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Taking On The GlaGla Race | Natasha Sones

Posted by Lydia Burdett

We caught up with Red Ambassador Natasha Sones from Natasha Starseeker who’s gearing up to brave the world’s chilliest stand-up paddleboarding challenge, the GlaGla Race 2024. Taking place on the wintry waters of Lake Annecy in the French Alps from 19-21 January 2024, Red is one of the main partners of the event which marks its 10th year of welcoming SUPers from across the globe to beat the brain freeze in a paddle race like no other.

What made you decide to take on The GlaGla Race 2024? 

While paddleboarding usually conjures up images of bikinis and sunshine, The GlaGla Race is the total opposite. Instead of sand, there may be snow, and instead of skimpy swimwear, you'll find full-length winter gear. I first heard about the event through John McFadzean from SUP the World, and I’m excited to be part of something that’s become a stand-up paddling phenomenon. 

It's my 44th birthday on the exact day the race kickstarts, and I thought what better present to myself than to take part in the craziest, coldest stand-up paddleboard race in the world? Even the name GlaGla translates to ‘Brrrr Brrrr’ in English!

Can you set the scene and tell us about The GlaGla Race? 

Held in a quiet corner of France in the freezing cold depths of winter, this amazing race has officially become one of the biggest in the world. The GlaGla Race 2024 will take place from 19-21 January 2024, and this year’s event will be incredibly special as it celebrates its 10th anniversary. 

Those taking part will paddle on a lake where waters plummet to an icy 6°C (42°F) in the extremes of French winter, while soaking up the beautiful scenery of the Alpine resort. Around 200 paddlers took part in the first GlaGla Race a decade ago, with its popularity growing at such a pace that last winter’s competition attracted a record 830 paddlers from 24 different countries, making it a truly global SUP get-together. 

It's open to casual paddlers who have the option of doing a short-distance 6km route, with well-trained seasoned pros invited to take on a long-distance 14 km race. Participants paddle against the beautiful backdrop of the mountains, Talloires village and Duingt Castel. As it’s my first SUP race, and conditions are tricky, to say the least, I’ve decided to go for a very short-distance 3.5 km route recommended for beginners. 

How have you prepared for the race? 

I don't have much experience of paddleboard racing – in fact, this will be my first! I'm nervous to be taking part in a race that also happens to be in freezing conditions, so I’ve signed up for a very short distance and my aim is simply to finish and not fall in. I don't care what my place is!

To make things even more tricky, I’ll be paddling a SUP that I’ve never tried before, but, the fact that it’s a Red Paddle Co board makes me feel assured. I own two other Red boards; the 12'6" Voyager MSL and 11'0" Compact MSL PACT, and they are my favourite SUPs ever. 

How do you feel about the tough weather conditions? 

Admittedly, I am apprehensive about the weather, not knowing what it will be like. I’ve been unable to paddle much due to all the storms and intense winds we have had here in England. The lake temperature is going to be around 4 to 6°C, and while I regularly swim in these temperatures as a wild swimmer, I don’t particularly want to have to self-rescue in the middle of a race whilst wearing a dry suit! I love snow though so it would be awesome to paddle amongst the powder, although bitter glacial winds aren’t so fun. 

The GlaGla Race 2024 is likely to take place on a very freezing day (it was -10°c early in the morning in 2018). It’s likely to be choppy, with all participants setting off at once, and there will no doubt be some wind to contend with. But we’ll all be in it together, and it’s mandatory to report a competitor in difficulty to safety boats and assist them, if needed. 

Can you tell us why it’s important to have the right gear for this race? 

The choppy water conditions mean there’s a higher chance of falling in, and with the low temperatures I wanted to ensure I stay warm. To take part in The GlaGla Race, participants need to wear a life jacket, a long-John wetsuit or drysuit and neoprene surf boots. I’m wearing Yak Chinook Dry Trousers and Apollo Sea Kayaking Cag, with Two Bare Feet 5mm Neoprene Boots. I will also wear merino wool base layers underneath to keep me warm, and Yak Open Palm Mitts which keep your hands unexposed to the wind chill while ensuring the feel and grip of the paddle remains in your hand. 

For safety, I’ll also go armed with the equipment that I always take out; a SUP Buoyancy Aid , my mobile phone protected in a Waterproof Roll-top Dry Bag and a Quick-Release SUP Leash Waist Belt. Race safety requirements dictate that every participant must have a leash, survival blanket, water and something sweet (sugar, chocolate bar, etc) so I’ll pack a blanket and snack as well. 

I was originally going to take my favourite paddleboard, the Red 12'6" Voyager as I love how stable it is. But I have decided to hire a paddleboard at the race for ease of transporting it so will be renting a Red 12'6” Explorer x 32 (this has now been replaced by the Red Voyager MSL and has similar dimensions), taking my own carbon paddle with me.

You are a big fan of the Red Paddle brand. What do you like most about our SUP boards? 

I took the Red 12'6" Voyager MSL when I did a solo paddling adventure in Helsinki in the Summer of 2023. This board was invaluable when I was paddling on the Baltic Sea. It was really choppy but the board was amazing, and she (I named her Ruby) cut through the waves with ease. The V-Hull and twin-fins ensure excellent tracking and glide, so the ride feels really smooth. 

Red has been incredibly supportive of my adventures and kitted me out with equipment to help me inspire others to upgrade their own adventure.

What’s next for you after you’ve completed the race? 

I’d like to get a SUP Leadership/Instructor qualification and see where that takes me. I would love to continue to be an ambassador for stand-up paddleboarding and to keep encouraging women, and girls especially, into the world of paddle sports. I hope I’ve inspired more people to realise that paddleboarding adventures are right there ready to be had - even if you are older!

Follow @natashastarseeker on Instagram to see what other adventures she gets up to! 

Photo credits - VIMA Photography