First Look At The 2014 Battle Of The Paddle Course Maps: A Lot Has Changed… (UPDATED With Video)

Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle

So it looks like the Battle of the Paddle crew updated the official event website a couple of days ago. Finally. That old design had been around for aaaages and was getting very stale… The new BattleOfThePaddle.com design looks fresh, clean and makes the event way easier to virtually navigate.

But even if you’re not a design snob like me, today’s news isn’t totally irrelevant: With the updated site design comes a lot of new info about this year’s race, including a first look at the 2014 BOP course maps.

As we announced a few months back, the 2014 Battle of the Paddle is at Salt Creek, moving a few miles up the coast and away from its traditional home at Doheny State Beach. The new location has generated plenty of debate, with a focus on how organisers would deal with Salt Creek’s heavier surf.

A new venue isn’t the only change for the world’s biggest race though, with a totally redesigned Elite Race, Open Race and Distance Race on offer for paddlers the weekend of October 4th & 5th.

Gone is the traditional M-shaped Elite Race course, gone is the infamous “headless snake” from the Open Race and gone is the “there and back again” course in the distance event.

In short: There are going to be a lot of changes at this year’s BOP, so let’s take a closer look at exactly what’s in store for the Super Bowl of SUP. Because hey it’s only four months ’til race day – time to start over-analysing every minor detail!


Battle of the Paddle Open Race

Battle of the Paddle 2014: The Open Race

This year the Open Race will change from the usual 3-4 lap square course into a giant, 1-lap slalom race.

And I like it.

Not only is the course much more interesting, this change will make the Open Race way easier to follow.

In years gone by the biggest race of the weekend (at least in terms of numbers competing – close to 500 last year) was like a giant headless snake: It was an amazing spectacle, however you couldn’t tell where the head started and the tail finished. It was virtually impossible to know who was leading the race until they popped out of the pack for the final 200 metre sprint to the beach.

It was so all over the place that many paddlers couldn’t even remember which lap they were on, making the whole thing very confusing. Bart de Zwart was winning last year’s race by a mile, but then did an extra lap by mistake. And he wasn’t the only one: dozens of paddlers do one lap too many or one lap too few every single year.

So the Open Race clearly needed to be improved and that’s exactly what organisers have done this year. With this new course layout the action will also be closer to the beach, making it more spectator friendly on a couple of levels.

Though I don’t think the course will be running too close to the shore if there are solid waves… In fact there’s a special note about revised start/finish areas for the Open Race in case of big surf:

“If surf is too high, then we will have a safer water start and alternative finish line for beginner paddlers”

Not sure if that means everyone in the Open Race is considered a beginner, or if there will be two separate start and two separate finish lines for the same race and you can just choose which one you’re comfortable with. I’m assuming the latter, though it could be kinda confusing to have two separate courses in the one race, especially with 400-500 people out there.

But either way, it’s good to see the organisers are taking into account just how different Salt Creek could be from Doheny.

Anyway that’s the Open Race. Now how about the main event, the Elite Race?


Battle Of The Paddle Elite Race

Battle of the Paddle 2014: The Elite Race

After years of getting to know that familiar Elite Race course, paddlers will be greeted with a totally different layout in 2014. Gone is the traditional M-shape and in its place is a kind of squashed, stretched out, lopsided M.

The all-important “Golden Buoy” is still in place, however the rest of the buoys have moved around quite a bit. We’re missing the traditional Hammer Buoy, though if there are good waves we might end up with quite a few substitutes in the carnage department.

Seems like buoys #1, #4 and #5 could all be inside the break. If there’s solid surf you might even be able to catch something between #2 and #3.

Battle of the Paddle California - The Hammer Buoy

Will we see a new Hammer Buoy this year? Careful what you wish for… (photo credit: Harry Wiewel)

The course is still roughly the same length – 4.33 miles or almost exactly 7 kilometres – so expect winning times of around 45-50 minutes like last year.

The course also looks to be the standard 3.5 laps we’re used to (the first lap is a half lap, which is followed by three full laps). It’s not clear if the women’s race and the qualifying heats will be one lap shorter than the men’s final, as they were in 2013, but we can probably assume they will be.

The start and finish zones are in different parts of the beach this year, which is another change. Usually we start right in front of the finish line, but this year the start has been moved way up the beach. Hopefully that gives everyone more room (the Elite Race is notorious for being tight and congested at the start…).

Speaking of the beach, Salt Creek appears to be a lot flatter and more forgiving than Doheny ever was, so that’s a plus. The gradient of the beach down to the water’s edge is fairly flat, which is a nice change from the steep slope we always had to run up and down at Doheny. I’m sure there’ll be a few grumbles about hiking up and down the hill from the car park to the beach itself, but on a positive note that’ll provide an amphitheater style view of the action for spectators.

So while a lot has changed, it’s still gonna be a similar race to what we’re used to. All the standard elements required for an exciting race are still there: Beach start, beach finish, in and out through the surf, soft sand run between each lap, etc.

The big unknown quantity this year will be the waves – Salt Creek is a LOT different than Doheny…

Salt Creek surf

This is what Salt Creek is capable of – it’s just a LITTLE bit hollower than Doheny…

Salt Creek can get some very solid surf. The beach doesn’t have the protection that Doheny gets from its harbor, which produces long, slow rolling waves that are easy to handle on a SUP race board. Salt Creek is a totally different kind of wave: Salt Creek is an open, exposed beach with a hollow break.

Needless to say, this could have a huge impact on the results: If there’s big surf then the pure flat water paddlers and those with less experience will suffer, while the surf specialists will gain a huge advantage. Look for the Aussies, Hawaiians and a few of the local SoCal crew to have an even bigger advantage than usual if it’s anything over 4 ft.

Also look for some great carnage shots.

I’m excited about the potential for solid waves. Sure, participation numbers might be slightly down, but this is the “Battle” after all: Carnage and excitement are the name of the game. As the official site proudly states:

“The Elite Race is for professional paddlers. There is no alternative safe start in case of large surf. Enjoy!”

So there you go. Game on. Better start practicing your surf skills.

I think this new course will be good. The old one was getting a little too familiar, so mixing it up a bit will keep it interesting. And besides, all the main pieces of the puzzle are still there to create an exciting Elite Race, it’s just gonna be a slightly different course between the buoys that’s all. Either way, with the potential for solid waves at Salt Creek we can safely assume one thing: This definitely won’t be a boring race…

One last note: Tide times.

Remember 2012? Competitors in the Elite Race final won’t ever forget it: At least a dozen of them lost fins or rolled ankles going in and out over the exposed rocks. It was kinda gnarly.

Salt Creek seems to have less rocks on the shoreline than Doheny (maybe a local can correct me here?) so that’s a plus. But as for the exact tides…

The women’s Elite Race final is scheduled for 1:30pm while the men’s will hit the water at 2:30pm. According to the long range tide forecast for San Clemente (closest I could find), low tide is at 12:36pm on Saturday October 5th, while high tide is at 6:34pm. So yeah, it’s gonna be pretty low for the women’s race but should be getting better for the men. Fortunately it’s only a moderately low tide (1.5ft / 46cm) so it shouldn’t be too brutal.

Though on a side note: The Open Race starts at 11:30am and will finish right around dead low, which could make for some very entertaining action if there are waves.

Salt Creek beach California

Salt Creek beach: We might get big waves or we might get a flat calm day like this…

Oh and one extra last thing: Someone just reminded me about the issue of seaweed… Apparently Salt Creek has a giant kelp bed that sends in some serious clumps of the stuff right to the spot where we’ll be racing. So yeah, you might wanna invest in a good weed fin…

The shot above shows a very good overview of Salt Creek. That’s pretty much exactly where the Elite Race will be held. Note: All those brown blobs on the beach and in the water are clumps of seaweed.

Though the waves in this photo look pretty tame huh; I’m sure the organisers and the flat water specialists will be hoping for something similar come October…


Battle Of The Paddle Distance Race

Battle of the Paddle 2014: The Distance Race

The BOP long distance race has taken on a new prestige since it was officially renamed the “Elite Distance Race” in 2012. The “elite” division was set at 14′ and suddenly almost every top guy and girl were paddling in the same class, rather than being spread out evenly between divisions as was the case from 2009-2011 (there was no distance race in ’08).

I think it was a great move from the organisers.

In fact the distance event took on so much meaning that it was one of the highlights of the 2013 BOP, when Travis Grant overcame a crippling knee injury to win ahead of Danny Ching and an all star cast.

But forget what you saw last year, coz this year it’s gonna look radically different.

While the Open Race course change is a big positive and the new Elite Race should be just as exciting as ever, I’m worried the Distance Race could get really messy.

Originally we were gonna be paddling up the coast from Salt Creek to Laguna and back, which would have made for some cool scenery and epic photos while keeping the race set to one really long lap as it always has been. That one single lap is vital because it keeps the field spread out, which gives the leaders an uninterrupted race.

But this year, instead of one lap, the distance race is gonna be a three-lapper. The distance is the same, we’re just gonna do three laps up and down the beach.

On the surface you’d think this has its positives: The action stays within the confines of Salt Creek beach, making it waaaay easier to view for the spectators. No more “Oh there they go, let’s check back in an hour or two.” – this year you’ll actually be able to see what’s happening the whole time. That’s great. Especially with the unique view you’ll get from up on the hill behind the beach.

So in theory that would make the race way easier to follow. However in reality there’s a slight issue…

With three laps there’s gonna be a huge amount of crossover between the front packs and the backmarkers. Based on last year’s finishing times, where the winners were exactly twice as fast as the slowest competitors, we can expect the leaders to start lapping the slow paddlers toward the end of the second lap. By the third and final lap there’s gonna be some serious crossover.

In other words: The Distance Race will be the new Open Race, turning into one giant, headless snake that’s confusing for both paddlers and spectators.

Battle of the Paddle Travis Grant

Last year the race leaders enjoyed an uninterrupted (and very entertaining) distance event. But this year it could get a little messy…

When the race leaders start hitting that slow traffic it’ll not only be difficult for the crowd on the beach to follow, it’ll also cause some grief for the front runners. I’d hate to see the race decided because one of the leaders was held up at a buoy turn by a beginner.

(It’s probably worth noting here that the top women have to deal with this kinda problem almost every race, but I digress…)

Last year the distance race was really exciting in the closing stages, as Trav battled on his own against the 12-man draft train being led by Danny Ching and featuring a who’s who of the SUP racing world. We could clearly see the lead pack heading towards the finish. It was a great race.

But that won’t happen this year, coz the leaders will be zig-zagging around the backmarkers all the way to the end and nobody will get a clear view of who’s in contention for the win.

So yeah, I think this new course is a bad idea.

I hate to grumble. I really do. This year’s BOP is set to be an awesome event on so many levels, however I really think this distance course is a mistake. Yes, keep it closer to the crowd, but not at the expense of the paddlers.

I can already see what’s gonna happen: The leaders will hit major traffic. The crowd won’t know who’s actually winning. The slower paddlers will feel bad about getting lapped by the pros. That’s not good for anybody…

I’m all in favour of making the race more accessible to the viewing public, but not like this.

If organisers really wanna keep the whole race within Salt Creek, for the benefit of the crowd, then why not just stretch out the course and make it two laps instead of three? That would greatly minimise the headless snake effect while still making it possible to watch the whole thing from the beach or up on the hill.

Anyway that’s my only complaint. The rest looks pretty sweet.


So anyway there you go. That’s what we can expect from the 2014 Battle of the Paddle at Salt Creek.

Open Race: New and improved
Elite Race: Different shape but as exciting as always
Distance Race: Could get messy

Overall I’m pretty excited about the changes and about this year’s event. Apart from a mild concern with the distance race, the new courses look like a lotta fun. Plus if we get even a moderate swell hitting the SoCal coast the first weekend in October, there’s gonna be some great action at this year’s BOP.

But what do you reckon? If you managed to read all the way through this rather long-winded post (congratulations) then leave a comment and share your thoughts below.

The 7th Annual Battle of the Paddle California will be held October 4th & 5th. We’re still four months out from race weekend so expect plenty more updates between now and then.

Oh and race registration is already open, in case you’re one of those people that likes to plan way far ahead…


UPDATE:

Absolutely perfect timing from the crew at Riviera Paddlesurf, who this afternoon released a really cool 2014 Battle of the Paddle Preview video.

The Riviera guys, along with everybody’s favourite man-child Chuck Patterson (plus a bunch of other big names) took their boat and boards to Salt Creek and got some great shots (and interesting insights) into the BOP’s new venue. If you wanna know more about where the world’s biggest race is happening this year, watch the full clip below…

I’m even more excited about the new venue after having watched this.

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