Editor’s Note: East Coast Prone paddler Lisa Malick weighs on on the race division issue from the perspective of a category of racers long used to inconsistent recognition on the podium.
How to Handle Prone Paddlers in a SUP Race
By Lisa Malick
I admit it. Traditional paddleboarders are a little bit of a rarity at most races on the east coast. Women’s stock boards? We can feel like unicorns. As a tribe, we’ve tried to convert more paddlers to drop the paddle by hosting clinics, posting pictures of having fun stroking the water with our bare hands, and finishing races with the biggest smile on our faces. So, why not more converts? After reflecting on the past spring race season, I think one of the reasons is the inconsistent recognition. I am thankful for all of the race organizer’s efforts at including prone paddlers in races, and am sharing this as my perspective and to help race organizers that aren’t quite sure what to do with prone–or other sparsely populated–categories that are popping up at races.
The Participation Award
The Situation: “I got first!” Out of how many? “Well, I was the only person…” Don’t get me wrong. I love being recognized as the first, and only, paddler, especially if it is a long race, and if I was the only prone paddler or women’s surfski in the entire race.
Pros: Paddler feels recognized and included. Recognition for the craft and category.
Cons: Cost of one award for only one person in the division. Time to recognize many of these odd categories.
When it might be appropriate to have The Participation Award: Long races with a lot of effort/time/money. Inappropriate, unable, unwilling to combine categories for the lone paddler.
The Free For All Award
The Situation: Six prone paddlers enter. Four are men, two are female, two are on unlimited boards, three are on stock boards, one is on a 14’. Two are 50+ and four are 18-49. The solution? One prone category for all ages, all gender, all boards.
Pros: Paddler feels competition. This means a sometimes rare opportunity to draft off of any prone board.
Cons: Usually, bigger boards are faster than smaller boards. And guys are usually faster than girls. It isn’t fun to be bumped off the podium due to these dispositions.
When it might be appropriate to have The Free For All Award: Any length races where an organizer wants to keep the race categories in check. We will be happy to be recognized as a category and to have some people to compete with!
The All-Board Class Award
The Situation: You, the race organizer, are offering money or a special overall prize for the first SUP board to finish. If someone finishes without a paddle (i.e., on a prone board), are they counted? Can a prone paddler displace a SUP for first place “board”?
Pros: If a prone board doesn’t have a category, and you decide to recognize them in the overall “board” finish, this might be satisfactory. This might also be satisfactory for a race (extreme distance, perhaps) where the SUP category is small as well. (Group all of your female board paddlers together for a category of four…two SUP, two prone).
Cons: There is a reason for separate SUP and Prone categories. Different conditions significantly affect how these boards move. While a SUP is usually faster, if there is significant headwind, a prone board will slip under the wind with far less disturbance.
When it might be appropriate to have the All-Board Award: Although I mentally race anything that moves while training and racing, I’ve had this award three times through my paddling career. All three times have been involving money. Two times were in races where there were more OC1/surfskis and very few boards. Once was at a large race in very windy conditions, where it was so rough that no women SUPs were able to finish. They awarded me the SUP money and created a women’s prone money category for the following year. There is a definite reason for prones and SUPs to be awarded separate, and perhaps this should be reserved for extreme and unforeseen conditions. Although I admit it is nice to at least be verbally recognized as “first board to hit the beach” when the situation is appropriate!
The Rolling Deep Award
The Situation: Five female stock prone paddleboarders are at an event. There are also six male stock paddleboarders and five unlimited boards.
Pros: Whoah. The traditional paddleboarders can be awarded in a regular, full category.
Cons: As “outliers” in events, we really don’t know what to do with ourselves. We can only draft after each other? We don’t all win first place? Are we still on the east coast? As a race director, congratulate yourself for whatever you managed to do to attract all of the prone paddlers to your event! Keep in mind that now you have to remind them that they have an actual category to race in and that no, it is not appropriate to draft off that 12’6 SUP…or sailboat…
When it might be appropriate to have the Rolling Deep Award: On the East Coast, there’s only a few races with enough prone paddlers for a true category for men, and even fewer with enough women. When you see us all there, you know you have something special!
The Non-Existent Award
The Situation: One or several prone paddlers across board and gender categories pay their entry fees, race, cheer on several award categories, and await their turn for recognition. Nothing happens.
Pros: Less categories to recognize, especially if it is only one person.
Cons: Unrecognized paddlers less likely to return to event, less exposure of smaller categories means less chance to grow, leading to an endless cycle.
When it might be appropriate to have the Non-Existent Award: It should be very, very clear beforehand if a craft will not be recognized, as well as if traditionally small categories will not be combined to create a category. If the event is supposed to be laid-back, it is also tasteful if all awards are limited in such a way. It can leave a bad taste if a small category is not recognized, but several age groups and craft sizes are recognized at the same event. Consistency and communication is important for a happy Non-Existent Award.
Prone paddlers spread the traditional board love everywhere we go, and always get more interest at races. Thank you to all the wonderful race organizers for including prone paddling, surfski, OC1, and more this race season.