As the sport of paddleboarding has grown and matured in the past decade, we’ve all witnessed the proliferation of events and races, all across the country and across the spectrum of disciplines. It’s an exciting time of expansion and reaching for the limits of paddling competition. And for better or for worse, the news that surfing has been officially confirmed as an olympic sport for the 2020 games in Japan hit the media with a thud this week. So now we have to wonder: Is paddleboard racing next on the IOC’s list of exciting sports to include/devour? It might be.
But today, we’re not looking forward, but rather looking back, at a simpler time. My own introduction to paddleboard competition was about twelve years ago at a little-known race called the Pier 2 Pier, in Santa Cruz California. The “P2P” was—and still is!—essentially just a big group of friends getting together on a summer Saturday morning, and racing from one pier (the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf) to another (the Capitola Pier), a distance of about 4.5 miles. It was at this race, in 2004, that I met my first friends in the paddle community, and logged my first open ocean miles. And I’ve done this race almost every year since.
The P2P paddle board race was the invention of a tight group of S.Cruz paddling hardcores, guys like Phil Curtiss, Dave King and Gunnar Roll. Before Facebook and text messages prevailed as the default communication mechanisms, they alerted friends the old fashioned ways; called them on the phone, chatted them up on the beach or in the line up. And on Saturday morning, a small crowd appeared with boards and smiles. The nature of this race has remained unchanged, has always been low-key and underground; no sponsors, no fees, no waivers, no t-shirt or gift bag, no rules and no established course or buoys. All you have to do is write your name down on a clipboard, get a number sharpied onto your hand, and sprint from one pier to another when the whistle blows. The whistle isn’t even a proper whistle, it’s a fingers-in-the-mouth blast.
Every year the event grows, drawing more stoked racers, but it doesn’t get any more sophisticated. When I arrived at the SC wharf at 7am on Saturday July 23rd, I was pleased to see a large crowd starting to gather. It turned out to be the largest to date. The only modern upgrade to this year’s P2P was a welcome sight… the Jay Moriarity Foundation event tent was up and being manned—no, WOMANned—by Kim Moriarity Wildey herself, and a team of volunteers. They were selling event t-shirts to benefit a local paddler, Aaron McKinnon, and help him get back into the race game. Aaron is a young local paddler and awesome guy, and you can read his story here.
I bought two shirts, tossed them into the car, “registered” on the clipboard and got ready to paddle. A few minutes before 8am, everyone lined up their boards against the south side of the wharf and posed for a photo, which is an annual tradition. Every year it gets harder to fit everybody in. A very wide lens is now necessary.
This year, an ominous fog had settled down onto Pleasure Point by the 8am start time, reducing visibility to about half a mile. The light was silvery and kind of spooky, like being stuck in a high contrast black and white film. But the P2P was going to go, rain or shine, fog or no.
There are two ways to get around Pleasure Point and into Capitola, coming from Santa Cruz. The outside line around the kelp beds is the longer, but safer route. The inside line is shorter, but forces you to contend with potential surf (and surfers) coming around the point, and the possibility of a grueling kelp crawl if you can’t find a clean route. Local knowledge can provide a big advantage in this regard. Once you’ve got Pleasure Point behind you, you’re aiming for the south side of Capitola pier.
This year, I initially headed toward the outside line, following Duke Brouwer of Surftech/SC, figuring he knew the smart line better than me. But he gained on me enough for me to lose sight of him in the fog, and before we hit the point, I changed course and headed inside. That turned out to be ok; I avoided most of the kelp, and getting too inside of the surf line. And I lined up for a few bumps on the outside of the lineup of surfers, improving my time slightly.
When you hit the sand in Capitola, somebody with a stopwatch records your time. (That list of racers/times ends up on Facebook later in the day, and that is the ONLY modern aspect of this race!) There are no trophies, awards or raffles. There are only high fives and bragging rights. Some racers head straight for one of the beachside bars, like Zeldas, for breakfast and bloody marys. Others paddle back to Santa Cruz, since that’s where your car is parked. I usually do both of those things, but this year I skipped breakfast and got right back in the water with a couple of friends, and headed back. We took our time, talked while we paddled and looked for a few bumps to ride on the North side of the SC wharf.
If you’re like me, and you hit a variety of races and events during the year, you get used to pulling out the credit card to register, signing liability waivers and accumulating a pile of new t-shirts (that I never seem to wear…don’t know why). It is very is refreshing to meet up with a bunch of friends for a different kind of race, where the focus is simply on paddling for the fun of it. When all the extraneous elements are removed—registration, timing chips, sponsors promoting their products—you end up with a more pure experience, and more time to just hang out with your paddling friends. More time to make new friends.
And my recommendation to you, especially if you don’t live near Santa Cruz and can’t attend next year’s P2P, is to START AN EVENT LIKE THIS in your own backyard. It is not hard. Whether you paddle on an ocean or a lake, whether you have five paddling partners or five dozen, you can simply pick a date, plan a course, tell your network of paddlers when to show up and GO. Nobody will complain about not getting an award. Everyone will have fun. Everyone will beg you to do it again, year after year. Please do!
Thanks to the Jay Moriarity Foundation for the photos!