By Jonathan Olivier
Watersport enthusiasts and professionals from all around the United States will put their skills to the test this weekend as they compete against each other and battle the swirling currents of the largest and most powerful river in North America.
The second annual YOLO Board – Big River Regional will take place Saturday, Aug. 30, and features stand up paddle boarders, kayakers, canoers, outriggers and surf skiers navigating down the Mississippi River 13 miles from near Florida Boulevard to L’Auberge Casino. But the focus is on the main event, the stand up paddleboard (SUP) category.
“We’re bringing stand up paddleboarding to Baton Rouge. It’s been here for a few years and going steady; however, we’re really bringing what we are hoping to grow into a world class SUP event.” – Bryan Prince, race safety marshal and race director.
“It’s the fastest growing watersport in the country,” said Bryan Prince, race safety marshal and race director, about SUP. “The race will bring in people from California, North Carolina, Chicago – all over the country – flying in so they can move onto national championship races.”
The race is a regional qualifier, meaning participants that do well have a chance advance. And in addition, winners will be eligible for more than $8,000 in prizes and awards.
New this year is a focus on social events, aside from just the race itself, Prince said. Subaru, the race sponsor, will have a stage at L’Auberge Casino featuring live music by Louisiana Music of Soul Jukeboxx. An after party will take place at the casino featuring unique, Louisiana fare, and a raffle for a YOLO Board and Hobie Kayak with all proceeds going to Heroes on the Water.
The race course hasn’t changed since last year, Prince said, and racers will be battling the river’s currents rain or shine.
With only a thin, floating piece of material standing between the racers and the potentially deadly river water, it may raise a bit of concern to some. While Prince admits the river indeed has the potential to be perilous, the concern is nil due to the time of year the race is occurring.
“This time of year is the lowest the river is, about 9 1/2 feet, and it gets around 30 feet in winter,” he said. “There is less current that there would be in other months.”
The organizers have also made arrangements with the Coast Guard and East Baton Rouge Sherriff’s Department to keep boats near racers at all times. Other precautions such as racers wearing leashes to tether them to the SUP boards will add to the safety measures.
SUP has grown immensely popular in Louisiana, due in part to the abundance of waterways in the state, but Prince said the sport’s accessibility is what attracts most people.
And it’s that influx of people buying SUP boards and taking part in the sport that drew Prince and fellow race founder Walker Higgins to start the race last year.
“We’re bringing stand up paddleboarding to Baton Rouge,” Prince said. “It’s been here for a few years and going steady; however, we’re really bringing what we are hoping to grow into a world class SUP event.”
Those interested can register for the race until the day before the race (Friday) online with a $99 entry fee. The race starts at 8 a.m. sharp Saturday morning.