GORDAN HARBRECHT BREAKS FAMED THREE-MINUTE BARRIER FIVE TIMES IN DOWNWIND FOR THE AGES
Gordan Harbrecht had never broken the famed sub-three minute mark for a one kilometre split.
So, you can imagine the German powerhouse’s surprise when he did it while in the middle of a race in Denmark over the weekend.
Not just once… but five times.
“Crazy, huh?” he chuckles.
“The first half of the race was fast, with a wave over the left shoulder, but we were clocking more normal splits like 3:15 and 3:20.
“Suddenly I saw a 3:00 and said, ‘Oh shit man! That would be my first sub-three.’
“Then they just started coming.”
His split times at the Bellevue Ocean Race make for remarkable reading.
The 14th split of the 21 kilometre course came in at a 2:53, before he immediately backed that up with a 2:55.
Astonishingly, he then negative-split the final three kilometres.
Unsurprisingly, he posted a commanding victory, in what was his first race in one and a half years.
“On my home course here in Rostock [on the Baltic Sea in the north of Germany] in really fast conditions I went close a few times, but I had never made it.”
“So I was super excited when I saw the times start to come up on my Garmin.
“The last kilometre was a 2:51, but I didn’t see this in the race.
“Hours later in the car when I checked my Garmin I just said, ‘OK, it was pretty fast!’”
It may come as a surprise to paddlers from the southern hemisphere that Harbrecht laid down one of the fastest downwind runs in history in Denmark.
But as Gordan explains, the region has serious surfski potential.
“The runs are similar to what I’m used to at home in north Germany… it’s the same sea.
“In Denmark it doesn’t matter what wind direction you have – you can just drive through the land to the other side and you have a downwind.
“It’s pretty cool for surfski lifestyle!”
Come race-time, the wind was blowing more than 25 knots.
After some deliberation and extended safety discussions, organisers allowed for the race to go ahead, creating the kind of day that downwind paddlers can only dream of.
But earlier in the week, the outlook wasn’t positive.
“Five days out, it was looking super flat,” Harbrecht says.
“I actually rang Mads Pederson [2019 Senior and Under 23 World Kayak Marathon Champion] and asked him if he’d go, because I wanted to have a little race because it was my last chance before Surfski Worlds.
“Then on race day, the wind just started pumping from the perfect direction.
“The water started moving a bit too – not tidal current, but current because of the wind.
“For me and my mates, the four of us who did a day-trip from Rostock, it was really cool.”
For Harbrecht, who is aiming to become just the third winner of the ICF’s World Ocean Racing Championships after Sean Rice [2013 & 2019] and Cory Hill [2015 & 2017], it was the perfect hit-out.
“Last year when COVID came, like everyone, I lost a lot of motivation and focused on working,” he admits.
“But having Worlds this year, the motivation came back and I’ve had something to work towards.
“I’ve been pretty busy with other things like Nordic Kayaks and my family, but still I have my sessions in the morning and evening and it’s going very good.
He actually made the trip to Lanzarote last week to paddle on the ICF World Championships race-course, after visiting Fuerteventura several times in the past.
“We took some boats there and plan to have some camps there next year,” he says.
“So, it was a little training camp for me but also some logistics for more trips to the Canary Islands in future.”
Just six years ago, Harbrecht had barely paddled downwind – instead, he was winning sprint kayaking World Cup medals with Germany’s sprint kayaking K4 crew.
Now, he’s joined an exclusive surfski club.
The significance of that – and the timing of it, ahead of the World Championships – isn’t something that’s lost on him.
“When I’m driving I listen to The Paddler’s Pod [which you can listen to by clicking here] and you’re talking about sub-three minutes often and making jokes about Cory [Hill] and others having not made it, while other guys including Oscar Chalupsky have… now I’ve landed right in the middle of it!
“But you know, with these split times it’s not just about your personal fitness, you also need the conditions to do it.
“You can be super fit, but if you don’t get the right conditions then you’ll never do it.
“I’ve tried to get fit for the World Champs, so this is good proof.”
It’s now three weeks until the 2021 ICF World Ocean Racing Championships in Lanzarote, and the final pieces are falling into place.
France held its national championships over the weekend, with Nicholas Lambert (1:12:35) powering to the title, finishing 23 seconds ahead of Victor Doux (1:12:58) while Under 23 paddler Pierre Vilella (1:14:13) was third.
Floriane Broustal (1:24:55) claimed the women’s title, just three seconds ahead of Under 18 rising star Claire Dewaste (1:24:58).
Angie Le Roux (1:28:46) rounded out the top three.