Racing has rapidly become one of the most exciting aspects of the ever popular sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). The tense anticipation in advance of the starting horn prior to a race featuring a beach start is felt by all the competitors in the field regardless of experience. Thoughts of making it through the oncoming sets and arriving at the first buoy with the pack race through everyone’s mind. Similarly, water starts lack the potential challenge of navigating the surf zone, but are nevertheless thrilling as legions of paddlers surge forward and turn the water into a lively mixing bowl of bumps and chop. Many races are decided in the first few minutes as the leaders sprint out in front and then set a steady cadence for the duration of the contest. Other times it can be a battle to the finish as intangible factors such as the wind and swell conditions offer fortunate competitors the opportunity to seize the advantage at any given moment.
Unique to SUP racing, all competitors have the opportunity to socialize with and compete against professional athletes – known as elites in the world of SUP. This aspect need not be a deterrent for entering SUP races. Many races have a separate elite division which affords amateurs the opportunity to compete with the top athletes in the sport, yet be scored separately. This is most commonly achieved by holding an elite division in addition to separate age group divisions for each board class (surf, 12’6”, 14’ and unlimited). The format can lend to a lengthy awards ceremony, but it ensures broad recognition and universal celebration of everyone’s efforts on the water.
In Southern California, the SUP race scene is wide ranging both in the size of the events and the discipline being tested. Large events such as the Battle of the Paddle held annually at Doheny State Beach draw an international field of several hundred athletes from the ranks of the sport’s top professionals to first time racers for a two-day extravaganza of competition in technical and distance races. Most races are significantly less choreographed. They are hosted by local clubs and are typically backed by a combination of local and corporate sponsors. One constant within the SUP racing movement is the fantastic community of fellow paddlers you will join from the moment you arrive at your first race.
January welcomes in the New Year with three exciting races in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego. See the accompanying list for details of each event.