One of the more interesting events on the 2014 calendar is coming up later this month and may just help set the standard for a new kind of SUP race format. The Australian Flatwater SUPfest is happening 28th-30th March at the West Lakes Aquatic Centre in Adelaide, South Australia, and as the name suggests will be a totally flat affair.
The Flatwater SUPfest is set to feature three different races – 200m, 500m and 5,000m – with the entire event being hosted at a rowing/kayaking venue. The 5k race will look like a standard flatwater the event, however the 200m and 500m sprints will utilise the existing facilities to create up an interesting format…
Following in the footsteps of the Black Blade Regatta (which followed in the footsteps of the Silver Blade Regatta), the sprint races at the Flatwater SUP Fest will be held in lanes on the kayak/rowing course. That takes all the unknown variables out of the race and brings it down to pure paddling speed & strength. If you’re paddling in lanes then standard drafting isn’t possible (though technically you can still “V Draft”), there will also be no chaos on buoy turns and, as it’s held in a lake, there are no rogue waves taking out the field.
In short: These races will be all about who is the strongest paddler (or for the cynics: who owns the newest/lightest/narrowest/fastest race board ;-)
Another great part of the event is that the board class has been set at 14 feet, instead of 12’6. Most 14 footers are designed for flatwater, whereas 12’6 boards are generally more for the BOP-style racing. Yet with events such as the World Series and ISA Worlds both opting for the shorter boards even in the long distance races, we’ve seen a trend around the world where surf-race style boards are becoming the de facto standard for many races held in the flats. So it’s good to see the Australian Flatwater SUPfest organisers bucking the trend and sticking with a more logical choice of boards.
However the best part about this event is that it’s representative of the wider sport: Flat water stand up paddling is far and away the most popular form of SUP, based on general participation numbers, yet most of the prestigious races happen in the waves or the ocean. While I’d still like to see these ocean races (BOP, Molokai, etc) remain as the pinnacle of the sport, I would also like to see more and more growth in the flatwater scene.
While there are hundreds of local races on lakes and rivers around the world, there are very few pure flatwater races that get a lot of attention. The HanoHano in San Diego draws a big crowd as does the Lost Mills in Gemany. However those are rare exceptions, plus both of them are traditional “mass start” races, whereas the Flatwater SUPfest (and the Silver/Black Blade Regattas that preceeded it) will more closely resemble a canoe/kayak race than a regular paddleboarding event.
And on a side note: If we ever see Stand Up Paddling in the Olympics, expect it to be held on flatwater (though as much as the novelty of lane racing appeals to me right now, if SUP does make the Olympics one day then I’d like to see a more exciting course race format).
Hopefully the Flatwater SUPfest will be well supported by the Aussie paddling community and, with the AuSUP crew organising the event, I have no doubt it’ll be run to a high standard. AuSUP is the de facto governing body for Stand Up Paddling in Australia that operates in parallel with Surfing Australia (who in turn is the governing body that officially runs the State & National Titles and selects the team for the ISA Worlds). After several years of disorganisation in Oz, it’s great to see an organisation like AuSUP step up and take some initiative. Along with Surfing Aus, the AuSUP group is also working in conjunction with Canoeing Australia to get the SUPfest happening.
Event registration is open now…
On a side note: The event also has one of the coolest race posters we’ve seen. The retro design wouldn’t look out of place in Soviet Russia, while we also can’t help but notice the paddler in white is using the choke-down stroke, whereas the rest of the competitors have opted for the traditional technique. I wonder who won?
We’ll find out for real in a few weeks, but in the meantime you can watch a clip from last year’s Black Blade Regatta to give you an idea of how the sprint races will look: