“We’ve got people of all ages and ability levels out here,” race coordinator Bethany Smithers said. “There’s a father/daughter tandem team, and some fathers and sons competing as well. We have some pros as well as many beginners who are competing in their first race.”
The Ocoee Classic was broken into two groups, with a six-mile race for the elite competitors and a three-mile race for the beginners. The elite competitors averaged 10-12 minutes per mile out on the water.
The race, sponsored by Chattanooga paddleboard shop L2 Boards, saw 45 SUPs ranging from 13 to 73 years old compete in the Ocoee Classic.
For L2 Boards owner Mark Baldwin, organizing SUP races is just another way to promote the sport in Tennessee, which is already widely popular in Florida and North Carolina.
Included in the elite competition was Chattanooga native Ben Friberg, who in the beginning of August had just set a SUP record by paddling the 90-mile stretch of ocean between Cuba and Key West in just over 28 hours.
Both YOLO Boards and Billy Lush had a strong team presence on Saturday.
In the beginner group, Cleveland was represented by Mitchell Guinn, Sammy Feehrer and father-son duo Matthew and Grover Brown, all of whom are newcomers to the sport.
Feehrer, who was the most experienced at SUP, has been out on the water for a year now.
“We stay up here in the summertime at our cabin and do all kinds of water sports, so this was something else to add to the list,” Feehrer explained. “It can be leisurely paddling by the bank or a good workout.”
Feehrer joked that his only hope for the three-mile race was that he made it to the finish.
Guinn, a long time windsurfer, is not unfamiliar with the various outdoor water sports. While Guinn claims to have “enough toys as it is,” he couldn’t help but get into SUP after trying it.
“I’ve been out three times in a matter of weeks. I feel right at home on the board,” Guinn commented.
For the 56-year-old Guinn, SUP is a sport that anyone can participate in and get a good workout from.
YOLO Board pro Reid Nelson was on hand to host a SUP race clinic on Friday, prior to the competition on Saturday morning, which according to Guinn, was an excellent learning experience.
Matthew and his 14-year-old son Grover were competing in the three-mile race with inflatable boards.
“I have a feeling I’m going to be at a distinct disadvantage out there,” the father remarked prior to the race.
The board was a birthday present for the elder Brown, who had a whole two weeks of SUP under his belt before entering the Ocoee Classic.
“I would really like to just have a good form of exercise that is fun,” Brown said.
The race categories were broken into men, women and juniors. Both the men’s and women’s divisions had unlimited, 14 foot, 12’6 and surf style categories included in them.
Guinn finished second in the beginner men’s 14’ three-mile race with a time of 43:44.3. Feehrer finished third in the 12’6 category with a time of 43:47.1. Matthew Brown finished the course with a time of 51:22.3, while his son Grover finished in 1:06:36.8
In the elite six-mile race, Nelson took first place with a time of 1:06:37.8, with Friberg claiming second with his time of 1:07:03.1.