The Demise of Stand Up Paddleboard Racing.
Butterflies fluttering in our stomachs. The mind running through a series of "what ifs". And before we complete each scenario. Something pulls us in another direction.
Our name is being called out. Cheers. Words of encouragement. From family. Friends. And even those who do not know us.
This is the start of our first stand up paddleboard race.
For some of us. This was yesterday. Others. So long ago we have forgotten what it feels like to be in the position. And maybe that is why we have lost the connection. Of growing our sport, from the beginners perspective.
This past week we lost another major event in the world of stand up paddleboarding. One that has shared a venue, known to many as the "mecca", Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California.
The death of this event, carries a common thread to others that have fallen before it.
Many of us took part in the Battle of the Paddle. An event that brought thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants to the beaches of Souther California. However in 2014 there were signs right before our eyes. That something needed to change.
I am guilty of missing the key signs that our focus was off mark. Chasing rankings. Sponsorships. Money. And "fame". Losing sight on what originally brought me to the water. And into the sport of racing.
Community. Friendship. And a personal challenge.
Creation of the "biggest prize purse in the world". The mantra of 2014. Multiple races threw up thousands upon thousands of dollars. Some peaking out at $50,000. Others offering winner take all $10,000 cash prize. And so on.
With the focus on the cash. No one noticed, even with massive sponsor contribution and media hype. The attendance of the events was sub par. Most of the events not even breaking 50 participants. The amateur side of the events, non existent. And the support for the new paddlers that did show up. Lack luster at best. Making the people who build our sport, feel as if they were not welcome to the party.
The event organizers did pour their heart and souls into the events. As well as their money. Putting together some of the best events I have ever attended. But they were well ahead of their time. And missed the key element for the growth of our sport.
This is not an attack on our sport. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. And I fully respect and understand why.
However. I love this sport. And for it to grow to the level we all want it too. We need to take a step back and look at the demise of the events that are no longer.
If we look at grass roots events. Paddling Clubs. Weekly paddle groups. The focus is on a group of friends getting together doing something they love. Having the best time of their lives. And accomplishing something that is a challenge. Yes there is competition. But that is not the focus.
I recently watched a video by Annabel Anderson, one of our most decorated races of all time, about beginners tips on racing. Her mantra. Fun. Overcoming a personal challenge. And a bit of fitness. The main reasons we all started.
Many others top paddlers in the world are all sharing this same vision. However we as an industry continue to overlook these pillars of the sport.
How do we begin to share this message to a larger audience?
That falls on each on of us. There are many media sources out there in need of content and stories. If writing is a passion or vlogging or any other form of content creation. Put together a piece based upon the experience and submit it. We need to remind ourselves it is not so much about the fastest paddler that day. More about the community and fun vibes. Or talking to the person that came to their first race. Who is on the fence about joining and coming back for another event. This is our chance to make them feel included. Giving them a shoutout. And welcoming them to our community. Like was done to us.
Chris Parker just launched his new platform of rankings. And I know is in need of help finding the events that fit into his new structure. If we all provide the information to him it will help the rankings grow each region. And in time maybe provide a way to have a paddler from Florida gauge their ability level with a paddler from Oregon. Or even on a global level. But there is not need to fast forward to that place. Let it organically happen.
If we begin to look at the separation of the top athletes in the world from weekend warriors. Yes I understand it is great that we can rub elbows with top paddlers on the start lines. But that is not the place for that interaction. We can still enjoy a cold beverage and swap stories about the similar courses we took on. After. When all the adrenaline, stress and anxiety has passed. Just as the Marathon runners are grouped with their similar ranked competitors. Not a massive free for all, mass start. This will only apply to the large races. Many regional races have small numbers of pro paddlers. If any.
This will create is a platform for the enthusiast to become the focus of our sport. From a regional level all the way up to the top events in the world. Beyond the acknowledgement of them standing atop the podium. But from a media and story telling sense. Inside of this division the ages groups can begin to develop. Including the heavily discussed junior division.
As more events adopt the structure, Amateur and Pro Tours will begin to develop. The APP is heading down this path. From my experience in New York City last year. They are on to something with the structure of paddlers based on their ability levels and experience. The Gorge Paddle Challenge has also followed a similar path helping to create space between the amateurs and pro.
It is time to look at eliminating cash purses. Yes I understand our top athletes need to collect this money to travel. And the money in the pocket at the regional level is a nice bonus. However it is not working for the growth of our sport.
It is time we ask ourselves, do we want the instantaneous rewards or a long term one? My favorite analogy relating to this is $100 today or $10,000 a year from now.
If this money goes back into the events the entry fees can be reduced. Helping to lower the overall cost of attendance. As many of us know traveling to multiple events can be financially draining. Even on a regional level. This not only helps those who do travel to multiple events but new paddlers on the fence of attending.
This brings us around full circle. If we take the races that have put out the biggest prize purses. They are dead. Some may have only lasted one year. The ones that focus on community and individual accomplishment. Thriving.
It is time we take matters of our sports growth into our own hands. And as I mentioned in my early blog about, Is Stand Up Paddleboard racing. Dying? Introduce one person to the sport at each event we do. Keep the events fun. Focus on community. And less on individual growth reward.
If we don't. Then our beloved local events will be like PPG. And none of us will have events to paddle at.