May 4, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

The Hole Left By The Battle of the Paddle’s Cancellation Has Already Been Filled

Battle of the Paddle race start

The Battle of the Paddle: Into The Unknown (photo credit: Lahui Kai Paddleboards)

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Following last week’s announcement that the Battle of the Paddle has been cancelled, at least for 2015 and perhaps indefinitely, the stand up paddling world has been asking one question: What’s going to fill the massive hole left by the Super Bowl of SUP?

To some, the BOP’s cancellation came as a complete shock. However for those of us who follow this sport for a living, the news really wasn’t a big surprise. The BOP has always been a grand race, one that we should all be very grateful for, but it’s also existed in a world of its own since day one. The BOP was never really connected to the rest of the SUP racing world, and, despite many calls from the community, its organisers never seemed interested in taking a leadership role of the sport.

The Battle of the Paddle was the anchor for the SUP racing season, yet there was always an uneasy feeling that Sparky would suddenly get tired of the party, get tired of the cost, and raise that anchor without warning.

And that’s exactly what happened a few days ago.

Over the past 72 hours, there’s been a collective call for a third party to step in and buy the Battle of the Paddle from Rainbow Sandals. To keep our sport’s marquee event going. If that were to happen, I hope that whoever took over would have a much stronger focus on live webcasts and other important media avenues (did you ever stop and think that the BOP doesn’t even have a Facebook or Instagram?).

It would be great if a well-managed third party came in and bought/improved the BOP, but I don’t think it’s critical for the immediate or long-term future of our sport. The sport will do just fine without the Battle, because the sport of stand up paddle racing is spoilt for choice when it comes to big events.

I believe it’s massively symbolic that the Battle’s cancellation was announced less than 24 hours before OluKai and less than a week after the Carolina Cup. The death (or at least hibernation) of the BOP was book-ended by two grand events that will go a long way to filling the void.

With the Battle of the Paddle no more, the Carolina Cup just became the biggest race in the world, literally overnight. And it’s a very worthy successor. Even before Sparky’s email sent shockwaves through the community, we already saw Carolina creeping up towards BOP territory in terms of elite level of competition. And it was already well past Dana Point in terms of raw participation numbers. In a year or two, Carolina probably would have eclipsed the BOP even if Rainbow hadn’t pulled the plug.

Carolina Cup stand up paddleboard race Wrightsville Beach

The Carolina Cup is a “Major” in every sense of the word (photo: Chris McQuiston for SUP Racer)

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In a similar vein, the OluKai Ho’olaule’a proved once again that it’s an epic race. Organisers were blessed with perfect conditions and an all-star field on Saturday, which helped ease the pain after Friday afternoon’s Battle of the Paddle bombshell.

SUP Racer’s Facebook post announcing the BOP’s cancellation reached 24,000 news feeds on Friday. That’s a huge number considering our Facebook page only has 8,000 fans. But just 24 hours later, the raw video footage I posted from the OluKai chopper garnered a staggering reach of 48,000 news feeds. If that’s not symbolic enough for ya, I don’t know what is.

But it’s not just Carolina and OluKai that will fill the hole. It’s also the excellent Gorge Paddle Challenge, the amazing Payette River Games, the uber-prestigious Molokai 2 Oahu, the massive Race The Lake of the Sky, the Euro Tour’s classics such as the Lost Mills, Bilbao World SUP Challenge and all those other great events in Europe.

Australia’s King of the Cut was already fast-ascending but will take on new importance this year. Maybe the promising new “Japan Cup” will become a regional major in its inaugural year.

And perhaps even the fledgling Stand Up World Series, which has made countless mistakes but is still being propped up by a small band of elite young athletes and two major brands, may have a supporting role to play, at least with its season-ending and always-entertaining “Finals” event at Oahu’s Turtle Bay.

OluKai stand up paddling race on Maui

Over 300 starters yet again for the massive OluKai Ho’olaule’a race on Maui (photo: Mark Kushimi/OluKai)

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As I alluded to last week, the BOP’s cancellation could actually be a blessing in disguise. Of course none of us wanted it to go, but now that it’s gone let’s look at the positives. The BOP was a grand spectacle but it overshadowed every other race on the calendar. Perhaps now these other big races will have the room to breathe and mature. Perhaps now we’ll see at least half a dozen races on the top-tier, rather than just one.

The BOP did a lot of great things for our sport, however it was never healthy having just one major event on the calendar. SUP racing needs half a dozen big races each year in order to survive and thrive at the elite level.

Fortunately, we already have those races, and with the Super Bowl gone, the significance of those events will become more apparent than ever.

Despite there being no legitimate world tour in our sport, the season already has the basic shape of one. There are several big races forming a logical international tour for the sport’s elite to chase from late April through early December. Many of these events also have the massive benefit of being the grassroots-style, mass-participation festivals-of-paddling that are really driving the sport and fueling the industry.

Just some of the races that will fill the hole left by the BOP include:

– The Carolina Cup in late April
– OluKai in early May
– The Euro Tour in late May and right through June (Lost Mills, Bilbao, etc)
– The Payette River Games in mid June
– Race The Lake of the Sky in late June/early July
– Molokai 2 Oahu in late July
– Germany’s SUP World Cup in early August
– The Gorge Paddle Challenge in mid August
– The Japan Cup in mid September
– The World Series Finals in mid October
– Australia’s King of the Cut in late November/early December
– The Paris Crossing in mid December

All up that’s 10-15 big races in seven and a half months. That seems like a perfect “season” to me. Not too long that paddlers can’t have a solid off season, and not too short that we have to wait too long for the next big race. And it’s not like paddlers would compete in every race anyway; we would surely have a “best x results” leaderboard to rank the world’s top paddle athletes (the SUP Racer World Rankings uses a “Best Five Results” formula, for example).

Then you’ve got the big ISA Worlds, which floats around but can hopefully find a permanent place early in the season (perhaps after OluKai and before the Euro Tour, as is the case this year).

And there are many other great races that could step up now that the BOP has left an excess of oxygen in the SUP racing tank.

The Santa Monica Pier Paddle could be Southern California’s new marquee event. Perhaps the Air France Paddle Festival to showcase Tahiti’s amazing local talent? Could the SUP 11 City Tour become our Tour de France? The GoPro Mountain Games go big. Florida is thriving. Europe is overflowing. Australia is finally kicking into gear. There are big races everywhere we look.

Sure, we’ll miss the BOP, and maybe it’ll still rise from the ashes like a Phoenix, but either way our sport will be just fine, because the sport of stand up paddle racing is blessed with dozens of amazing events.

The BOP was a great ride, but there are plenty of other attractions in this amusement park.