It’s no secret, that since 2015, Mistral have come to embrace the SUP 11 Cities event with some degree of fondness and it’s little wonder, given that Mistral’s Head Office is located in Wierden Holland, making the event a back yard affair. When Mistral took serious interest in the event, it was more or less a laid back adventure based SUP event, which although attracting the likes of Dutchman, Bart de Zwart, notorious for his long distance promotional paddling stunts on behalf of Starboard, it remained a little under the radar as a globally recognised event. This was all to change.
Mistral’s support of the 11 Cities event, has truly elevated the international status of the event. The list is impressive in terms of our globalisation of the event having supported and hosted paddlers from:
Tahiti, Brazil, South Africa, United Kingdom, Panama, Japan, USA, Holland, Spain . . .
When in 2014 Mistral set it’s sights on the 2105 event as being a goal to aspire to in terms of winning the event, we set in motion a wave and a gathering surge of international interest. We invested as sponsors, developed a flat water race board for the race conditions (the now legendary Vortex) and in addition, hired the services of Tahitian paddling super star, Steeve Teihotaata and American, Seychelle Hattingh, both unknown to SUP paddlers of Europe, until that is they arrived and dominated the 2015 event in winning every stage virtually unchallenged.
It was no secret, Starboard, who in that year as a major sponsor were not happy, having sent the Hasulyo brothers with the intent of dominating, were left wondering what had just happened? With a huge fleet of Starboard boards and riders, here was Mistral with a mere two riders and two boards, dominating every day of the event, proving that you did not need a cast of hundreds to win; just great riders and a superb board.
We had arrived in style and from this moment Mistral become a force to be reckoned with, not for its size, but its potency, typical of the brands legacy. What it led to, was not altogether pleasant, when in the following year, 2016, the Hasulyo brothers arrived and employed from the start, regrettable tactics to ‘shut’ Steeve Teihotaata out of the race, tactics which became infamous and unappreciated by legions of fans of Steeve back in Tahiti and beyond. The race had taken on a new level of intensity, one that was not becoming of the event.
In this year Steeve paddled our new Vortex XL, a blown up version of the original Vortex, with an added 25lt of volume. The board performed fantastically, despite the outcome. Finishing 3rd in that year, Steeve was very much battered from the experience but remained ever the gentleman in defeat; Seychelle Hattingh managed another 1st place, again winning every stage, Janneke Smits winning the non-stop 220km event again paddling a Vortex.
Our continued sponsorship of the event was questioned by us at Mistral following the unsportsmanlike behaviour and the win at all costs approach by Starboard’s team riders. This was not what we wanted to be a part of. What was becoming clear, brand rivalry was now a little out of hand and more’s the point, the organisers were confronted with the reality they needed to tighten up their rules and indeed their general approach to policing of the event, in order to safeguard the integrity of the event itself. Whilst most attend the event for a fun-challenge, the front runners take the event very seriously, as do the brands who are the primary investors.
Being confronted with the new pressures of being ever more in the international spotlight, the organisers were faced with the reality of having to respond to issues raised from the 2016 event. With Mistral’s continued support at stake, by chance, Mistral’s Steve West, with over 30 years of competitive of Outrigger Canoeing racing at elite level, a former 12’6 Starboard Team Captain of the UK and former OC National Coaching Director in Australia and Fiji, was well qualified to review the race rules together with the race committee, in order to firm up areas addressing key issue of racing in such narrowly constricted waterways and acceptable levels of tactics used by fellow team riders.
The resulting change of rules were absolutely essential in order to safeguard not only ‘fair play’ but indeed the investment of brands. Gamesmanship spilling over into unsportsmanlike behaviour in a new sport was always going to result in a negative outcome and for brands to feel cheated of results, which should be fair and just, would surely result in brands retracting their support.
Moving into 2017, our star paddler Steeve Teithotaata was unable to attend due to the birth of his first child. However a strong contingent of Tahitian paddlers arrived to represent Mistral, led by their team manager, Stephan Lambert and included Rete Ebb and Bruno Tauhiro, notoriously tough competitors on the back of our sponsorship of the Waterman Tahitian Tour series.
The arrival of high winds, driving rain and low temperatures and the loss of a full days racing, was more than our tropical Tahitian paddlers could deal with and without the impetus and on water leadership and experience of Steeve Teihotaata and despite pushing the Hasulyo brothers to new levels of effort, we failed to make the podium in the mens division, but still managed again to make it a Mistral / Starboard dominated event.
Meanwhile in the ladies division, for the 3rd consecutive year, a Mistral paddler, Lena Ribeiro of Brazil won the 5 stage event and local, Petronella Van Malsen finishing a close 2nd and Janneke Smits again winning the non-stop edition. All in all, we were far from disgraced and could hold our heads up high for the results under terrible conditions. Importantly, the new rules had worked and the organisers did a fantastic job under tough circumstances.