I’ve never been to California in my life before. It goes without saying that Battle of the Paddle Salt Creek was my first Battle. I wish that I had been able to make it in the years prior so that I could compare the two venues thoroughly, but I will never know what BOP is like on the gentle rolling waves at Doheny State Park. One morning before Salt Creek, I walked from my hotel over to Doheny and sat on the beach watching the double over ankle sets cruise in, thinking to myself how much easier the race would be if we just had it here. I was nervous about the big sets at Salt Creek. I’d never had my race board in swells that big.
The race would have been easier, but it wouldn’t have been as exciting. Sure, it totally sucked at first. We lined up on the beach as the Hawaiian drummers rhythm pulsed in your body. It was hard to focus and remain calm. A set stacked up, the drums got louder, our heart rates and breathing were accelerating, then the horn finally blew. With utter disbelief that they would send us out in such a large set, I battled my way out at the start of the women’s elite race. I was tossed and flung, but remained in control of my board until I made it out. The adrenaline carried me through the laps and helped me surf in between. Getting out each time required finding a line and timing your exit. It wasn’t easy. It took knowledge, skill, and a little bit of luck. I would not have done this race if I didn’t have surfing experience in large ocean swells. It’s no coincidence that the top paddlers won this race as they win all the others. The paddlers that won were excellent technical paddlers, making some good decisions in the surf zone. Many of us felt like guinea pigs in a big SUP-experiment. Gladiators being thrown out to the lions for the commoners to watch. Eye candy. I, for one, will be back for more punishment.
Bottom line: I loved the venue at Salt Creek. It challenged me. It highlighted both my technical abilities and my weaknesses. It leveled the playing field and changed the game. Like gambling, you could lose BIG or you could win BIG. I had a blast. The adrenaline was pumping; it was anybody’s game. This was not a race for flatwater paddlers, people with no surf experience, or those not willing to lose big. It was a race for those that have some knowledge of the surf zone, want to bring their performance to the next level, and understand their limitations. It required cat like reflexes and EXTREME attention to detail. You had to be clear-headed and focused; to be able to see the waves, know your position, catch boards flying out of the corner of your eye in time to jump or duck, serious super-hero shit. If you got upset going out, that was the end. If your mind was fuzzy, there would be no escape.
I realize that many people are bummed with the venue change, and thought it was terrible to watch such carnage. In a way I agree, but I also disagree. This race looks like it is going to become an event that pushes paddlers to their limits and draws a bit more of a gambling, adrenaline-junkie crowd. Let this race be what it will be. If you want a family-friendly race that is challenging but not so extreme, then maybe the Carolina Cup is for you. I’m biased, surely, I would love for my hometown race to be bigger. I think in years to come, when SUP families buy their tickets and pack their bags for one big SUP race vacation, they will be heading out to Carolina where the whole family can participate without head trauma.