UPDATE: This is an older story; follow our latest coronavirus coverage @ “Stand up paddleboarding race cancellations from coronavirus – week 2“
THIS IS A FAST-MOVING STORY, CHECK BACK REGULARLY TO SEE WHICH EVENTS HAVE BEEN POSTPONED/CANCELLED – JUMP STRAIGHT TO UPDATES
original article, 13 March:
Welcome to the zombie apocalypse, people! …or is it all just a major over-reaction?
It seems the sporting world has been turned upside down in the past 24 hours. The NBA season has been put on hold, March Madness is cancelled and soccer in Europe (sorry, “football”) is being played in empty stadiums — Aussie Rules is planning on doing the same. The billion-dollar Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne was binned the day it was set to begin, and the World Surf League (now led by stand up paddler-turned-WSL CEO Erik Logan) canned the “Corona Gold Coast Open” (yes, it was really going to be sponsored by Corona beer), which would have been the awkwardly-named first stop of the 2020 pro surfing world tour.
Oh and there’s increasing speculation that the Tokyo Olympics – where surfing will make its debut on the big stage – are at risk despite Japan insisting “It’s all good!”
While much of the hysteria surrounding the coronavirus (or “Covid-19” if we’re being accurate) is just that, hysteria (my home nation of Australia lost its mind and went on a toilet-paper-buying frenzy that made for some great memes), this is probably the largest collective health crisis facing the world in modern times. And it’s also much better to be safe than sorry. So after most nations fumbled their initial responses to this emergency, governments everywhere seem to be saying “better late than never” and going batshit crazy trying to shut everything down to slow the virus’ spread (and show the electorate they’ve got at least some kind of control over things).
California has temporarily banned gatherings of 250 or more people, Australia got rid of anything over 500, while hard-hit France originally started at 5,000 before quickly lowering that number to 1,000 (update: it’s now down to 100). The paddle-rich Czech Republic raised the stakes on everyone by saying 100-plus is the new limit (update: The Czechs have closed their borders). Italy is on total lockdown, so basically gatherings of 0 or more are banned, not to mention China where it all began and which has cancelled virtually all sporting events.
And it’s not just event cancellations. With travel restrictions, changes to visa rules and flight cancellations becoming the new norm, just getting to an international event is suddenly proving difficult.
Until today, I thought SUP would fly under the coronavirus radar because we’re a tiny little fish in the greater sporting ocean, but even a pursuit as harmless as paddling (and, ironically, being out on the open ocean is probably the healthiest place to be right now) has been affected. So here’s a quick rundown of how the novel coronavirus is impacting stand up paddle events, athletes and industry around the world.
NOTE: It’s important to keep some perspective. The mortality rate of Covid-19 is very low and is almost zero among the young and the healthy, and all of these restrictions being imposed on sporting events and travel are only temporary. One could argue this whole saga is a massive over-reaction. But again, better to be safe than sorry… Fingers crossed that things return to normal before the international SUP racing season really fires up in May and June. Oh and be sure to stick around ’til the end of this article because I’m going to show you why there are many reasons to stay positive in this whole saga.
The Carolina Cup is still tentatively scheduled to go ahead, but that now seems increasingly unlikely after the North Carolina Governor changed the state’s “advisory” to a “mandatory” decree against public gatherings of 100 or more people. The ban comes in effect immediately and will last at least 30 days, through til 13 April. The Carolina Cup is scheduled to begin on 22 April. I’ll update if we hear news from the event organisers, but personally I would be very surprised if the event goes ahead next month.
EUROPE: Spain has moved toward a near-total lockdown of the country, similar to Italy, while France is considering the same. Borders are closing across Europe. It’s safe to say that no races will be happening any time in the next 30 days, which puts the beginning of the EuroTour at serious risk (the first event is 18 April in Denmark followed by 3 May in France).
Australia joined New Zealand in requiring all arriving travellers to self-quarantine for two weeks, which will limit the travel options of Australian paddlers. Fortunately, no major SUP races are planned until the second half of the year but that will impact the country’s international paddle athletes (if they even have an event to travel to, that is).
And finally, if you’re looking for a comparable sport to see how those governing bodies are handling it (unfortunately SUP doesn’t really have a governing body, as has become increasingly clear this week), the International Triathlon Union (ITU) just announced the suspension of all events (worldwide) through the end of April. So it’s not just indoor sports like NBA or major gatherings such as soccer that are being put on hold, it’s also our fellow ocean sports that are quickly moving to cancel events. This adds to the World Surf League’s decision to cancel all of its contests in March including the world tour season-opener in Australia.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATES: New Zealand is now requiring all arriving travellers to self-quarantine for two weeks (two big races scheduled in April may be impacted), France (La Kelt Ocean Race in April cancelled)
SATURDAY MORNING UPDATES: Tahiti (Air France postponed), Brazil (Aloha Spirit postponed), Denmark (first EuroTour stop in doubt), Israel (domestic league put on hold)
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATES: USA (Carolina Cup still tentatively scheduled), Canada (Yukon still has green light), Spain (more restrictions coming), Portugal, France, Japan, China, Czech Republic, Thailand
FRIDAY MORNING UPDATES: California cancels two races, Spain puts five events on hold, French events in April and early May looking unlikely, China and Japan cancel virtually everything
FULL UPDATES, NATION BY NATION:
– El Salvador
– New Zealand
– USA (California)
– USA (North Carolina)
— Czech Republic
AUSTRALIA: While last weekend’s 12 Towers fortunately took place before the shit really hit the fan in this country, there were some international athletes who couldn’t make the event due to virus-related flight cancelations. There are no major SUP events planned in Oz until later in the year, however the cancellation of the WSL event here on the Gold Coast later this month isn’t a great sign.
AUSTRALIA UPDATE: The Australian government announced Sunday that all arriving travellers, Australian citizens included, will require two-weeks self-quarantine. This is the same action imposed by New Zealand yesterday. While there are no major events in Australia until the second half of the season, this will impact Australian paddlers who were looking to compete in the early-season international events (though most of those have been cancelled anyway).
BRAZIL: Probably the biggest event to be hit so far is the Aloha Spirit Festival in Brazil. This is one of the largest paddling events in the world, with close to 1,000 stand up, outrigger, surfski and prone paddlers (plus ocean swimmers) set to descend on the island of Ilhabela near the major city of Sao Paulo in the country’s south on the weekend of 20-22 March. As late as Friday morning, the organiser still had the green light from authorities and wasn’t planning on canceling, but the official update came through Friday evening that the event had been forced to postpone under the direction of health authorities. Organisers are searching for alternative dates later in the season. The Aloha Spirit Festival is the “major” race of South America. It has three more stops planned in June, September and November that are so far unaffected.
CANADA: Organisers of the Yukon River Quest have said there are no plans to cancel, postpone or modify the event in any way, but that they’ll continue monitoring the situation. This makes sense because I can’t think of anywhere on earth I’d feel safer in a zombie apocalypse than the Canadian wilderness. So (un)fortunately for the 125 teams entered in this year’s 715km odyssey, myself included, the preparations will continue 😉
CHINA: Ground zero for the coronavirus has cancelled all upcoming SUP races. No surprises there. I actually had a trip to Shanghai booked for a race in early April as did several international athletes and hundreds of local paddlers, but that’s unfortunately not happening. The Paddle League was also on the eve of announcing the new “China Paddle League” in late January when this whole virus thing blew up. The aim of the China Paddle League is to help promote the existing domestic league in China, which has been put on hold for obvious reasons. Hopefully some events in the second half of the season will still go ahead and we can support the sport in this emerging paddling nation.
CHINA UPDATE: I spoke with my SUP friends in China and they confirmed the April event had definitely been postponed but may be able to run as early as June. The second stop of the domestic league in May is yet to officially be postponed but is looking unlikely. My contacts seemed positive that events would run in the second half of the year. For now, all sporting events in China are still banned. One of the bigger issues though, at least for international paddlers, is how soon any travel restrictions on China would be lifted after the government eventually does allow events to resume.
EL SALVADOR (ISA WORLDS): Speaking of the ISA, the World Surfing Games in El Salvador are in jeopardy after that country closed its borders to all non-diplomatic foreigners for the next three weeks. The surfing event, which doesn’t include SUP, is still planned to go ahead in May but is now at obvious risk of cancelation (the situation will be “reassessed” on 31 March). This is the same location as the 2019 ISA SUP World Champs, and rumour has it the ISA was planning to return to El Salvador in November 2020 for this year’s SUP Worlds. So, interestingly, from having to choose between two different world championships last year, SUP athletes may have none to choose from in 2020. I’ve reached out to the ISA executive and will let you know if they do respond.
HUNGARY (ICF WORLDS): The International Canoe Federation (ICF) cancelled its planned SUP World Championships in Hungary and pushed the event back to 2021. The uncertainty surrounding the ongoing legal dispute with the ISA at the Court of Arbitration for Sport was the main reason (the Court still hasn’t given an update after last October’s hearing) but the impact of the virus was cited as another significant factor. Hungary has since banned outdoor gatherings of 500 or more people. The ICF has also cancelled the Asian Championships (which didn’t involve SUP) that were set to be held in Thailand.
ISRAEL: The domestic race series in Israel has been put on hold due to government restrictions on sporting events and gatherings, this comes straight from local SUP guru and series founder Ran Gaash.
JAPAN: The “Land of the Rising Sun” has been one of the hardest-hit by the virus, and the issue is massively compounded by the upcoming Tokyo Olympics that the country is utterly desperate to avoid being forced to cancel. The country has come to a virtual standstill as the government tries to wrestle the spread of the virus under control with most sporting events and schools being closed. There is usually a SUP race somewhere in Japan every weekend from March to October and virtually all of the upcoming events have been cancelled. But I got an update from Japan’s #1 athlete Kenny Kaneko who provided the following note of optimism:
“Most big races with any backing from local governments or sponsors have been cancelled, though a few small local races are still running. But because schools are closed, many kids are hanging out at the beach getting fresh air and we’re trying to capitalise on this by holding free paddling sessions in my local area. Hopefully we can come out the other side of this whole saga with more stoked junior paddlers on the water.”
NEW ZEALAND: The New Zealand government announced on Saturday that all arrivals from overseas would require 14-day self-quarantine. The decree is only in effect for the next 16 days, but if it’s extended it will impact the two international SUP events set for April including the national long distance titles on 18 April in Auckland that several internationals were considering flying over for.
TAHITI: The Air France Paddle Festival, originally set for the first weekend of April, is at serious risk of being postponed until later in the year. You’d think an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would be the safest place in a time like this, but Tahiti is technically part of France and France is on batshit-crazy-high alert. The event organiser expects a final answer from the local government this weekend. I’ll update you when I hear more.
TAHITI UPDATE: The Air France Paddle Festival in French Polynesia has officially been postponed. It’s “postponed,” not “cancelled” — the organisers are looking for alternative dates in the second half of the year. I’ll update you when we hear more.
THAILAND: This country is a major part of the sport whether you know it or not. Thailand is home to SUP’s largest board manufacturing facility (Cobra), where many brands make their 14ft race boards, while it’s also increasingly a destination for SUP events and holidays. The country has been massively impacted by the coronavirus after tourist numbers dropped dramatically, and now the first SUP event has been postponed with the upcoming Thailand SUP Festival announcing it will look for new dates.
UNITED STATES (CALIFORNIA): The Santa Cruz Paddlefest (28 March) has been cancelled and Adler Paddler (15 March) in Long Beach has been postponed due to health concerns about the virus and government advisories restricting public gatherings.
UNITED STATES (NORTH CAROLINA – CAROLINA CUP): Yesterday, the state’s governor released a statement “advising against” gatherings of more than 100 people, which would easily include the 10th Annual Carolina Cup that usually sees around 500 people descend on sleepy little Wrightsville Beach (22-26 April). For now it’s just an advisory, however the Governor left open the possibility of enforcing event cancelations if the public doesn’t follow the guidance. I’ve reached out to Carolina Cup organisers and will update when I hear back. This week’s United States-European travel ban (the U.S. basically cut-off the entire continent for 30 days) could also disrupt international participation even if the event does go ahead.
CAROLINA UPDATE #1: The Carolina Cup is still planned for 22-26 April as scheduled. I just heard back from the event organiser who said “We are still a go. Monitoring what health officials are recommending but seems like we may be fine as we are still about 45 days out.”
CAROLINA UPDATE #2: North Carolina has changed it’s “advisory” to a “mandatory” decree against gatherings of 100 people or more for the next 30 days. The ban will remain in effect until 13 April but may be extended. The Carolina Cup is 22-26 April. No update yet from Cup organisers, but my guess is the event will have to be postponed.
EUROPE: With Europe being the new hotspot for the coronavirus, the entire “European Summer of SUP” – the traditional gathering from May to July that includes the EuroTour and dozens of other SUP races around the continent – could potentially take a big hit. No EuroTour-sanctioned events have been cancelled yet, but all that’s certain right now is that nothing is certain. There’s also the minor detail of the United States banning European travel for the next month and many other countries advising against it. If that gets extended it’ll quickly complicate things. I messaged EuroTour manager Belar Diaz and he sounded optimistic the restrictions would be lifted by April/May when the Tour kicks off. This article in The Guardian contains a comprehensive guide on the restrictions currently in place around Europe (again, these are only temporary restrictions that will hopefully be lifted by summer).
EUROPE UPDATE #1: Several events in Spain have been cancelled. Early-season events in Denmark (18 April) and France (18 April and 2 May) looking increasingly unlikely.
EUROPE UPDATE #2: Spain now on a near-total lockdown. No events will take place in the next 30 days, while the big SUP races in May and June will be nervously awaiting updates from the government.
CZECH REPUBLIC: The country with a storied paddling history that’s fast emerging as a SUP hotspot has taken the drastic measure of banning all public gatherings of 100 or more people, which would impact virtually any SUP race in the country. Fortunately, the country’s biggest and most-famous canoe races (most of which have recently adopted SUP) don’t occur until after the summer, and there’s reason to believe the situation will calm down by then. I’m still planning to attend the race in September that features 2,500 canoe paddlers in Prague as well as the beloved Krumlovsky river marathon that features well over 1,000 paddlers in October.
CZECH UPDATE: The country is reportedly taking the extreme step of temporarily closing its borders…
DENMARK: The land of the Vikings is set to host the first EuroTour race of the season but that looks increasingly unlikely. The Danish government effectively shut its borders to foreigners effective 14 March to 13 April. The race is on 18 April. I’m in contact with the event organiser who, coincidentally, is a medical professional in his day job, and while the event hasn’t been postponed yet, things are sounding ominous.
FRANCE: Neighbouring France is stepping on eggshells at the moment, with hundreds of sporting events already cancelled and the President closing all schools in what he called the biggest health crisis in a century. I haven’t heard of any SUP events being cancelled just yet and most events would safely fall under the 1,000-person limit on public gatherings. France is home to the world’s two largest SUP races, the Paris Crossing and GlaGla, but the former isn’t until December and the latter happened just six weeks ago, so both are fairly safe for now. However the Alpine Lakes Tour, home of the famous GlaGla Race, will “most likely” have to postpone its upcoming regional event in mid-April according to organiser Benoit Mouren (that event is located close to the Italian border). I also spoke with Martin Letourneur, organiser of the Azur Paddle Days in Nice – one of the brightest new events to emerge in Europe over the past two seasons – and he told me they were still preparing to hold the event on the first weekend of May but would be forced to some make changes to the schedule at the very least. We nervously joked that his event better not get too successful or it’ll cross the threshold and face the axe.
FRANCE UPDATE #1: The French government announced on Friday afternoon they are reducing the cancellation-threshold to gatherings of 100 people or more with immediate effect. If this limit holds as we get closer to summer, dozens of races in Europe’s strongest SUP nation are at risk of being postponed.
FRANCE UPDATE #2: “La Kelt” ocean race scheduled for 11 April in Finistère has been cancelled. The race was set to attract many paddlers from France’s Atlantic coast as well as the nearby Jersey island crew. No indication yet on whether an alternative date is being sought.
GERMANY: Germany, one of the largest paddling nations in Europe and home to several big events including the SUP World Cup in Scharbeutz at the end of June, has reported more than 3,000 cases of the novel coronavirus as of 13 March. Currently there are 7 out of 16 states with bans on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. I’ve reached out to organisers of the SUP World Cup and will update when I hear back, but under current restrictions the race would probably be OK but the event would have to seriously limit spectators (this is one of the most-watched events in the world).
ITALY: Our thoughts definitely go out to the paddlers in Italy who are dealing with the largest peacetime restriction of movement in the history of the Western World. All travel and any public gathering is essentially banned in a country of 60 million people. Italian number one Caterina Stenta posted earlier today about having to get a permit just to go outside and train and that the only people she’s had any contact with this week are her parents. I don’t know of any big SUP events planned in Italy until late in the summer, so the impact on events has been minimal so far. But hopefully the restrictions on people are lifted as soon as is safely possible.
PORTUGAL: The Nika brothers, Leo and Claudio, announced their surf camp set for later this month in Peniche has been cancelled. Dates for April, May and June are still set to tentatively go ahead.
SPAIN: Spain is home to many of Europe’s biggest SUP races in the northern summer. None have been cancelled yet, but the government has restricted gatherings of 1,000 or more people in Madrid and parts of the Basque Country — the latter of which is home to the major SUP race in Bilbao. Right now all SUP events in Spain would safely fall under the 1,000-person limit so long as spectators are advised to stay away. But that limit is very likely to drop…
SPAIN UPDATE #1: Thanks to Nico of the Spanish-language Up Suping news site we can confirm that five events have already been postponed in Spain: The beach race in Post El Postiguet, Alicante; the race on Iznajar Lake in Andalusia; the SPS Sella River event in the Asturias as well as events in Cubillas (Granada) and Cullera (Valencia)
SPAIN UPDATE #2: Things escalated rapidly on Friday afternoon with the government in Europe’s second-worst-hit country declaring a national state of emergency. It’s safe to say no races will be happening in Spain anytime soon, though fortunately this action is only being imposed for the next two weeks. Most of Spain’s big SUP events take place in May and June. But still, we feel for our fellow paddlers in Spain who will be experiencing draconian restrictions on their personal and professional lives.
SPAIN UPDATE #3: Spain is now on near-total lockdown. No sporting events will take place in the next 30 days. No update on the major races in Spain set for May and June, such as the World SUP Festival in Santa Pola and the Bilbao World SUP Challenge in the Basque Country, both EuroTour events, but those races must now be at least considering a Plan B.
INDUSTRY: Virtually all trade shows in the United States have been cancelled, including this week’s Canoetopia in Wisconsin which would have featured a handful of SUP brands. Dozens of brands have also seen supply-chain and manufacturing disruptions after factories in China and elsewhere in Asia shut down for several weeks in January and February. I spoke with a few board- and paddle-brand managers who said they’ve either been told to expect months-long delivery delays or have been unable to get any product shipped at all.
So, that’s how the novel coronavirus has impacted the world of SUP so far. And while our fingers are crossed that it doesn’t escalate, this is probably only the beginning. It’s almost certainly going to get worse in the coming days. BUT there are actually a few positives we can take out of all this…
Firstly, what better place to get some fresh, clean air than out in the ocean or on a wide-open lake? Turn off the dramatic cable TV news, forget the sweaty gym and escape the crowded city — go grab a paddle and get on the water. Just don’t invite too many friends lol 😅
This whole saga might just remind us that organised competition is secondary and that paddling for the sake of simply paddling is actually the reason most of us started paddling in the first place — as Kenny Kaneko pointed out on Instagram today.
Secondly: Flights are cheap. Really, really cheap. So if you are legally (and financially) able to travel, and if you don’t mind a bit of risk in your life, it’s probably a good time to take that paddling holiday to an uncrowded island destination (and most islands are very uncrowded right now). Flights haven’t been this cheap in over a decade (…just please keep up to date with your country’s latest travel restrictions and advisories — they’re escalating every day hour). Ok, this shit is really hitting the fan. Don’t travel.
Finally, if international events continue to be cancelled and travel is too much of a risk, this whole saga might actually push more paddlers to support their smaller, local club races, which would help bolster the grassroots foundation of our sport. Who knows, maybe taking a season off from the international scene will help SUP hit the reset button and flourish in the future.
Or maybe we’ll all just be downwinding along the Gorge in August wearing gas masks, giving each other “elbow bumps” and scrubbing our paddles with hand sanitizer. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you posted as more news inevitably comes through in the coming days.
UPDATE: Please help out the community and leave a comment on the original Facebook thread if you know of any other SUP events that have been impacted, postponed or cancelled.