Big Changes at the Upcoming BOP
The annual Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle (BOP) returns to Southern California this weekend, October 4 and 5. As one of the most highly anticipated SUP events of the year, the BOP will showcase the best standup paddlers from around the globe—but not without some major changes.
The most significant change we'll see at this year's BOP is a completely new location. Earlier this year, Rainbow Sandals and event directors announced that after six successful years at Doheny State Beach, BOP will have a new home less than five miles up Pacific Coast Highway at Salt Creek Beach Park.
"Doheny has been a great location for BOP," says Event Director Barrett Tester. "It's an awesome beach with a reef break that's ideal for standup paddlers. But this year, we've upped the game to a world-class surf break. The waves at Salt Creek have a beautiful face, and are a bit steeper than Doheny, so competitors will be challenged."
Typically, the Dana Point beach break offers a spacious beach, which event directors planned to utilize, but after the recent Hurricane Marie brought significant swell to Southern California, the volume of sand decreased greatly, leaving a less than ideal amount of beach space for spectators or an expo. However, BOP organizers will take advantage of Salt Creek's sprawling lawn, located steps from the sand.
"The beach has changed drastically," says Tester. "It pretty much disappeared after Big Wednesday, but as of now, no changes have been made to the race courses. We considered moving the water entry and exit points, but it didn’t make sense."
Speaking of racing, there are changes to this year's race format too. This year, Elite women will not compete in any qualifying heats and will compete only in the Elite Race Final. Elite men will compete in one of two qualifying heats, depending on their 2013 result, with only 50 percent of each qualifying field advancing to the Elite Race Final.
"This new format relieves the high numbers of competitors we've had in qualifying heats in years past," Tester says. "Last year we had around 100 competitors per heat, and this year, we'll only see 50 to 60 men in each qualifying heat. We didn't want men crashing into women in the qualifying rounds. The success of the event is bringing them together in the Final."
Elite paddlers aren't the only ones facing changes, as groms will be divided in the kids racing with three separate age divisions, including ages 8 and under, ages 9 to 11, and 12 and under. Due to the growing popularity in kids racing smaller custom SUP's, BOP will also introduce two board classes (11" and under, and 12'6 and under) for each race.
"We've been consulting with Candice [Appleby] and believe it makes sense to standardize the kids racing," says Tester. "We're expecting lots of racers to bring their own 11-footers, but there are also going to be a lot of kids grabbing their parents' 12'6 boards too."
Because Salt Creek is known to provide pounding shore break, PFD's and leashes will be required for all kids, as well as in Sunday's Long Distance Race. Helmets and some PFD's will be provided at the event, and kids races are subject to cancellation in the event that sizable swell does hit Salt Creek.
"We're in a gray area in terms of making set decisions for safety gear, but the California Boating and Waterways Commission will be on-site with 250 PFD's and we're suggesting competitors to use helmets as a precaution," says Tester. "We'll let the conditions dictate the race and allow the lifeguards to keep everyone safe. We are being very mindful to the surf conditions."
Sunday’s Long Distance Race will also see some tweaks: instead of only completing a single turn, competitors will race three laps between Salt Creek and San Juan Rocks Pier, with multiple buoy turns in each lap. Distance competitors will race a total of 9.4 miles.
With the new BOP location and race changes comes the addition of a traditional prone paddleboard race with cash prizes. "Gerry [Lopez], Ron [House], and all of us involved in BOP have talked about adding prone for years," Tester says. "It’s good year to introduce it to not only supplement event participation, but because prone is part of SUP culture. The addition seems natural."
The prone race will be set on a course similar to that of the SUP Elite Final Race, as event organizers envision a similar elite prone race in the future. Prone competitors will race 12′ stock boards and compete for four laps on an offshore circuit that will include an exchange area and beach run. Competitors racing prone will also be competing for cash prizes.
The seventh edition of BOP is set to be another epic year, with predicted great weather and fun conditions. Make sure to stay tuned to SUPtheMag.com, our Facebook Page, and Instagram, for live coverage of BOP.