At one point early on, races were actually about the podium. If you were in a sport with 10 people, you could expect a top 10 finish. Hardware was cool and plentiful. Then, it was finishing high in the age groups. It worked for BOP, but there aren’t enough people, time or funds to accommodate the same # of age groups that are in triathlons, 5Ks, 10K, Marathons, etc., especially when you take into account all the board classes. We’re talking hundreds of potential categories in a race with under 200 people. Things are changing. Races are changing.
Paddlers are changing
Now, paddlers are looking for challenges, personal accomplishments, personal growth and shared experiences. That means finding a challenging distance with amazing scenery and a place to have a shared extraordinary experience with friends. Paddlers want to connect with people while training—prior to the race—and keep in touch after. They want to get a group together and choose a great destination and challenge.
Here are some tips for making a great race:
Develop and nourish your local and regional paddle community
The local and regional paddler base is the foundation that traveling paddlers, elite athletes and traveling pros stand upon. A strong base will give you the ability to populate a race, and those core paddlers can then travel to other races.
It’s not about the prize money for the majority of paddlers
If you want the elite athletes to travel to your race, they’ll need to be able to make money or at least cover costs. It’s their profession and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better to pay more spots than one big payout. And have your funding set before you advertise. Nothing can kill a race like advertising prize money and then changing or canceling it. Paddlers who are considering the race may see the cancellation and assume it means the race might not happen and don’t put it on their calendar.
Results and historical results
Setting challenges for people and allowing them to try to better their accomplishments from last year or previous years gives them a goal. Goals are good.
With your local base comes the need to travel. Pick a race with a strong local base and people you’ve met and go support their race. See their part of the world. Hang out. Our Canadian family’s Eastern SUP Championships (with Derek Schrotter, July 4, http://www.supintoronto.com) has an entire crew including Larry Cain have been coming to NC and Florida, (and everywhere else) for years to the Cold Stroke Classic (http://coldstrokeclassic.com/) and Surf2Sound. The crew from SUP Cayuga (July 31-August 1, www.cayugalakesupcup.com/) is another amazing example of this. I met them first at the Carolina Cup, then again at the Harmony Dawn and Dan Gavere’s Ultimate SUP Challenge in Ottawa (July 17-19, http://www.theultimatesupchallenge.net/). People from both events then traveled to their race in up-state NY. Bottom line: Go to other races. Share their experience. Invite them to your race.
Announce it well in advance and get the word out
If you are setting a challenge, people need to get it on their calendar, plan, organize and train.
Let people know where to stay, where they can eat, and where they can get provisions. This is baseline info. If you want people to travel away from their comfort zone, tell them how they can find comfort at your destination. The more you leave it up to them to find it, the less likely they’ll consider your race.
No Drive-in, drive outs: Make it a challenge, give them are reason to stay.
Races where people drive hours to attend, race, then drive home have a shelf life. few are going to drive 3 hours to do a 5K. Surely have a beginner course, but the days of “to the buoy and back” are over. But make it a challenge. People want to train, to build their mileage. They want to do something different than they are used to doing.
Don’t do it for the money
There is none. No one is getting rich putting on SUP events. Have a budget. Stick to it. Make your goals before you start the race.
Give yourself enough time
Organizing a race takes a long time and a lot of prep. make sure you’re ready at least a year out. 14 months is even better. Permits. Word of mouth. Promotion. They all take time.
Make it interesting
Courses that circumnavigate an island, a town or point-to-point races that take you on an adventure through beautiful scenery add seasoning to your dish. Chattajack is a great example. Paddlers travel 31 miles downstream from Chattanooga through the Tennessee River Gorge ending at Hales Bar Marina on Nickajack Lake. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. In the SEA NYC, paddlers travel around Manhattan, under the George Washington and Brooklyn Bridge. You can see the statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. The Molokai, Carolina Cup Graveyard, Catalina Challenge all have huge physical and technical challenges.
If you don’t have the scenery, make it interesting. Be creative with the format. Make it fun and memorable.
Finding a charity, or running the race as a charity fundraiser, where the charity pays the expenses can help in many ways. First, you’re helping a cause you believe in. If you are passionate about a cause, it will show. The Key West Challenge supports the Special Olympics and it is one of the most amazing groups. You know when you’re paddling that you’re helping a great cause and wonderful people.
Second, the donations from sponsors and competitors can be a tax deduction which can make it more appealing for large donations. I’m not a CPA or a tax specialist, but there are benefits to doing it this way. And third, charities can help you with volunteers. It takes a lot of people to run a race. We’d suggest a local charity to help bring in local volunteers.
Don’t ignore the social aspect
The best thing a race can do is arrange a pre-race breakfast and racers meeting, then a post-race lunch or dinner with awards. Breaking bread is a gesture of community, friendship, family. That’s what we’re creating. Connecting people through your event means they will consider coming back to renew those relationships.
There are so many things you can do to help make your race a success. Have a great weekend and if you have questions about running or organizing your event, drop us a note at [email protected]