One Board Class: 14 and Under

First of all, let me be clear. As far as I can see it, there is no dominant governing body that can regulate races. At all. So, no one is imposing anything on anyone. We are a collective group of independents. This could change with the success of the ISA and the Olympic games prospects. But for now, nada. No one has the resources to pull it all together.

There is an inherent problem in SUP races: Too many divisions.

Keep that in mind when we go through the math. so for most races, there are 60-100. Let’s go with 100. You are a week out and 20 people sign up. You have two courses. (men + women: 2) x (juniors 10, juniors 12, juniors 14, juniors 16, juniors U18, 18-49, 50+: 7) x (inflatable, tandem, surf, 12’6″, 14′, Unlimited, Prone stock, Prone 14, Prone unlimited, surfski single, surfski double, OC-1, OC-2, Kayak: 14) = 196. Now take 196 and double it, because you have two courses. 392. Now triple that because you need first through 3rd. 1176 trophies or ribbons and divisions to manage, to reward or ignore because no one is in them. And, keep in mind, you only have 20 people signed up 2 weeks out.

Let’s simplify it. Make it a single course (which will be too much for some, not enough for others, and annoying to most) and that’s 588 trophies. Get rid of surfski and kayak and oc, tandem and the multiple prone divisions, which they will kill you for doing and you still have 252 trophies, or ribbons or medals. And guaranteed the OCs or the kayaks or the surfskis you included will be bummed and not come back. I just don’t think anyone appreciates what the race directors are trying so hard to do, but are set up to fail. They want to celebrate everyone in every class and give kids opportunities. It’s mathematically impossible with all the board classes. Keep in mind, you have 20 people signed up maybe when you have to order all this and the shirts and the food and the permits and the goodie bags and are trying to get sponsors who can’t see how 20 people warrants a $250 tent. It doesn’t BTW.

Here’s the idea (and it’s not original) for the main event races: One division

  • All board classes will be 14 and under
  • More expensive Pro or Elite Division
  • Less expensive Enthusiast/Open would have age groups U18, 18-49, 50+ men & women and be in each of the race
  • Eliminate drafting rules, if you are strong enough to be at the front, draft with the strong paddlers
  • Have a rec race with first across the line, best costume, fastest inflatable, whatever, go nuts.
  • Have a Juniors race course that is good for their age and abilities. 12’6″ and under and break this down into multiple age groups by 2 year increments
  • Pro or major race course can have an under 17 division, but not broken down into multiple levels. It’s more of a junior pro division
The push is for a single race class in the top level and to have the aspiring levels also gravitating toward that level. Right now the fastest and most accessible craft is the 14 for most races. Men and women racing in non-beach BOP-style races or shorter technical races may be faster on 12’6” boards. Specialty races might have different needs like river races, whitewater, etc.
If as a sport we move to this one length for races, we can have a deeper field, more chances for age groups, and more competition. Right now, the mens and womens’ fields are split between the 14 and 12’6” divisions.
Most races have been forced by tradition to recognize all board classes in all of their course races and it’s too hard to manage and spreading everyone out into meaningless 2-3 person divisions.
What the major races are considering and races over 80 people is having a pro or elite race, perhaps call it open in which it is 3 age groups and one length board and under. 14 and under for men and women, U18, 18-49, 50+ If someone has a 12’6 or an inflatable or a surf style and want to race against the pros/elite racers, have at it.
They can then have a rec race with a non race-board division that you can award those rec racers. Go to town. Make it non-displacement under 14. You can even have a race board division in the rec race, but again, this is the beginner race, the entry into the sport and they need to aspire to race on teh same crafts as the pros and regional local fast paddlers.
Send the men first and the women second and eliminate drafting rules by board class and gender. If a woman can catch and ride/draft with the men, go for it.

What this could do for the sport:

  • This helps eliminate so many divisions on the timing and results side.
  • It reduces the number of people upset because they weren’t recognized in their class because there are far less classes that are easier to manage.
  • It sets expectations for the racers and race directors in a way that’s manageable by the race directors. This is do able.
  • It increases the competition in one division rather than dividing the groups up into two different divisions
  • It helps manufacturers focus on a single length race board
  • It can help retailers to stock 14 race boards and not have to carry so much inventory in various sizes
  • It still allows anyone to race at 12’6” if they prefer that length in conditions such as chop or surf
  • And race directors still have the flexibility to do whatever they want. There is no governing body, so come to a standard and go for it.
  • Increased people in one board division increases the ability to break it down into more age groups
  • 12’6” will become obsolete for top racers out of surf and tech races, but those 12’6” boards can now benefit the Juniors who are on 12’6” and below. The release of used 12’6” boards on the used market also lowers the barrier of entry into the sport.
  • No longer will you have a class of 1 or 2 who are eliminated because there aren’t enough in their class. With less board classes and divisions, you can do overall, break it down into whatever you want because there’s less to manage. People can count on their division because their not in such a granular system.
  • It makes it possible to hand time again and save money on timing companies that are quite honestly, in over their heads with all these divisions and rules governing them (need 3, need 4, need 5 or delete)

What about M20, M2M, Gorge, etc. where an unlimited is the race board of choice for the elite division?

In those cases, that’s the rule, it’s Unlimited. Ride what you think is fastest. The best and fastest craft wins. In the Open race, perhaps go to a 14 and under and age groups. The pros push the envelope on customs. The Joes and Janes use production and some hopped up customs in the 14 division. Just like river raes will set their own rules.

What about OC and Surfski?

They have two divisions, OC1, OC2, Surfski and Double Surfski, Pro and enthusiast divisions. Easy. Some of them do it that way now.

What about Prone?

I have no idea. The division is so small in general, I feel like you can group them into Unlimited and 14 and under. You could go to top finisher in each and not 3 places. By eliminating the extraneous SUP divisions, you have more room to accommodate another class here.

Can you even imagine how easy timing would be? It’s 8am, “GO!”

When did you finish? 8:55? You took 55 minutes to do the race. BANG!

Why now?

It’s the end of another season and all of our numbers are down. The races are diluted and impossible to manage. Because no one makes money, there is little benefit to running a race that just ends up pissing a ton of people off because they weren’t recognized for their age, board class, division.
I feel like this is more inclusive and will be healthy for the sport which is taking a hit right now. Numbers nationwide are down. We are spread too thin and working too hard for simple races. Something has to change. I hear it all the time.
There’s more, but you get the idea. I’ll post this and talk with other race directors, paddlers, manufacturers this week at surf expo.
Thank you so much for the dialogue and passion. I really appreciate you and your feedback.