Paddlers, prepare: Battle on the Blueway set for Saturday
Kayakers, surf skiers and standup paddleboarders will all have the chance to race for the finish.
This year’s Battle on the Blueway competitive race will take place Saturday, June 10 at Crescent Beach Family Park on Fort Myers Beach.
It’s the third annual year for this competition, organized by both Lee County’s Parks and Recreation Department and the SWFL SUP Club.
The competitive paddling event is a World Paddle Association (WPA) Region 5 sanctioned points race with sprints, 2-mile and 7-mile races, a free race for children under 12 years, and a fun race for the Special Olympics.
The proceeds of this event are donated to the SUP Special Olympics team.
Mike Hammond, the coordinator for Calusa Blueways, said a new twist this year is adding in the ability for any kind of paddler – kayakers, surf skiers, paddleboarders or others – to participate in all levels of the events. Before, kayakers had a separate race. There are a number of different classes depending on the boards, ages and gender, and there will be overall winners in men’s and women’s categories.
“We want to promote paddling and raise money for the Special Olympics,” Hammond said.
It’s not too late to register – paddlers can sign up online at paddleguru.com or register Friday, June 9 at the packet pick-up and social event at Point Ybel Brewing Company from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Registration is $55 to $65 depending on the class.
“They pretty much sign up the day before the race,” Hammond said. “Because of the (Florida) weather, people wait as long as they can.”
There is no day-of registration; all paddlers must be signed up by Friday night.
Paddlers who are seeking a hotel can get a discounted rate at the Best Western Plus Beach Resort.
The races begin at 9 a.m. – strategically, Hammond said the morning schedule usually helps to avoid any summer afternoon showers. Should weather take a turn, the race would be delayed until Sunday.
In past years, there have been large prize purses for the winners. This year, the organizers are putting that money toward the Special Olympics instead.
Damian Grafmyer, one of the SWFL SUP Club leaders and co-organizer of the race, said both organizations wanted to put more of an emphasis on raising money. The SUP club was founded in 2011 as a membership-oriented group, but over the years it’s turned into a booster club for the Special Olympics, he said. He and others in the club help coach the Lee County Special Olympics SUP team of about nine athletes. Saturday’s event includes a Special Olympics fun race, and other SUP olympics teams from local counties have been invited to participate.
“It’s a great lifestyle and peaceful sport,” Grafmyer said. “Health-wise, it’s a great core sport, balance and you use a lot of muscles.”
The Calusa Kids Race takes place at 10:45 a.m.; children under 12 years of age can compete for free for prizes and medals. The awards ceremony will take place at 12:45 p.m.
This event isn’t just for the paddlers – it is exciting for sports-lovers who want to watch as well and free for spectators.
Hammond said the best place to watch the racers is on the Fort Myers Beach pier or by the finish line.
“We designed the race course so it’s fun to watch,” he said. “With some races, you just see them leave and come back, but one of our buoy turns is right on the beach.”
Grafmyer said paddling in the Gulf adds an extra challenge, as paddling in the bay is often more calm water than the tide and wave-driven Gulf.
To complete the course, racers must jump onto the beach and run to the finish line.
“We’ve had some really close finishes,” Hammond said. “We have to record them to make sure we seee the really close finishes. It’s a dash.”
There will be a number of outfitters offering free demos of different boards and equipment, as well as raffles and live music throughout the event. Hammond hopes more people will try surf skies, a watersport that many beginners used to shy away from, he said. Now outfitters are making the sport more beginner friendly and more stable.
“It’s a good opportunity if you want to try some different boards,” he said.
More than 150 paddlers competed last year, with some traveling from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela to take part in the race.
“We had some really big-name racers,” Hammond said. “We put on a good race.”