During down time at the Hennessey’s World Paddle Championships at Lake Las Vegas on Saturday, they played a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival over the public address system. They should have played the “Hawaii Five-O” theme by the Ventures, because this sport — stand-up paddleboard racing — looks like something you’d see during the opening credits of the TV detective series.
While I am sure there is much more to paddleboard racing than meets the eye, this is what met the eye of a first-time observer watching from the shore:
First you stand on this board, which looks like a surfboard. Then you take the oar, flat on one side, a little curved on the other — like a hockey stick — and you paddle. Left, left, left. Right, right, right.
You do this for like eight miles.
Except for having to paddle eight miles, it’s actually pretty cool. Many of the competitors wore bikinis and/or Pabst Blue Ribbon mesh trucker ball caps.
Once you are out on the water, away from the beach, a gentle breeze blows, and then a guy in a dinghy comes through and kind of stirs up the water and shouts encouragement over a bullhorn.
“Way to go! You’re closing the gap! That’s what I like to see!”
This is probably not what the guy who is leading wants to see.
The guy who was leading the pro board class is called Thomas Maximus. He is called this because he looks like a Roman centurion, all buff and bronze. His real name is Thomas Shahinian. He hands out these glossy cards that list his race schedules: stand-up paddling on one side, outrigger canoeing on the other.
There’s also a line in red type that says if you are thinking of buying or selling real estate, you should call him. Because though Maximus has sponsors and purses on the tour are getting better, prize money still is fairly Minimus. So most paddleboarders have real jobs.
The buff and bronzed Maximus, 44, hardly broke a sweat in winning the pro class.
He said the course, which started at the little beach at the Westin and looped around the lagoon at the MonteLago Village, did not seem like eight miles. He once paddled an outrigger canoe 42 miles from Molokai to Oahu in Hawaii; he said that seemed every bit of 42 miles.
Guys who hang out at Buffalo Wild Wings on Sunday watching football would not paddle 42 miles in a canoe if Daryl Hannah were waiting in her mermaid costume. But Maximus grew up on the water in San Clemente, Calif., where most guys would rather go surfing and do other water sports on Sunday.
He said there is a big race this weekend at Dana Point, just down the beach from where he lives, called Battle of the Paddle. A lot of guys from Hawaii, and a lot of guys named “Duke” and “Moondoggie” travel to California for that one.
Maximus thinks paddle racing is the next big thing in water sports. He thinks it could become bigger than surfing, because surfing requires waves, and so that limits surfing to coastal cities where they have pipelines and fish tacos.
In the paddle sports, almost any body of water will do, including a man-made lagoon tucked between resort spas in the middle of the desert.
Plus, Maximus says paddling on water is a lot easier on the body than running or playing other sports that cater to energy drink enthusiasts. These would include Ultimate Frisbee and riding skateboards, though probably not Hacky Sack.
“It’s low impact, works all the muscles,” he said. “Anybody from 8 to 80 can do it.”
The boards, made of carbon fiber, cost around $700; the paddles, also made of carbon fiber, cost around $200. A Whirl 6 Metal footbag costs $13 on Footbag.com. So while Hacky Sack may not work all the muscle groups, it is cheaper to get started.
When we were talking, an announcement pre-empting “Down on the Corner” stated there would be a meeting of slalom competitors in 45 minutes or so, upon which Thomas Maximus politely excused himself. “Gotta go hydrate,” he said.
I noticed a lot of people around the beach were hydrating, only they were doing it with Coors Light. And, as I said, a lot of the female paddleboarders were wearing bikinis. There was a laid-back vibe to all of it. Like if you wanted to jump on one of the boards and grab a paddle during the down time before races, they would let you.
I saw a guy who was wearing one of the PBR caps, who had been sipping on a Coors Light, do exactly that. He had just cleared the bullrushes and was headed toward the footbridge to the Westin when somebody yelled from the beach that he should turn the paddle around, because he was paddling with the curved side facing out instead of the flat side. (Or maybe it was the other way around.)
Anyway, he managed to make it to the footbridge and back without falling in, though his form looked nothing at all like Thomas Maximus’ or the guys in the “Hawaii Five-O” credits.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski