The Battle of the Paddle, officially titled the Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle, is in its seventh year running. Just to give you an idea of how young SUP is, the BOP is considered granddaddy of stand up paddleboard races. Back in 2008 Gerry Lopez, a world class surfing champion recognized as the best pipe rider in the world during his time (he’s 65 now), came up with the idea of having a paddleboard event that elite racers and recreationalists could compete in for fun. So he partnered up with Rainbow Sandals Foundation, a non-profit group that supports athletic and educational programs for young people. He also had a lot of help from his friend and legendary board shaper, Ron House.
One of the reasons Gerry decided on a race instead of a surf competition is because you are guaranteed to get a definitive winner for each race in the event. In a surfing competition there are multiple judges scoring the participants according to a high number of technical and subjective evaluations. This makes it hard for spectators to understand what’s going on and it limits the number of people who can qualify for the event- at least if you want to hold the event within a reasonable timeframe. With a race you have an audience that is more engaged, watching a wide range of competitors from juniors to recreationalists to professionals to up-and-comers. This makes the event exciting to watch and fun for the participants since they can compete against people with similar abilities and experience.
This year (October 4-5, 2014) the BOP is being held at Salt Creek Beach Park, which is about five miles north from where it has been held for the last six years, at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, CA. Barrett Tester, who is the Event Director for the BOP says the move should be interesting because the waves at the new location are a bit steeper. This will make it more challenging for the competitors who will have to punch through the break on their way out and surf it back in at the finish. They will also have to figure out a way to use it their advantage when turning around the buoys that are in, or near the breaking waves. Check out Kai Lenny from last year’s BOP setting himself up for an outstanding buoy turn by using the power of the wave to slingshot around the outside of the marker.
So how does this race work? Like a lot of stand up paddleboard races, the BOP begins with a beach start where the racers line up along the beach and at the starting signal rush into the water, jump on their boards and take off. There are floating buoys that mark the course and the racers turn around the outside of them and head towards the next buoy. At the end of the last leg the racers ride the beach break in to the shore, jump off their boards and run up the beach to the finish line carrying their paddles.
Often, especially in the beginning of the race and around the buoys, there is a lot of congestion and mayhem as a result of racers crowded together trying to gain a forward position. It’s not uncommon to see paddlers tossed off their boards while trying to get out ahead of the pack. If this year’s course does indeed have a steeper/bigger beach break there is sure to be some great action. This year there are three courses- a 10 mile Distance Race, 4.5 mile Open Race, and a 4.5 mile Elite Race.There races for kids, people of all levels (Open Race) and professionals (Elite Race).
Stand Up Paddleboarding owes a lot to Gerry Lopez, and Rainbow Sandals for comingup with this event and supporting it over the last 7 years. The BOP is often credited forkick-starting the sport of paddleboarding and helping to get it to the place it is now- aglobal phenomenon that is the fastest growing water sport in the world today. If youwant keep up with what’s going on at the race then SUP Racer’s BOP coverage is a good place to go check it out.