When Joe Ward crossed the finish line of Sunday’s stand-up paddle board race on Bear Creek, organizers didn’t give him a trophy. Instead, he was handed a trash bag.
After finishing the five-mile course in about 48 minutes, the Annapolis man immediately headed back out onto the water to pick up candy wrappers and other litter he spotted during what organizers said was the Baltimore area’s first race of its kind.
More than 50 people participated in the race, organized by the paddle boarding company B’More SUP. After completing the course, everyone was encouraged to paddle back out onto the creek to pick up trash.
“We have to clean up the waterways so we can keep using them,” said Ward, 39.
B’More SUP’s owner, Jessie Benson, said the event was the Baltimore area’s first and only stand-up paddle board race. She now plans to hold one every summer.
Stand-up paddle boarding has grown rapidly, from 1.1 million Americans participating in 2010 to about 2.8 million in 2014, according to The Outdoor Foundation. About 20 percent of U.S. stand-up paddle boarders live in the South Atlantic region, which includes Maryland.
“We’re trying to build up the community of SUP racers, and we need events like this where people can get together and just paddle,” Benson said. “It’s not really about competition — it’s about spreading excitement.”
The cleanup component, a partnership with Blue Water Baltimore, was also important, she said.
“We want to show people we’re passionate about being on the water,” she said.
Many of the people gathered at Bear Creek were first-time racers. Participants could do either a 2.5-mile or a 5-mile course.
Fifteen-year-old Hannah Kline raced with her mother, Jamie. It was her first real race, and she said sge was excited to participate in more.
“I love being on the water,” Hannah said. “And I get to spend time with my mom without the other two” siblings.
The competitors cheered one another on as time went by, often encouraging others to “finish strong” as they made their way back.
Justin Welsh was first to finish the 2.5-mile race, which he did in about 32 minutes. Welsh, who lives in Bethany Beach, Del., said he plans to return for the next race.
“I just like to stand up and paddle,” said Welsh, 37, “to be out there on the open bay with the view.”
Deirdre Weadock took her 2-year-old son out on the paddle board with her. Thomas, wearing lime-green flotation wings, sat peacefully at the front of his mother’s board as she took them through the course.
“I want him to grow up with the idea that activity is part of our day to day life,” the Towson woman said. “Being outdoors and moving is like brushing our teeth. It’s part of our day.”
Weadock said she’s glad there will be an annual race so close to where she lives, and she was happy to see people out keeping the water clean.
“Someday [Thomas] can paddle on this water, too,” she said.