Paddleboard racers take to the water during the 2012 Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival

Paddleboard racers take to the water during the 2012 Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival

Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival hosts five water sports contests and 1980s ska sensations The Untouchables

By Michael Aushenker

Participants and spectators alike can look forward to much fun in the sun when the annual Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival returns to Santa Monica Beach on Saturday.

Equal parts competition, party and fundraiser, beachgoers can watch as participants in five main aquatic contests — a fun paddle, long course, elite race and the Tommy Bahama stand up paddleboard and paddleboard knockout — start and finish on the sand immediately south of the pier, with race prizes totaling more than $5,000.

Winners receive hand-carved Koa bowl trophies and, as always, proceeds from participant fees (the event is free to spectators) flow to the Santa Monica-based ocean preservationist nonprofit Heal the Bay.

“This event is for people who care about the ocean, the watershed that feeds into our ocean and the ecosystem that lives inside our ocean,” event founder Joel Brand said. “The surf makes [the races] challenging and interesting.”

The 5th annual Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival also hosts additional youth water races and a short-course paddleboard event that invites spectators to dive into the action

Returning are a Tommy Bahama-sponsored rum lounge and Sierra Nevada-hosted beer garden, both of which were introduced to the event last year.

The afternoon beach party also features a series of live musical acts headlined by venerable 1980s ska sensations The Untouchables, L.A.-based contemporaries of The Specials and Madness. Expect the mod band to play its two biggest songs, “Free Yourself” and “The General.”

Before launching the festival in 2010, Brand segued from a career as an international journalist (notably covering the 1990s Kosovo War for Newsweek) to operating a public relations firm.

He’s been a paddle boarder for six years and a surfer for three decades.

“The Santa Monica Pier is an iconic location. We have this amazing tradition of swimmers, surfers and paddle boarders going back to the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. One of the birthplaces of paddle boarding is Santa Monica,” Brand said of his inspirations.

That tradition is not lost: Some 7,000 people attended last year’s event over the course of the day, he said.

Last month Heal the Bay published its annual Beach Report Card water quality grades, based on tests conducted last year, and found the shoreline around Santa Monica Pier needing some attention. Other nearby beaches, including Venice Beach, posted record-high scores.

Heal the Bay conducts monthly beach cleanups, with several happening around the pier.

“We owe a lot to Heal the Bay for bringing awareness to the importance of clean water and clean ocean,” Brand said.

Ultimately, the event is intended to unite people who actively enjoy and care about the ocean.

“I call it a ‘friendraiser.’ We’ll have hula dancers all day. It’s kind of a big party,” Brand said.

Saturday’s Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival kicks off at 7:45 a.m. with a Hawaiian blessing and races continue until 3 p.m., when the live music starts. Call (310) 458-8901 or visit pierpaddle.com

michael(at)argonautnews.com

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