We are at an interesting intersection of the sport at present. Tremendous growth, new paddlers turning up all the time, and race organizers who are caught in the middle trying to ensure the safety of new paddlers and gratify the desires of the experts. This has been an ongoing issue for us in the PNW, and was brought up once again this weekend with the cancellation of the Bellingham Bay Rough Water race due to high winds.
In particular, what is just right for some paddlers is an absolute no-go for others, and attempting to have a race that appeals to such a broad spectrum in talent and ability ends up reducing racing to accommodate the lowest common denominator or caters to the interests of the elites, which ultimately lessons the potential of the sport on both ends of said spectrum. No one really wins. Newer paddlers are far more likely to push their limits in a race setting than on a casual training paddle with a feeling that the safety boat has their back. When I started racing a few years ago, I know I did. Or, the expert paddlers will simply stop coming to yet another flat water lap fest, as I have also been tempted to do. Race venues like the Gorge Downwind Championships and the Canadian Surf Ski Championships offer much to both groups and everyone on the journey in between, which is a remarkable accomplishment in the age of attorney dictated race courses and participation medals. These are legitimate races that attract top tier talent from around the world in inspiring locations and with spirited conditions.
As we continue to grow the sport, at some point it may make sense to go the path of cycling's USA Cycling category system and form a governing body to help with organization, insurance and athlete ranking and appropriate even participation.
Below is another possible take that is remarkably similar to where the sport started in the first place: invite only events that are extremely limited in their nature. Just a core group of proven, solid paddlers duking it out for bragging rights over beers at the end of the day in extraordinary conditions. Less rules. Less Liability. Less money. Way more fun.