IF YOU GO
What: Stand Up Paddle Luau Races
When: This Saturday
Where: Launching at Shane’s Cabana Bar with first race starting at 10 a.m.
Cost: $25 pre-registration fee at Noodles Cafe or Tavern on the Bay
Why: Proceeds benefit Special Olympics of Collier County
For more information: Call (239) 370-6577
NAPLES — The Second Annual Stand Up Paddle Luau Races will soon make a splash in downtown Naples. For some paddlers, it means a chance at keeping their title of fastest paddler in the race, while Special Olympians will win no matter what happens in timed trials — as funds raised will go to Special Olympics Florida.
One local restaurateur, Matt Berman, owner of Noodles Italian Cafe and Sushi Bar, along with his brother Seth, partnered with local businesses to create opportunities for racers and participants to win plenty of grand prizes. Special Olympian race participants will also have a chance to win everything from movie passes to gift certificates for local entertainment venues in Naples.
“Last year was my first race, and I wanted to keep it low key. This year though, we have a lot more advertisements with a local radio station,” said Matt Berman, taking a moment from practice with Special Olympians and fellow stand-up paddlers.
Tasty delicacies from local restaurants will be available at a low rate for those who decide to come out and cheer, as paddle boarders of all ages will traverse the water course which leads from Bayfront all the way to Joe’s Crab Shack, and rounds back to finish the race at the Cabana Bar at Bayfront.
“I like to experience it with them, and see their pride as they stand up on the board for the first time,” said Mindy Quinsey, who has volunteered by teaching Special Olympians in preparation for Saturday’s race. “The top finishers of the men’s and women’s competition will have a chance to race again with a Special Olympian on their board — I hope I can win again.”
The Special Olympians are encouraged by coaches to stand on the board, but if they are not ready, many athletes choose to remain seated with their partners on the board. Some first-time Special Olympic athletes are reserved in practices, while others stand up quickly to give it a try totally solo once they feel confident.
Although stand up paddling is not currently recognized as a Special Olympics sport, coaches hope it soon will be listed officially in Florida along with other Special Olympic sports. For now, Naples will set a competitive water stage for the yearly event.
Want to join in on the race, but do not own a stand up paddleboard? Local businesses are offering up their equipment to paddlers who pre-register.
“We’ll be offering boards for anyone who wants to participate and registers with thanks to our sponsors, True Blue, Naples Kite and YOLO,” said Berman. “They can register early, or anytime all the way up to an hour before the last heat, and everyone is welcome to come out. There’s free parking at Bayfront, and I arranged for reserved free parking in the area across the street. There’s no charge to come out and watch the race.”
“It’s humbling to know we’re doing it for the kids,” said Berman, as he looks forward to saying aloha to another stand up paddle race this Saturday.