Thursday, January 29, 2009

Southern Baja Stand Up Paddle Race: '09 La Ventana Classic and Kite Expo

Do this right now, pull out your calender and block out time in January, 2010. Believe me, you will want to be down in La Ventana (30 minutes from La Paz International Airport in Southern Baja California) for next year's La Ventana Classic and Kite Expo. Last week, Kiwi and I had a chance to participate in the Classic's stand up paddle events and I can tell you that there is no event in the stand up paddling world that comes close to this one for pure FUN!

Photo: I didn't get a chance to get these two out paddling- but there's always next year!

The Classic is a four day water sports festival conceived and organized by Tim Hatler, owner and proprietor of Palapas Ventana. The goal of the festival is to raise money for the renovation and development of the small town's elementary school. Last year, Tim was able to raise enough money to paint the school and build the students a new restroom. Before the new bathroom was built every student in the school had to share one toilet!

Photo: Start of the qualifier.

This year's Classic was the biggest in the event's four years of existence. The event drew every major kiteboarding company as well as top ranking kiteboarding pros and more than a hundred amateur kiteboard competitors. The beach was covered with the latest models of kites and boards, all available for demo. There were Pacifico Girls walking the beach and local folk dancers on the main stage. As expected, the beer tent was going off and was almost rivaled by the ice cold margaritas being served off the adjacent table. Mix in a DJ spinning thumping tunes and a professional emcee keeping the whole deal rolling and it was obvious that the Classic had grown up.

Photo: Hard to believe that the small beach in the back ground is almost ten miles away. Leg 1 of the qualifier with Kiwi leading the way.

Although the Big Air and Old School Trick contest were cool (two words to describe who dominated these events: Richman brothers... unreal) the Classic's real draw is the ten mile, Cerralvo Island to La Ventana race called "The Crossing". The ten mile channel crossing is completed by the pro riders in twenty five to thirty minutes of hardcore, pedal-to-the-metal racing. The amateur division can take an hour or more to pull it off. It's a radical event, definitely worth hanging around for, if only to see how exhausted these guys are when they come blowing across the finish line.

Photo: Stickered up.

This year, Tim asked me to organize a SUP race for the event. In addition, Tim needed me to hand out demo SUP boards and to give basic instruction to those looking to try out stand up paddling. Isle Surfboards, the only stand up company to sponsor the Classic, stoked us out by sending down four stand up boards and paddles for people to demo. I'm a stand up paddle freak so when I'm tasked with spreading the stoke, I take it seriously. I wanted to be sure that everyone got a shot at trying out their equipment. If you've paddled the Sea of Cortez than you can understand why stand up paddling has blown up down there. In the small town of La Ventana alone there are over twenty regular paddlers out every morning laying down tracks in the perfectly still water. The Classic brought out many more takers willing to demo Isle's SUP boards- I was happy to oblige them.

Photo: Next year, this photo will be taken from the island offshore, and these guys will be a lot more worn out at the end of it all.

The Classic is one of those events that has a rootsy, down-to-earth feel about it. If you've never raced before and you want to try it out in a low key environment, this is your event. The emphasis this year was on having fun and there were events for all skill levels of paddlers. The day I arrived Tim had just completed the buoy-to-buoy, "Chase Race". In this race competitors started at either end of a two buoy course and raced around the closely set buoys trying to lap each other. The race required skill, stamina- and that you wear a Mexican wrestling mask. Like I said, the emphasis was on fun.

Photo: What do you think, easy to breathe in that thing? Kent, trying to kill it before it kills him.

The big day came on the third morning of the contest. Conditions were perfect for the SUP course race. The morning brought us sunshine and perfectly flat, seventy degree water. The twenty two competitors were sent to race a three mile course with the top five men and women finishers moving on to the final event.

Photo: Women's Division Winners: 1st Cynbad Brown, 2nd Tonia Farman, 3rd Michelle Koff

I chose a sprint distance course because it keeps the racers in sight of the fans the whole distance and because three miles is a friendly enough distance to encourage new paddlers to participate. The final course was a half mile, three buoy course that had to be completed three times before sprinting for the beach finish line. Next year, the major SUP event will be a 10 mile SUP version of the Crossing. Stand up paddlers will race from Isla Cerralvo to La Ventana for a cash prize.

Photo: Men's Winners: 1st Mark "Kiwi" Field, 2nd Ozzie Lenzsch, 3rd Marco Pena

In the end Kiwi dominated the Men's field by winning both the qualifier and the final event, taking first place on a stock Isle Surfboards 12' x 30" stand up paddle board. Michelle Koff, the women's third place finisher also won on a stock Isle 11'6" stand up board, using one of Ernie Johnson's, Johnson Big Stick ply paddles.

Photo: Cranking it home, 3rd place Michelle Koff

With two contestants finishing first and third it seems that Isle's onto something for the stock paddle class. Are they the fastest on the water? The gauntlet has been thrown and it's unknown as to who in the stand up paddle racing word will accept the Paddle Crossing Challenge. The only way to find out is to come on back down next year and try your luck in the water. See you there!

Interested in supporting the 2010 La Ventana Classic? Contact Tim Hatler at or email him:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cool that looks like fun! I don't know how it happened but I put another hole in my board I was coming in this morning and I put my board on my truck and I saw a big chunk missing from the nose of my board down to the foam! I have no idea how it happened but I'm going over to TNT before I head into work for repairs