If you go
Inaugural Island Paddle Challenge
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20
Where: The Esplanade, 740 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
Registration and information: (239) 394-7549 or islandpaddlechallenge.com
MARCO ISLAND — The Island Paddle Challenge is coming to Marco Island, and everyone’s invited. Geared to amateurs and locals, the kayak and paddleboard competition will take to the water on Sunday, Nov. 20, in an event the organizers hope will be a fun party for the whole family and, for that matter, for the whole island.
Headquartered at the Esplanade, the event is sponsored by the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, with proceeds benefiting the Leadership Marco Alumni Scholarship Fund. The Challenge is just as much, or even more, though, about fun as it is about fundraising, and the cost to attend is as reasonable as can be. One dollar gets you in as a spectator, unless you’re age six or under, in which case admission is free. Chip in $5 instead of $1, and you get a T-shirt thrown in.
“We want people to come out and have a good time,” said Vip Grover, co-chair of the Paddle Challenge.
“This is for our local population.” The challenge follows a trend to having preseason or “shoulder” season events in the area, he said.
“If you look back, five years ago there was nothing. Now you have the triathlon, the Beach Music Festival, the 5K Run,” said Grover, branch manager for Advanced Insurance Underwriting.
The Challenge is also trendy in another way, jumping onto the increasingly sport of paddleboarding. “It’s the in thing, an amazing phenomenon,” Grover said.
Rick Popoff, another co-chairman, said he had been told paddleboards are the top selling item at West Marine.
To enter the races, either in the paddleboard or kayak division, costs $35 if you do it by this weekend. The fee will climb to $40 for late entries, including day of the race. Entry fees include a “goodie bag,” containing suntan lotion, water, T-shirt, a floating keychain and a whistle, which each contestant is required to carry.
Registration will start at 9 a.m., with the first race expected at “about 11 a.m., or maybe 11:30 a.m.,” said Popoff, owner of Rick’s Island Salon at the Esplanade, and one of the event’s sponsors. “We’re not sure how many heats there will be. We’re running blind with this. It’s the first year, and we’re sort of feeling our way.”
In addition to racing, or cheering on the racers, spectators will enjoy live music, games and booths, a full range of beverages and food from CJ’s on the Bay (another sponsor), Mango’s and Tara.
The official hours for the Challenge are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Another island retailer selling paddleboards is Island Trends, proving they have earned both parts of their name. Chadd Chustz from Island Trends said he definitely planned to get into shape and enter the race. “There’s not much time, is there?” he noted.
Paddleboarding, he said, is “a lifetime sport, really good for your core. You see 50-year-olds doing yoga, or fishing from their boards.”
Of course, there are probably still far more kayaks than paddleboards in people’s garages and backyards, so it remains to be seen how the percentages of watercraft will break down. Both kayak and paddleboard rentals would be available, although numbers could be limited, said Popoff. And, as noted, all is subject to change.
The long-term beneficiary of the event will be students, as the goal of the Leadership Marco Alumni Scholarship Fund is providing educational scholarships to area students interested in pursuing higher education at institutions of their choice.
The short-term beneficiaries will be those who show up for the “fun-raiser,” either to give their core a workout, or just party and watch. Rick Popoff put himself firmly in the latter group.
“No way you’re getting me on one of those things,” he said.