The International Canoe Federation (ICF) recently confirmed a monster purse of 36,000 euros (about $40,000 USD or $60,000 AUD) for its inaugural SUP World Championships to be held in China from October 24-27.
The governing body for canoe & kayak has become increasingly active in its quest to promote SUP as a potential Olympic sport, which includes an ongoing legal battle with the International Surfing Association (ISA), however this is the first time we get to see what they produce on the water.
The championships will be hosted in China’s eastern port city of Qingdao, which was home to the sailing regatta at the 2008 Olympic Games and still proudly displays a giant set of Olympic Rings at the harbour. Three main events – sprints, course and marathon – will take place at the inner-city swimming beach just metres from the monolithic skyline in this city of six million.
And the event is open to anyone without any need to qualify.
The 36,000 euro purse is gender-equal and will be split fairly evenly between the three events: The sprints, which will be a 200-250 metre straight-line showdown with a water start and beach finish, are offering 10,000 euros (just over $11k USD), while the 2.5km course race is pegged at €12,000 ($13,500) and the headline event, the 18km marathon, offers €14,000 or about $15,500.
(If you hadn’t guessed it by now, the ICF is based in Europe.)
The breakdown hasn’t been announced but it’s safe to say many top athletes will be lured by the chance to earn some serious coin.
Another lure of the ICF World Championships is how much shorter it’ll be compared to the notoriously-long ISA Worlds. The racing in Qingdao will be wrapped up in the space of about 48 hours starting on October 25th and finishing on the 27th.
Paddlers can even be part of an all-expenses-paid “development camp” in the week prior.
There will also be a shorter open race for beginners and an inflatable event in a quest to make this more than an elite-only affair. The city lies on the Yellow Sea and its beaches face the open ocean, but while it won’t be a pure flat water event we shouldn’t expect any waves either.
The ICF is clearly aware of issues that plagued the ISA’s 2018 event in Hainan, China where board transport became a logistical nightmare for athletes.
To avoid playing “check-in roulette” at the airport, paddlers can leave their 14 footer at the SUP World Cup in Germany in early September (an event now strongly affiliated with the ICF) from where it will be shipped direct to Qingdao and back for a fairly reasonable fee of 350 euros. There may be another container departing from the U.S. depending on demand.
There’s also a full-production live stream in the works that will be shared worldwide beyond China’s famously-restrictive internet where Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are all blocked.
If you’ve ever watched an ICF world cup regatta at one of the famous canoe/kayak venues such as Poznan or Duisburg you’ll know these guys are meticulous in terms of organisation. And while China throws up plenty of wildcards compared to Europe it’s probably a safe bet to say Qingdao will be well-run behind the scenes.
But what happens on the water is a whole ‘nother question…
The ICF has never run a major SUP event. They have employed former Olympian Rami Zur who was part of the original SoCal SUP racing scene a decade ago, which is certainly a positive step — I believe Rami will be in charge of the course layout and general format of the event (which the ICF has stressed isn’t going to be held in canoe/kayak lanes). But there are still a lot of questions.
The big question is which athletes will actually be competing in Qingdao.
I haven’t surveyed all the top paddlers but I do know most of Starboard’s dream team will likely compete, which would produce an instantly-competitive field, but there will need to be 10-15 marquee names for it to be a success in my opinion.
Though I think an equally-important question is how many amateurs the ICF can entice from the growing domestic scene and around the world. If the open race sees a big turnout and there’s at least a dozen famous faces in the pro event (and if their boards show up on time), it’ll be hard not to judge the inaugural ICF Worlds a success.
Considering there’s no ISA Worlds this year (that’s not official, but let’s face it: it ain’t happening), the Pacific Paddle Games has been cancelled and the APP’s elite-only money tour is still fighting for momentum, the ICF has a golden opportunity to establish one of the top pro events on the calendar.
But on the flip side: If hardly anybody shows up in Qingdao, its SUP ambitions will be very hard to justify.
The canoe federation was very smart to partner with the SUP World Cup in Scharbeutz, Germany, one of the best-organised, best-attended and most-respected SUP races in the world. That association alone will give Qingdao a boost. Winners in Scharbeutz will also receive a $1000 travel bonus to help them get to Qingdao.
(Germany is definitely ground zero for the ICF: They invited SUP athletes to their glamorous sprints event in Berlin last week and received positive reviews.)
Ironically, one of the biggest challenges the ICF needs to overcome isn’t just establishing itself as a legitimate part of the SUP community (where it’s still considered a bit alien) but also overcoming the negative opinions of many top athletes after the ISA Worlds in China last year. Several paddlers summed up that event by saying “never again China” after the aforementioned board issues, questionable course choices and other logistical headaches.
I chatted with the ICF last week and they stressed they’re more focused on running a world-class event than playing politics, but it’s hard not to look at this without considering the whole ‘paddleboarding in the Olympics’ saga.
In case you’ve been asleep, the canoeing and surfing federations are locked in a legal tug-of-war over who gets the International Olympic Committee’s blessing to promote SUP as a potential Olympic sport (the “selfish parents debate” as I called it).
The case is still being heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and will likely drag on through til October at least, so it’s unlikely we’ll have any answers before Qingdao. And that’s probably for the best, because thanks to the ridiculous legal challenge in Portugal last year, where the national surfing federation (backed by the ISA) essentially cock-blocked the ICF from hosting its planned SUP World Championships, the canoe federation hasn’t had an opportunity to showcase what it can do for the sport stand up paddling.
And while some paddlers remain skeptical that it’s all just a political power-move, having two federations fighting over the sport – including one that’s willing to put up $40,000 at a world-class event – is definitely better than having none.
edit: the promo video that was previously embedded has been removed from YouTube