July 28, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Pacific Paddle Games Announces World Record Prize Purse Of $55,000

Battle of The Paddle buoy turns... chaos!

The world’s best paddlers will be falling over themselves for a slice of the $55,000 prize purse (photo credit: JR Kenworthy)

[notdevice] [/notdevice]

Yesterday, SUP the Mag announced their inaugural Pacific Paddle Games will offer athletes a prize purse of $55,000. In what can only be described as massive news, this instantly makes the Pacific Paddle Games the richest event in stand up paddling history.

Set for October 10th & 11th at the “spiritual home” of SUP racing – Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California – the PPGs are expected to be one of the biggest races of the year. Probably the biggest now…

There was already plenty of buzz in the community following the original announcement two weeks ago, despite that first press release having very few specifics outside the name and date. So with this new announcement of a record prize purse, I’d expect the buzz surrounding the PPGs to reach fever pitch.

I predict the 2015 Pacific Paddle Games will be remembered as the most significant (and definitely the most competitive) international elite race of the year, eclipsing current leaders the Carolina Cup, ISA Worlds, Molokai, Payette River Games and the Lost Mills (the Gorge Paddle Challenge will join that elite group in a few weeks).

I’m assuming the majority of this cash is coming from the Pacific Paddle Games’ major sponsors: Salt Life is the presenting sponsor, while GoPro, West Marine and OluKai are supporting sponsors according to yesterday’s official press release.

The PPGs are being organised by SUP the Mag with the backing of their very resourceful parent company, The Enthusiast Network. Apart from this news of a record prize purse, I was also told the event is “95% certain” of having a live webcast. That’s something the international fans will be absolutely stoked to hear, though in keeping with their wisely-prudent approach, organisers won’t confirm a webcast until it’s 100% set in stone.

If the webcast is confirmed (and if who I suspect is producing it really is producing it), that, along with this record prize purse, will elevate the Pacific Paddle Games into a truly world class event, something we have far too few of in our sport right now.

stand up paddle race at Doheny

Will we see a return of the classic ‘Hammer Buoy’? (photo credit: Harry Wiewel)

The Pacific Paddle Games’ $55,000 prize purse narrowly trumps the previous grand champion, the Payette River Games. The PRGs set a new record of $50,000 in 2014 (which smashed the previous best of $26,900 at the BOP), and again offered fifty grand at PRG15.

Just like the Pacific Paddle Games, the Payette River Games offers gender-equal prize money. At Payette we saw $25k for men and $25k for women, with each winner being handed $10,000 in cash at the awards ceremony. The BOP, as with most events around the world, favoured the men with an approximately 65/35 split.

We haven’t seen the exact breakdown of the Pacific Paddle Games prize money yet (that announcement is expected next week). However considering they’ve gotta spread the purse between multiple events (Elite Race, Distance Race, Prone, etc), you’d guess the Elite Race winners will receive slightly less than at the single-event Payette River Games. I’m assuming somewhere around the $7k/$8k mark for the Elite champs.

The PPGs will have money on both the Elite Race and the Distance Race, however it’s the Elite Race that’s being heavily promoted as the “showcase” event of the weekend. So I’d expect the lion’s share of the cash to be up for grabs during the Elite final on Sunday afternoon.

The PPGs team could perhaps go with a “overall” system, where results from the Elite + Distance Race are combined with either times or points, and the entire prize purse is awarded to the overall top 10. I don’t like that kind of system though, as it penalises the specialist athletes and waters down the main showcase event (the Elite Race).

If the two races are completely separate, hopefully the organisers keep most of the money on the Elite Race. I’d encourage them to put a far smaller percentage on the Distance Race for several reasons: Given the unique scheduling (Elite Race qualifiers Saturday, Distance Race Sunday morning, Elite Race final Sunday afternoon), I’m guessing the elite athletes will be overwhelmingly favouring the elite race. Several top names are likely to skip the distance race completely and stay fresh for the elite final.

There was already a huge disparity between the elite and distance races at the BOP, and I’d expect that to be even greater at the PPGs. Just go with the momentum and put most of the prize money on the Elite Race.

I’d also prefer not to see any money on the Open Race at all. That may sound harsh, but by definition you’re not an amateur if you win prize money. I believe you should have to race the best to win money in this sport. Spreading the money too thin will also water down the Elite Race showcase, and it’ll act as less of an incentive for the top internationals to come and compete.

Having prize money on the Open Race will also give the second and third-tier paddlers an incentive to skip the Elite Race and do the Open Race instead (you’ll only be allowed to enter one or the other at the PPGs). I’d like to see as many world class paddlers as possible in the Elite Race field, so keep all the incentive for the top paddlers to enter that race and leave the Open Race for the amateurs.

I do think you should award the top performers in the Open Race, maybe with some cool schwag from the event sponsors (GoPro is a sponsor…), but please don’t hand out cash.

Though it’s worth noting that perhaps the “world record prize purse” celebrations are a little premature. The Pacific Paddle Games stand up paddling won’t get the full $55,000, as I believe there’s going to be money on the prone paddleboard race as well. So technically, if there’s any more than $5k on the prone race, the PPGs won’t be the richest SUP event in the world. The PRGs has $50,000 exclusively on the stand up paddling.

(PPGs / PRGs… kind of a weird coincidence that the two richest events in the world sound so similar in acronym form.)

photo credit: SUP Racer)

Can’t wait to see international SUP racing back at Doheny… (photo credit: SUP Racer)

The Pacific Paddle Games are being viewed as a new & improved “replacement” for the Battle of the Paddle. But while there will be many similarities between the two events, one place they’ll differ greatly is with prize money. The BOP set the tone by very generously offering $25,000 way back in 2008 and continued that figure up until their final event last year (technically it went up to $26,900 in the latter editions).

Rainbow Sandals was very good to us with the Battle of the Paddle – Sparky was basically the sugar daddy for our sport in the early days – but in the end the BOP’s $25k prize purse was getting a little out of date. There were already several other races matching that figure before the Payette River Games blew it out of the water in 2014.

And now the Pacific Paddle Games has raised the bar even higher.

While prize money isn’t what makes a great stand up paddling event – many lucrative races have fallen flat, while some events with no prize money at all have flourished – it certainly helps. The athletes’ sponsorship situation is improving, however many elite athletes still rely on prize money to get a plane ticket to the next race. As the whole industry grows and more and more outside sponsorship dollars flow in to events, the financial reward for the athletes who win races should grow accordingly. The Payette River Games did our sport a massive favour by breaking the BOP’s glass ceiling and truly rewarding the paddlers, and now it’s great to see the PPGs stepping it up again.

So there you go. $55,000. I was already excited about the Pacific Paddle Games but they just got even better. Bring on Doheny in October…


Oh Doheny, how we missed you… (photo credit: Harry Wiewel)