Many consider the L2 SUP race the crown jewel of the month long RiverRocks outdoor celebration because it showcases the scenic and exciting riverfront of downtown Chattanooga. The L2 SUP Race is also the final and championship event of the Southern Stoke Paddle Series which incorporates 8 SUP races across the southeast.
The sport itself is the newest and coolest activity in any area where there's water. The sport's popularity has exploded in recent years. By 2000, surfing greats like Laird Hamilton and Robbie Naish were enjoying it, and marketing it. And by 2011, the United States had the biggest market in the world for SUPs, selling over 50,000 boards and recognizing 57 fairs that year.
But the growth isn’t only on the coasts. Any place with water can embrace paddleboarding, and Chattanooga, with its arterial Tennessee River and abundance of surrounding lakes, is the perfect place for this increasingly popular sport. So much so that Chattanooga’s L2 Boards owner and RiverRocks SUP Race host Mark Baldwin notes, “the real challenge with events is fitting them in so they don’t conflict with other events. Where there were only 5 or 6 SUP races in the southeast a few years ago, there are now over 100.”
The second weekend of RiverRocks events begins with the Lula Lake Five Points 50 mountain bike race on Saturday morning. The following day, on October 12th at 11:00 AM, the SUP races will start from Ross’s Landing. Featuring a 3-mile and 6-mile option, paddlers in both distances will head upriver under the beautiful and historic Market Street Bridge and Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, between Audobon Island, which is home to the Maclellan Nature Sanctuary and the scenic bluffs of Chattanooga’s art district, under Veteran’s Bridge, and around the tip of the island. The course then turns around and heads back down river on Audobon Island’s north side, back under the bridges and past Ross’s Landing to another turnaround. The shorter race participants will paddle upriver back to the start area to complete their event, while the 6 milers go back out for another loop.
People tend to sign up for the SUP Race the day of the event since many who partake come to the race as new paddlers. “They’re often on the fence until the last little bit,” Baldwin says, “but I’ve never had anyone come off the board expressing anything but happiness that they did it. We had a 74 year old racer last year, and I take my 4 year old son out. It’s a sport anyone can enjoy.”
Baldwin would love for the event to continue to grow, and hopes for 100 or more participants this year. The race has Elite and Amateur classes, long and short courses, and divisions for men and women in the 12’ 6” and 14’ board lengths. Following the race, visit tents for L2 Boards, Quicksilver, Chinook, Riviera, Double Cola, Bote, and Quickblade. Try a paddleboard clinic, or sit back and bask in the beautiful weather and scenery before you head off for another event at RiverRocks.