what is the future of SUP events

One popular SUP event model has been to build a race, then add events until it becomes a festival—a destination. Meanwhile, in the outdoor sports and whitewater paddle and river worlds, they have festivals that are adding SUP events.

How and when will these worlds collide or will traditional paddle and cultural events slowly crush smaller, fragmented local and regional races? And have we hit the threshold where the big races stay big, the small races stay small or disappear and everything else is gobbled up by the existing waterside festivals.

Here’s a quick look at at some festivals who have leveraged the success of SUP and a SUP race that is kicking ass all by itself.

Big Outdoor Festivals add SUP races: Dominion Riverrocks, Tuck Fest and the GroPro Mountain Games

Dominion Riverrocks brings in over 100,000 people to watch and compete in events all over the town: James River Scramble 10k Trail Run, Filthy 5K Mud Run, Thule Urban Assault Mountain Bike Race, Garmin Freestyle Bikes, Red Bull Berm Burners, Climbing, Bouldering, Speed Comp, Kayaking, Sierra Nevada Kayak Boatercross, Sierra Nevada Kayak Freestyle, Ultimate Air Dogs, Subaru Ultimate Air Dogs, Slackline, and Yoga. To involve spectators, they have the Richmond Times-Dispatch Photography Contest, an Instagram Contest and a Video Contest. Add food, all the local restaurants and hotels, and music and you have an amazing weekend. A few years ago, they added Stand Up Paddleboard, SUP Cross, and SUP Enduro. With or without SUP, this event succeeds.

2015_TuckFest_FINAL1Tuck Fest is an extraordinary event in the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. In contrast to Dominion Riverrocks, Tuck Fest is not downtown in a city. It’s self-contained and barely contained at that. It bursts at the seams. They have more events in more places, each that highlight an outdoor sport and a section of the USNWC over 3 days. It’s CRAZY how many events they pack in. I’m going to list them all, just to give you an idea how many things there are to do for everyone in the family: adults and kids, athletes, enthusiasts and spectators.

Friday Events: Ultimate Dog Jumping Competition presented by Ruffwear, Family Adventure Race presented by Gander Mountain, SUP Downriver, Twilight Adventure Race, Jeff Lenosky Mtn Bike Trials Stunt Show, Twilight 5K Trail Race, Strand of Oaks, Deep Water Solo presented by Reel Rock and Project Holds, Ultimate Dog Jumping Competition presented by Ruffwear, Downriver Kayak, Jason Isbell

Saturday Events: Kids Obstacle Challenge, Kids Scavenger Hunt, Half Marathon Trail Race presented by La Sportiva, Quarter Marathon Trail Race, FlyBarre, Paddle with Pat Keller, Flatwater SUP Race, Jeff Lenosky Mtn Bike Trials Stunt Show, Trail Cleanup, KOG (King of Goat Hill) , Ultimate Dog Jumping Competition presented by Ruffwear, Bouldering Competition, Mipso, Super-G Pre-Ride with Jeff Lenosky, SUP Cross Prelims, Survival 101, Ultimate Dog Jumping Competition presented by Ruffwear , Mountain Bike Super G, Whitewater Enduro , Sugar & The Hi Lows , Kids 2K Trail Race, Ultimate Dog Jumping Competition presented by Ruffwear, Jeff Lenosky Mtn Bike Trials Stunt Show, Assembly of Dust, Play the River with Snowy Robertson & Chris Gragtmans, Short-Track Mountain Bike Race, Ultimate Dog Jumping Competition presented by Ruffwear, Tea Leaf Green, Boatercross Race, SUP Giant Slalom, Deep Water Solo presented by Reel Rock and Project Holds – 8:00 PM – FINALS, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

SUNDAY is just as crazy fun and just as packed. You get the idea…

GoPro Mountain games goes to yet another level of extreme outdoor sports holy crap-ness, June 4-7

I don’t even know where to go with this one. Over the top. It’s like the professional eater version of outdoor fun.

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Small races growing: Chattajack31, October 24, 2015

Chattajack4 years ago, Chattanooga had two races in two weeks. The first was attached to a huge festival, the second, on its own. The second race survived and thrived. Why? Because it’s the Chattajack31.

“Chattajack is a paddleboard/kayak race unlike any other. It is one that celebrates the effort a paddle athlete makes in the pursuit of distance endurance. Fueled with passion on the water, these individuals love to dig, testing their personal limits while completing this unique gorge course.”

It has so many key things that make it great.

  • Race organizers are stoked and excited
  • It’s a challenge: 31 miles takes training
  • It announced it’s date and opened registration well in advance, with enough time to train
  • It treats every racer like a VIP. Each person has their own profile with photos and a short bio on facebook and in their Meet the Racers section of their site.
  • It has a really cool design and website
  • They send racers stickers and a thank you note
  • A great town with tons of restaurants and hotels, cool culture
  • They even provide Laminated maps upon check-in that you tape onto your board!

Incidentally, the Chattajack31 sold out registrations this year in 2 1/2 weeks. I’m back for my second time this year.

Tommy Bahama Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival—June 6

sup15_logoThis is a true ocean fest. See the event site here. Races include:


But they also have a ton of other things that bring people into Santa Monica:

  • POP-UP MUSEUM: Historic surfboards, paddleboards,
    photography & artifacts
  • SPECIAL APPEARANCES: Surf Culture Legends
  • BEER GARDEN by Sierra Nevada
  • RUM BAR by Tommy Bahama

When I see this, I think there’s a reason to jump on a flight or drive a long distance to attend, participate, compete or just watch. And I’d bring my family.The event is also a benefit for Heal the Bay and its public marine education facility, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.


And new SUP-focused festivals: Payette River Games—June 19 to 21

This is the 3rd year and already, Payette River Games (PRG) is shaking the SUP world. And they have the venue and activities to make this an annual SUP pilgrimage toKelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade, Idaho– June 19 to 21. e

  • Seven Different Events: SUP, River surfing, Yoga, Beach Volleyball, Dog Fetch, Yoga and more
  • The world’s richest SUP prize purse at $50,000 with equal money for men and women (all prize money will be PAID IN CASH at the awards ceremony)
  • One of the world’s most unique and exciting SUP race courses
  • Hang out with and compete against the world’s best stand up paddlers
  • Beach volleyball clinic with an Olympic champion
  • FREE CAMPING for all athletes
  • FREE healthy and organic meals for every competitor while competing
  • Go surfing in the RIVER
  • Riverside HOT TUB for competitors to relax in after each race
  • High pressure compressor station to pump up your inflatables without destroying your arms!
  • Purvey Catering Kitchen will have a Food Court open to the public serving healthy & nutritious food
  • Support a good cause – all of your money goes to maintaining our not-for-profit host venue, Kelly’s Whitewater Park



This event has been driven as much by the hype of the $50K as the grassroots, groundswell word-of-mouth. I’ve been told over and over again, this is an event you can not miss. I’m not missing it. The Mullet will be at the Payette River Games all week with daily video and blog coverage in a partnership with Werner Paddles.

So… Where are we headed?

Small races may get smaller. Some will disappear. Others will survive by leveraging their town, location, and including other options for competitions, entertainment, community-building experiences. Larger festivals, if they reach out to the SUP community will expand their reach and in the end, we’re going to have a lot of options. You can look at it as a market correction or as growing pains, or you can see it as the sport truly growing and being accepted and embraced in the watersports and outdoor sports world.

I like where it’s going. Even if it hurts at times.

Now I have to go practice throwing an axe so I can take down Chris from Supracer and Slater Trout who apparently has axe-throwing skills.

The cover image is from Chris at supracer.com