Let people know why your area is a place paddlers want to visit
It’s the most basic question, but a good one. Is this located in a place that you’d visit without there being an event? Lake Tahoe? Heck yeah. Maui? Yep. But it doesn’t have to be exotic. If there’s water, I bet there are cool places to visit. Find them. Figure out what makes your location special? Ask the town, county or state’s tourism board.
Communicate those places and things that make it the place to visit. Floating cabins in Chattanooga? Waterfall hikes in Oregon? Aquarium in Baltimore? Disney World in Orlando? Nightlife in Miami? Pristine beaches in Florida? Don’t assume people know what make visiting your area so great. Put your best foot forward. Share what you love about where you live.
Find activities for the whole family—both paddle and non-paddle
To get a hall pass for a weekend takes negotiation, but if the whole family can go, it can be a quick sale. Part of creating an event is communicating all the things a family or couple or paddler can do when they get there. Are there running, biking or hiking trails? Is there a yoga studio? Tours? Sites to see before and after? Group tours? Small things. Activities for everyone?
Also, is there a local running race, triathlon or event that a non-paddler can enjoy? The more there is to do, the better the chances of getting people to visit.
Hotels, camp sites, restaurants. Get a rate, get a backup, make it less expensive for paddlers and they will bring income to your town. People appreciate discounts.
And if you’re putting coupons in the goody bags, let people know so they don’t see the coupons after they leave. Hand them the coupons, tell them about the deal, and put it in their bags.
Create a challenging race format
Some vacation destinations can get away with a race geared toward beginners as in “travel here to vacation and learn to SUP ending with a race.” But most need to at least have a challenging course. Think 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon. In fact, use those distances. It’ll be better for comparing events and times in coming years.
Make sure you don’t just have a 4 miler. 6 miles is as low as a distance race should go, but seriously consider a minimum of a half marathon for the distance course. Few people will drive over 2 hours to run a 5K. As fun as short races (under 5 miles) can be, it’s a lot of effort they aren’t to warrant the effort for someone driving or flying to a destination. The event will only last an hour or two and then what? If you have a race after June and the longest distance is 10K, you are limiting the potential racers.
Make sure the distance matches the time of year
For longer distances, over 10 miles, you need to make sure people have enough time to train. An early season race of over 15 or 20 miles means few people will be able to do the distance. The longer you wait into the season, the longer your distance can be. Late season races can also add longer distances to their schedule because people have been training and it’s possible to just hop into a 12 mile race if you are training for 32.
Create a unique race name
When you make a race, make it interesting. Years ago, Jeoffrey Nathan and Coastal Urge had the first SUP CUP. Resist the urge to do __________ SUP CUP or Stand up for the_________. These are taken already. You can surely use this as a tagline. In other words have a title like the Chase the Bear Race and a tag line, A SUP race for autism. etc. You get the point. This is for new races. If you already have these names, you’re grandfathered in. And definitely avoid anything like ___________ Championships unless it really is some kind of championships.
Some of my favorites: Chattajack31, Race the Lake of the Sky, Payette River Games
And if you already have the name of another race, don’t fight. Work together. Perhaps do some kind of combo award.
Take advantage of your unique geography
If you have an amazing ocean, are you on it? If you live by a major milestone like a historic bridge or waterfall, can you paddle past it? Can you use it as part of the course?
Give people a killer t-shirt
Think about your favorite t-shirt. Is it one that you earned? One that is comfortable? One that has a design you love? Paddlers see themselves as people who paddle. The stickered-up cars they drive with boards on top along with the shirts and hats they wear all tell that story. I am a paddler. If your shirts are really cool, comfortable, and fitted for both men and women (not just making women wear the mens shirts), people will wear them. And when they wear them, it’s something other paddlers will notice and connect with them as in, “Did you race Key West?” Or people who want to try the sport will ask them about paddleboarding. “You paddle?” “Is it hard to do?” ‘How long have you been paddling?”
If you are a guy running a race and don’t have a clue about clothes, ask an active woman what she wants to wear.
Consider bright colors for on-water hats and jerseys
There are three kinds of apparel from races: Ones you wear out with jeans or shorts. Ones you sleep in. And ones you wear on the water. If you are making them to go on the water, make them electric so you can see your racers. If they are to sleep in or to wear often, consider a blend or bamboo fabric options. They are super soft. People love them. It’s worth the extra few dollars. Fluorescent hats are amazing for races. They might not be something people will wear every day, but on the water, they are crucial: for seeing racers and seeing each other. On a downwind run, having people in bright orange, yellow or green makes everyone pop (and makes great photographs).
Let people know where to stay, eat, and buy provisions
Paddlers need gear and food and a safe place to stay. If you communicate that quickly and immediately, your race becomes an option. A paddler can look at the race and see you have a Whole Foods close by, or a ACME or a Piggly Wiggly, whatever. You are saying to them that when they get here, there are local options to buy food. Tell them where to buy hydration packs, pfds (the easiest thing to forget when you pack), rent boards, stay at a discount, store their boards so they aren’t on their car roof, go out for breakfast.
Establish regional reciprocity
This is when your paddlers go to another area to race and in return, they all pile in cars and come to yours. Support each other. Talk to each other. Races that work together, thrive together.
Thank and celebrate the paddlers
Everyone gets there by a different path. You never know what a participant has gone through, overcome, to participate in the event. Someone who comes in 91 out of 91 may have taken the most difficult journey to get there. Every racer is valid. Every racer’s journey is tough and rewarding for their own unique reasons. If you only celebrate the podium, you are missing the beauty of this sport and its community. Give a most inspirational award. Get the crowd going. Thank everyone.
Highlight the charity
If you have a great cause, let people know. Have someone from the charity speak at the event. Have a representative present a most-inspiring trophy at the end. Get them involved in the planning and promotion of the race. This is a great source of volunteers. It’s also a great way to get the word out. Charities typically have huge mailing lists. Tell them to show up, bring a crowd. Have other ways for them to raise $ during the race. Raffles. Individual fundraising.
Make sure paddlers can meet each other
Set up a night-before, carbo-loading dinner, a pre-race breakfast, a post-race cookout. Make people turn to their left and right and introduce themselves. Every relationship created at your event beings goodwill and connection to this sport. It’s what makes paddling so unique. This is a shared journey, a shared experience. When paddlers can talk before the race about the course or strategies and talk after the race about what they experienced, they are bonded. Some of my best friends in this sport are people I’ve paddled next to during races, for hours at times. If after the race, they’re gone, we can’t talk about it, talk about the next race.
When I first started racing, Brody Welte and I had 3 races where there was a minute and 30 seconds total difference between us. I had won one and he had the next two. I looked forward to races because I was going to try to go head to head with my buddy. In one race, he caught up to me with a half mile to go and yelled, “Let’s go buddy! Leave it all out on the water!” We sprinted to the finish. One of us won by a second with a dive over the finish line. That was 5 years ago and I still remember the challenge, the friendship we established. Create the environment whereby paddlers can interact.
There are so many races that are almost there. Take the extra steps. Don’t think 50K prize $ or BOP level. Build your race from the water up. Make it something people want to talk about, return to, and bring friends.