Parksville Bay was pressed into service for yet another sporting event over the weekend, as standup paddle boarders from up and down the Island and the Mainland took to the brine for the fourth and final stop of the SUP Island Series.
It may not exactly be a household name, but this is the fourth year for the series, put on by Comox pro Stuart Robinson and his family who have run the water sports school Compass Adventure in Comox for over 15 years.
It’s the second time Parksville has hosted one of the stops, and the first time its hosted the series final. The final moves around the Island to a different location each year.
Saturday was all about clinics and introducing the fast-growing sport to anyone interested. Robinson, 32, also had the board on hand that he used for his epic channel crossing Sept. 22 that saw him paddle from Departure Bay harbour in Nanaimo to Jericho Beach in Vancouver in seven hours.
“It’s 57-and-a-half kilometres and I was totally alone, unassisted, unaccompanied, no chase boat,” he said, and watching him blow away the field in the Men’s race Sunday you could see how he could do it.
In the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) Island Series, the races and also relay events, were a big hit with those competing and those watching from the waters edge. The races have a Lemans start that has the paddlers race out of the water and up to the sand through a roped off chicane with switch backs, head back to their boards, dive on, push off, stand up, and start paddling towards the course clearly marked with buoys out in deeper water.
Each lap was about 800 meters.
The kids did one lap; the women did two or three laps depending on their classes, and the men’s course was three laps for the surfboard class (12 feet and under) and four laps for the race boards (12’6”), more streamlined, which Robinson won.
“The men’s course is getting up to four kilometres, and that’s sprinting — we’re going full out the whole time,” said Robinson, who is sponsored by Starboard, one of the biggest SUP companies in the world.
Each race on Sunday took about 25 minutes. Under normal conditions Robinson said the racers come in to the beach after each lap, get off their board, run back through the chicane, then head back to the water where a handler has turned their board around, “but because of the tide on Sunday …it was too shallow so we didn’t come in.
“I think we had about 30 out today all told with the kids and all, so that was good for the final, and all in all we had good weather …it was ideal.
“It was great having such a good turnout for the kids,” he said, adding a number of the young ones he coaches up in Comox were on hand, but a few others were new to him, including little spark plug Madison Calder, 9, from Nanoose Bay, who left it all out on the water and finished fourth among the girls and fifth overall out of the field of 9 including boys.
This is her first summer paddle boarding, and Sunday marked her first race.
“It’s tiring,” Maddy puffed after her race. “It’s fun.”
“She did great,” confirmed Robinson, then made the point “there aren’t too many places where you have that kind of talent in the young kids unless you to California or Hawaii. We’ve even taken kids down to California to some of the biggest (SUP) races in the world, and they’ve won their age category — they’ve podiumed, so those kids that you saw out there today, they’ll be the future racers coming up from here for sure.”
Surf SUP great for all ages
At the other end of the age scale and taking the plunge for his first event was rookie Jim MacPherson from QB, who at 62 was the oldest paddler of the day and the winner ofd the ‘White Top’ division. MacPherson only purchased his board the beginning of September, but he said he’s on it all the time — last week he paddled from QB to Parksville Bay.
“I’m just getting into the sport, and loving it — I highly recommend it,” he said.
Also helping out on the weekend was Stuart’s his brother Andrew, mom Sue and dad James.
The Beach Club he pointed out “were great hosts.”
“We just grew up around water sports and I got into paddleboarding a few years ago,” he explained when asked about how the series came to be. “I started racing semi-pro and was racing all over the place and I decided to bring it to the Island.
The SUP Island Series also features long distance courses with less turns — the longest courses in the series are about 10 miles long “and we do it in under two hours.”
As evident by the entries, the series has a strong group of regulars from all over the Island that turn out for the event. On Sunday, they also held relay races with the adults and kids all mixed in together. All told Stuart reckoned he paddled around 32 miles on the weekend.
“It’s lots of fun,” he said, adding “the big thing here is that we want to encourage a strong beach culture at our events, and that has a lot to do with family and friends. We have a real strong group of regulars that come to the events,” he said, “so it turns into a tight group, and also a very welcoming group to new people.”
For more information go to www.surf-sup.ca.