The upcoming Shark Bite Challenge is shaping up to be the coming out party for American surfski racing in 2016.
Already, the start list is looking like a who's-who of paddlers with: Sean Rice, Jasper Mocke, Darryl Remmler, Jesse Lishchuk, Reid Hyle, and some of the best local, regional and even top paddlers from the northeast and west coast arriving to join in the melee.
Although not likely to produce down wind runs, the eight mile twice around the cans course shows up at the right time and the right place on the calendar. Enticing paddlers with signature Florida warmth and magnificently clear water. The SBC serves as a welcome opener for competitors ready to shed their winter gear and thaw out with some quality time closer to the equator.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the event is well run and conducts the awards ceremony at a local microbrewery- keeping the long standing tradition of post-race drinkery alive and well. You'll also have a chance to demo an assortment of boats and attend clinics with top paddlers. Travelers will enjoy an assortment of to-do type of attractions, not the least of which is enjoying the unique and vibrant town of Duneden (pronounced done-eden) that serves as epicenter for the race.
Early predictions would be hard to make and when factoring early season form and registrations still coming in, it's going to be anybodies game.
Top two open male spots will likely be a toss up between former World Surfski champions Jasper Mocke and Sean Rice. Rice is the bigger stronger paddler, which will likely play in his favor on the flat, shorter course. But Mocke is no delicate flower and has been extremely active at the races over the past few months. He's very likely going to line up with top form come April.
From there things get interesting:
Jesse Lishchuk: 2015 Shark Bite Winner and National K1 Marathon Champion. Reid Hyle: 2014 Shark Bite Champion and former East Coast Champion. Craig Impens: Blackburn Challenge Winner. Darryl Remmler: Think Kayak Honch and Former Canadian Wildwater Team Member. Jan Lupinski: top New England Paddler and current N.E. series champion. Long time distance paddlers Kenny Howell and Bruce Gipson, Chris Hipgrave: National Wildwater Champion and Southeast Paddle Sport Champion. Eric Mims: Southeast Champion and Epic Kayak guru -2015 3rd, Place finisher- Shark Bite Challenge.
All pose a challenge for the final spot on the podium.
In addition to these top paddlers come many other strong and surging competitors all able on any given day to give anyone a run for their money.
The women's race will also host a strong field this year with 2015 winner Pam Boteler returning to have another go, along with Memphis Belle Kata Dismukes, Sara Jordan and several others vying for the top spot.
The surfski category seems to be dominating the early start list. Mirroring the explosive growth of the ski in the region.
If you're not already registered, you may soon lose your chance. The race sold out last year and with the numbers already shooting up fast, it will likely be sold out soon.