With only nine days left until the highly anticipated Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle California (BOP), a board classification ruling in the 9-mile distance race has a few competitors grumbling. Unlike years past, racers in this year's distance event have the opportunity to compete in a new elite division with additional prize money, but not all of the athletes competing are stoked on the new class, including some of the elite.
Since the second Battle of the Paddle California in 2010, the distance race has included men's and women's classes with cash prizes for the overall finishers. For the growing number of unlimited-class paddlers at BOP, Day 2 is the day they can shine—the day the powerhouses bring out their 18-foot-plus boards and crank away. And each year—because of the length advantage—it's an unlimited board crossing the line first. But race directors felt as though something was lacking in the distance race: an elite class.
"We've always had an elite class in the surf race," said BOP event director Barrett Tester. "And we wanted to have the same for the distance race, so we created an elite class with 14-foot as the men's division and 12'6 for the women." For the first time, prize money will be awarded to the top three finishers in the elite class and a "premium" cash prize will be awarded to the overall male and female finisher, regardless of board class. "We're anticipating the overall finisher will be an unlimited paddler, so they can still be awarded the premium," Tester said.
Although unlimited paddlers have the opportunity to be awarded the premium cash prize, some still aren’t into the decision.
"Race officials are doing the sport a disservice sticking to 12'6 and 14'," said unlimited-class stalwart Thomas Shahinian. "It's a step backward for BOP, and designating two elite classes with only a foot and a half difference between the two is disappointing," he added. "If traveling with big boards is the problem, race directors should coordinate and provide athletes with the option to ship boards in a container," said Shahininan.
Unlimited contender Rob Rojas shared similar sentiments. "I always hear the same logic stating it's easier and more economic for the manufacturers to have races be 14' and 12'6. I just hope this industry doesn't get too shortsighted by eliminating the unlimited class," Rojas wrote on his Facebook page. "How come surfskis and OC-1's are not 14 feet? How come prone racers travel all over the world to race unlimited prone? Why is it just an SUP thing where the unlimited class appears to be the bastard child of the sport? I'm not buying it," Rojas said.
The Battle of the Paddle isn't the only event that puts the spotlight on smaller boards. The Standup World Series uses a single board class system, with 12'6 as the qualifying length as to "create a uniform one board event and allow athletes to travel with their boards rather than face insurmountable shipping charges and hassle to travel to events."
But the hassle involved in traveling with larger boards is just another small factor in the decision to downsize. "I don't see the distance race as an unlimited race," said Tester. "Unlimited has a place, but BOP's distance race is only 9 miles—races that are over 15 miles are true unlimited races," Tester explained.
Despite the explanation behind the choice for the distance race's elite class, many feel the Battle ruling will open the door to eliminating the unlimited class in other races as well. "The Battle of the Paddle is the leader and the biggest race of the year," said Shahinian. "They're setting the precedent and everyone else will follow." — SC