In the beginning of the sport and races, it was as if they handed everyone a machete, pointed at the jungle and said, “have at it.” Things have changed. Every year we learn more, and find ways to make events safer and more enjoyable for racers and safety personnel.

So far, we’ve attended two amazing events in 2016: Neptunalia and the Cold Stroke Classic. Both were subject to crazy weather conditions and both had to manage unusual situations that perhaps other races haven’t yet faced. Both handled things very well and their experiences can teach us a lot about how to approach races in 2016 and beyond. Here are some suggestions:

Time limits

This is the first and easiest rule to incorporate into your races. Set a half-way and completion time limit. Many races have these. Carolina Cup, Chattajack, Catalina Challenge and others all have half-way and completion time limits.

In the Catalina Classic, the first checkpoint is the R-10 buoy, 24 miles into the race.

“The Catalina Classic Marathon Paddleboard Race shall terminate nine (9) hours from the official start time. Paddlers will be evaluated at the R-10 (PV-10) Buoy as respects their probability of finishing within the allotted time of nine (9) hours.” (

r-10At the Chattajack they have to pass the 10-Mile Cut-off (Suck Creek Boat Ramp) within 2 hours and 30 minutes of the start time. They also have to finish the course within 8 hours and 30 minutes. “Any athlete that takes longer than 8 hours and 30 minutes to complete the race will receive a DNF and be picked up by boat support.” (

The Cape to Cape from Delaware to Cape May, NJ had a 4.5 hour cutoff and they pulled everyone off the water at 4.5 hours. People were upset, but rules are rules.

Be prepared to pick racers up on the water with boats large enough to carry their boards and to shuttle pulled racers back to the race site along with all necessary safety personnel to deal with any health-related situations. Make sure this is part of your safety plan and that you have a safety protocol: The clear directions on what to do when something goes wrong.

Your race doesn’t have to be a marathon paddle to set time limits. Even in a shorter race, you should consider setting time limits at the half-way mark and the end. It’s about more than the paddler: There are safety and volunteers who are on the water, plus results and awards will all have to wait until everyone is off the water. Even if it’s a 3-mile race, set time limits. They can be realistic so even beginners can make it.

Have a dedicated, experienced safety director

Have a separate safety director than the race director. They should be EMS or Ocean Rescue: Someone medically trained and experienced in the public safety. They make the safety calls. Their word is final. They pull people BEFORE they think the person will need an ambulance. Safety Director monitors weather and water conditions and have communication with safety boats and personnel on water and land.

A Race Director has a lot to do. They’re often far more social director and often are friends with many of the competitors. They aren’t always the best judge for health and wellness decisions, no matter how well meaning and organized they can be. A Safety Director gives them a trained resource specifically assigned to participant and personnel safety.

If the race can go on, it should go on.

Cancelling or postponing due to weather is a slippery slope.

At 5:30am in Melborne, FL, we received a weather alert: Tornado watch was in effect until 6:04. There was a huge front moving through eastern Central Florida and it was bad. I assumed the race was cancelled. it wasn’t. And it shouldn’t have been cancelled. By race time, it was windy, but manageable. They were flexible enough to change the course to accommodate for the windy conditions, providing a safer course that was more sheltered from the wind. It was a great move and we had a great and still challenging race.

There are tons of logistics that go into a race that can’t be changed. For every 10 people you satisfy, there are 20 that will be upset. Stick to your plan unless the Safety Director says otherwise.


In the Catalina Classic, paddlers have to be prepared for the distance and conditions before they can race. They also have to qualify to participate either with previous event finish times or by demonstrating they are capable of paddling the distance. (

“If required by Race Committee, paddler must be capable of successfully paddling six (6) miles in 75 minutes or less on an unlimited class board, or in 85 minutes or less on a stock class board, in open ocean water.”

If you have a distance race or a race that requires specific skill sets, make sure you let people know what is required or necessary to complete the race.

Require Leashes

I know the sticker says, “Leashes save lives” but really, they can only help save lives. Especially in windy conditions. Consider making this part of your raec requirements. And have extra leashes available.


If a racer refused to get out of the water, they shouldn’t be allowed to race in the event again. That’s how the Catalina Classic works. Respect the race officials or you get a DQ and a lifetime ban.


Whatever you decide, make sure to communicate this on the race website and in the rules, on registration and reiterated in the racers meetings. And whatever you do, don’t change things in mid-racer meeting. The ones who heard the first part leave, the ones who stayed until the end don’t hear the change. It’s a logistical nightmare. Believe me, in the Carolina Cup, we made a rule, then changed it in the racers meeting, but not everyone was there and we didn’t reiterate it at the start. Consistency and clarity.

Good luck

Races are reunions for the vast majority of paddlers. This sport is evolving. Race directors are adapting and doing the best they can to provide a competitive, challenging, and enjoyable environment. They are doing their best, making the best decisions they can make and they are creating these amazing events to come together to do what we love.

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