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The race series prompted by COVID-19 was so successful, plans for next year are well underway. Photo: CHES•SUP•PEAKE

Annapolis Paddlers Create Fall Race Series Amid COVID Cancelations

While the pandemic didn’t prevent paddleboarders from getting on the water this year, it did cancel nearly all of the organized races that they might have enjoyed. But that didn’t stop Carleen Birnes and Nicole Stimpson, two paddleboarding enthusiasts from Annapolis, from competing.

Facing a lack of regional races, the two women decided to create not just one race, but the CHES•SUP•PEAKE Fall Race Series, a points-based “friendly competition” consisting of four three-mile-long paddles held on the South, Magothy, and Severn rivers and the Chesapeake Bay from September 18
through October 10.

“Nicky and I had discussed putting a points series together last year, and the big void in our racing scene this season served as the catalyst we needed to get it going,” says Birnes, a personal trainer who fell in love with and began teaching SUP stroke through her company, Mantra Fit, seven years ago. She already had experience organizing races, having created and led a weekly Wednesday night SUP race series that’s run for the last four years, and was confident that there would be strong interest from the close-knit community of paddleboarders that she’d met through these and other races.

“The goal of the series was to help our paddleboard community stay socially connected, as well as aligned with their training goals” says Birnes. “After all the training time they spend on the water, we wanted to give them an opportunity to put their practice into action despite the pandemic.”
“We also wanted to showcase our beloved rivers and explore new coves and creeks to paddle, and we went with three miles because most experienced racers can do that distance without much training but still feel like they pushed themselves and got in a great workout and race,” continues Birnes. “We met our capacity of 40 racers very quickly.”

The series also quickly attracted a chief sponsor, Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC), a 29-year-old company that sells kits, plans, and materials for all sorts of wooden watercraft, from a 31-foot windward proa sailboat to a 14-foot paddleboard and, most recently, a “teardrop” trailer camper.

“CLC is not only interested in making boat kits but also loves to see customers out enjoying them on the water,” says Stimpson, who works for the boatbuilder. “So our president and our CEO felt it was a natural fit to
support a grassroots event occurring right on our local waterways.”

While Stimpson represented CLC on the water—she earned first place in the series, with Birnes taking second—the company provided and manned the safety launch and joined additional sponsors in providing trophies and prizes for the top 5 men’s and women’s finishers. CLC will also help the series grow even larger next year.

“Our overall goal is to bring more recreational paddlers, whatever their age or experience, into the sport of SUP racing in a fun and welcoming way,” says Birnes. “So next year our plan is to create a CHES•SUP•PEAKE points series. Membership paddlers who join will earn points for placing in the top five spots in six to eight participating races in the DELMARVA region, many of which raise money for local causes that support the health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

The series will culminate at the end of the season at the final CHES•SUP•PEAKE SUP race, where winners will be recognized and CLC will showcase some of its SUP and kayak kits.

-Steve Adams