August 18, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Pacific Paddle Games Announces New Race Format + Live Webcast

Battle of the Paddle SUP race chaos

Southern California’s Doheny Sate Beach is the “spiritual home” of stand up paddle racing (photo credit: Harry Wiewel)

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SUP the Mag has just announced a few more details about their inaugural Pacific Paddle Games, which is set to take over California’s Doheny State Beach (aka the “spiritual home” of SUP racing) on October 10th & 11th and may very well be the biggest race of the year.

While we already knew the PPGs will give out the largest prize purse in the history of the sport, now we know a bit more about how the action on the water will look.

The big news is that the podium, and almost all of the record prize money, will be awarded based on combined results from both the surf race and the distance race. This is a departure from the Battle of the Paddle model, where the Elite Race and Elite Distance Race were completely separate.

Organisers chose this new format to try and make the whole weekend more exciting, rather than focusing all of the attention on the surf race. The BOP’s Sunday morning distance race was infamous for being an anti-climax after the dizzying excitement of Saturday afternoon’s surf race.

This “one event, two race” format has been used plenty of times before, most notably by the World Series and some of the Euro Tour events, but also by many local and regional races around the world. However we’ve never seen the format at an event of this level. The Pacific Paddle Games is expected to replicate the BOP’s allure and attract virtually all of the world’s top names, which would make it the biggest race in the world. The PPGs will almost certainly eclipse both the Carolina Cup and Gorge Paddle Challenge to become the most competitive race of 2015.

I’m not totally convinced this is the best format in SUP racing, however if the PPGs crew do it right it could lead to a far more exciting weekend than what we grew accustomed to at the Battle.

I’ve never been a huge fan of two races/one podium because I feel it can rob the specialist paddlers of their chance to shine. Some paddlers crush it in the surf races but suffer in the distance events (and vice versa). If the podium is judged on an overall performance, those paddlers will drop down the ranks by the end of the weekend even if they star in one of the two disciplines.

I remember seeing Kai Lenny win the 2013 BOP Elite Race but fail to crack the distance race top 10. At the same event, Travis Grant missed the surf race through injury but won the distance race with his broken knee in what was the single most inspiring performance of the year. Neither of those star athletes would have had a chance at claiming a first place prize if all the focus was on combined results.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the best overall paddlers should be rewarded as being the best in the world, but we should do that by looking at the results from several different types of races over an entire season, not within one single event.

The only event that’s successfully pulled off the “two races/one podium” format is the Payette River Games, however everything about that event is so unique that it would be impossible for the PPGs to replicate the PRGs format.

But perhaps I don’t like this format because it hasn’t been executed perfectly at any event in the past (with the PRGs the unique exception). Perhaps the Pacific Paddle Games organisers will pull it off and introduce a unique twist that makes everything more exciting and engaging. The Battle of the Paddle was a relative ghost town on Sunday, with the main action happening in the Elite Race on Saturday afternoon. So at the very least this format should keep the PPGs interesting the entire weekend, even if some of the specialist athletes won’t be too stoked on the news.

Though it sounds like there will be a small amount of prize money for the winners of each separate race, so hopefully that also means a dedicated mini-podium to shine a spotlight on all the star performers.

The Pacific Paddle Games crew said they chose this format because they want to see the best paddlers in the world on the water as much as possible, and I don’t think any fan would disagree with that sentiment. Indeed, during the Salt Creek extravaganza last year almost half of the elite field pulled out of Sunday’s 10 miler, which was a real let down. I’d much prefer a “combined results” event than seeing half the field skip the second half of the weekend.

The tentative schedule is for surf race qualifiers on Saturday, distance race Sunday morning before the surf race grand finale on Sunday afternoon. If organisers get the format and points system spot on, this could make the finale a lot more exciting, as paddlers will be fighting to not only win that race but also defend (or improve) their result from the distance race.

And to their credit, the PPGs crew canvassed several leading paddlers for ideas before choosing this format, as they’ve done for several other aspects of the event. And in addition we should note it’s not all about the pros anyway. The thing that makes events like the BOP, the Gorge and Carolina so good is the huge turnout of amateurs. The Pacific Paddle Games will continue this legacy, with a big focus on the open and junior races.

Anyway so that’s the event format. Hopefully it’ll make the overall event more exciting, but I’m not entirely convinced just yet.

The other big news to drop this week is that the Pacific Paddle Games will officially have a live webcast.

International fans rejoice.

This is massive news for the vast majority of SUP racing fans that can’t make it to Doheny, and continues to confirm my belief that the PPGs will be an excellent evolution to the BOP’s legacy.

For all the great things it did for our sport, the Battle seriously dropped the ball when it came to live streaming (and media production in general), however I’m pretty confident that SUP the Mag will pull off a great show. I’ve spoken with the team behind the webcast and I know they’ll bring a tonne of experience to the event.

It’s all shaping up to be a fairly massive weekend in October. Can’t wait.

Oh and registration is open