There's just nothing quite like being on the coast. That expanse of horizon, the feeling of infinite space, the simultaneous power and serenity of the rolling waves. Coastal destinations have more than ocean; they come with their own unique characteristics, from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs and mountains. Coastal water sports vary just as much as the landscapes that give them a home, making the world of coastal water sports worthy of exploration.
The View from the Bow
The RC44 Championship Tour, launched in 2007, is one of the most competitive and respected events on the international yacht racing circuit. The Tour makes a number of East Coast, European and even Middle Eastern stops, but it never launched from America's West Coast until 2011, when the race visited San Diego. Getting a stop on the RC44 is no easy feat either, since the event, according to its Web site, "only visits world-renowned sailing venues where decent breeze is as good as guaranteed."
John Laun, president and CEO of SEA (Sailing Events Association) San Diego, an organization created to promote major sailboat racing events in the city, confirms that assessment and adds that San Diego offers a number of factors critical to making the RC44 a success, including "great sailing, great weather, great facilities and an energetic and enthusiastic population interested in the highest level sailing."
About 30,000 spectators watched the racing at various venues around the Bay, and beautiful new Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier served as the event venue for teams and spectators.
"The Oracle RC44 Cup San Diego was a tremendous event," says Steve Schell, vice president of sales, San Diego Sports Commission. "Most yacht sailing races are done out in the ocean, but we were able to do the RC44 in the San Diego Bay. It makes it a little more user friendly when spectators can see the race from the shore. It creates the opportunity for it to feel more like a stadium event."
Yachting is certainly a stunning sport, but don't expect San Diego to get all its kicks in the conventional way. The city is also home to the Ultimate Boarder Championship, the world's first and only triathlon to bring together the world's best surfers, skaters and snowboarders for a one-week boarding standoff.
The event, now in its fourth year, began April 2 in the Mammoth, Calif., mountains, then moved to San Diego for surf and skate. Ultimate Boarder draws some of the world's best crossover amateur and professional athletes, a factor that played big in creator Tim Hoover's mind when destination selecting.
"San Diego has a long history of action sports and so many of the main guys now in the surf/skate/snow industry call San Diego home," says Hoover. "I felt like if this is going to be the only board sports tri in the world it would be a natural fit to put it right in the backyard of where those guys live."
An Adventure in the Northwest Territory
Mount Vernon visitors get the best of both worlds, with river sports on the Skagit and open water ocean sports less than half an hour away.
"Our beautiful river goes from the Cascade Mountains, through Mount Vernon and out to the Puget Sound, and offers a lot more than just scenery. We've got some great fishing in the area, including salmon. We're one of the last places in the nation to have all five types of indigenous salmon," says Karen Mills, membership and tourism director, Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking of fishing, nearby LaConner, Washington is home to an historical smelt fishing tournament, the LaConner Smelt Derby, celebrating 46 years this February.
The area is also home to some wild water adventure racing, such as the Deception Pass Dash. Just a half hour from Mount Vernon, Deception Pass State Park is a 4,134-acre marine and camping park with 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and 33,900 feet of freshwater shoreline on three lakes. Rugged cliffs meet the turbulent waters of Deception Pass, and that's where the Dash, a winter race for the heartiest of paddlers, manning sea kayaks, surf boards, outriggers, rowers, surfskis and even a pedal boat, takes place. More than 150 paddlers survived the 5th Annual Dash on December 4th, 2010.
A Sailor's Paradise
The first wave of the 64th annual Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race set sail at noon, April 15, while spectators looked on from the end of Balboa Pier, along the sandy shores and the bluffs overlooking Corona Del Mar State Beach.
Affectionately known as the N2E, the Newport to Ensenada is a 125.5 mile overnight race with numerous classes for monohulls, multihulls and cruisers. Sailors of all skill levels put this event, equal parts adventure, fierce competition and serious party, at the top of their sailing bucket list.
Over the past six-plus decades, more than 20,000 racers have gathered in Newport Beach to take on the N2E. One of the Pacific's most revered destinations, Newport Beach offers 330 annual days of sunshine, along with some of the country's best boating facilities, as well as attractions and amenities that make this town a traveler's paradise.
"The N2E is the largest annual international boat race and the perfect fit for Newport Beach," says Tom Bennett, senior vice president of sales, Visit Newport Beach Inc. "We have the largest recreational boat harbor on the West Coast, with approximately 10,000 boats and an enthusiastic boating community."
Sailing isn't the only sport on Newport Beach's waters, though. Rowing events enjoy a considerable amount of the spotlight, finding a home in the 18,000 square foot Newport Aquatic Center. The facility features a large multi-purpose meeting room, cardiovascular and weight training facilities, locker rooms and workshop and storage area for 400+ canoes, kayaks and rowing shells. Open to the public and home to several medal-winning rowing and kayaking teams, the Center hosts a number of major events, including The Newport Autumn Rowing Festival, the West Coast's premier Fall Rowing Regatta, which attracts over 1,300 collegiate, high school, master's men and women and elite level rowers each year.
SUP on the Cape Fear Coast
It's an ancient Hawaiian sport that is making a comeback in a big way. The Hawaiian, Ku Hoe He'e Nalu means "to stand, to paddle, to surf, a wave" and that's the most apt description of stand up paddling (SUP) you can get, except that in modern SUP, you don't even necessarily need a wave. From coast to coast and in hundreds of locations in between, stand up paddlers are growing in numbers every day.
"Our beaches are great for all kinds of surfing. Both Frommers.com and Outside Magazine have recognized our beaches as outstanding surf spots, especially for people new to surfing," says Connie Nelson, communications/PR director, Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Definitely one of the biggest sports around is stand up paddling. It's really growing in Cape Fear."
The Cape Fear Coast includes the city of Wilmington, as well as Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach, which has been the epicenter of SUP growth. And North Carolina's SUP enthusiasts don't just ride the coastline; they help keep them clean as well. Local organization SUP Cleanup combines SUP outings with the mission to keep waterways clean and protected. Since March 2009, SUP Cleanup has expanded to 14 chapters around the world, a number that is growing as the sport grows in popularity.
The sport's growth has spawned a number of competitions as well, such as this January's 3rd annual Cold Stroke Classic, which brought more than 100 racers from as far away as Canada and Puerto Rico to the Blockade Runner Beach Resort to participate in either the recreational class 3.5 mile course or the elite 7 mile course.
A Lot of Fish in the Sea
The Cape Fear shores are busy with SUPpers, but they're also known for some serious fishing as well as a number of new and established tournaments, including the Got-em-on King Mackerel Classic, the Fisherman's Post Spring Inshore Challenge and the TJM Celebrity Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament.
Fishing finds another fantastic home on Gulf Coast, specifically on the shores of Alabama's Orange Beach. Host for the last three years of a stop on the Inshore Fishing Association's Redfish Tour as well as the Tour's championship, Orange Beach welcomes 130-160 anglers, as well as their friends, families and fans for each event.
"It's a good crowd, of course, and another benefit is that the event is televised on Fox Sports Network, which showcases the great fishing we have here, which people may not know about," says Michelle Russ, sports and events sales manager, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission.
Everyone Wants to Tri
For years triathlons were a growing trend, but surely by now they can be upgraded to craze status. They're everywhere, and Gulf Shores is no different. The Gulf Shores event, the Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Tri and Coastal "Tri-it-on" Triathlon, offers both tri-thusiasts and beginners a chance to experience the triathlon thrill. The two distances are an Olympic triathlon—1,500 meter swim, 40K bike and 10K run—and a sprint— 300 meter swim, 10 mile bike and 2 mile run.
The Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Tri, in its fifth year this September, will kick off at a Gulf Shores public beach located right behind The Hangout, a local music venue and bar and the event's staging location for three years running.
"The race is owned by the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission and managed by a great organization out of Birmingham called Team Magic," says Russ. "It's been such a success, growing from 226 participants to more than 500 last year."
The tri in Orange Beach isn't the only one seeing major growth, and sports planners are noticing: triathlons abound from Atlantic to Pacific and everywhere in between. Wilmington hosts the PPD Beach2Battleship, an internationally recognized iron distance and half iron distance triathlon celebrating four years this November. San Diego's Mission Bay Park is home to the San Diego IronKids Triathlon, a special tri for kids ages 6 to 15 and one of 20 IronKids events across the country. And the Chequamegon Bay Sprint Triathlon takes the tri onto America's fourth shore: the Great Lakes. Wetsuits are suggested for this 500 meter swim, which takes place in Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay.
America's Freshwater Coast
With nearly 10,000 miles of shoreline, America's Great Lakes are a freshwater coastal destination not to be forgotten for a variety of water sports, including a few you might not expect.
"We get a great and consistent wind out of the west, which makes Lake Michigan perfect for a lot of sports you might not guess," says Mike Guswiler, executive director, West Michigan Sports Commission. "We have a lot of skim and kite boarding and also wind surfing. We even have surfing."
As in many locations, stand up paddling is becoming more and more popular in Michigan, inspiring the creation of the Great Lakes Stand Up Paddle Classic in the city of Holland. "It was a great event, and it really took off," says Guswiler. "We expect that it will continue to grow."
The Spirit of the Coast
There's something about a sports event at the coast. Maybe it's the peaceful sound of the surf or the laid-back lifestyle. Or maybe it's just that when you're in a place that's like a perpetual vacation, you never know what you might stumble across, like the 2011 Annual US Open Armwrestling Championships, in Florence, Ore. What's better than capping off a day in the water with a hot dog on the Boardwalk and an evening of serious armsports? Probably nothing.