Why the Midwest Matters

Coverage and photos from this weekend’s Lake Geneva Midwest SUP Masters, the fourth of six WPA-sanctioned races that showcase the standup paddling potential of the Dairyland.

Taking an early lead on Saturday in the fierce competition at Lake Geneva’s 2011 Midwest SUP Masters, Chicago’s Matt Lennert finished atop the pack of racers. The fourth SUP race in a point-series of six, this second-year event sponsored by Clear Water Outdoors drew Wisconsin talent as well a few point-hungry paddlers from out of state. The top winner of the WPA-sanctioned series will earn a spot at the Hennessey’s SUP World Championships this fall in San Diego.

The event had two open races consisting of a 6-mile course and a 3-mile course. Both courses had two classes, one of which was a 12’6 division. In addition to the 12’6 class, there was also a 14′ division for the long course and a 12’2 division for the short course. Competitors of both courses experienced tough conditions, as heavy boat traffic and consistent winds caused rough waters on this scenic lake an hour southwest of Milwaukee.

“This was only my second SUP race ever,” Lennert said. “Last week in Madison, I was up against Chuck Patterson and Jimmy Terrell. So this week it was an even playing field for me.”

With events in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, the Midwest Stand Up Paddleboard Champion series is putting flatwater paddling destinations on the map. Two race weekends in a row brought fans and top athletes through the Dairyland to celebrate the growing popularity of inland coast SUP. Rob Patton, a Great Lakes standup surfer, came out from New Era, Michigan.

“This is the first year that we’ve had an organized race series in the Midwest,” Patton said. “There’s a lot of interest from the general public, and curiosity. I’m seeing the demo events after the races will be really well attended all day long. I think that’s the biggest indicator of the potential.”

SUP is growing throughout the Midwest in a big way. With literally thousands of lakes and an established tradition of paddling, here the sport has a vast untapped pool of likely converts.

“There’s a lot more water to paddle here than there is along the coasts,” said Tahoe SUP sales manager Ernie Brassard. “Eighty percent of the growth in this sport is on flatwater in the non-surfing world.”

With race events held in hot spots like Madison and Lake Geneva, Brassard said enthusiasm for the sport can only build.

“The series gives a venue for people to come down, have fun and meet like-minded people,” Brassard added. “And as the sport grows, that helps drive business to the retailers. As the races grow here they become more meaningful. We’ll start drawing athletes from all over the world.”

In second place behind Lennert and first in the Elite 12’6” division was Michael “Westy” Westenberger, a sponsored SUP racer from Key West, Fla. He and teammates Kim and Darien “Rowdy” Hildreth paddle for YOLO Board.

“We’ve done two races in the series so far and next week we’ll go to Holland (Michigan),” Westenberger said. “The scene here is really cool.”
Originally from Green Bay, Wis., Westenberger believes the Midwest is a growing center for SUP— one that will generate athletes and give other regions of the country a run for their money.

“The paddlers here are this close,” he said, measuring an inch with his thumb and index finger. “As long as they keep their training going through the winter—if they can maintain that, and get going hard as soon as the ice is off in the spring, it’s just a matter of time.”

The World Paddle Association is pushing hard to grow the sport. Spokeswoman Jennifer Holcomb said the Great Lakes region represents a “whole new frontier for SUP.

“The Midwest’s embrace of SUP illustrates how diverse the sport really is,” Holcomb added, “and the limitlessness of its potential.” — James Mills

The two final races of the series will be held in Holland, Mich., and Duluth, Minn. For more information and full results, please visit Clearwateroutdoor.com

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