Battle of the Paddle SUP event organizers announce relocation to Salt Creek Beach

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Competitors start at race at the 2013 Battle of the Paddle at Doheny State Beach. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

By Andrea Swyane

A Doho tradition came to an end Feb. 2 as organizers of the seventh annual Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle announced its move from Doheny State Beach to Salt Creek Beach in 2014.

Following last year’s September stand-up paddle event, competitors were notified that dates for 2014 were yet to be set, a change of venue was possible. The SUP community anxiously awaited an announcement, and although rumors swirled, talk remained relatively quiet.

That was until posts on SUP related blogs and athlete Facebook pages—alluding to a disagreement between Battle organizers from Rainbow Sandals and State Beach authorities—began popping up last week.

Rich Haydon, park superintendent for Doheny State Beach, declined to go into detail but said although the California State Parks likes the event in general and considers it noteworthy, unaddressed concerns as well as the Battle’s large size contributed to the move. He said issues at last year’s event “rose to a level where they needed to be satisfactorily addressed in order for the Battle of the Paddle to continue at Doheny in 2014.”

“We’ve had concerns after every event in the last five years with regard to making it better, and our concerns were not addressed. Quite frankly, the event has probably outgrown Doheny under its current format,” Haydon said. “Without our requested changes in areas of public safety and general operations, it has become untenable. We do, however, wish them future success in their endeavors.”

Rainbow Sandals owner Jay “Sparky” Longley said he is disappointed.

“There were many issues over the years we couldn’t come to agreement on. We felt like they were nitpicking, and every year it was something else. We feel like we run a great event,” Longley said. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we were told that if we kept the same event manager we couldn’t have the Battle of the Paddle at Doheny.”

Event manager Barrett Tester acknowledged times when he didn’t exhibit the most polite demeanor in responding to issues, but said he has since apologized verbally and in writing.

“Were there a few issues? Yes. But it was very surprising how far south things went. As much as they complain that we have not addressed their concerns regarding the event, neither have they addressed ours,” Tester said. “The whole thing is upsetting but we want to turn the situation into a positive and have the best event possible in our new, bigger venue.”

State Parks estimates last year’s event brought 18,000 attendees over two days and filled the 1,240-space parking lot.

Even with more than 1,270 competitors and 171 exhibitors, Battle organizers said the event is not a money maker for Rainbow Sandals. Due to expensive permit fees, and despite registration fees, exhibitor fees and sponsorship, the company estimates having spent nearly $1 million over the last six years.

“We don’t do this for the money,” Longley said. “We do it for the community and we’re happy to be keeping it here in Dana Point, the SUP capital of the world.”

Pat Huber, marketing director for Rainbow Sandals said the split ultimately amounted to a mutual decision.

“The facts are we need a bigger venue,” he said. “Salt Creek has more available parking and a stadium arena feel, making for better viewing. The hill and the point add a view from above, rather than just from the beach.”

Huber said plans for parking include lots at Salt Creek, Strand Vista Park and Dana Hills High School. Shuttle services to and from the beach will be included.

Acknowledging that Salt Creek is generally regarded as a surf break and larger swells can make for very challenging conditions, Huber said the change of venue keeps pace with the increasing skill level of competitors and will bring a welcome challenge, especially the elite racers.

“You could see it plainly at last year’s event. We had more people finishing with closer times than the years before. Even the talent among the kids has increased,” Huber said. “We are well aware conditions can be very challenging at Salt Creek on a big day and are most concerned with running a safe event. We have alternative courses planned for the kids and open divisions, in the event the swell is too big.”

The 2014 event is scheduled for Oct. 4 thru 5.

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