Righting the Ship of Racing.
A day that I fell in love with over 20 years ago. Patriots Day or better know to those of us in Boston. As Marathon Monday. Where the Red Sox play at 11 am. And millions of people take on a feat, 26.2 miles, into the city of Boston.
Attending college in Boston. I would make my way down to the start line. Many times with warm cheap beers stashed in a back pack. Celebrating the Sox. But more importantly the people finishing the marathon. During these years, I believe I attended almost ten of them. I never once saw the winners cross the line.
What left the lasting impression. Was the people. Doing whatever they could to cross that blue painted line. That dresses Boylston street year round.
As we cheered and screamed for each person. I'll never forget the day a gentlemen. Who looked as fresh as someone who just complete their morning lap around the block. Ask me for a beer. As I handed him a warm Keystone light. He gave me the biggest high five and drank the beer as he crossed that line.
This past Monday, I watched the live feed. Well after the leaders were done and probably at their recovery stations. I began to scroll through social media. The posts I saw about the marathon. Where about the individuals I described above. And one that was the most compelling. Was the man who crawled the last 500 feet.
As I write this we are a week away from the first major stand up paddleboard race here in the US. And I have been contemplating putting this blog out there. But after witnessing the marathon. And feeling that energy and inspiration first hand. As well as speaking with other paddlers I felt that I had to.
I am someone who believes that we must not complain. We must take action. I have asked others to help out on this and it feel upon deaf ears. Now I'm asking those of us who love this sport. To push our friends and community members to look outside of our small world of paddling. And notice we are making some major mistakes.
Beyond the cost of the race next weekend. Staying with the theme of the Boston Marathon, which costs $200 for residents, $250 for international residents. We must evaluate how expensive we are making this sport. Yes I understand there is cash on the line. Which we have a 2% chance of collecting based on the math. Not our ability levels. Which if we look at ability, makes it, for those of us who know where we stand, a solid 0.
Add in the rest of the costs of the trips we are looking at a minimum of $1,000 and if you bring the family, friends it could get up to $5,000. Again I understand Wrightsville Beach is a beautiful destination and I love the Blockade Runner. Which is where I will stay and visit even when there are no events. However it makes it very unapproachable to new paddlers.
Putting the financial burden of the event on the sideline. Where we have made the biggest mistakes and continue to do so. Even after PPG's demise. We are not taking care of the people who are supporting our sport. Year in and year out. There is no reason for them to come back to the event. Thankfully we have a community that rallies people from all over North America. And the world. However like PPG. That energy is fading.
Here is why. The focus is always on the top athletes. Yes these men and women and rockstars and do deserve some accolades. What they do on and off the water is amazing. But they also know and understand the value of the weekend and enthusiast paddlers. Because if they stop supporting our sport. There will be no more top events. Many sports before us have fallen in this area.
There are paddlers that have been attending this event, to quote a friend of mine since the party was in the parking lot. Nothing has been done for these people. I understand the medals are great. And if you register early you get more swag. I am talking something as simple as a thank you. Or touching base to see if anything can be done to make their experience better.
What about a newsletter blast that comes out with a picture and interview of a paddler from Wisconsin who has been attending for 6 years and races the 5k. And then one on the 10k paddler from Boston who is trying the longer distance for the first time. This small efforts go a long ways for our community and inspire others to join in.
Now for the races it self. In some of my past blogs we have discussed different ways to build divisions and structures. Many of them I really like and hope people give them a try. However there is one format that I really would like to see become part of all events. Especially with the APP releasing the qualifying requirements at events. Which sadly was another elitist maneuver for the sport, top 5 at the tour stops. Which will be capture by those all ready qualified or those that will not be turned away if where unqualified. But I understand why. The issue is with the major push on how it is growing the open division of the sport. The structure I would love to have all races adopt is as follows. Pro-Am, consisting of 3 age groups 17 and under, 18 - 49, 50 plus
Enthusiast - consisting of 3 age groups 17 and under, 18 - 49, 50 plus -Enthusiast was introduced to me by John Beausang.
Fun - No age groups. No awards. Just a paddle with everyone. Including the Pros, Pro-Ams and Enthusiasts.
There are only a couple races here in the US that could actually run a Pro Division. Which I feel needs to have 10 or more of the qualified APP paddlers. To run.
The thoughts behind this structure would create a feeder system.
Fun paddlers would get to enjoy a paddle. We need to encourage all paddlers to join in on this, sharing tips, introducing themselves and giving back to our sport. Making this 30 minute paddle a blast and hooking these people on the sport.
The enthusiast division would allow paddlers who want to compete with their friends an avenue to do so without being overshadowed. Or pushed to the side by the uber competitors that are chasing the top podium spots. It will still have competition, but on the softer side.
For the last category, the Pro-Am provides a place for those who take competition seriously. But it also begins to build a feeder division to the Pro Divisions, which in reality are 30 men and 10 women. I saw this first hand in the last two years at the Gorge Paddle Challenge where we had a blast all competing with each other at the open race. It will also begin to build an area for the juniors to compete. And climb the ranks. Eventually getting enough participants at local events to have a full junior division.
How does this all come together. If we all adopt this structure for 2020. It will make it easy on the APP and other Pro focused races. To focus on what they do best. Creating pro calibier events. People who want to attend can do so and will know where to register. In time it will create a ranking system in all the division where local and global tracking can occur. A paddler from Florida can see how they rank compared to someone in Michigan or Washington. And one day meet at a National event to truly see how the measure up.
I also understand many of you have races and race leagues that are thriving. I am not trying to say what you are doing isn't working. But looking at a bigger picture and towards the future of the sport. This type of structure can help us all.
For those of you that disagree with the number of Pros. Hopefully this helps sum it up. When we come in second at a 10k by 5 minutes. Thats a half mile almost out of sight. 10 minutes 1 mile out of sight. We need to be better at accepting where we fall in the sport.
The pros need their own forum to shine. And I'd love to be able to cheer them on and watch the finish. Become inspired before taking on my course.
This is why I would love to see these groups adopted. It would give more people a place to race alongside their similar ability level peers. And ultimately create new friendships and training groups.
Regardless of the outcome, it is time to make a change. And we are the ones that can do it.