Race Focus

Is Stand Up Paddleboard Racing. Dying?

What Made me Start Racing.

Hood River with Gorge Performance
All about fun times with this crew in Hood River. A downwind paddle with Gorge Performance

Arriving on the beach. Nervous. Scared. Sweating palms. Wondering if I made the wrong decision. Do I really want to race my stand up paddleboard?

Seven years ago. I was introduced to stand up paddling. Vowing never to race.

It took one event. To change it all.

Standing on the beach. With butterflies the size of beach balls. Fluttering through my stomach. I felt like sliding back away into the bushes where no one could find me. Escaping out to the parking lot and leaving the event.

As I was standing there. The excitement of others is what kept me on the beach. Countless amounts of people came over to say hello. Introduce themselves. Talk about the conditions. And upon finding out that this was my first race. Rave to me how much fun it is. And how great I’ll do.

They were so right.

Are we Pushing New People Away from Stand Up Paddleboard Racing?

Best Water Gun
Mark Herman enjoying a bit of fun with the squirt paddle. Photo by Charly Flanigan

Over the years there has some banter going around about the state of the sport of stand up paddleboard racing. Whether it is growing. Dying. Becoming stagnant. And so on.

We have seen some races reach all time highs of attendance. And sadly other races having to stop running because of a decline in attendance.

Anyone of us can speculate on why. But a general observation has revealed this.

Racing is intimidating.

Not because of the conditions. But rather how we have positioned it to be for only those who spend countless hours training and thousands of dollars on equipment.

None of us mean for this to happen. But as the sport has grown. And many of us have been involved for a significant amount of time. The competition side has began to outweigh the community.

What do I mean by that?

When we walk up to an event on race day. We have a cheerful smiling faces walking around. But many of us. Are focussed. Thinking about our race. Did we bring the right fin? Do we have our life jacket, leash and etc?

To someone brand new to the sport. We look very unapproachable. And they feel as they have made the wrong decision. As they haven’t trained. Borrowed a board from a friend. And do not even know what a PFD is. While it is hanging from their waste.

Growing the Sport.

Post paddle consversations
The best part of the night. After the paddle hanging with friends. Photo by Greg Panas

Over the years I have heard people say they wish it was more like the early days of Battle of the Paddle. And for those who do not know about that event. It was the World Series or Super Bowl of stand up paddling. People from across the globe would descend about Doheny Beach for a week to hang with friends. Watch the worlds best. And cheer each other on.

What has changed?

We became serious about racing. And that is not a bad thing.

But by doing so. We have lost a bit of the connection to seeing a stranger on the start line. Saying hello. Giving them a high five. And creating a friendship.

It is up to us to start breaking down the walls we put up on race day. Softening the edges on racing. Taking it serious but remembering that the people around us are friends for life. And this race is just a fun workout with a bunch of friends from all over the world.

If we say hello to one new person. And share a positive thought to someone who looks intimidated or is questioning trying to race. It will go a long way.

We also can create local paddle groups. Even though one person may be faster than another. Paddling together will encourage others to join in.

Our sport is just a baby. Ten years old. Before we get so excited to turn it into a teenager, we should enjoy these fun years of growth.

Structure of Races.

Lexus SUP Team
Ponce Puerto Rico SUP Team. Team Lexus SUP

This past fall I attended an event that I really enjoyed. But beyond the camaraderie of my fellow paddlers. The structure of the race divisions resonated with me.

At the event this fall the race divisions were simple. Male and Female Pro, Pro-AM and Fun.

The set up provided for a quick awards ceremony but focused more on everyone spending time together talking about their personal accomplishments.  If we were to adopt a similar structure it would take away from the need to give away so many awards. And bring down the cost of the event.

One of the toughest things all the race directors has to deal with is providing enough awards to the participants. And doing it quickly. Especially now with all types of paddle crafts joining in on the fun.

I understand that we all want to receive our accolades for achieving a personal goal. However I ask the question, did we get into the sport because of receiving a medal or because of the people in the sport?

If we all support each other. Whether we finished 1st or 60th. That will keep us all coming back. And help introduce more people to what we love doing. From my experience, getting a bunch of high fives from my good friends feels way better than standing on a podium and receiving a few, is this over golf claps.

Time is Now.

Demo Day lesson
Sam Griffin shares some pointers to a young paddler

Our sport is in a great place. As it is in our hands to make some changes. To share it with all of those around us. And get them just as excited as we were on that first race.

Let’s face it, we have enough stress in our life. This is our hobby. The place we seek out and find happiness. And competition is great. But friendship is king.

I hope to see you on the start line soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28 Comments

  1. Jeremiah, thanks for practicing what you preach!you were super approachable this summer at stand up for veterans in conn…im sure all of us you cross paths with appriciate the good vibes you share! Plus you were killing it that day!!

    1. Thank you Brian. Great seeing you at Downunder. Hope to get on the water with you again soon. And thank you for reading the blog and leaving a comment. Have a great day.

  2. These are right words. I’m wondering too if this is the right way to make the sport growing or dying. I think also SUP racing need more kids involved. To guarantee its future. The US is more focused on that. In Europe there are a lot of small races with an high average age and too less kids. Let’s see what bring the future. Thanks to let us know your point of view.

    1. Thanks Martin for the comment and reading the blog. The sport is growing. We are trying new things but the key is keeping it fun and easy. Yes for sure we need more kids but bigger than that we need more participation. If we focus on the kids we lose grasp of the main core group. Getting the adults involved will get the kids involved. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Great post, JV. The other thing to remember is that the courses need to have options for people who don’t have strong technical skills.

    Also, I love the idea about fewer awards and more stoke. There should be an award for “most welcoming” and “most helpful” at every race.

    1. Thank you Adam! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Great points. Always so much we can improve on at these events. The question I ask myself is what can I do to make the experience better for someone new to paddling and racing.

      Appreciate you commenting.

    1. We all have that same feeling deep down inside. I know that I lost it for a bit. But realizing that is what brought me to the water. Was the reminder I needed. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    1. Thanks Parker for the sharing and giving it a read. People like yourself have done so much for the sport. And that passion is still burning hot. We just need to share it with others to keep it growing and having fun while we do it.

  4. I am a canoe racer. Flat water, c2 bow paddler. Fair to middling. I have heard the hammer pounding on the coffin of the amateur races since I started. Fortunately we still find enough local races to keep us going, and for me to keep improving. Kayaks and SUPS are a big part of our scene (and man can you SUPs make for a washing machine start), The races I do, in the main, still award in a large variety of classes. I am a National champ in a niche class, which is great for bragging to my non=paddling friends, and a great joke to me. I hope that kayaks and SUPs dont bury us. Do not let elite racers ruin the fun for upcoming and adolescent racers. Keep awarding in as many classes as you can, Your mature elite racers will ultimately realize that lower-level racers will keep your sport alive. Every paddler has to start somewhere. My favorite race attracts hundreds of racers in cold Ohio spring waters with a fun course, a slick timing process, fine amenities at the finish (grilled food and bonfires) and a crazy hat contest–the hats worn on the boat. Everybody has a ball regardless of finish. Most important, it attracts youngsters and families. Make it fun and accessible, and challenging enough, and people will sign up. Finding a local paddling group to train with also keeps it fun. I am part of a small group of older paddlers. I am the baby at 55. Average age is 75. We race three days a week in the summer time for exercise and companionship.

    x

    1. Thank you for commenting Susan. You have shared some great points. We have a lot to learn from so many other sports. But the piece that resonates with me the most is keeping it fun and accessible. And many races are doing just that. Allowing any ability level, age or craft join in on the fun helps all the paddlesports. And together we can help get more and more people on the water.

  5. The Scott Head Paddle game event seems to be the correct formula for the grass roots competitrs. There are no prizes for the competitors but everybody gets something at the end of the event with a giant raffle with offerings from a Hat to a Fiji holiday for 7 days. This year there were 120 competitors and the surfing section is always oversubscribed. It has been run over 7 years with a lot of support from the Scott Head community and Jason Odonell. Looking to replicate the formula at a few other events. http://www.supfestivals.com.au that have the same ethos.

    1. Thanks for sharing Craig. Sounds like a great event. With a focus on fun and everyone getting something in the end. Events like these will always thrive as they have created a strong connection in their communities.

  6. Well spoken. That is the best thing about this sport, the people. This is what I tell all people, especially new paddlers to the sport. Of course when the horn goes off the competition is on. I am concerned about attendance at some races this year, a few races have been canceled for this reason. I would like some solutions and ideas to grow the sport. But as you have said it is a relatively new sport. The stoke is there and always will be.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jason. Glad you enjoyed the blog. The passion. The excitement it is all there. But for races attendance falling off, there are too many reasons for anyone to speculate. The race directors have a full plate. But those that have approached it with outside the box thinking, connecting with their community are rallying. Others are having a tough go. But the sport will keep pushing along because of people like yourself.

  7. Great article! I too have lost the passion for SUP racing. I started to SUP back in 2007. My 1st race was back at the 2010 BOP. It was still fun back then. It was more inclusive and the feeling of community was stronger. In fact, SUP paddling was soooo enjoyable that I brought and shared my passion for SUP to South Korea back in early 2010. But these days, it seems that most of the focus on races and events is on the Elite paddlers. Even the people I met in South Korea became super competitive and very clique-ish that I felt that it was time to leave the country after living there for 17 years.

    1. Thanks for giving it a read. Sorry to hear that you have felt the negative effects of racing. You are not alone and it was why I was inspired to write the article. We all get too caught up in the competition side. It is human nature. But we can start to share our love with the new paddlers. Re-create the arms wide open welcoming that we once received.

  8. Great article. I have always said if I could pick one sport out of all my hobbies (running, cycling, jui jitsu) it would be SUP. Not only the experience that comes with going out and gliding and being present with nature- but the comeraderie and community around the sport. Everyone is so supportive and stoked to SUP. I have yet to meet some aggro SUPer anywhere. As for races-I can only speak of local races and small benefit races. There’s something for everyone- for an elite competitor or a hobbyist that wants to push themselves towards a PR. I just hope we don’t lose that connection that you see before and after a race where pros and hobbyists alike can hang. And have more and people like yourself, Chris Parker, John Beausang and others elevating the sport and spreading its stoke to the world.

    1. Thank you for commenting and reading Dell! And the kind words. Love hearing that SUP ranks high on your favorite list. I think we all agree that the community is what makes the sport. And it is only getting better thanks to people like yourself. Hope to see you at an event soon. Thank you again!

  9. Aloha. I’ve just hung up my race director’s hat after organizing a paddle sport race for the past 15 years. The race became a big one and a lot of people were sad when we decided to discontinue. Our mission for the event was always to support new paddlers and grow our local paddling community. We did this with a ton of participant recognition, lots and lots of social events during the weekend, never offering prize money, offering courses that everyone could finish, and keeping our race entry fee low (among a bunch of other things). It really worked for us and the event was a huge success. However, as time progressed, the vibe started changing and more and more people started coming, and we had to reassess if the growing vibe of serious competition still fit our mission. It was super challenging to find that balance. At the end of the day though, there are far more people competing for the fun of it (including me!) than the glory and Its those people that event planners need to honor the most.

    Thanks for posting this!!

    1. Thank you for commenting Karen. We are all sad that the Shark Bite had to come to a stop. But we all understand the blood, sweat, tears and dollars you put into the event. And what you all created. Whatever you do next we know will be great. Thank you for reading, hope to see you soon.

  10. Your article seems spot on. I did a race this summer. After arriving at check in, I called my wife and said, ” there’s so much testosterone pumping here that it’s super intimidating” The funny thing was, that when all was said and done, some of the people that looked most intimidating, didn’t do so well in the race. I actually was pretty psyched that I beat a lot of the people that sort of snorted at me when I gave them a friendly, Good Morning. It might not have been that they were being snobby, but that they were taking things way more serious than I expected. A friendly Good Morning, wasn’t on most peoples’ minds. Also, even the slowest racers had the best and most expensive equipment, which left me feeling….hey, if I want to participate more, I need to spend more money.

    1. Great points Neil. That is something many of us have lost sight of. I have been one of those people. And it wasn’t because of being snobby. Just focused on the wrong thing like you mentioned. The reality is. If we loosen up a bit. We will do better at the event. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter the board under our feet or paddle in our hand. It is the smile on our face. That is the win. Thank you for sharing and reading! Hope to paddle with you at an event.

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