun to paddle as it is to be on the beach when the other categories come in. The kids’ race is my favorite.
The first edition of the Patagonia SUP race, back in 2013, was EPIC. I’ve done this race three times already, but my first one I’ll never forget. Hosted by Tincho Palomeque’s Patagonia SUP, I was welcomed with hugs like I was family from day one. The road from Buenos Aires to Bariloche is beautiful, and fills you with anticipation of what this place might be like. Yes, of course I was struck by its beauty, but I fell in love with the paddling community right away. This was the first important event in the country and I felt so lucky to be part of it, to witness the sport I love take roots and grow in the country I was born in.
SUP Racing Pionneering
Around that time, since SUP was a brand new thing in Argentina, importing gear from abroad was mission impossible, and that fueled a SUP board shaping industry. The shapers in the surf city on the coast of Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, took on the SUP market, most notoriously the X-torsion brand by the hand of Mono Mosquera. Here in the capital city, there was something brewing as well. The first LAX SUP school in San Isidro was growing and in need of equipment, which Lucas and two partners took on as Rio Boards in late 2016.
I had with me an iSUP that was punctured. Even though I thought I had fixed it, I clearly hadn’t. So the morning of the race, I put so much tape on that thing I was increasing the board’s value just by the amount of expensive tape I was decorating it with. A fellow paddler came to the rescue and offered me a board they had just got out of their own shop. Everyone was experimenting with boards! Fabulous. Yes! Figured I was going to sink anyways, this one had less chances of ending up in the bottom of lake Moreno. I guess sinking vessels is a theme in my races. I see it now.
The race started and off we went. The board did not sink, but along the way got waterlogged. It took a few of us to get it off the beach, it was heavy and I was tired. I finished last with nerve damage to my right deltoids. IT WAS EPIC. The course is gorgeous. I could not believe the color of the water. You could see for miles down. The bottom is rock but along the edges you can see grass. The greens and blues and grays, all very hypnotizing. I wanted to be taking photos. Tried to remember the scenery, an effort that had to trump the pain coming from my shoulder, and the frustration of not being able to keep the board straight. EPIC.
Over the years, the event has shown a wide array of domestic and international brand boards as well. Starboard, BIC, Fanatic are some names that were there from Event 1. Nowadays, it’s a bit easier to get imported gear and some folks have them shipped, some cross the Andes into Chile and bring them back. People are resourceful. In the first Patagonia SUP race there was even an ingenious small fleet of roto-molded boards, which the kids used for their course. This year definitely showed a stronger presence of elite boards both international and domestic, which was great.
Worth mentioning is the hotel that hosts the race. The Llao Llao is one of the most beautiful, picturesque I’ve seen. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world. It truly adds to the experience. Together with the views, the lakes, the food, the people you meet, it’s a perfect weekend in every sense. Everyone is happy and having a blast. It might sound like a very basic, simple statement, but I know it’s not an easy job to make any group of people homogeneously happy, especially when we are all coming from different places, have different expectations and the age spectrum is enormous. Talented folks, Tincho and Mery. The Patagonia SUP family goes all out to make one event more unforgettable than the previous one. In all seriousness, it is my favorite in the world and other than being on a 1500 mile expedition, I would not miss it for anything.
Photo credits: Siiga Productions