The beauty of stand up paddling is that it's a sport for everyone.
Few sports allow a total beginner to stand on the same starting line as the world's best. First timers and veterans, weekend warriors and elite athletes; it's this openness, this ease of access, this welcoming spirit that makes stand up paddling so great.
This is what we all aim to promote.
But while there is much to celebrate in our sport, there is also much to distract us: The growing disconnect between elite and amateur competitors, the Olympic saga, and rival parties pushing rival politics.
Sometimes it feels like stand up paddling is a speeding bus that has no driver.
The future of our sport is bright, but only if we as a community grab hold of the steering wheel and help drive stand up paddling towards a better, more sustainable and more authentic future that benefits all stakeholders.
That's why The Paddle League exists.
We believe a day on the water is a day well spent, and we believe stand up paddling is an open sport that should be promoted in an open way.
Pick up a paddle, grab a board and jump on the water; SUP is a simple pursuit. We're not Formula 1, we're not pro surfing: the beauty of our sport is that anyone can do it.
And while we celebrate and share our DNA with dozens of sports, at our core we are simply stand up paddling. Therefore we must be the ones who decide what our future looks like.
Because at the end of the day, SUP belongs to you, the community.
So after taking a long time to reflect on last year's inaugural season, The Paddle League is changing course in 2019...
We aim to help elevate the entire sport of stand up paddling and contribute to a healthier future, starting with the grassroots events and going all the way up to the "majors". We want to give back to the sport that's given us so much, and we want to help steer SUP in the right direction.
The Paddle League is not an exclusive tour, it is not a controlling federation, and we have no desire to dictate the future to anyone. We believe we can have the biggest impact by being an open platform for the entire sport to stand on. A rising tide that lifts all boats.
To help achieve this, we're re-launching the influential SUP Racer World Rankings, which began in 2013, as The Paddle League World Rankings and transforming the system into an open, unified leaderboard community that can potentially recognise every event and give every paddler a status — no matter whether you're an international superstar or weekend warrior.
We're also launching dedicated World Rankings for juniors and masters to celebrate and help promote the future and heart of our great community.
We'll continue to elevate our partner events with high-quality media and social promotion, however we will now recognise and rank all races from the major tours plus the marquee standalone events around the world. And we're preparing to launch new regional leagues and specialty tours directly on The Paddle League platform to help grow our sport in new frontiers.
We're also launching a new service that offers effective ways to promote, elevate and help put the regional and grassroots events (which are the core of our sport) on the map by telling authentic, engaging stories while ensuring they have an opportunity to be included in the World Rankings. Because we believe all events should be connected to the wider sport no matter what their size or location.
It's a big transition for The League and a major project for us as co-founders. We're certainly not promising it'll be perfect or that it'll happen overnight, but we believe it's a project the sport needs.
The Paddle League is for the kids, the pros and the average joes. It's for the grassroots and the mass starts. It's for the dark horses and golden buoys. It's for the sprints, the ultras, the BOPs and the bumps. It's for the events, the fans, the media and the brands. It's for the future.
The Paddle League is for the sport.
What will The Paddle League look like in Season 2019 and beyond? Here's what we're currently working on, what we're excited about, and what we hope will help give the sport more stability for the next five, ten, twenty years…
The core of The Paddle League began in 2013 with the original World Rankings, and while we piloted an exclusive tour last year, Season 2019 and beyond will see the system return to an open, all-inclusive platform that provides a solid foundation for the entire sport.
So while we'll continue to heavily promote and elevate our partner events, we will recognise and rank all events from the various global and regional tours no matter which organisation or federation is the sanctioning body. The Unified World Rankings will include all Paddle League-promoted events plus any race from an existing, recognised series.
We'll continue to strongly support Europe's premiere series, the EuroTour, which began over half a decade ago as a spin-off from the original World Rankings system just like the origins of The Paddle League itself.
The Paddle League will also strongly support regional series including the incredible Alpine Lakes Tour in France, the amazing "Aloha Spirit Festival" in Brazil, the epic adventure races from SUP11X, emerging series such as the Asia SUP Tour and partner series such as the new Midwest Paddle League.
The Unified World Rankings will even recognise and rank the marquee standalone events around the world that aren't part of any tour or league, such as the iconic mass-starts of Chattajack, plus the four-race APP elite series and various championship events held by the Olympic-focused ISA and ICF.
We're doing all of this to create a more unified and inclusive sport for everyone, and we estimate about 150 races and more than 3000 paddlers will be included in The Paddle League World Rankings this year with more than 200 races/5000 paddlers in 2020.
Our goal is 10,000 paddlers by season 2025, which is a target we're pretty damn excited about.
The new calendar of events is forming, however we're not aiming to reach an endgame or release a definitive season schedule that everyone must follow -- this is an open, evolving platform. To borrow an old cliché: It's about the journey, not the destination.
The World Rankings will now be based on the New Race Index that recognises, ranks and rewards events based on amateur participation, junior development and media exposure in addition to the traditional metric of elite participation. Because the mass starts of the GlaGlas and Alohas are just as important as any elite race.
We believe stand up paddling needs more structure and leadership to avoid the growing disconnect between the various events and different levels of competition, which seems to be holding our sport back. We need someone to grab hold of the steering wheel.
So in a similar way that premiere series such as the EuroTour and regional tours like the Alpine Lakes have helped promote and grow the sport in Europe, The Paddle League aims to bring more stability and exposure to the international sport.
To help achieve this, we'll be supporting existing regional leagues in Europe and Asia as well as creating "Regional Paddle Leagues" in areas that are lacking a solid structure of their own, such as America and Australia. These new Regional Leagues will soft-launch during Season 2019 with the goal of building clear structures for 2020 and beyond that can help stabilise and grow excitement around our sport.
The Paddle League is also building new "Specialty Leagues" that support the hidden corners of our sport, such as the ultra-marathon challenges and whitewater races. This will be a major focus over the coming months as we aim to build interesting, engaging stories around these awesome niche events.
If the kids are the future of our sport, the weekend warriors and "masters" are the heart of it. But for so long the World Rankings have failed to give credit to these various age divisions despite them being the core drivers of our community.
That's why we're launching dedicated World Rankings for both juniors and masters in Season 2019, which we hope will foster a stronger sense of involvement among all competitors. Because while elite athletes are at the pinnacle of our sport and deserve to be celebrated for their great performances, the junior and open-age-group paddlers are just as much a part of it all.
Juniors and masters will still be part of the core World Rankings leaderboard right alongside the world's best elite athletes, but they will now have an additional opportunity to shine in the spotlight thanks to these dedicated leaderboards.
The Masters World Rankings will launch as a 40+ age division, however we're aiming to launch multiple age groups (such as 50+ and 60+) as soon as possible to give everyone fair recognition.
There's a long-running joke in our sport about how many "world champions" are crowned every year between the various federations, organisations, tours and series.
So instead of adding to the noise, The Paddle League has created something special called the "Golden Paddle" -- a unique trophy that will be handed to the world number one at the end of the year (it's already been awarded to Sonni Honscheid and Lincoln Dews for their 2018 triumphs).
We hope this will grow to become a prestigious symbol for the world's best athletes, while it will also help The Paddle League and our World Rankings system on its mission of unifying the sport rather than adding to the fragmentation.
The Paddle League is now an open platform, and we aim to recognise & rank all events from the various international and regional tours on the Unified World Rankings.
However at the core of The Paddle League is our desire to unearth interesting stories and help promote events with world-class social media. We want event organisers and participants to be part of something bigger so they feel connected to the wider sport, no matter whether they're organising a major event in Hawaii or hosting a local race in Kyiv.
That's where The Paddle League Inner Circle comes in, and we're about to open up a limited number of spots for events that fit our criteria and want to put themselves on the map through year-round, highly-engaging social media promotion as well as authentic story-telling.
Think of the Inner Circle as an "event discovery and promotion platform". The epic mass starts of the GlaGla Race combined with our very popular social media posts are a perfect example of this type of authentic collaboration.
Paid membership for the Inner Circle is launching on Monday, May 6th. But if you'd like to jump the queue then simply send us a quick note on Messenger and tell us why you want to be part of The League.
We'll chat with you soon,
- Kelly Margetts and Christopher Parker
co-founders of The Paddle League...
...on behalf of the SUP community