Stand Up Paddleboarders to Race This Saturday in Santa Monica

At the 1st Annual Santa Monica Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival in 2010 | Photo Courtesy of the Santa Monica Pier

When Joel Brand chaired the Santa Monica Pier's centennial celebration in 2009 he began to find himself immersed in the history of the 1,600-foot-long walkway. As a surfer, one thing especially fascinated him: paddleboarding.

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The sport's origins have a deep connection to Santa Monica, where races started to become commonplace in the 1930s. Thirty or so years later, surfing became a hit and paddleboarding sunk to the bottom of the public consciousness, only to resurface a bit in the 1980s.

Paddleboarding in the Past

History/Photos: Paddleboarding, Southern California's Lost Sport
"It was sort of like discovering in the attic some great treasures," said Brand about his research. "This is some fantastic history that has been nearly forgotten."

About five years ago, stand up paddleboarding, or SUP boarding (today, instead of laying face down and paddling with your arms, a stick-paddle is used), began to explode and it only made sense to create an event around it. For Brand, the Santa Monica Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival is not just a competition, but a mix of history, sport, stewardship (Heal the Bay is the event's beneficiary) and tradition (the event sponsor is Honolua, which honors the old watermen ways).

At the 1st Annual Santa Monica Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival in 2010 | Photo Courtesy of the Santa Monica Pier

At its first incarnation, 150 competitors raced. This year around 200 are expected at the June 11th event (registration is still open), which includes races for not just those on paddleboards, but also outrigger canoes and dory boats.

While SUP boarding is more leisurely than surfing and more accessible to people from all walks of life--the youngest competitor last year was 10, and two people racing this year are in their 70s--this is not a race for first-timers.

That's not to say there won't be things to do, because there are--watching the races from the pier, a pop-up paddleboard history museum, live music, a gear expo and beach clean-up--but if you're wanting to get some experience firsthand (before or whenever you fancy), here's a list of some of the many paddleboard lesson, rental and tour opportunities around Southern California.

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