What do Shelter Island, Cape Ann, Massachusetts and Camden, South Carolina have in common?
All three are places where saltwater is as much a part of the community as terra firma, and each hosts the premier events in stand up paddleboard racing.
The Blackburn Challenge is a 20-mile open water circumnavigation of Cape Ann in Northern Massachusetts, and down south in Camden, the Carolina cup attracts large crowds to watch the elite of the sport in action.
The newest entry into this exclusive club is the Great Peconic Race (GPR), a 19-mile circumnavigation of the Island set to launch its second running this Sunday, September 20.
At the inaugural event last year, 80 entrants competed. This year, as of Monday, there were already 111 registered to be on the course around the Island, with 33 of them women. With days to go and many racers expected to register over the weekend, the GPR is attracting nationwide attention.
Like last year’s successful event, the GPR won’t just feature the beautiful sport of paddle boarding — easy to witness from any shore around the Island Sunday — where the athletes stand straight up on what looks like a surfboard and power along with rowing strokes, but will also feature kayaks and surf skis. The latter are long, lightweight vessels with the athletes sitting high above the water line, controlling rudders with their feet.
Billy Baldwin, the GPR’s founder, said of the surf skiers, “These guys rip. They’re like windmills.”
Also eligible for the race will be outrigger canoes, prone paddleboards (paddling with hands) and open sea rowing shells. There’s a short course and relay events set for Sunday, as well.
Sponsors of the race — which include national vessel brands — will hand out more than $6,000 in prize money. Proceeds from the event will go to the Peconic Baykeeper.
The day won’t just be about pro racers and amateurs churning around the Island for cash, fun and meeting challenges. There will be food and drink at Wades Beach where the race kicks off and ends, board and vessel manufacturers reps on hand for people to take some test drives, and fun events for kids.
Open water paddle racing is beginning to hit its stride in part due to the fitness explosion with more and more people taking to the water for exercise. Americans spent about $130 million on kayaks alone last year, according to industry sources.
There’s a subtitle to the race — “A Paddle for Ted” — honoring Mr. Baldwin’s brother, who died five years ago. Mr. Baldwin, who grew up in North Sea and now lives in Sag Harbor, recalled how he and his younger brother “lived on the water” when they were young.
The goals of the race are the same as last year, he said, to foster competition and give a great show to Islanders of skill, endurance and speed. But the race directors also want to focus on the environment, he added, the fragile nature of the Island’s bays and harbors and the essential work the Peconic Baykeeper is pursuing.
“I was over at my mom’ house in North Sea the other night and we went for a midnight paddle,” Mr. Baldwin said.
They shone a flashlight down into the water, and it brought back memories of “going out for eels at night when we were kids, and seeing all the critters in the water. We have to stop polluting these beautiful waters.”