Tag Archives: Pacifico Paddle Challenge

Pacifico – Stepping Up the SUP Race Experience

By Pete Williams

Start of Pacifico open race

ST. PETE BEACH – I heard footsteps. Make that splashes. For 77 minutes, I could not shake the paddler behind me at the second-annual Pacifico Paddle Challenge off St. Pete Beach on Saturday afternoon.

Were this a running event or triathlon, I probably would have let him pass. But there was money involved. Not much, just the $25 for third-place in the men’s stock board division of the 4-plus mile “elite” race, enough for me to understand how motivating a little cash can be in an athletic event.

And so I kept paddling. Hard. Stand-up paddling usually is a relaxing way to spend a leisurely afternoon. But when you’re hammering your core, pushing your lactate threshold, and trying to stay balanced on a 29.5-inch wide Yolo Ecotrainer, it’s a wonderful test of pain.

The four-lap technical course featured nine buoy terms per lap, each an opportunity to fall into an increasingly rough surf kicked up by afternoon winds. One fall is enough to lose 20 seconds.

I’ve often wondered why Shane “Waterboy” Webb and other organizers of SUP races feel the need to throw prize money into the mix. Does it attract more prominent athletes? Maybe. What I do know is it makes the race far more interesting for those of will never get any closer to being professionals – and those watching us.

Stand-up paddleboard racing might never be as big or as organized as road racing, triathlon, or obstacle mud racing. But as the second-annual Pacifico Paddle Challenge demonstrated here Saturday afternoon in front of the Postcard Inn, SUP racing is developing into a different race experience than other endurance sports.

Sure, there’s chip timing, T-shirts, various competitive divisions, race numbers, and post-race awards. But if you’re looking for an early-morning, to-the-minute itinerary that gets you home by 11 a.m. like running or triathlon, well, SUP racing might not always be for you.

The first of Pacifico’s four races was scheduled to start at 11 and got underway about 45 minutes later. The 2-plus mile open race was followed at 12:45 by a 4-plus mile elite race, a kids’ race and a relay event. Awards did not kick off until 5:30.

Transitioning – Battle of the Paddle style

And yet the late-morning, island-time mentality – which we’ve seen at other SUP races, too – seems to work for a sport that grew out of the Hawaii and California surf culture and the 125 or so racers and their guests didn’t seem to mind spending a full day (or weekend) around the Postcard Inn, especially with weather right out of a chamber of commerce video.

Webb and co-race director Grace Marcel again created a big-time race atmosphere, with a tent city of sponsors, an announcer’s booth and sound system perched atop scaffolding, 20-foot Pacifico beer inflatables, and a race format inspired by the Battle of the Paddle in California, which is to SUP what Ironman Kona is to triathlon.

On a weekend where the well-heeled Competitor Group debuted its TriRock triathlon amid little fanfare in Clearwater Beach, the Pacifico had perhaps the most big-time feel of any Tampa Bay endurance event. There was $5,000 in cash and prizes, numerous high-ticket raffle items, and the return of the best post-race spread of any endurance event we’ve attended: a pig roast.

SUP also has the best people-watching element of any endurance sport. Some believe SUP is the best workout ever created with its full-body, rotational movements and the way it challenges your balance, core and proprioception in a tough cardio workout. Exhibit A: the chiseled, jacked people you see at a SUP race.

Our friend Karen Mirlenbrink, an accomplished paddler and race director for the annual Shark Bite Challenge at Honeymoon Island, bowed out of the elite race after falling and cracking her board by landing on one side of her rear end. Talk about buns of steel. How many women can crack a board with their glutes? (Pretty good testimony for Karen’s business, Dunedin Pilates.) Unfortunately for me, Karen’s equally accomplished paddling husband decided to jump in the race in my stock board division and collect the $150 first-prize purse, which presumably goes toward Karen’s new board. (Second place received $50.)

Webb, the race director, spent a lot of time pre-race making sure everyone was familiar with the course, a technical, multi-buoy layout that required nine turns per lap — two laps for the open race, four for the elite. Such instructions seemed unnecessary since he provided a terrific pre-race video of the course, something we’d like to see triathlon and obstacle racing emulate.

We love the Battle-of-the-Paddle format, which requires racers to come to the beach after each lap, run 50 yards or so through a chute and then transition quickly back onto the board, which board caddies turn around and place into position. This is SUP’s answer to triathlon’s transition and perhaps gives a bit of advantage to those of us accustomed to the quick turnarounds of triathlon or obstacle racing.

Best post-race food anywhere

Last year I showed up for this event and won $75 by default as the only guy on a stock board — as opposed to a sleeker, faster race board — to complete the elite race. I wondered if prize money was necessary, especially since the $35,000 pot for the one-and-done U.S. Open of SUP in September of 2011 in Miami didn’t attract the crowds.

Last year, I only had to finish to collect cash. Lining up before the race, I could tell there were at least a half dozen guys on stock boards entered. When the horn sounded, two shot out well in front of me. I passed two others and settled into fourth. Early in the first lap, the guy in front of me fell on a buoy turn, giving me an opening to pass.

I spent the rest of the race holding him off. As we came to the beach for each transition, people cheered us on, producing a strange dynamic. As stock board racers, we were near the back of the pack. But as third-place contenders in our division, we still had a shot at money.

By the start of the fourth lap, my shoulders and back were barking. The surf was getting choppy and my opponent closer. On long straightaways, he took a lower path and soon I could see him out of the corner of my eye. If I fell, there was no way I’d regain my lead.

As we rounded the final buoy, he made one last push. All I had to do was get to shore first and run through the finish chute. I paddled as hard as I could to shore, leaped from the board, and chugged up the sand – winning by six seconds. Afterward, my new buddy — 38-year-old Bruce Jones – offered congratulations and mentioned that he quit smoking two years ago and only has been paddling since March. Clearly I have to step up my game.

Webb raised the entry fees of the race from a $45 pre-registration rate last year to $58 this year. That’s still an incredible value considering there were no online entry fees. Plus racers got to compete in a chip-timed event with tech T-shirts and a bonus four-person relay race. Then there was the pig roast and cash to the top three finishers in multiple divisions, including $700 apiece to the men’s and women’s elite winners.

Pacifico winnings

We can’t imagine Webb is making much money on these events. But he seems to be putting a long-term model in place to benefit as the sport grows — as opposed to obstacle races, many of which seem to be pushing the limits on how much they can charge and how little they can provide.

Heck, with multiple SUP races, a pig roast, and cash money involved, who can complain about a schedule that falls behind an hour? We’re guessing we’ll continue to see smaller SUP races spring up, traditional no-frills endurance events that start and finish early. But it’s hard not be bullish on the grander SUP race experience

It’s definitely worth building a weekend around.

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Turning Pro at Pacifico

By Pete Williams

"Pro" SUP rider? (photo by Chad Jarae - Encounter Creative)

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.

In July, I entered one of Webb’s SUP Splash Series races at the same venue and was stunned to hear my name called at the awards ceremony since I finished last in the elite 6-mile race.

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.

Best postrace spread ever

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.

Transitioning at Pacifico

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.

Like myself.

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Race of the Week: Pacifico Paddle Challenge

By Pete Williams

Pacifico Paddle Challenge coming Saturday

For all the talk about saturation in the number of triathlon, running, and obstacle mud run events, one part of the endurance sports industry still is on the upswing: stand-up paddleboarding.

That’s why it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s a lot of buzz surround the Pacifico Paddle Challenge, which takes place on Saturday, Nov. 12 on St. Pete Beach just in front of The Postcard Inn.

It helps that race organizer Shane Webb and his colleagues at SUPPaddleboard.com put on a successful series of races throughout the Southeast this summer. It helps that Tampa Bay weather right now is gorgeous. And it definitely helps that there’s both $3,000 in prize money and $3,000 in raffle prizes, part of an all-day SUP extravaganza.

The race borrows its format from the popular Battle of the Paddle, the Super Bowl of SUP, with a technical, multi-buoy, multi-lap course. Racers must exit the water after every lap, run a brief 40-yard lap with their paddles and reenter the water. Like a NASCAR pitstop or triathlon transition, it’s a challenge not to lose time in the process.

We spoke to Webb about the race earlier this week on The Fitness Buff Show.

Name of Race: Pacifico Paddle Challenge

When/Where: Saturday, Nov. 12 at The Postcard Inn – 6300 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach

History: This is an inaugural event, though the organizers put on the successful SUP Splash Race Series, which included an event at the same venue on July 16.

Format: Races include a 3-mile short course race at 11 a.m., a 5-mile elite race (12:30), and a “Dash for the Cash” at 2 p.m. Prize money awarded equally to men and women in the 5-mile and Dash for the Cash. Mandatory racers meeting at 10:30.

Expected Turnout: 100-plus

Amenities: Long-sleeve T-shirts to first 70 registered. Pacifico After Party at 3 p.m. Awards at 4:30, raffle at 5:30 and playing of the “Ultimate Wave Tahiti” movie at 6:00.

Cost: $45 preregistration, $50 raceday

Register: Online HERE

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