Great Lakes Surfski Racing Season
Last weekend at the Cheboygan Open Water Challenge, we had the absolute best racing conditions since the series started 3 years ago. I feel really bad for anyone who missed it. After several failed attempts last year, our perseverance paid off and mother nature delivered with an 85 degree day and picture perfect wind and waves.
As usual, both before and after the race, our core group continued to ponder why we just can’t seem to drive more growth in the number of racers. I have some theories that I wanted to share with everyone, but most importantly, I, and the race directors are looking for feedback on what we need to do differently.
- I have simply not had the bandwidth to promote surfski racing the way that I should. All of my extra bandwidth this year has been consumed with the Paddle Relay and unfortunately the racing scene has been neglected
- The races that do exist are not promoted as much as they should be. They don’t have dedicated websites, social media presence, testimonials, blogs, videos, etc.. that effectively cross market to all of the different paddling disciplines
- I would estimate that greater than 85% of the surfski paddlers in the midwest right now are beginners and they are intimidated by doing long and/or open water races
- Strong and competitive athletes who haven’t yet mastered their surf skis are reluctant to try and compete in races with just a single class, where they have to race against paddlers with a lot more experience.
Addressing the Issues
- Not promoting and driving the race series has certainly hurt my business, and I am committed to refocusing my efforts in the off season to make next year bigger and better than ever. I plan to have a dedicated web page for each race in the series. Ideally this page will have photos, videos, testimonials, and blogs all linked to it. As well as having a confirmed race date and time, at least 6 months in advance.
- I will be reaching out to the brands that I carry and soliciting their sponsorship support for the series and key races
- It is hard to please everyone, but I think ultimately races in the range of 5-10 miles in somewhat protected waters are most optimal for the surfski community that exists in the Great Lakes today. Many of the series races do offer multiple options, but this adds complexity and dilutes the races. Where possible, I think it is optimal to have just one distance.
- Unfortunately our premier race, the TC Waterman is canceled for this year. It is a real bummer, because I was hoping to test out a concept where we have a morning race (expected to be flat water) and then organize group downwind paddling (either point to point or off the beach) later in the day. The downwind paddling would not be racing, rather used as an opportunity to just have fun and provide a change for the more experienced paddlers to coach the beginners and help them get comfortable paddling in waves. I think this “weekend of paddling” concept could work well.
- At this point we simply don’t have the number of racers to do something like the bike racing world where they have classes (Beginner, Sport, Expert or CAT 1, CAT 2, etc..) but maybe we can find a creative way to allow beginners to compete against each other. Traditionally in the kayak world this is done by boat length, but perhaps there is another option…
- If you are running a race or even participating, please try to get as many pictures, videos, testimonials, and even blogs as you can. These are critical to telling the story of the race and piquing the interest that ultimately results in sign-ups the following year
- Spread the word and encourage your friends and fellow paddlers. If you enjoy racing, we need your support to build a vibrant racing community. It is a lot of work to put on these racers and every additional racer we can get is tremendously helpful
- Don’t be shy about letting us know your thoughts on how we can improve and drive higher participation. We can’t promise to implement everything, but can certainly try.
Its not too late
It is certainly not time to write off the season. We still have several amazing races into September. Commit now to coming out and supporting them and helping to grow the surfski racing community. With the summer heat turned on, there is no better place to be than on the water!