Back of Beyond Paddle Race gets faster this year

Racers head to the river with their gear at a past year’s Back of Beyond Paddle Race. [Photo courtesy of backofbeyondsup.com]

Grab your paddle and head to the Colorado River for the sixth annual Back of Beyond Stand Up Paddle Race hosted by Paddle Moab.

On Saturday, May 11, racers will compete in the flatwater race down Postcard Alley, a scenic, slow moving section of river from the Dewey Bridge to Hittle Bottom. On Sunday, May 12, racers will brave rapids in a new-this-year whitewater race called the “Standup Showdown.”

“[In] years past the race was a one-day event,” said Josh Surkes, owner of Paddle Moab. “It just felt like it needed more.”

Surkes came to Moab in 2008 as a river guide. He said he loves playing in whitewater and had wanted to include a whitewater race in the Back of Beyond Stand Up Paddle Race since its inception.

“We just never were quite sure how to make it work,” he said. “Then this year we made it happen with the great support and help of Red Cliffs Lodge. We are able to stage a whitewater race on White’s Rapid.”

Racers in the elite division will have to stay on their feet, sitting or kneeling for no more than a minute at a time, through the rapid in order to qualify in the race.

Moab’s own professional whitewater stand up paddle (SUP) boarder Natali Zollinger has competed at the Back of Beyond Stand Up Paddle Race every year, and she won third place in the 2018 Women’s Elite Division.

She plans to attend this year’s race and said that SUPing on moving water has different nuances than paddling on, for example, a lake or an ocean inlet.

“If you know how to read the water, you have a strong chance of being able to do better than someone who’s just coming from the lake who doesn’t know how to read the river,” she said.

Her advice is to “follow the bubble line,” which will show where the strongest, fastest current is. She also noted that river conditions change. With all of the precipitation the area has received this winter and spring, there’s more water in the river.

“The water’s higher than it was last year, and when the water’s higher, especially on the Colorado River, you get more boils — they’re just these little whirlpools that come out of nowhere,” Zollinger said. “You have to be able to edge, and be aware of those and navigate through those. And the current — it’s not obvious in a lot of places.”

Surkes said the higher river levels will “probably make the race times a little faster” this weekend.

If White’s Rapid sounds intimidating, the Postcard Alley section is a milder option with an open division for amateur racers.

“It’s a fun race to be part of and I think we’re getting more and more interest in just paddle boarding in general,” Zollinger said. “Even if you don’t have a race board, amateur open-class is a really fun thing, just to challenge yourself and see where you fit amongst a lot of people who do it on a regular basis.”

Surkes agreed. While most of the participants are usually from out of town, he said, “We would of course love to see more locals participate.”

Each day’s race will end with a post-race party at the take-out locations, which will include live music, snacks and an awards ceremony. The top three finishers in each category will be recognized and cash and prizes will be awarded.

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