October 24, 2022
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Last Paddler Standing — is this the first “gender equal” race in the history of SUP?

The last big race of the year is the one I’m most excited about.

No, I’m not referring to Paris. The race that interests me most is one we’ve never seen: Last Paddler Standing, a brand new ultra-marathon that probably features SUP racing’s most-innovative format since Jacko’s Super Lap turned heads eight years ago.

And while there are many reasons I find this event compelling, perhaps the most interesting angle is that Last Paddler may be the first “gender equal” race in the history of SUP.

The inaugural edition of Last Paddler Standing will be held in Florida early December. The concept is as simple as it is painfully-brilliant: You complete a 3.33-mile (5.34km) loop every hour on the hour, and the race finishes when there’s only one paddler left standing. Each lap is a mass-start, and so long as you finish within an hour you can choose to continue and attempt the next lap (or you can choose to quit if your mind can’t take it anymore).

The regatta lake at Nathan Benderson Park in Florida is host of the inaugural Last Paddler

Three miles ain’t hard. Just about anyone could finish a lap in under an hour. But try doing it again and again. If the race lasts 24 hours then you’re paddling 80 miles (129km) and going all through the night. And it’s entirely possible the winner will paddle through two nights — all it takes is two equally-determined/stubborn paddlers who refuse to quit and Last Paddler could last more than 48 hours (if it’s still going after two days, organisers will gradually shorten the lap times to force a result).

The beauty of this race is that most paddlers will exit the race by quitting rather than failing to make the cut. In other words, it’s not a race of physical strength but mental stamina. It doesn’t matter who’s fastest, all that matters is who’s toughest. Last Paddler opens up the podium to a whole new type of competitor.

The strategy element could be fascinating as well. Do you paddle harder to get a longer rest or limp in with a few minutes to spare but plenty of gas left in the tank? Do you create Survivor-style wash-riding alliances? Do you try to sleep?! Game theory comes into play as you try to psyche out your rivals. Having a good support crew will be equally critical.

There are so many layers in Last Paddler. I’m excited to see how it plays out!

While this format is an unknown quantity in the world of SUP it’s well-known in ultra-running circles. Last Paddler Standing takes inspiration from the “backyard ultra” format that’s become popular over the past decade. The original and most-competitive event in that niche, Big’s Backyard Ultra (created by the founder of the infamous Barkley Marathons) asks runners to complete a 4.167 mile (6.7km) loop every hour. Just like Last Paddler, you keep going until you fail to make the cut or, more likely, simply quit from mental and physical exhaustion.

Last year’s race lasted three and a half days.

The founder of Big’s Backyard Ultra, the mythical Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell of Barkley Marathons fame (watch that documentary!)

Because this race relies so much on a paddler’s mental game, I think gender becomes relatively meaningless. Indeed, two of the last three winners at the Backyard Ultra have been women. Courtney Dauwalter won the 2020 championship in a mind-boggling 68 hours, while Maggie Guterl lasted 60 hours to win the 2019 edition (and there were six times as many men on the start line).

This poses the question: Could “Last Paddler” be the first gender-equal format in the history of SUP racing? I think it will be, though I also think it’ll be a debated topic. This idea of men and women racing head to head on equal terms is fascinating to me, and with Last Paddler we may finally get to see it.

(with apologies to Annabel Anderson who already humbled the men in that French downwinder almost a decade ago; comeback time, Annabel?)

And on a side note, because there are no separate divisions for men and women, there’s only one winner at Last Paddler. Only one trophy, only one champ, only one paddler left standing. I think that makes the race even more enticing.

Last Paddler Standing debuts in Sarasota, Florida on 3/4 December. Sign up for the challenge on the official site and give them a follow on instagram (best memes in the game).

As always, we’d love to hear your opinion on this.

Do you think men and women are going to start on equal terms at Last Paddler? Or should there be separate divisions? And do you think this race format will become a new craze or is it simply too crazy?

leave a comment over on the Facebook thread

This was the most appropriate photo I could find lol… Annabel Anderson and Travis Grant, King and Queen of the Harbour in New Zealand circa 2013; but with the Last Paddler there will be only one champ and it could easily be a woman (comeback, Annabel?!)