While many of the competitive athletic event courses in Moab feature a view of the soaring cliffs and rushing rapids of the Colorado River, for one race this weekend, the Colorado River will serve as the course itself.
Paddleboard racers from across the region will gather at Dewey Bridge for the Back of Beyond Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Race on Saturday, May 14, to paddle 7 miles downstream to Hittle Bottom. The course is flat water, and is meant to present a challenge accessible to beginners, but also appealing to elite paddlers, race organizer and Paddle Moab co-owner Josh Surkes said.
Surkes’ experience whitewater paddling inspired him to start the race as a way to bring fellow paddlers to Moab to enjoy a setting and community he loves.
“People who love Moab and who paddle have one more reason to come to Moab again,” Surkes said. “The majority of racers are people who know Moab, and know it’ll be a beautiful course, and a fun place to hang out and meet other paddlers.”
Elite paddlers, including ambassador athletes from sponsoring vendors like American SUP manufacturer Hala and Riviera Paddlesurf, will compete on an extended elite course, giving open course contestants and spectators a chance to see pro paddlers in action.
The organizers didn’t anticipate the race would include elite athletes in the beginning, Surkes said, but when several joined the inaugural race in 2014, their finish times made it clear a more challenging course was in order. Last year, the elite course was extended with obstacles to challenge paddlers like Moab resident and professional paddle boarder Natali Zollinger, who won second place in the Women’s Elite class at 1:02:10.
A former river guide, Zollinger found her way to competitive SUP racing after realizing the only way to up her game on a raft was to challenge herself with more dangerous rapids, she said – a risky prospect. When she discovered that on a SUP, a class-one rapid became a mental and physical challenge again, she became hooked.
“It’s really about becoming one with the water and trusting it, and not being afraid of swimming,” she said. “A lot of it is mental; it’s a lot of, ‘Go slow to go fast.’”
Maintaining balance while maneuvering over and around obstacles requires intense and unbroken focus, she said.
“If you get nervous, or start thinking about trying to pass someone, that’s when you mess up and end up swimming,” she said.
The race has grown each year over the last three years, and this year already has more than 70 registrants. Surkes is looking forward to continuing to develop the race as part of the growth of the overall world of SUP racing.
“If everything goes smoothly, we want to eventually move to the next level and have a second day that includes whitewater,” he said.
Racers will stage at Hittle Bottom Campground at 10 a.m. on race day, and shuttle to Dewey Bridge later in the afternoon.
A Kid’s Race for paddlers age 12 and under will kick off events at 2 p.m., followed by the Elite Class and Open Class races. Race organizers encourage anyone interested in volunteering to contact them, Surkes said. The community is also invited to attend the awards ceremony at Hittle Bottom at 5 p.m., where the post-race party will feature live music from Gigi Love.
This year, registrants can also sign up for a special whitewater clinic the day after the race, and paddle down the Fisher Towers section of the Colorado River with a team from Hala.
Back of Beyond paddleboard race follows 7-mile course
“It’s really about becoming one with the water and trusting it, and not being afraid of swimming … A lot of it is mental; it’s a lot of ‘Go slow to go fast.’”
Where: Staging area at Hittle Bottom Campground, state Route 128, about 23 miles northeast of the intersection with U.S. Highway 191. Participants will shuttle to upstream starting point at Dewey Bridge; race ends 7 miles downstream at Hittle Bottom
When: Saturday, May 14. Staging starts at 10 a.m.; race starts at 2 p.m., followed by awards ceremony at 5 p.m.
Cost: Varies from $25 for Kids Race to $75 for Hala Clinic
Information: backofbeyondsup.com; 435-210-4665
For more information, go to backofbeyondsup.com, or call 435-210-4665