The first race of The Paddle League regular season, the Air France Paddle Fest, had just concluded in thrilling fashion.
Under the stress of scorching Tahitian heat, underdog Marcus Hansen tracked down race leader Michael Booth and passed him with only 500 meters to go. It was an improbable comeback considering Booth had dominated the 24-kilometer race and had over a one minute advantage with only a few kilometers remaining.
The victory was Hansen’s first career international win and could not have come under more dramatic circumstances.
Or so we thought.
The Aussie powerhouse was not pleased about the fact that several boats were cruising right alongside the chase pack and believed it was the wake from those boats that allowed Hansen to catch him. More importantly, he believed those wakes allowed Hansen to conserve much needed energy at the end of a race that Connor Baxter didn’t even finish and Fiona Wylde simply described as, “Definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done.”
"It was physically impossible for me to conserve any energy towards the end when others were surfing up to me and then resting,” said Booth. “I was absolutely exhausted and my entire body was cramping, I had nothing left when I crossed that finish line, I was in a world of pain both physically and mentally.”
Normally, this is where it would have ended. Fans would have debated whether Booth’s claim was warranted or not on social media, other athletes would have agreed that too many boats were on the course and The Paddle League would have either acknowledged the excessive boat traffic and vowed to do better or simply allowed the athlete to voice his displeasure and moved on.
Except in the wild and sometimes wacky world of competitive standup paddling, things don’t always go down as you might expect.
Paddle League organizer and SUP Racer founder Chris Parker, who goes by Bossman, vehemently disagreed with Booth’s interpretation of the finish and chose to share his version of the events. Bossman put together a nearly 2,000-word article/defense/rant on SUP Racer and the feud quickly brewed over onto Facebook, where Parker and Booth traded barbs in the comments section on multiple posts from both parties.
Parker’s article goes into great detail about analyzing “56GB of raw drone footage” and that from the aerial view, he could determine the boat wakes were not giving Hansen the big advantage that Booth claimed. Instead, Parker believed the real reason Booth lost is because he essentially ran out of gas in the closing kilometers and that, “[Hansen] paddled like a man possessed to catch up when he sniffed a hint of weakness from the race leader.”
The argument is reasonable and certainly worthy of being debated. However, the article also included a few pointed lines at Booth such as this one: “Because by focusing the attention on himself and playing the victim ("I was robbed"), Boothy's social media saga not only fails to focus on the valid point at the heart of the issue - that we need stricter rules about boats following the race - it also shows a lack of respect to an underdog champion who fought like hell to scrape out his first ever international win.”
For the record, Booth has not made any complaint about Hansen and has repeatedly congratulated him on the victory.
When Booth later posted a link to a more detailed version of his story on Facebook, Parker commented as SUP Racer with a link to his aforementioned article and said, “Boothy I love you mate, and I have a lot of respect for what you do on the water, but I respectfully disagree with you on this one. Here’s my take on it…”
To which Booth responded, “Why are you bullying me?”
Athletes complaining about a result or officiating is nothing new in professional sports, and there are endless examples of how leagues handle such situations. It usually involves saying nothing, clarifying the rule in question and in rare cases, even making an apology.
Parker’s response--and by extension The Paddles League’s?--was certainly unconventional.
Standup paddling has struggled for years to bring professionalism to the pro circuit and The Paddle League was said to be created to fix that exact problem.
No matter what your take is about what happened in Tahiti, when an athlete and a league organizer are bickering back and forth on a public Facebook feed, it appears as though our sport still has a ways to go.