Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Heal the Bay"

For a few hours Saturday it was the 1930s again at the beach, as scores of men and women standing atop paddleboards glided across the calm waters outside the shore break.

The second annual Santa Monica Pier Paddleboard Race & Ocean Festival was a celebration of a sport that faded from view in the 1960s but has been revived in recent years by new technologies and star-powered marketing.

"With the evolution of the short board and leashes, it was the La Brea Tar Pits for any kind of long board — you're dinosaurs, throw 'em in the tar pits!" said Jericho Poppler, 59, a former world championship surfer. "Paddleboarding never went extinct, but it stayed parochial and remained a part of lifeguarding."

Long before Gidget and the Beach Boys heralded the golden age of surfing, a group of Santa Monica lifeguards created the golden age of paddleboarding. In the 1930s and '40s they built wood boards inspired by aircraft wings and, piloting the boards with nothing more than their arms, competed in organized races to Santa Catalina Island.

Those pioneers — Tom Blake, Pete Peterson, Wally Burton and others — did for traditional paddleboarding what Laird Hamilton has recently done for big wave surfing.

Today, instead of lying flat on their chests and using their arms, those who embrace the modern version of paddleboarding stand upright and coast with the aid of a long paddle.

"There's been a resurgence, and it's now one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation," said Todd Roberts, an organizer of Saturday's event, which was also a fundraiser for the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Heal the Bay.

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