Tim Rowe on the 2017 Fort Boyard Challenge: Like Father Like Son

In the Rowe household, SUP runs through the veins. Like his son Aaron, who recently racked up some very respectable results at the 2017 ISA World Championship in Denmark, Tim Rowe is a loyal SUP enthusiast. Having first participated at last year’s edition, the pair decided to return to Fouras-les-Bains in France for this year’s Fort Boyard Challenge 2017. For TotalSUP, Rowe Senior tells us about his experience at this year’s event, his favourite international races, his passion for SUP and what he’d put on his stand up paddle bucket list.

SUP rider Tim Rowe enjoying a bike ride at the 2017 ISA World Championship in Dermark

Tim Rowe, you’re the proud father of talented SUP rider Aaron Rowe. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Yes, of course. Well, as you say, my name is Tim Rowe, I’m Aaron’s dad and I live on the beautiful island of Jersey. I’m 58 and I myself have been paddling for around 6 years now.

Time Rowe enjoying a spot of stand up paddle

It looks like you had a great time at the recent Fort Boyard Challenge 2017 in Fouras-les-Bains, in France. Can you tell us all about it.

We went to the Fort Boyard Challenge for the first time last year. Though it wasn’t our first time to race past the famous fortification, as we came across it during another race a few years ago. We decided to come back to the Challenge this year.

The wind at last Saturday’s race was, for its part, very light. But the direction was on our side. There were small bumps to be caught and the tide was very much with us. That, along with the sun beaming down on us, seemed to make the race pass by very quickly.

On Sunday, the wind was howling and the waves were coming in more strongly. There were what we refer to as “white horses” visible on the water. We were told the French refer to these lapping waves as “sheep”, which we found quite funny. As such, the level of anticipation on Sunday was heightened.

The journey out on the ferry was a bit chilly with the winds crashing in, but there was a great buzz and atmosphere on board. Particularly as we got further out and the swell grew. Once we threw our boards into the water below, we had to follow suit quite quickly in order for them not to get blown off.

Everyone was catching bumps and having great fun while waiting for the boat to empty and the starting line to take shape. When the horn went off announcing the start of the race, what would become the front runners darted off, leaving the rest in their wake. The swell and wind held for the first 3km or so, making for some really great downwind conditions, some long glides and allowing the riders to gather good speed.

Then the wind dropped right off, which was unexpected and a bit of an anti-climax. There were still plenty of bumps but you had to work a lot harder to take advantage them. It was great to be on the ocean with so many other people and you could see little battles forming all over the place.

The finish was great as we headed into the beach. In doing so, we could make out people waiting there by the shore and on the promenade, all eager to offer a warm welcome us as we came in.

The famous Fort Boyard, centrepiece of the annual challenge of the same name

In your view, what makes this event a special one?

It’s such a novel race! Heading out into the water on a ferry and basically getting launched overboard in the middle of the sea. It’s a real hoot!

The atmosphere and camaraderie among the paddlers is great and the organisational side of things is really well done. Even down to the finer details, such as the short shuttle back to the start to pick up your vehicle at the end.

A quiet beach on the island of Oléron, France

Did you get to visit any more spots during your trip and paddle in the local area?

We arrived last Friday and immediately went across the bridge onto nearby Oléron island. We walked around the fortifications, otherwise known to the locals as the citadel, and the old port area nearby, which is very picturesque and well worth a visit.

A quiet seaside scene on the French island of Oléron

You yourself are from the island of Jersey. There seems to be a very active SUP community there. What is the SUP scene like there?

Naturally, when you live on an island, you are bound to find quite a number of people who are into all kinds of different watersports. And SUP is certainly growing in popularity. Although our club is still relatively small, we have a bedrock of hardcore SUP fans and riders. We hold races every couple of weeks all throughout the year.

Rarely are they flatwater races, as we only have the sea to paddle on and we have a huge tidal range, complete with some really challenging conditions from time to time. We get some good downwind conditions, but as the coastline is short, downwind runs very tide-dependent.

There is now an annual Round Island Challenge (53km), which is growing year on year, and it’s a good way to see the whole coast. Three Paddlers have also done the 27 km open crossing from Sark, one of the other Channel Islands. We also have some reputed SUP surfers on the island and some impressive up-and-coming juniors, who will be ones to watch in the near future I imagine.

Jersey is also part of the CISF (Channel Islands Surfing Federation) and took part in the recent 2017 ISA World Championship. The team place 15th overall, which isn’t bad for a couple of islands with a combined population of around 165,000 (less than most towns in England!).

Tim Rowe enjoying a spot of stand up paddle

What motivates you to take part in international SUP races, both in France and elsewhere? Which ones have been your favourites so far?

That’s a good question! Hmmm, what motivates me?… I guess I just love being out on the water! When I lived in England, I was a kayaker and when I first moved to Jersey, I mainly took part in surfing and sea kayaking. Then SUP came along and I haven’t kayaked since.

As for taking part in the international races, I enjoy the fact that it doesn’t matter what level you have. There is something for everyone with stand up paddle. It isn’t excessively hierarchical. You can always take part in the majority of SUP races, and if you really want to push yourself, you can decide to line up alongside the best in the world.

They will also chat with you off the water as well, no matter who you are. There aren’t many sports that offer that level of openness and friendliness.

One of my favourite races so far has to be Bilbao (even though I’m not a fan of flatwater, as a rule). Racing in the city is great. San Sebastián is also a great race, as it’s on the ocean and it’s in a stunning location. Hossegor was a new one this year and I found it quite challenging, but it had a bit of everything.

And then of course there is Fort Boyard. All fantastic races!

Tim Rowe in the company of other SUP riders at the 2017 Bilbao Race

What are your upcoming SUP travel plans and what would you put on your SUP bucket list?

Our travelling season is over for this year. We used to go to Paris for the Paris Nautic, but the ticket system changed and it became a lottery to get them. As a result, last year we decided not to go, as it would have been necessary to get ferries and accommodation booked in advance in order to keep the costs down.

But not being sure whether we could secure our tickets, it didn’t make sense any longer. That was a pity, as we had been going for five years.

On the bucket list are certainly Hood River and the Molokai 2 Oahu… we just need to win the lottery first, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that!

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