Changes to Classic Races: Justifiable or not?
Tuesday, 11 July 2006
As we all know, Surf Ski is growing as a sport. But that growth is presenting race organisers with a dilemma. More and more paddlers want to enter the "classic" races like the Cape Point Challenge and the PE to EL Challenge. But these races have reputations for extreme conditions, both in terms of endurance and the sea states that can occur on the course.
2005 Cape Point Challenge
In 2005, the Cape Point Challenge route was changed for safety reasons to avoid 5m swells on the exposed Atlantic side of the Point. Critics say that this was only necessary because there were too many under-qualified entrants. If the qualifying races had been hard enough, the argument goes, the field would have been small enough and good enough to go safely around the Point.
So what must race organisers do? Keep the races "pure" (i.e. extreme) as some vocal critics demand or should the organisers change the routes where necessary to open up the races to more paddlers, thereby making them more attractive to the sponsors so necessary to the growth of the sport?
Sunshine Coast Challenge (PE to EL)
The latest race coming under the spotlight in this regard is the PE to EL race. In this race, the organisers have taken out the stop at Woody Cape, notorious for its huge ski-smashing surf. The organisers argue that this step will make the race more paddler-friendly and that more entries will result.
Judging by recent letters to SA Paddler, some would argue that "classic" races should be left as they always have been.
In the case of the 2005 Cape Point Challenge, the organisers response was that the course was changed purely for safety reasons and this had nothing to do with the qualifications of the entrants. On the day of the race, the sea state was such that the safety boats wouldn't go around the Point. No safety boats = no race. Note too that the race course has been changed once before because of extreme conditions - and that was in the days of elite paddlers only.
As for the PE to EL race, it seems that there are various arguments in favour of removing or retaining Woody Cape as a stop-off point. According to previous participants, any of the beaches along the route can be extreme and Woody Point is just one of around ten that paddlers have to negotiate.
Is it really an issue? A 244km paddle along that coast is an extreme challenge in any case. What do you think?