There are only 12 days and counting til the Battle of the Paddle…
The pros have started arriving in town and the warm-up races have begun. Last minute training and board testing is taking place, while everyone’s starting to get a little excited (and slightly nervous) about the biggest race of the year.
So what can we expect to see on September 28th & 29th? Well as far as the race format goes, it’ll still largely be the same old BOP that we know and love, though with a few new twists… Apart from the big news about drug testing at the Battle of the Paddle, there are a few other tweaks this year, including some big news about the women’s Elite Race…
SEPARATE WOMEN’S FINAL
The biggest change at Battle 2013 is the introduction of a dedicated women’s final in the Elite Race. That’s right, there will be two Elite Race finals this year. The Women’s Elite Race Final at 1:30pm on Saturday, followed straight after by the Men’s Final. Two totally separate races.
So for the first time women will be able to take over the spotlight of the main event rather than getting stuck in among the men. In previous years the girls started 30 seconds behind the guys in the Elite Race final, which created a few issues…
For one, the leading ladies had to charge through the stragglers of the men’s field, which threw up some obstacles and generally made their race trickier than that of the leading males. Secondly, and most important, having the men and women race at the same time took a lot of attention away from the top female finishers. For example Annabel Anderson was the 31st paddler across the line in the Elite Race last year, even though she was the winner…
But this year all of that changes. This year the women will have their own, dedicated Elite Race Final. They’ll still compete (and start) at the same time as the men in the qualifying heats (with a minimum of 50% progressing to the final), but then they’ll have their own clean water in the final.
This should give the girls a lot more media spotlight as well as increased attention from the fans on the beach, while also taking out the risk of having to negotiate the back-markers of the guys’ race. It’s a positive for the guys as well, as the course will be less crowded and the back half of the field won’t have to hide their shame at getting spanked by the top girls…
DISTANCE RACE: DRAFTING + STAGGERED STARTS
Not so much a change from previous years but more a clarification: There will be NO rules against drafting at the BOP. It’s going to be “open drafting” (aka a free-for-all) in every race. This is especially important for the Distance Race, where the water is usually flat and draft trains are the norm. In years gone by there was always a spot or two of controversy about “he/she/they” did this or that and drafted or didn’t or whatever.
But this year it’s clear: do whatever you like when it comes to drafting. No rules, no whining.
Drafting is always a touchy subject, so why did the organisers choose not to enforce any rules? Because quite simply it’s too hard to police over 400 paddlers, especially over the nine mile Distance Race course. Plus it fits in with the whole theme of the event: it is called the “Battle” after all…
Though to make things a little less hectic, the BOP will introduce staggered starts to this year’s Distance Race. The Unlimited crew will go off first, followed by the men’s and women’s Elite 14 divisions (the Distance Race prize money will be on the 14 footers for both the men and the women this year). After that it’ll be the non-elite 14′ division and finally the 12’6 crowd and everyone else will start last. Two minute gap between each start.
Another change to the Distance Race: There will be a beach start instead of the traditional water start. Beach starts generally make things a lot more even on the line, whereas water starts are notorious for “creeping” and are basically never fair. Also having to negotiate the waves for the first couple of hundred metres might break up the field and prevent drafting from dominating proceedings.
ELITE TEAM RELAY
In the old days the Battle was simple: We had the Elite Race and everything else. The Elite Race was for the Elite and it was the only race that the paddlers took really seriously.
But last year the term “Elite” was expanded to include the Distance Race, with the introduction of an “Elite 14′ Division” that added an extra level or two of competition and intensity to the nine miler.
Well this year there’s going to be a third “Elite” level race, with the traditional Team Relays being split up into two (or actually three) separate events. Instead of the all-in-one relay, where the pro teams compete against the amateurs, this year the Battle of the Paddle will have a fully-fledged Elite Team Relay, a separate Open Team Relay and even a dedicated Kids’ Relay.
Splitting the relay up into separate Elite and Open races is a good move: The relays in years gone by were hard to follow as the elite teams quickly lapped the amateurs and the whole course became a mess. You couldn’t really tell which team was in what position until they crossed the line… So having a dedicated Elite Team Relay should make it easier & more exciting to watch and will hopefully encourage the teams to go even harder in pursuit of those all important bragging rights.