So you want to start a paddle race. Here’s a quick list of tips for planning

A few random suggestions and this is not a complete how-to list. Feel free to add to the bottom:

  • Involve local and regional paddlers in the planning
  • Use standard divisions and practices from the WPA (World Paddle Association)
  • Finding a good date that doesn’t interfere with other regional races (calendars on and paddle guru)
  • Include multiple watercraft (SUP, OC, Surfski, Kayak, and SUP). We are all paddlers
  • Have it benefit a charity, make sure people know where some of the money is going. It helps
  • Involve a local shop who can do lessons and demos
  • Food trucks, music, etc. make it more of an event
  • Find other ways to raise the money needed to run this event other than race entry fees
  • You don’t have to do massive trophies, but finisher medals are great. Trophies for every possible division are where most races get crushed on costs
  • Be careful on ordering shirts. That’s another place races get crushed on costs
  • Consider patches for your area or race as an option. People sew them or iron the on their paddle bags
  • Having a local person do the medals is a good option. You can be really creative with this
  • Make the race cost inexpensive Anything under $60 with a shirt and a meal is usually acceptable
  • Make an interesting course that makes sense and name it. Going to a buoy and back is kind of boring at times. Relays can make this fun
  • Make sure someone who paddles is giving the racer meeting talk, setting up the course
  • Don’t ask anyone to do anything you haven’t already done as a race director
  • Have a relay. Mix teams get everyone involved. I’d make this free or minimal cost
  • Have a kids race that’s fun and safe
  • Make the kids race free
  • Have a juniors division that races in a mid or short distance race with the adults. Not free
  • Consider a family rate where if parents race, kids race free
  • Invite a certified instructor to teach new paddlers technique and safety
  • If you have prize money, make it payable to men and women equally (Men 14’, Women 12’6 standard) Usually, top 3
  • If you have prize money, you’d probably have to raise the cost of entry or have a sponsor willing to pay the prize money
  • Recognize every division, even if there is only one person, and that just means acknowledging them at awards
  • Go to other races to support them and see how they’re run, what you like and don’t like
  • Make a list of things you don’t want to do and things that would make the other races better in your opinion and make it happen
  • Invite people to your own race
  • For promotion, I’d start with emailing the people who came last year and inviting them back personally. That’s always a nice touch
  • Have extra pfds and leashes
  • Have a good safety protocol and involve local safety professionals
  • Have a good water safety team to be close if paddlers need assistance. Don’t just send them off into the abyss
  • Have a backup plan if the weather goes bad. Be willing to postpone a race start for dangerous conditions, or consider what would happen if you had to cancel it.
  • Set up a facebook event and invite people
  • Have rentals available and contact info to reserve them listed on the website
  • Have a clear website with the date, location, and races summarized on the homepage, first thing. You have no idea how hard it is to find out where these things are. I list events and follow links and it’s a task at times to figure it out
  • Have a clear link to registration everywhere. You have no idea how hard it is to find the link sometimes
  • Consider a sticker for your race finishers that they can put on their car or board or both
  • Consider a patch they can sew on their paddle bag
  • Provide sunscreen if possible
  • Provide water quality education if possible
  • Start growing a thick skin because 99% of people will be happy most of the time, but one or two will break you down. When they do, remember, their behavior is most likely not about you or the race and more likely something bad that’s going on with them in their life. Hear them out. Be compassionate and remember it’s not about you. Unless they’re right and you messed up. In which case, own it. Or they’re just mean. In which case, they don’t have to come back
  • Provide water, but DO NOT PROVIDE WATER IN TINY PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES, please. Recycle, reuse starts with replace plastic water bottles with your own reusable bottles
  • Consider an invite a friend option for last year’s racers
  • Lastly, if you treat it as though you are inviting people to your home for a holiday celebration, the tone is welcoming and friendly and people will pick up on it

Good luck, have fun, be nice, paddle and stay safe.

Oh! And from a organizational standpoint, are you a for-profit or non-profit? If you are for-profit, treat it like any startup business. Make sure your goals and personalities are aligned. It can still be a success if you don’t see eye-to-eye, but it helps in the day to day stuff. If it’s non-profit, make sure the race directors are all as passionate about the cause as you are. When it becomes a full time job, people need to know why they’re doing it and be compensated for their time regardless of profit or non-profit or they’ll burn out.

If you’d like to promote your event on Distressed Mullet, we can help. Obviously, advertising helps us keep our posts going. Even more, it’s important to keep our paddling community strong and part of that is getting together and having fun, competing, challenging ourselves.

Sunshine SUP