It's that time of year again. In a couple weeks, standup paddlers from around the world will congregate on the shores of Dana Point, Calif. for the 4th Annual Rainbow Sandals' Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle (BOP). After three successful years and a swiftly growing competitive field, event directors and lifeguards have made some major changes to this year's Elite Surf Race.

For the past three years, elite competitors have raced a W-shaped course in a single heat.  With last year's elite competitive field pushing 160 racers, Event Director Barrett Tester says changes to the course and race format were imperative. "We had too many people on the water at once so we've created heats and finals for this year's Elite race," he said.

Elite standup paddlers competing in this year's BOP can look forward to two qualifying heats on Saturday morning where the top 50% of racers in each heat will advance to the finals. Each qualifying heat will advance a maximum of 25 men and 10 women to the finals. The qualifying heats will have a beach start like previous years and will consist of two 1-mile laps around a new buoy course and an exchange area that competitors must run through to get to the finish line. The buoy course will take racers through the surf multiple times, challenging their surfing and athletic skills.

The finals will take place in the afternoon, testing the best of the best. Finalists will compete in three 1-mile laps around the designated buoy course and exchange area for the champion title.

"We already have 200 entries for the weekend's events and are expecting about 700 competitors over the two days" Tester said. "We'll have paddlers here from all over the globe, including Europe, the Pacific Rim, South America and Canada" he added. Other events taking place over the weekend include the Open Age Group Race, the SUP Relay Race, the Kids' SUP Race, and the Long Distance Race. There will also be close to 70 exhibitors with the latest SUP products and apparel for spectators and athletes to check out. This year's beer garden will be on the sand with beer provided by Kona Brewing Co. and live entertainment will be provided by Hitia O Te Ra, the Duo Tones, Matt Akiona "Tropical Blue" and more.  – Shari Coble