Updated: Oct 27, 2019
Photos / APP World Tour, Patrick Alteri, Kate Beale
What a race that was! Red Bull Heavy Water 2019 definitely lived up to its name.
With a green light call being sent out to all athletes 5 days prior to the event, one of the first big winter swells was lining up to be big enough for the minimum 10 feet to run the race. I was happy to already be in California a bit before the race, to prepare and get in a couple of sessions at Ocean Beach.
I was really excited about this race and felt really confident going into it, I was ready to go out there and give it my all, and have a lot of fun at the same time.
We checked in, the last briefing before the race and prepared all our gear the night before the race, big wave leash, double leash string, good wetsuit, impact vest in case, jersey, hydration, wax, etc.
Last prep before the race was at Ocean Beach the morning of the event, the conditions looked solid, big and clean from the beach and the nerves started creeping up. It didn’t look impossible, but definitely really hard to make it out through the surf break. The boards got loaded, the last briefing from the safety team and we were on our way towards the start of the race.
This is what the course looked like:
This year was a bit different from previous years, where we started at Ocean Beach and then did the long distance towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
Doing it the other way around meant we had to paddle a long way up current (and upwind) before we even got to Ocean Beach and then do the hardest part in the waves at the end. This way makes it more exciting because anything can happen in the waves and all the placings can change last minute, but it also makes it way harder because when we get to the heavy surf, we have already spent a lot of energy doing the long distance to get there.
The start horn went off a little later than expected due to some technical difficulties.
This meant that the tide was coming in strong and the current we had to paddle against was really heavy, the wind started to pick up as well, and the fog was starting to come in with it.
I had a really great start and got into a good rhythm in the front pack with Connor Baxter (Haw) and Mo Freitas (Haw) leading us towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
We had to do a loop at Golden Gate, there is wave breaking at Fort Point (under the Bridge) when the waves get big.
As we got to the buoy I caught a small bump and I got a little to close to the buoy, because of the strong current going against us I got stuck in the buoy with the current pushing me into the buoy, my leash went around the rope in the buoy and it took a while to fix it and get back up paddling and unfortunately the other guys caught a wave in front of me so I lost the front pack and had to play catch up all the way to Ocean Beach.
As we got closer to Ocean Beach the fog was really heavy and it made it hard to see the waves, at that point, we could only feel some big bumps rolling in and then smashing into the rocks.
We had paddled upwind/up current for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, I started to feel excited and nervous and it gave me some new energy, I was able to ride a lot of great bumps and get a lot of speed while being stable on my board.
I was able to catch back up to Casper and James Casey (Aus), then up to Itzel Delgado (Per), then Mo Freitas (Haw) and all of a sudden I was in fourth place side by side with Arthur Arutkin (Fra) and Martin Vitry (Fra) in 2nd and 3rd.
As we turned the last buoy heading in towards the beach, I fell on a good wave and had to take a couple of waves on the head, I got washed to the beach cold and fatigued.
As I started running/walking to find the flags we had to turn I looked up and saw a big crowd of people cheering me on, it was such a cool feeling coming out of the fog to see a lot of people supporting you, that gave me a lot of motivation to keep going for sure!
Going around the flag on the beach I looked out and saw Connor really drifting far down the beach in the huge mess of whitewater washing in, so I decided to run far up the beach with Arthur and Martin.
We looked at each other and you could easily see what we were thinking "what are we doing here? Is this even possible?". We still went for it, the water was heavy, you could feel it from the first stroke and there was definitely a lot of power even in the smaller waves we had to get our 14 feet boards over.
When Ocean Beach gets big there are two breaks, the inside which is a really hollow heavy wave with a very short period between the waves which makes it extremely hard to find a way through, there is so much current and water moving and each time you try to get over a wave you get pulled far back again.
Then there's the outside break which is very big but not as hollow if you make it past the inside break, you really need to time it right so you don't spend a lot of energy sprinting out and then get a big set on the head.
We spent a lot of time fighting to make it past that inside break without success, every time I fell in my body got colder and colder, there is a big risk of hypothermia in this race and a lot of guys had to pull out of the race because of this. It´s hard to figure out what to wear because you don't want to be really hot on the long distance part and you don't want to be really cold in the waves, I was wearing a 1.5 Long John and a lot of guys was wearing the same.
After trying to make it out for a very long time I had drifted far down the beach and I saw Casper and Arthur get out through"Come on Christian, If they can do it you can do it too!":
And out of nowhere, I saw a small channel going through the big mesh of white water, a quick sprint and I had made it through the inside break, "YES!".
I timed it right on the outside and got out with only a couple of waves on the head, SUCCESS!
I couldn't see the buoy out there but luckily the safety team helped us stay in the right direction, I found it and was able to catch a really good wave and surf it all the way to the beach.
Last lap going out - I knew I could do it again, I was motivated to keep the momentum going from making it out once and getting a really good wave in.
I ran far up the beach once again, I was alone this time, nobody around me.
I saw the channel out from the beach, but it's hard when the ocean is constantly changing.
As I got back in the water and fell in the first time I really started feeling the cold, my legs started cramping up after the run on the beach.
Each time I got back on my board another wave came and I fell back in, but then the same thing happened again, I found that same rip and was able to get past that inside break.
I timed it even better on the outside break this time and was able to get out with even fewer waves on the head, I was so stoked at this point!
Out of the fog heading towards the last buoy, I met Zane Schweitzer, he made up a big gap in the waves and we paddled and chatted to the last buoy, his legs were cramping up as well. I was able to catch a wave in front and sprint up the beach to finish in 4th. Place behind Mo Freitas in 3rd, Arthur Arutkin in 2nd and Casper Steinfath in 1st. What a race that was! So happy just to finish that and in 4th place with so many big names.
Huge congrats to Casper for winning this event back to back, he made a big comeback in the waves and I was stoked to see this guy take first!
Thank you APP World Tour / Red Bull and The Safety Team for putting on another great event.
Also massive thank you to everyone for all your support here, on social media or at the event, it means so much.