By Pete Williams
ST. PETE BEACH – So maybe it was a lightly-contested field or a win by default.
It doesn’t matter. I won $75 in a competitive race.
Today I am a professional athlete.
The Pacifico Paddle Challenge took place Saturday afternoon on a postcard-perfect day in front of, appropriately enough, The Postcard Inn. Shane “Waterboy” Webb, a co-owner of SUPPaddleboard.com, promised $3,000 in cash awards, $3,000 worth of raffle prizes, and a free pig roast – all for a $45 pre-registration fee (or $50 raceday).
Webb delivered on everything. At a time when your average obstacle mud run charges $75 (providing no food) and triathlon entry fees continue to escalate, SUP races are the best value in endurance sports.
Admittedly, they have to be because they’re not drawing huge numbers – yet. That’s how I knew I had a shot at prize money.
But I was the only entrant in the “stock board” category. Unlike the rest of the athletes, who competed on sleeker, faster “race boards,” I used a slower board, although my Yoloboard Eco Trainer is a terrific stock board.
Some compare racing a stock board in an elite race to riding a mountain bike in a triathlon. The difference probably isn’t that pronounced, but there’s no question you’re significantly slower on a stock board.
Since July, I’ve acquired a race board and considered riding it Saturday – until I realized there was prize money for the stock division: $150 for first, $75 for second and $50 for third. (Top three men and women won money in the race board division, starting with $700 apiece for the first-place finishers).
The 3-mile race featured athletes mostly with stock boards. Upon checking in, I learned that the most I could hope to win in the 5-mile race was $75 unless at least four athletes competed in stock boards. That seemed only fair.
When we lined up on the beach for the mass start – paddleboard race starts make triathlon swim starts look tame since everyone is swinging carbon fiber and trading epoxy – I noticed just one other stock board.
I had a competitor for $75.
That guy fell behind quickly and bowed out before the race ended. I stayed in front of eight or 10 race boards for most of the race, but could not keep up on the third lap, finishing ahead of just four.
I love the race format of the Pacifico race, which borrowed from California’s Battle of the Paddle. After each of the first two 1.7-mile laps, athletes exited the water, ran 40-yards with their paddles as “board caddies” turned their boards around, and reentered the water. It’s SUP’s answer to the NASCAR pit stop or the triathlon transition.
I picked up my cash winnings after enjoying the best-ever post-race food – a pig roast – and watching a raffle that included a beach cruiser bicycle and a killer surfboard. The various winners of the 3-mile race did not win cash, just cool hardware, but each received a raffle ticket. (The money for the women’s stock board 5-mile division went unclaimed as there were no entries.)
After the 5-mile race, Webb staged one last event: the “Dash for the Cash.” Competitors sprinted about 200 yards to a buoy and back. Hundred bucks for the male and female winners.
Best part of the day was seeing a 12-year-old racer go absolutely nuts when his raffle ticket was called for the surfboard – about 15 minutes after a wedding ended on the beach in front of us.
It’s tough to say how long SUP races can keep offering cash prizes. Love the idea, and there seems to be enough sponsor interest from the likes of Pacifico beer to make it work for now, but it’s always a challenge to make the numbers work for any race director in any endurance event.
For now, cash is a great thing. It makes the race more interesting and attracts the professionals.