It's my birthday in January and I thought what better present to myself than to go and take part in the craziest, coldest stand up paddle race in the world?! Even the name GlaGla translates to the Brrrr Brrrr Race in English … as in it's freezing COLD!
I first heard about the famous GlaGla Race stand-up paddleboarding race on Lake Annecy through Sup the World, John McFadzean. I took part in this race in January 2024, which has become something of a stand up-paddling phenomenon. 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. So what made me decide to paddle in the middle of winter, under possible snow, in the Alps with water at 4°C?!
Photo: Alexis Fernet
Alpine Lakes Tour
The race is the brainchild of Benoit Mouren, who launched the Alpine Lakes Tour in 2013. Events in this multi-stage competitive circuit are held on three of the Alps’ biggest lakes (Lake Geneva, Lake Annecy, Lake Bourget), several mountain lakes (Confins Lake, Roseland Reservoir, and Tignes Lake), as well as Saint-Leonard Lake in Switzerland, Europe’s largest underground lake.
Following the first edition in 2014, the GlaGla Race quickly earned a name for itself - paddling in the Alps in the middle of winter, on a lake at 6°C (42°F)! The race celebrates both the extremes of French winter and the beautiful scenery of the Alpine lakes.
Around 200 paddlers originally took part in the first year. In 2023 this amazing race has officially become one of the biggest in the world after a record 830 paddlers signed up, from 31 countries.
Today the GlaGla Challenge has become the world’s second biggest stand up paddle race just behind Nautic Paddle in Paris. This year promised to be very special as it was celebrating 10 years of the GlaGla Race!
The GlaGla Race is open to casual paddlers with a 6.5 km short distance. The long distance (14 km) is designed for well trained and pro paddlers. This year for the first time there is a new beginner's course. The GlaGla Race is especially popular with foreign competitors. To motivate locals to take the plunge, Benoit and his team plan to organize a more accessible 3.5 km course for the first time this year. I decided to go for the very short distance as it was my first SUP race and the conditions are tricky to say the least!
The long course forms a loop that starts in Talloires Bay, circumnavigates the upper section of the lake, follows the shoreline to Sevrier, crosses the lake to Menthon, hugs Roc de Chère Cliff, and then leads back to the starting point. The shorter version heads across the lake and back. The other races (Junior Race – new for 2024, Technical Race, and Dragon Race) stay within shouting distance of the beach in Talloires.
The Race 2024
Friday 19 January 2024
On Friday, January 19, my sister and I decided to cycle to Talloires to pick up my bib and check out the conditions. We hadn’t realised quite how big Lake Annecy actually is and ended up biking 9 miles to the race! I picked up my bib, bought a GlaGla Race bobble hat and had a look at the lake. I was a little concerned as it was windy and freezing and the water looked very choppy. A few brave souls were practicing but I decided to wait until the race itself. We went back to our apartment and headed out for dinner (steak frites) to get my energy up!
Saturday 20 January 2024
The day of the race was cold (-8 in the morning) but the sun had come out and conditions were perfect. I was so relieved, the wind was about 1 knot and much less choppy. On the bus I met up with Kate, another UK participant that I had never met but knew was attending. Upon arrival in Talloires I got changed into my dry trousers and cag, put my neoprene boots and socks on and then my buoyancy aid and bib. I was definitely warm in all those layers as I also had thermal base layers and a thin jumper on too. My sister was watching from the side in multiple layers including a heated gilet!
I picked up my hired board; the 13’ 2” Red Voyager which is the longer version than my 12’ 6” Voyager I took to Finland. After the safety briefing and an energetic warm up with the yeti mascot, people started getting their boards onto the water. Kate and I nervously lined up at the start to glide across Lake Annecy’s blue waters, the horn sounded and then we were off. Although it wasn’t very windy it was slow going when we started paddling and everyone flowed forwards rather than pelting off. There were around 700 people on Lake Annecy, including amateurs and competitors from 25 countries, and the sense of camaraderie was just amazing. All these people coming together for the same reason, to have an adventure.
Image: John Marc Favre
The snow-capped mountains loomed all around me and the water was still turquoise blue even in the winter. It was beautifully clear but I still didn’t fancy taking a dip in the water at six degrees so I also concentrated on keeping my balance as well as taking in the most beautiful location I’ve ever paddled in. Some people fell in quite near the start but the organisers had made it crystal clear that it was mandatory to help a fellow paddler and the boats were on hand to help anyone who needed it, which was hugely reassuring.
Soon I reached the first buoy and then I paddled around it to make my way to the finish, whilst the others continued to the other distances. When I finished there was cheering from all the spectators and my family at home saw me pulling up at the pontoon on the Facebook livestream of the event. I was elated to have completed it and not fallen in, which was my worry! I came 26th out of 31 in the very short course.
For the 10th anniversary of the GlaGla Race, to soothe the weary limbs of the participants was massages before and after the race, as well as a sauna and Norwegian bath. Available from the Masseur's Roulotte.
Lake Annecy is absolutely stunning, surrounded by the Bornes mountains range with, just over Talloires, the Tournette, 7732 feet high! For those doing the race participants had the nice view over the mountains, the Talloires village and the Duingt Castel. It was very surreal seeing people hanggliding in the air whilst doing the race too!
Image: F. Vedrine, Lac Annecy Tourisme
As well as paddling I also cycled around the lake and swam in it, which was just amazing and so stunning.
Tourist Information Offices
The Lake Annecy Tourist Office has several Tourist Information Offices around Lake Annecy. Here you can discover information about Lake Annecy, activities, visits, events, markets, accommodation and more. You can use the free WIFI, buy hiking books and maps, posters and souvenirs, bus cards, tour tickets and more.
Photo: Lac Annecy Tourisme
Other Articles about the GlaGla Race
Disclaimer: I was lucky to be supported on this adventure by Red Paddle Co, who have provided excellent kit for me to use in stand-up paddleboarding. Red is one of the main partners of the event. I was also helped by the Press Service of the Lake Annecy Tourist Office. They kindly provided support at the race (including some yummy food) and with winter activities experiences in Annecy.
As always, all thoughts, opinions and images are my own. I only team up with brands that I love and think you’ll like too! For over a decade, they have been helping outdoor enthusiasts find adventure and fun. Now in their 15th year, they are passionate about and dedicated to getting more people out on the water by creating the world’s leading inflatable paddle boards.
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