January 14, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

The Majors: The World’s Five Biggest SUP Races (Plus: Predicting The Top 25 “Most Significant” Races Of 2015)

Major Stand Up Paddle Races

I asked the question last week: “What do we call the biggest races in stand up paddling?” The Majors? The Grand Slams? The Classics?

In a sport as fragmented and disorganised as SUP racing, I think it would be great to recognise and celebrate the big, standalone events that support and develop both the community and industry. To help promote them with a collective theme that highlights their significant contribution to the sport.

Well after receiving some wise suggestions and looking at other sports even more closely, I vote that we should affectionately refer to SUP’s biggest, most prestigious and most significant races as the Majors. In the same way that golf, tennis and several other sports have their prestigious “major” championship events, so too should SUP racing’s finest races be celebrated and supported.

There is no set criteria for becoming a major SUP race, it’s more of a general impression based on everything from prestige, level of competition, prize money, grassroots support, quality of the event, quality of the organisers, contribution to the sport, regional significance and so on. It’s partly based on an event’s history and partly based on my crystal ball anticipation of the year ahead.

The five races I’ve singled out as the “Majors” for 2015 each rank higher on some criteria than others, but overall I hope you’ll agree these are the most significant events on the racing calendar.

Remember: This is just my opinion. Plus because our sport is so young, I expect this list of Majors to change regularly in the coming years. But anyway, without further ado…

The Major SUP Races of 2015

  1. Battle of the Paddle
  2. Gorge Paddle Challenge
  3. Carolina Cup
  4. Payette River Games
  5. Molokai-2-Oahu

These are the five races I believe will be the most significant events of 2015. None of these require any introduction…

The Battle of the Paddle is a no brainer. Even if some (including myself) say it could improve in several areas, the Battle is still far and away the most competitive and most important event on the calendar. I think a few other events will significantly close the gap this year, however the BOP is still the Super Bowl of SUP. Though worth noting: I only consider the Elite Race to be a major. Unfortunately the BOP’s Elite Distance Race plays second fiddle.

Battle of the Paddle Salt Creek

The Battle of the Paddle (photo: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

The Gorge Paddle Challenge has always been a great race in a great location, however the event reached new heights in 2014. Last year it was the second most competitive women’s race of the year and #3 on the men’s side. It’s very well organised, very well promoted and very well attended by elites and amateurs alike. I think Hood River is the place to be in 2015.

Next on the list is the first major race of the year: The Carolina Cup. Coming up in just 101 days (April 25th), Carolina is perhaps the best example of a “grassroots” race that has grown from humble beginnings into an internationally-significant event. The role this race plays in promoting the sport and helping fuel the industry cannot possibly be understated. Last year the level of competition hit a new high and I’d expect that to rise again come April.

The Payette River Games is slightly newer than the three above, however its record prize purse combined with unique race conditions and excellent organisation (plus a very trustworthy team behind the scenes) gives it an edge. While it doesn’t have a long history (this year will be the 3rd edition), the PRGs gets onto this list of “majors” largely because of the anticipation surrounding the 2015 event, which I’m calling now will be one of THE races of the year in every possible way.

photos Payette River Games Cascade Idaho

Payette River Games (photo: Sports Illustrated)

Finally we have Molokai-2-Oahu. This was actually a tough choice – I wasn’t sure if M2O should be considered a “specialty event” or a fully fledged major. Molokai is a rather exclusive race and doesn’t attract the same depth of competition as the other events, however it has an aura of prestige that’s above all other races in the sport (save for the BOP), which I believe pushes it firmly into “major” territory.

So there you go. In my opinion those are the five major SUP races of 2015. The biggest races in the world.

I also think it’s a huge bonus that these five events each focus on a different discipline of stand up paddling: The BOP is surf racing, the Gorge is downwinding, M2O is open ocean racing, the PRGs is river racing, while Carolina covers almost everything (it’s largely a flat water race but includes a solid ocean leg and even a few waves).

However one of the first things you may notice is that ALL of these events are in the USA. That wasn’t intentional. In fact I actually tried hard to add some international flavour just to balance it out, but the simple fact is the sport of stand up paddling is heavily concentrated in the States right now. No, this list of majors won’t help, but I’m not going to include an international race just for the sake of equality.

So to counter this, I want to highlight five non-US races that I see as the “Regional Majors” – the biggest events in each corner of the globe: Australia, Europe, South America and Asia. That’s only four regions, however I gave Europe two slots due to its high concentration of elite events (and elite talent).

The Regional Majors

  1. AUSTRALIA: King of the Cut
  2. ASIA: The Japan Cup
  3. EUROPE: The Lost Mills
  4. EUROPE: Bilbao Paddle Challenge
  5. SOUTH AMERICA: Battle of the Paddle Brazil

All of these races are great events with quality organisation, competition, prize money and support from the community. They each play a key role in promoting and developing the sport in their respective regions, while they also all attract a strong international presence. And again, this is based just as much on an event’s past history as it is my expectations for the 2015 edition.

Lost Mills SUP race Germany

The Lost Mills (photo: Homeally Photography)

So those are the big ones in each region, however we’re still only scratching the surface of how many outstanding SUP races there are each year. In order to recognise as many great events as possible, I decided to stare deep into the crystal ball and attempt to predict the top 25 races of 2015.

Though first I want to give a separate shout out to three Specialty Events, which don’t really fit in with the rest of the race scene but which all have their own unique qualities that set them apart and help the sport grow in some way:

The Specialty Events

  1. ISA World Stand Up Paddle and Paddleboard Championships (Mexico)
  2. Stand Up World Series (overall title)
  3. Ultimate SUP Showdown (if it returns…)

The ISA Worlds, while not always the most well-supported of races at the elite level, has huge ambitions for our sport and is an exceptionally well organised event. Peru (2012, 2013) and Nicaragua (2014) were just as noticeable for who wasn’t competing as who was, however I’m confident Mexico 2015 will see the Worlds reach new heights.

2014 ISA Worlds Nicaragua Final Day (14)

The ISA Worlds (photo: International Surfing Association)

Another event that hasn’t always been well supported is the World Series. But again, for all the mistakes this franchise has made (and it’s made plenty), it’s done a few things better than anyone else in the sport. Gaining non-endemic sponsors (i.e. brands from outside the SUP industry), producing regular webcasts, slick media and focusing on giving the “Young Guns” a platform to promote themselves and their brands has at times made the World Series very valuable.

The third “specialty event” is the true wildcard on this list, the Ultimate SUP Showdown. It made a huge splash last year, becoming one of the single most competitive races of the year and getting a 60-minute show onto cable TV. However its future is unknown and despite my best efforts to get an answer, I have absolutely no idea what the new year holds for this enterprise. If it returns, the Showdown will certainly be one of the big ones, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

So now that’s 13 races: The 5x Majors, The 5x Regional Majors and the 3x Specialty Events.

But we’re still excluding too many big ones. Too many races that go above and beyond the call of duty to support, promote and develop this sport. So I’ve extended the list right down to 25 as a way of recognising and celebrating as many awesome events as possible.

As I said earlier, these rankings are based on a broad combination of several key factors: The prestige of an event, level of competition, prize money, quality of the event, quality and trustworthiness of the organisers, regional importance, support from the grassroots community, the impact it has on the sport and so on.

And again, the rankings are based just as much on an event’s anticipated quality in 2015 as they are on its historical performance.

Some races rank very high on certain criteria and fall down in other areas. However based on an overall analysis, I believe these will be the 25 most significant stand up paddle races of 2015. Take a look and tell me if you agree.

On a side note: I expect pretty much all of these races to count towards the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS over the next 12 months (and there will probably be a few more that pop up during the year).

The Top 25 ‘Most Significant’ SUP Races Of 2015

  1. Battle of the Paddle
  2. Gorge Paddle Challenge
  3. Carolina Cup
  4. Payette River Games
  5. Molokai-2-Oahu
  6. ISA Worlds
  7. King of the Cut
  8. The Lost Mills
  9. The Japan Cup
  10. Bilbao Paddle Challenge
  11. SUP World Cup
  12. Race The Lake of the Sky
  13. World Series Finals
  14. The Paris Crossing
  15. OluKai Ho’olaule’a
  16. Huntington Beach Pro
  17. Battle of the Paddle Brazil
  18. The Hanohano Race
  19. Port Adriano SUP Race
  20. World Series Brazil
  21. SUP 11 City Tour
  22. Air France Paddle Festival
  23. Maui-2-Molokai
  24. Rincon Beach Boy
  25. SUP Race Cup

So there you go. The 25 biggest races of 2015, including the majors – the BOP, Gorge, Carolina, Payette and Molokai.

There were probably a couple of races that were particularly unlucky to miss out on this list, though hopefully you find these rankings accurate and useful. And hopefully this gives us a little bit more clarity and a little bit less fragmentation.