Who better to talk about the Tarn Water Race – Viaduc de Millau SUP racer Shara Dubeau who has taken part in and WON all 3 editions of the now well-established long-distance river event. The Canadian expat and avid SUP Racer who has been living in France between Paris and the West Coastal town of Royan for 17 years, actually knows the French SUP racing circuit inside out. But what Shara loves most is river and (ultra) long distance races, luckily something that France is not short of. And when an event offers both, like the Tarn Water Race, she’s among the first ones to sign-up! On June 12-13, Shara will be defending her crown once again in the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site of the Tarn River Gorge, in the south of France.
Hello Shara, can you please introduce yourself to the TotalSUP community ?
Hello Mathieu! I was Born in Vancouver, on the West Coast of Canada and I grew up on the ski slopes. My dad was involved in the volunteer ski patrol so I had no other choice from the age of 18 months to spend every weekend in the mountain.
My interest in history, culture and languages brought me to France 17 years ago as here in Europe you find all of that within a few hours drive. I started stand up paddling 7 years ago. Before SUP, I did a lot of outdoor sports, biking, hiking and also weight lifting but I was really attracted by watersports and I had to find one. Stand Up Paddling was already big in Canada and in the States, so when I discovered a place in France where I could try it, I did and I bought a board a few months later as I was addicted right away.
I was part of the SUP en Seine club for a few years in Paris and I am now part of the Latitude club in Royan. I’ll paddle and race on any body of water: the river, lake, ocean… but I really prefer long distance on the rivers. Which is why I have taken part in many white water and outdoor festivals in France, but also in Japan which has a great community of River SUP paddlers and where I spent a few months every year for work.
What have been your top achievements and your favorite races as a SUP racer ?
My top achievement is definitely my first Dordogne Intégrale (130 kms) race just because I didn’t even know I could paddle more than 45 kms. The Dordogne Intégrale 350 was also quite a special edition with 350 kms to cover in two days. I did 180 km on Day 1 in 18 hours.
My favorite experience in a SUP race was definitely paddling at night. I did that twice: at the first Tarn Water Race in 2017 when there was a night race on the river, and at the start of the Great Glen Challenge which starts at 2 am. After paddling 3 hours in the dark both in the canal and into the waves you get rewarded by watching the sunrise over the loch Lochy.
Can you tell us about your personal history with the Tarn Water Race?
The Tarn Water Race is by far one of my favorite events. I have participated every year and have been fortunate enough to win each one so far. The 2nd year was my best!! It was the first time they did the Long Distance which was then 70kms and I finished either 10 or 11 and in front of quite a few strong guys and that was a real accomplishment.
How have you seen the Tarn Water Race event evolve over the years ?
The first year we were a small group of just over 20 participants and there were more races, including a night race as well as border crossings. So we spent the whole weekend in and around the water and finished with a live concert. I made a lot of great friends that first year – it was like an “exclusive” event for people who felt lucky to have taken part.
The event has grown from around 20 to 200!! Obviously, it’s not as “exclusive” as the first year but it’s still a great atmosphere! Since then the Long Distance race was lengthened from 24 kms to more than 70 kms, that became the focus and there’s not as much time for the fun events as you need to save your energy a bit!
This year’s edition will be 6k longer than the last one. What does it take to reach the finish line of such a long race?
Ahah it takes a few hundred thousand paddle strokes! Joking apart, I think it takes perseverance. Of course the physical preparation matters but there’s a lot to be said for your state of mind! And a bit of luck… that you don’t get a blister on your hands for instance, or any other misfortune.
How strong can the river current be? Is it helpful?
For the first half the current definitely helps, but it’s neither too strong nor dangerous. I love white water paddling so once I hear the noise ahead I look forward to it. But there are mostly small rapids. Many river first-timers take on the Tarawa, and are just really careful for the rapids and go through on their knees if they have to.
For the last half of the race, the river widens and it can feel more like you’re on a lake … which can make the end of the race seem to drag on. So you just need to keep motivated and keep paddling.
Warning / spoiler: you WILL see the Millau bridge over and over again before you actually paddle under it!!
What’s the atmosphere like around the event?
I love the “région” and every year I book a holiday around the race. That shows how the atmosphere is – not just for the race but also in the village of La Malene. Throughout the weekend with other participants, we’ll organize dinner or drinks. I’ve met and made some great friends from the TaWaRa weekends. Also, like most Long Distance or Ultra Long Distance races, the participants are more likely to help and ask how you’re doing. The natural surroundings are breathtaking, especially through the narrows. What I love about rivers is that the scenery changes and you get to discover it along the way.
There’s quite a bit of portage on the course. How do you handle that?
I actually practiced before the race!! Repeating how to quickly put an 18-foot board on my head and balance it while running / walking for 1.4 kilometer!
For the longest portage at the Sablière, I scoped out the exit and entrance points before the race. The most important reason for doing that was to not miss the small trail for the put-in. I always avoid the 2nd portage in Les Rosiers by sliding down the ramp (glissière) which is way more fun… but you definitely need a small, flexible fin – or better yet a rudder – which is what I have.
And the final portage is pretty simple.
What tips would you give to someone who’s never taken part in the TaWaRa before ?
Prepare for the shallow water!! Use a short flexible fin for the first half of the race and be ready to act quickly at the shallow parts: you may want to move forward on your board so the fin doesn’t get stuck and in some cases you may be forced to get off and walk the board.
Enjoy the scenery, the ambiance.