2015-05-06 / Outdoors

Stand-up paddle boarders vie for world-class rankings in local race

Florida Weekly Correspondent

LEE COUNTY PARKS & REC / COURTESY PHOTOS LEE COUNTY PARKS & REC / COURTESY PHOTOS To say Damian Grafmyre and his stand-up paddleboard friends are looking forward to the Battle on the Blueway on Saturday, May 30, would be an understatement.

“We’re pretty stoked about it,” Mr. Grafmyre said.

This may be the biggest stand-up paddleboarding event ever held in Southwest Florida. There will be more than $10,000 in prize money going to the top finishers of the Fort Myers Beach races. About 150 competitors are expected, including some from distant Florida cities and even some from out of state, perhaps even from California.

Organizers such as Mr. Grafmyre, president of the Southwest Florida SUP Club, hope to make this inaugural gathering into an annual event.

First, though, is the 2015 Battle on the Blueway. It’s been in the planning for nearly a year. Sponsors have been lined up.

The day will feature the Ron Jon Pro 7 Mile Race and the Fish Tale 2 Mile for standup paddle boarders. Races will also be held for kayaks, prone paddleboards and canoes.

But the focus will be on the standup paddleboards.

“That’s where the prize money is,” said Mike Hammond, Lee County’s Calusa Blueway Coordinator.

Top paddleboard competitors will battle for points in the World Paddle Association Region 5 rankings.

Mr. Hammond started his job as the Blueway’s coordinator for Lee County Parks and Recreation in July 2014. He knew about a 2012 stand-up paddleboard race that was held in the county. He wanted not only to revive that event, but to make it bigger and better.

“I immediately started talking to friends about having the race again,” Mr. Hammond said.

That sounded like a capital idea to paddleboard friends such as Mr. Grafymyre and the other 56 members of his club.

The sport hooked Mr. Grafmyre, a San Carlos Park firefighter who grew up surfing in Hawaii, in 2008.

“It’s lifestyle to me,” said the 43-year- old Mr. Grafmyre. “You have to be a water lover.”

And he is that.

As are many other people.

That would be people such as 33-yearold Jesse Lavender, a father of two young children and pro-amateur sports manager for Lee County Parks and Recreation. One of the appealing facets of this sport for Mr. Lavender, who was a catcher on Bishop Verot High School’s baseball team in his youth and also caught at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, is that he can bring his children along.

When Mr. Lavender paddleboards he often places 6-year-old Levi and 4-yearold Savannah on the board with him.

Plus, there’s two other things that appeal to him about the sport.

“It’s a good workout and I can be on the water,” Mr. Lavender said.

The Battle on the Blueway is also good news to Jeff Mielke, executive director of Lee County’s office of Sports Development.

“It’s great to see the return of a sanctioned paddling race to Lee County,” said Mr. Mielke, according to a news release sent out by the county. “We always want to support events that bring positive attention to our waterways, and the explosion in popularity of SUP (stand-up paddling) racing is great for our tourism initiatives.”

More good paddling news may be coming in 2016.

“We’ve already started planning 2016,” Mr. Hammond said.

Mr. Grafmyre is in on that planning.

“Even bigger,” he said.

But first comes the 2015 Battle on the Blueway. ¦

>> What: Battle on the Blueway SUP Race

>> When: Saturday, May 30

>> Where: Crescent Beach Family Fun Park, Fort Myers Beach

>> Prize money: More than $10,000

>> Entry fees: $65-$85

>> Info: leeparks.org/blueway/

>> Race times: 8:30 a.m. for SUPs and 10:30 a.m. for the Open Vessel class with demo-activities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

>> Admission: Free

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