The biggest stand up paddle race you’ve (probably) never heard of is happening in Australia tomorrow (Monday, 27 January). The ‘Iron X’ event on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is an invite-only, multi-discipline paddle race featuring the likes of current world number one Michael Booth, 2018 #1 Lincoln Dews, James Casey, Jackson Maynard, Jordan Mercer and several of Australia’s top lifeguarding athletes.
And with a prize purse of $100,000 it’s also one of the richest events in the history of SUP.
Iron X is a combination of traditional surf lifesaving competition — known as “ironman” in Australia but better described as “lifeguard racing” for the rest of the world — along with stand up paddling and crossfit, creating a five-discipline rollercoaster of prone paddleboarding, surfski, swimming, SUP and beach workout.
The one-off event is essentially a trial run to help revive the flagging fortunes of the traditional ironman events in Australia, which have long been one of the country’s most beloved (and, at times, highest-paying) sports but in recent years have struggled to reach the same levels as the 1990s golden days.
While there are only half a dozen athletes that SUP aficionados will recognise — Boothy, Lincoln and Jimmy along with cross-over lifeguard paddlers Jackson Maynard, Jordan Mercer and Ollie Puddick — the event features some of the nation’s top ocean athletes who regularly compete on the prestigious Nutri-Grain Series (the “super bowl” of lifeguard racing).
Iron X, like most of the lifeguard races in Oz, features a Battle of the Paddle-style short course in-and-out through the surf. This combination of so many disciplines — ironman, SUP and crossfit — has never been seen at this level before, and nobody really knows what to expect or who the favourites will be.
Indeed, there’s been controversy before this race even hit the water, with the purists in the Aussie surf lifesaving community viewing the addition of SUP and crossfit as an abomination that has no place within the hundred-year-old traditional trifecta of ironman disciplines (board/ski/swim).
But with so much money on the line plus a live broadcast on nationwide cable TV (Fox Sports), the inaugural Iron X is certain to make an impact.
It’s also an incredible opportunity for the sport of SUP to get mainstream recognition in Australia. Surf lifesaving is far bigger than stand up paddling in our country. For context, the main event of the year, the Aussie Titles, features about 6,000 athletes; the biggest SUP race in Australia gets about 200 paddlers. SUP’s inclusion in Iron X will expose our sport to a massive new audience — whether it has staying power is another question, but it’s definitely an exciting opportunity.
It’s also a very lucrative one for the invited paddlers.
Half of the $100k prize goes straight to the winning man and woman. $25k would be the highest-ever payout in SUP history, though of course there’s an asterisk because this is a multi-discipline event. There’s also the small matter of the Australian dollar being far weaker than the USD, which means $25k is “only” $17K USD — slightly lower than the record $20k that was briefly handed out to the winner of Red Bull Heavy Water in 2017 and 2018.
Either way, it’s a lot of money and there’s a lot of talent on the line, so I’m excited to see how it all plays out.
If you’re in Australia, watch live on Fox Sports on Monday. If not, check back Monday or Tuesday for results and a quick recap here on SUP Racer.