What an amazing weekend it was at St. Pete Beach for the WPA (World Paddle Association) championships! I am just finally recovering physically from the grueling weekend of racing. This event was so far the most organized and well run paddleboard race I have been to so far. This event and the series was sponsored by Saltlife apparel. This lead to a ton of support, participation, and some monster cash prizes for this event plus the series winners.
The weekend started early with demos and clinics on Thursday and Friday which I was not present for so I will not comment. I arrived on Saturday to a beautiful beach in St. Pete with clear skies and a slight morning chill. There were dolphins cruising on the surface while paddleboarders warmed up. The Open rec. race began around 9am with a ton of participants including a 2-man outrigger canoe and some surf skis. Most of the participants were 12′ and 14′ SUP racers however. The open race was a diamond shaped course with multiple laps and 3-4 miles total. There were all levels of racers from young teenagers who dominated to men 60+ years old! This first race was calm with a light offshore breeze and was a blast to watch. All the competitors did great! Unfortunately I missed the kids’ race which was next and had some amazing young girls and boys going at it on mini race boards.
I was entered in the pro technical SUP 14′ race which was suppose to start around 2pm. Organizers knew the wind was suppose to shift a little stronger onshore from the NW and wanted it to be a super challenging race so they postponed it about 30 minutes in anticipation for this shift. The wind come on STRONG and brought some nice chop with it. The course was a beach start and straight out to two buoys where you could choose to split and round either left or right. The wind was at about 45 degrees to the right side nose of our boards (Starboard bow for you sailors) and we quickly realized that we had to point our noses WAY up wind of these buoys so we would crab straight into them (hopefully). Oh, we also learned that there would be NO paddling on our right sides and ALL paddling on our left side this first stretch. Most of the racers chose to split to the right at these buoys and headed North to the side marker about 130 degrees from our initial leg. This run at least evened us out with ALL of the paddling being on our right side and constantly trying to point our boards higher than the buoy. Finally, when we reached the second buoy it was a nice downwind run to where we started. You could choose to either relax and recover on this stretch while riding the small wind swells or you could paddle your butt off to see how far each swell could carry you and try to connect one to the other. Once at the starting point, it was straight back out to those initial split buoys, and so the race commenced for 5 laps, with each lap being 1-mile+ long. It felt so good to finish the pro tech race in 6th place!! However, I’ve never felt my quads on fire so much from paddleboarding. It took all the balance strength in my quads and hips to keep my skinny 14′ F-One race board from tipping in the wind and chop. I still fell 4 times…
After the race we recovered, packed up and met again at the dinner/awards ceremony at 6pm. The meal and some drink vouchers were included when we signed up and I thought the food was simple but really good. We all had an amazing time listening to the two-man-band, eating, drinking (sparingly for us who had the distance race the next day), and watching the sunset over the Gulf. Awards went on for a while and the amazing competitors went up one by one for podium pictures and to collect their checks and trophies. I was very impressed with the prizes ranging from $100 to $5k for the series winner!!!
The next day was similar conditions. Cool, clear, and calm waters. We had the 8-mile distance race and I was on the 14′ F-One race board again. This race was a water start in two waves. The first wave was all outrigger canoes and surf skis while the second wave was all SUP competitors 12’6″ and 14′. At the horn we headed straight North to the first buoy. I am still a fairly new racer and am still learning the importance of getting off the line quick and working with other racers to draft each other. At the start I got caught in the wash from the fastest guys off the line. As a result I missed the draft trains of the quickest competitors and knew it was going to be a pain in the butt to stay competitive in this race. After rounding the first buoy and turning to head straight South it still took me a good 2-miles to finally catch a draft. The other paddler and myself went back and forth drafting off each other to the Southern buoy. We rounded the buoy and split off heading for the finish. It felt like an eternity to that beach and I was so fatigued when I finally got there. It was a relief running through the finish line. I was happy learning that I took 13th place in the distance race but I would have been much happier being top 10. Time to train harder and longer..
We had another quick awards ceremony behind the hotel, at the top of the beach and the top finishers again collected their awards. Everybody was super stoked about the weekend but you could tell everyone was worn out too. I highly recommend this race to anyone contemplating doing it. It is fun for any level racer, any age, any gender, and any type of paddler! You have the choice to do only 1 race or all 3 like my friend Stephen Chase!
Thank you to everyone who supported me and helped me get into this sport and this race! Thank you WPA for the awesome event, Jupiter Paddleboarding, F-One America, Waterlust, Daily Adrenaline, Raw Elements for the amazing organic protection, Greenlines for the stylin board shorts, and thank you to the Blueline crew for letting me stay with you and hang out with you all weekend! Below is a quick video recap of the weekend. Enjoy, like, comment, and share!