The South Bay has a long history with prone paddleboarding, as you’ll read below, and The South Bay Boardriders Club is dedicated to honoring this history and securing the sport’s longevity.
In 1928, lifeguard Tom Blake (founder of the Malaga Cove Paddleboarding Club), created an innovative breakthrough design that was the disruptive technology of the day in the sport of paddleboard racing. Tom created a hollow paddleboard made from wood, compared to the solid wood boards used up to that point. The reduced weight and buoyancy immediately made this design the new standard for paddleboard racing. Tom and 3 friends were also the first known to paddle across the Catalina Channel which he used to highlight the effectiveness and safety of his design.
Jump forward to 1955, local lifeguard Bob Hogan, and Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Cliff Webster, joined forces to create the International Catalina Classic 32 Mile Open Ocean Paddleboard Marathon. The race began, as it does today, at Two Harbors Catalina Island, and finishes on the southside of the Manhattan Beach Pier. In its early years, this race attracted 50,000 spectators to the Manhattan Beach Pier to watch the finishers, and it eventually transformed into a 3-day event to entertain the crowds with volleyball, swimming, rowing, and other competitions (now known as The International Surf Festival). After treacherous ocean conditions in 1960, Pier construction in 1961, and the death of race co-founder/supporter Cliff Webster, the race went into hiatus for 20 years due to the lack of someone championing its annual occurrence.
Fortunately, in 1982, lifeguards Buddy Bohn and Gibby Gibson resurrected the race utilizing the same race guidelines and rules used in its original years. It has been going strong ever since and is known as the “grand-daddy” of prone paddleboard races throughout the world, with participants traveling from across the U.S. and other countries to complete this very challenging channel crossing.
To honor this iconic and historic race, along with the men and women who have dared to compete in it, The South Bay Boardrider’s Club has undertaken an initiative, in collaboration with The City of Manhattan Beach, to install a bronze statue near the Manhattan Beach Pier. Chris Barela, former Hermosa Beach resident, MCHS alumni, and Surfer Walk of Fame inductee, has been commissioned to build the sculpture. Chris is the sculptor who also created the Tim Kelly statue in Hermosa Beach, and the Meistrell Brothers statue in Redondo Beach.
The Velzy-Stevens Paddleboard Championship race is SBBC’s open Ocean 2 mile paddleboard race for Watermen of all ages. This event is sponsored by the South Bay Boardriders Club and is part of the International Surf Festival. Named after pioneer Hermosa Beach surfboard and paddleboard builder Dale Velzy and surfer and Catalina Classic Paddleboard winner Terry Stevens the race is one of the most popular International Surf Festival events. The race traditionally starts at the end of the Manhattan Beach pier, runs south, parallel along the coast for 2 miles, finishing on the sand south of the Hermosa Beach pier.
This race is particularly popular with the Junior Guards as they test skills learned through their JG instructors throughout the summer. Awards are given for all age groups in a variety of Prone and SUP Board classes. Paddleboard racing has been one of the fastest growing ocean sports of late as the field of racers have continued to grow in recent years. While many Paddlers have their own paddleboards, as a courtesy, the L.A. County Lifeguards provide JGs with soft top boards prior to the race and Oceans Prone Paddleboards have boards to rent for the race and throughout the year (https://oceansprone.org/). Ed McKeegan and Jim Sepanek have run the Velzy-Stevens Paddleboard Championship since 2011 and invite you to be part of this traditionally fun/family event.
SBBC has created multiple relay teams since 2018 for the R2R Paddleboard Race which takes place in mid to late June each year, begins at Two Harbors Catalina Island, and finishes at Cabrillo Beach (22 miles across the Catalina Channel). This is a family-friendly race with paddlers ranging in age from 8-80 years old. It is also very low key and casual for most paddlers, although there are some serious competitors. It is a great introduction to paddleboarding for those who have been "thinking about it" for some time. The relay teams can consist of 2,3,4, 5 team members, and paddlers can paddle as much or as little as they want. Escort boats are always by the side of the paddler to ensure safety, and there are other Safety Boats supervising the crossing. Lodging can be arranged at The Banning House, camp ground, or on the escort boat itself. Each participant shares in the overall cost of their participation.
The South Bay Paddle, a 15 mile race, was created in 2018 to be a local qualifier for the Catalina Classic 32 Mile Open Ocean Paddleboard Race. The race takes place in June and begins at the southside of Hermosa Beach Pier, runs south parallel to the beach to Palos Verdes, then heads west to the R10 buoy, and straight back to Hermosa Pier. Matt Walls and Scott Rusher are longtime veterans of paddleboard races in the area and are co-directors of this very popular event. A shorter 2 mile race was added in 2019 to accommodate those interested in getting a taste of paddleboarding without committing to a long distance paddle.