Reflections On The Ultimate SUP Showdown: Was It A Success?
One week ago we saw the unveiling of the Ultimate SUP Showdown, a brand new stand up paddling event that has a lot of potential but up until now has been pretty mysterious. I’ve had a week to reflect on how the event was run, where it’s going and what it could mean for the sport. Here’s what I came up with…
The first ever Showdown was held in Waikiki last Tuesday August 20th, as part of Duke’s OceanFest. In case you’ve been living under a rock (on Mars), the Ultimate SUP Showdown combines both SUP surfing and SUP racing in the one event, with the top finishers from a separate surf contest and sprint race coming together in the main event – the ‘Showdown’ finale, which is a race through the surf. The goal of the organisers is to create a stand up paddling athlete that’s equal parts surfer and racer.
That’s the theory anyway, but how did it stack up in reality? The short version: The first ever SUP Showdown was a success. Not perfect and still plenty of work to do, but a very solid start. The long version…
The inaugural Showdown was an invite-only event featuring 32 stand up paddlers, including some of the biggest names in the sport (Kalama, Mitchell, Baxter, etc). While there’s been a lot of chatter about this event behind the scenes and among the top paddlers the past few months, there was very little info out in the public domain before its debut last Tuesday.
And that’s just what the organisers wanted.
Keep it under wraps and then over-deliver on the day, that was the basic philosophy. And that’s why it was particularly exciting to see the Showdown finally revealed in the light of day and to see if its unique new format could deliver.
So how’d it go?
Well firstly, more and more events around the world are starting to realise that what happens off the water is often just as important as what happens on it. This is something the Showdown organisers clearly get.
The day before the event there was an athletes’ autograph signing session, a pretty cool feature that definitely gave the paddlers a kick and added some novelty and flair to the proceedings. Hundreds of people lined up to get the big event posters signed by the stars. In fact the whole event was run like a movie premiere, with the signing session before the event and the red-carpet-interviews at the after-party. Even the poster looked like something out of Hollywood.
So as far as organisation goes, the event was very well run. The inaugural SUP Showdown was baked into Duke’s OceanFest, so it’s hard to say what the logistics would look like if the event was run independently (as it will be next year). However everything went pretty smoothly in Waikiki.
As far as race day logistics, things were good. There were a couple of minor issues but for a first event it has to be said it was very well run. The times were pretty much spot on and there were plenty of support staff making it easy on the athletes, so that they could focus purely on performing.
I won’t dwell on the specifics but here’s a quick recap of the action:
There was a surf contest in the morning with the likes of Mo Freitas dominating, then a stock standard sprint race where Connor Baxter took the win. But the main event was the Showdown finale. The plan was to make this an extreme SUP surf race, where waves played a huge factor and paddlers had to use their surfing skills to get round the course. Basically a Battle of the Paddle-style race on steroids.
Unfortunately the waves at Waikiki didn’t cooperate, with tiny conditions effectively turning this into just another race, meaning we didn’t get to see the full ‘Showdown’ format in all its glory.
Don’t get me wrong, the race was still exciting. Just look at the top six names: Baxter, Grant, Schweitzer, Becker, Freitas, Mitchell. A good mix of household names and up-and-coming young guns. There were a few notable names missing but on the whole, and as a first ever event, the SUP Showdown attracted a pretty stellar lineup. But yeah, without waves the format lost its unique appeal. Looking ahead to the potential locations for the 2014 Showdowns, this shouldn’t be a problem in the future, but at Waikiki the waves were noticeable in their absence.
Even despite the tiny conditions, Connor Baxter and Travis Grant gave fans on the beach plenty to cheer for. The two battled it out right around the course, swapping the lead several times before Connor got a break at the final buoy and a wave that would seemingly take him to victory. Travis had other ideas though. Paddling like a man possessed, the Aussie somehow managed to paddle over the back of the wave that Connor had caught and surf it to the beach. The young gun had slightly more when it counted though, sprinting the final few metres and running up for a memorable win.
While Zane Schweitzer was very impressive in his third place performance, it was definitely Travis and Connor all the way. They were the standouts in both the Sprint Race and Showdown and look to be in ominous form right now. In fact if I had to pick my top two for the Battle right now, I’d probably go with these two guys…
So that was the on-water stuff. But again, what happened off-the-water was just as important.
There was a good crowd on the beach – a rarity at SUP races – though Waikiki and Duke’s obviously played a big role there. A full camera crew led by some very experienced production types were roaming the beach all day. Dave Kalama and Buzzy Kerbox were doing their best to make the beach interviews a little awkward. Bikini girls were roaming around and adding a bit of flair to the event in general.
The highlight though was the after-party. Full red carpet interviews, pics with the bikini and hula girls, and, to top it off in a novel twist, the prize money was paid out in cash right then and there at the awards ceremony.
Countless SUP races around the world have messed up prize money, either by taking days to get it sorted, forcing paddlers through draconian steps to receive their money (French bank account anyone?), or worse yet, not paying out the original amounts at all. In fact, so many events have messed this up that it’s now a running joke among the elite paddlers about whether or not they’re going to get paid. No naming names here, plenty of different events have dropped the ball on this one.
So really, the Showdown had a fairly low bar to rise above when it came to the money side of things. But rather than just do a good job, the organisers went above and beyond, paying out all of the $15,000 prize money in cash right then and there at the awards ceremony. Boyd the organiser literally had 150x hundred dollar notes in his hand and counted them out for each paddler as they picked up their trophy and cash.
The paddlers loved this.
I’m going to skip the token “We don’t do this sport for the money!” disclaimer, because that’s a whole ‘nother topic and in case you haven’t realised by now, a lot of the pros DO do these races for the money. It’s not the only factor but it’s an important one, especially considering how much it costs to get to these events in the first place.
Speaking of prize money, special mention goes to Candice Appleby who, in a sign of very good sportsmanship, donated her $1,000 winnings to the JDRF (the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which, as a diabetic himself, Boyd has chosen as the main charity for this event).
So that as the inaugural Ultimate SUP Showdown. This was largely a test-run event as the organisers look to build some credibility ahead of 2014. Which brings us to what’s in store for next year…
The Showdown organisers are planning an Ultimate SUP Showdown “Hawaiian Islands Tour” for 2014. Four events: Two stops on Oahu plus Maui and the Big Island, with some very serious prize money on offer at each event but also for the overall tour winners. That’s about all that’s public so far, with locations, formats and specific prize money levels still being tweaked and most likely won’t be announced until later in the year. Beyond 2014 there’s a loose goal of taking this around the world, but again the organisers seem to want to under-promise and over-deliver, so it’s all tight-lipped for now.
Will this whole Showdown thing work?
With names such as Dave Kalama, Jamie Mitchell, Chuck Patterson, Travis Grant and Connor Baxter either actively competing or promoting and participating behind the scenes, there’s a pretty good chance the Ultimate SUP Showdown will be a success. I think the format still needs some work and quite obviously it definitely needs some waves, but overall the first ever event was a good one. The organising team, led stand up paddle evangelical by Boyd Jeffery, are very motivated and determined to see this become a success.
Without any waves the ‘Showdown’ went from something unique into just another SUP race at the beach. An exciting one… a stacked one… a very well organised one… but nothing unique. Waves shouldn’t be a problem based on the potential spots for next year (hint: it won’t be back at Waikiki), but until we do get some solid surf, the jury is out on exactly how exciting the format will be, as it really hasn’t been seen yet.
So the Showdown still has plenty left to prove.
I’m also predicting 2014 will see some insane crowding on the SUP race calendar. Big events and big prize money. For example, the Battle is about to lose it’s crown of the most lucrative event on the circuit, with, by my counting, at least five totally different events in 2014 set to rise above the $25,000 prize money barrier (some of them WELL above).
That means the Showdown will have to work hard to attract the elite talent, and therefore credibility, from other events that may clash. Even if the events are’t on the exact same weekend, the travel budgets for the top guys and girls only go so far. Based on last week’s lineup though, the Showdown has already got a head start in this department.
Either way it’ll be exciting to see what goes down in the SUP racing world next next year and I’m predicting the Showdown will be fairly central to whatever happens.
So yeah, Showdown I was a pretty big success, but we’ll have to wait six months before we can see what happens with Showdown II, III, IV, V and onwards, and to find out if this is the next big thing or not… Until then enjoy the pics from Waikiki.
All photos © A Boyd Event, Inc. Water shots by Jim Walsh
And in case you missed it, here’s how the “Showdown” finale finished up:
1st: Connor Baxter
2nd: Travis Grant
3rd: Zane Schweitzer
4th: Matt Becker
5th: Mo Freitas
6th: Jamie Mitchell
7th: Noa Ginella
8th: Fernando Stalla
9th: Brennan Rose
10th: Riggs Napoleon
11th: Aaron Napoleon
12th: Noland Keaulana
13th: Kaeo Abbey
14th: Ikaika Kalama
1st female: Candice Appleby
2nd female: Jennifer Lee