The countdown is on: We’re only 10 days away from the biggest race of the year, the 2016 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life, which is shaping up to be the sport’s showcase event once again this season.
So with just 10 days to go til the big dance at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California, here are 10 things you need to know about the PPGs…
1. The Elites
Just like the Battle of the Paddle that paved the way before it, the Pacific Paddle Games has quickly established itself as the one event where virtually every top paddler in the world is on the start line.
While the other “majors” such as the Carolina Cup, and to an even greater extent the Gorge Paddle Challenge, have caught up in recent years and now attract world-class lineups of their own, they’re still not quite on the same level as that one weekend in Dana Point.
I’m *pretty sure* all top 20 ranked men will be on the start line this year, which will be the first time our sport has ever seen every single top ranked guy in one race (at least in the three years I’ve been doing the rankings).
Considering that only 16 paddlers will make the final of the elite surf race, and considering there’s dozens of paddlers ranked 21st-100th that’ll also be in the mix (not to mention the usual brigade of dark horses), and it’s quite clear that several big name, world class paddlers are going to miss out on a spot in the main event.
(Note: Just like last year, the overall elite (or “Pro”) division championship title is based on the combined results from both the surf race and Sunday morning’s 6-mile long distance race.)
On the women’s side it looks like it’ll be 9 of the top 10 and around 16 of the top 20, while the big news is that the women will have the headline spot, with the women’s surf race scheduled straight after the men’s (see #7 below).
So yeah, the elite field is gonna be stacked to say the least. It’ll be hectic, it’ll be cut-throat, and it’ll be damn exciting to watch. Whoever comes away with the win this year will thoroughly deserve the prize money, the points and the priceless bragging rights that come with it.
We’ll release our signature “PPGs Preview and Predictions” next Thursday
2. The Opens
While the elite racing side of the sport is SUP Racer’s main focus, the amateur or “open” divisions are often just as important, in some ways even more so.
These amateur paddling communities, the “weekend warriors” if you will, are the foundation of the sport. Without them we wouldn’t have an industry (pro riders don’t exactly pay retail for their boards), and we certainly wouldn’t have many events either (the number of open race paddlers signing up and paying entry fees can make or break an event even of this size).
3. The Groms
In a similar vein as above, without the groms, there is no future in our sport. Literally. These little whipper snappers are the next generation of paddling stars, and I can’t wait to see the latest crop of “young guns” on show next week.
Slater Trout set the tone for the young guns by finishing runner-up behind Jamie Mitchell at the 2009 BOP as a 14-year-old, before guys like Connor Baxter and then Kai Lenny and Mo Freitas took up the cause. But even Mo is now 20 years old, while the Maui boys have all been old enough to drink (legally) in the States for a year or two already. So this year I predict the next generation will step up and announce themselves.
There will be no shortage of contenders in this category, with the plethora of paddling groups from southern California, Tahoe, Hood River and around the world all ready to strut their stuff on the big stage.
Will we see a repeat of last year, when a macking south swell and a bunch of charging groms made for some iconic photos? (see the shot up top and below)
4. The Prones
While SUP racing owes the traditional paddleboarding community a lot of credit for its success, things seem to have come full circle, with prone now getting a boost from inclusion in some of the biggest SUP races, including the Pacific Paddle Games.
Anyone who’s ever tried paddling a prone board will appreciate just how difficult (but also incredibly fun, at least if there are waves) this discipline can be, and once again it’ll be a feature of the PPGs.
Note: The elite prone racing will be happening on Friday this year (see #7 below)
5. The Money
The Pacific Paddle Games once again sets a new record for the biggest prize purse the sport has ever seen, with a total of $60,000 on the line.
The money is largely thanks to presenting sponsor Salt Life (who’ve signed on for the next three years I believe), while other major sponsors are GoPro, West Marine, Golden Road Brewing, Nexen Tire and California State Parks.
If you want to get picky, $5k of that goes to the prone guys and girls, so technically it’s $55,000 for SUP (which is still a record; the previous best was $51k at last year’s PPGs, which narrowly edged out the Payette River Games’ $50k).
The men’s and women’s overall champions each receive $8,000, while there’s another $1.5k for first place in both the distance and surf racing events. Win the whole show and you walk away with $11,000 for 48 hours work. Not too shabby.
Even the top grom will go home with $1,000, which is either a year’s supply of In-N-Out Burger or a GoPro Karma, depending on your priorities…
6. The History
While 2016 marks only the 2nd annual edition of the Pacific Paddle Games, late September/early October in Dana Point has been home to the sport’s biggest race every year since 2008, when the Battle of the Paddle famously kick-started an entire new sport to life virtually overnight.
For this reason, some say Doheny State Beach is the “spiritual home” of SUP racing (though Hawaii may argue that point), while most people simply know it was the place where it all began almost a decade ago.
The Pacific Paddle Games has definitely taken the sport to a new level in terms of having a professional event setup and world class media coverage, however we’ll never forget the pioneering path the BOP paved for us all.
7. The Schedule
The big change this year is that it’s a three-day event, with the prone racing and men’s surf race qualifiers happening on Friday. It’s a great excuse for a long weekend, while it’s also a good way to reduce the stress of a tight weekend schedule.
On the elite side of the draw: The pro distance race is set for 8:15am on Sunday morning, while the main event that we all want to watch, the surf race finals, are on at 1:15pm (elite men) and 1:45pm (elite women) Sunday afternoon. Good to see the women getting the headline slot for a change.
Also worth noting: The size of men’s elite surf heats has been reduced from 32 to 16, in order to improve safety by reducing the amount of gnarly carnage we saw last year.
Combining this smaller heat size with the ultra-competitive field we expect to see this year, and it basically means there will be no easy heats. Organisers have penciled in 8x 16-man heats on Friday morning, with the top half of each heat going through to Saturday afternoon’s quarter-finals. There’s no second-chance round, so expect a few big names to bomb out before the weekend has even begun.
Here’s the draw for the “Pro Men’s Technical” (aka the elite surf race)
Friday morning: 8x 16-man heats, top 8 from each heat advance
Saturday lunchtime: 4x 16-man quarter-finals, top 8 advance
Saturday afternoon: 2x 16-man semi-finals, top 8 advance
Sunday afternoon: 1x 16-man final
(May change slightly depending on final numbers)
The pro women’s surf race, with its considerably smaller field, is expected to be 2x semi-finals of 16 on Saturday afternoon before the final on Sunday arvo (again, the schedule is subject to change if there’s a rush of last-minute entries).
Note: Just like last year, the overall elite (or “Pro”) division championship title is based on the combined results from both the surf race and Sunday morning’s 6-mile long distance race.
8. The Registration
If you’re an elite paddler and you haven’t registered already… well, you really should have done that last week. Elite race entry *was* closed last Friday, however its been extended until closer to the event (which suggests a few top ranked athletes are dragging their feet as usual).
But one thing’s for sure: There will be absolutely NO registration at the beach on race day, which I think is a good step towards a more professional event/sport, so make sure you register now.
9. The Webcast
I believe the 2015 Pacific Paddle Games produced the best webcast our sport has ever seen, hands down, and it seems most of the fans agree with me on this one.
You can expect the same level (or better) this year, with former pro surfer and Hurley Pro webcast producer Jodie Nelson once again taking the reigns, while in the commentary booth we’ll have the likes of seasoned veterans Beau “Golden Voice” Hodge and Pat Parnell alongside paddling legends Dave Kalama and Chuck Patterson (plus a few special comments thrown in by yours truly).
The live stream will be running on Saturday and Sunday during the main races of the event, so if you can’t get to California, the PPGs webcast will be a pretty entertaining alternative.
I’m also planning to squeeze in a Facebook Live stream on Friday afternoon to bring you a bit of a race-eve preview and behind-the-scenes insights.
10. The Rankings
The SUP Racer World Rankings and Race Index algorithms are extremely complex (there’s a 23,166-cell spreadsheet doing the work behind the scenes), however the underlying principle is pretty simple: The more competitive the race, the more points on offer.
And there’s no race more competitive than the Pacific Paddle Games, which means there will be more points on offer at Doheny than anywhere else. That also means there will be plenty of “snakes & ladders” movement up and down the Top 100/Top 50 leaderboards after the event.
For some context, last year’s PPGs scored 81.0% on the men’s Race Index, and I’m tentatively pegging this year’s event at around 86%, give or take a few last minute additions or withdrawals from the elite crew. The women’s race scored a more modest 63% in 2015, however the 2nd annual addition should be up over 70%.
But not only will a lot of points be added from this year’s event, keep in mind that a lot of points will also be dropped from last year’s Pacific Paddle Games; races are only held within the rankings system for 12 months.
That means athletes who did well at Doheny 12 months ago will have to put in another big effort just to tread water. Though on the flip side, those who had a forgettable debut at the PPGs in 2015 have a great chance to shoot up the rankings. There are only a few international races left in 2016 after the PPGs, and none are anywhere near this level, so Doheny is the last real chance to gain ground before the end of season lockout.
For example: While Connor has a seemingly-insurmountable lead on the men’s Top 100, he’s holding 81.00 points from his victory 12 months ago, which he’ll be dropping and replacing with either his 2016 PPGs result, or, if he finishes outside the top five at Doheny, his current sixth-best result (which is 36.00 points). One thing’s for sure: If Connor finishes anywhere other than first, his overall points tally will drop. If he finishes outside the top five, the door opens for Mo Freitas to take the world number one crown.
We’ll have a full analysis in our “World Rankings Scenarios” post next week
So there you go. That’s just some of what you’ve got to look forward to at the 2016 Pacific Paddle Games at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California from September 30th to Sunday October 2nd.
Stay tuned for plenty more PPGs coverage here on SUP Racer over the next 10 days…