Only a few years ago, stand-up paddleboarding was still a relatively fringe sport. But these days, it's almost cliché to see SUPs cruising along Seattle’s waterways, including the Arboretum, Green Lake, or Lake Union. SUP’s rising popularity also means a growing subculture of paddling aficionados, with their own magazines, competitions, and events.
And when it comes to SUP racing, Round the Rock, organized by the Northwest Paddle Surfers, is at the head of the pack. The 13-mile endurance challenge, which will be held on September 12 this year, is the largest SUP race in the Pacific Northwest, boasting a beautiful course in Lake Washington that loops around Mercer Island. Round the Rock’s rising popularity mirrors that of the sport: Since the first race in 2009, entrants rose from 75 to nearly 200 participants in 2014—and this year, organizers are expecting even more. Here, eight reasons why you’ll want to get in on the action for Round the Rock 2015.
** 1. It’s big.**
It's not every day that you get to paddle alongside hundreds of other SUPpers, let alone for 13 miles. In other words, it's a must-do bonding experience for SUP enthusiasts.
2. It’s beautiful.
It’s hard to beat the views you'll see from the middle of Lake Washington. Heading south, graceful evergreens and swanky houses dot Mercer Island’s shores. Then, Mount Rainier comes into the scene. You’ll furiously paddle toward the big peak until you round the rock at Mercer Island’s southern point. As you head back north, you’ll take in sights of Seward Park , and after crossing under the I-90 bridge , Seattle’s spectacular downtown skyline takes center stage.
3. You'll probably see an SUP star in the mix.
Keep a close eye on your fellow paddlers at the starting line: If you're lucky, you just might be rubbing elbows (or paddles) with some of the biggest names in SUP. Last year, Lina Augaitis and Chase Kosterlitz finished first in their respective categories. This year, SUP star Thomas Maximus is reported to be on the list.
4. Newbies are welcome, too.
Sure, the pros will be there, but the day isn’t just for them. There are different race classes for different types of boards (because, generally, the longer the board, the speedier it is). There is also a “surfboard” category for those who haven never been on a racing SUP, as well as age categories for each board class, from brat to senior.
If the 13-mile race seems a tad ambitious (because, uh, it is), there are two shorter options. The 3.5-mile course off the shores of Newcastle Beach Park is a great choice for paddlers who just want a flavor of the competition. And there will be two half-mile, kids-only races ideal for paddlers aged 7 to 14: one for more serious paddlers, the other for newbies.
For the spectators, food, music, and SUP demos will be on tap during the event, providing extra incentive for friends and family to come cheer you on.
5. You can snag some serious cash.
All those SUP standouts are competing for a serious purse: A total of $10,000 will be doled out, with prize money going to the top three finishers of each board class; top winners from each age group will also be recognized with awards.
And, to keep those with the longer (faster) boards on their toes, the “sweep or weep” format means that if a competitor from a shorter board class finishes ahead of a top-three finisher in a longer board division, s/he wins the prize of their own division plus the prize of whomever s/he beats.
6. Finishing comes with some nice bragging rights.
Paddling double-digit miles on an SUP is no easy feat, which makes Round the Rock an all-out endurance challenge. And that means once you're out of the water and sipping a celebratory pint, you’ll be able to revel in some major bragging rights: What did I get up to today? Oh, I just paddled around a
7. It’s for a great cause.
We all know that special feeling we get from a day outside; it can be one of the most healing things we get to experience. Equally awesome is knowing that your time spent outdoors also goes to help a worthy cause. Round the Rock is a nonprofit event whose proceeds go to Athletes for Cancer, an organization that provides outdoor adventures like SUP, surfing, and skiing to people who have been impacted by cancer.
8. It’s a helluva lot of fun.
What better way to say farewell to summer than spending it on the water with fellow outdoor enthusiasts, in one of the most beautiful waterways in the world? ‘Nuff said.