Less than a year after the Santa Monica Pier marked its centennial anniversary, another part of its long history is about to be celebrated.
Paddleboarders from across the region will take to the waters around the Santa Monica Pier Saturday, June 12th to return an old tradition to the area. The scene will be reminiscent of a time during the 1940s and 50s, when the city’s historic structure was the site of races where competitors would paddle on boards either lying down or standing up.
It was a time prior to the surfing boom in Southern California when paddleboarding was at the height of its popularity by the pier, with race results regularly published in the local newspaper. Two clubs dedicated to the water sport called the Santa Monica Pier home — the all women’s Manoa Paddleboard Club and the co-ed Santa Monica Paddleboard Club, said pier historian Jim Harris.
“I think there was a great sense of camaraderie (at the events). It was a social thing as well as a competitive thing,” Harris said of the race atmosphere in the first half of the 20th century.
While the activity’s popularity waned over the decades as the surfing phenomenon took hold, paddleboarding has experienced a resurgence in recent years and some who are involved in the boarding industry and pier wanted to bring that tradition back to Santa Monica.
Presented by Honolua Surf Co., the Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race is scheduled throughout the day June 12th, with the first race beginning at 8:45 a.m. The pier Restoration Corporation and ZJ Boarding House have also helped organize the race, which will include a lifeguard dory competition, outrigger canoe event and a paddle gear exhibition on the pier.
A portion of the race proceeds will benefit the Santa Monica-based environmental organization Heal the Bay and its marine education facility, including the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
Event organizers expect 250 to 300 competitors, from serious paddlers to first-time racers, to take part in the races, which include both stand up paddling and prone, or paddling while lying. Participation in the events is limited and early registration is encouraged.
Todd Roberts, co-owner of ZJ Boarding House in Santa Monica, says he has helped organize a paddle race in Malibu for the past seven years and has long had a vision to bring the same type of competition back to Santa Monica, where it was thriving decades ago. Paddleboarding was a “lifestyle that was embraced 70 years ago that somehow faded away,” he says, adding that he is pleased to see it return to one of its former hot spots.
“Everyone seemed to really love the idea of bringing this event back to Santa Monica. We’re bringing back an ocean-related activity that (the pier) hasn’t had for 50 years,” Roberts said.
“The Santa Monica Pier is an incredible venue for this type of paddle event and to bring back some type of surf paddling event to this area is really exciting to me.”
Other event planners also noted how one-time popular water sports have drifted away from the pier over the years but hailed the re-emergence of a former tradition. Joel Brand, a member of the pier restoration board, said the paddle race is returning in a “perfect moment” following the pier’s centennial and explained how people who have had a long connection to the area are excited.
“It’s great to hear those stories of a whole generation of people in the community who feel they have a connection to the ocean and are excited to have this tradition come back,” he said.
Natalie Burdick, Heal the Bay’s constituent development manager, noted how the Santa Monica Pier recently has not had in-water events like other area piers that highlight being in the ocean.
“This is a great way to connect people with the ocean, experience it more directly and be in the water and enjoying it,” she said, adding that paddleboarding is an easier activity than surfing. “It speaks to something that is very inclusive to people of all ages to compete in.”
“Not only will a portion of the proceeds support our efforts to make Southern California coastal waters and watersheds safe, healthy and clean, but it also promotes greater awareness of, and deeper connections with, the Santa Monica Bay.”
Pier historian Harris said the structure has always had a relationship with the ocean with fishing and boating but the paddleboarders, who were the closest to the water, had one of the more “intimate” ocean relationships.
“I think it’s an extraordinary way of revisiting history and making the past relevant again. The Pier has been enjoyed for a century and some of the ways it’s been enjoyed have been forgotten, so I think it’s wonderful to bring those back,” Harris said.
The start and finish of the races will take place on the sand immediately adjacent to the pier with the course running north and south in Santa Monica Bay.
The stand up paddle and prone races feature 5.5-mile and one-mile courses that both take paddlers past the pier.
For race times and other information, www.pierpaddle.com/.