Tahoe’s Race the Lake of the Sky grows into one of the country’s premier paddleboard events
June 26, 2014
If you go
What: Race the Lake of the Sky stand-up paddle race
Where: Lakeview Commons, at the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Lake Tahoe Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe
When: Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29
Tickets: Free to attend, registration fees vary
"I've got to write a new 'About' section for our website," he said, rattling off his work in progress.
Brackett's life revolves around the sport. On a regular day, the owner and CEO of South Tahoe Stand-up Paddle attends tourism meetings to promote his summer events, maybe sells a board or two, files a "morning report" of the conditions on the lake and, of course, updates his website.
But the big project, the darling of the entire 12-member Brackett family, is Race the Lake of the Sky — an event that blossomed from tiny roots and has grown into a major production. Planning now encompasses much of the year.
Race the Lake of the Sky is one of the largest and most anticipated stand-up paddle events in the country. From the volunteers to the racers, the two-day festival embodies Lake Tahoe's affinity for the growing sport. But it all started as a group of people just having a good time.
“When you look back at the smiles on everybody’s face, it’s beautiful. That’s really the future of this thing.”
"It was so real the first year," Brackett laughs, remembering the inaugural race in 2012. "Everybody just came out and had fun."
Now, some of the fastest paddlers in the world attend the World Paddle Association-sanctioned event. Last year, professionals Jay Wild, Anthony Vela and Candice Appleby, among others, took part in several of the races. Though the competition was intense, it's not all about results.
"Race the Lake of the Sky has no prize money, so everyone who comes is there because of the racing and the great vibe," said Geoff James, who runs the popular paddling website, http://www.supcurrents.com. "The Brackett family and event team make everyone feel special. Without a doubt it's the best organized and well-run race I have ever been to."
Race the Lake is broken up into several disciplines. More than 300 competitors entered the event's most popular race, the El Dorado 5-miler, last year. The 14-mile traverse to Emerald Bay and back is the longest race. There's also the new specialty SUP cross, in which heats of competitors launch from a starting gate and weave through an 800-yard zigzag.
Then, there's the spectator favorite.
"It's all about the kids and the grom race," Brackett said. "When you look back at the smiles on everybody's face, it's beautiful. That's really the future of this thing."
On the beach, those watching the paddlers keep busy with dozens of product, clothing and food booths. There are board and paddle demos. Workshops and courses on everything from paddling technique to paddle yoga take place in the water nearby. Needless to say, Lakeview Commons is abuzz with activity on the weekend before Fourth of July — a weekend that, in the past, didn't draw a lot of traffic to South Lake Tahoe.
"It ends up by pure coincidence and circumstance, that it's the absolute perfect weekend for Lake Tahoe lodging and events," Brackett said. "This weekend is usually pretty slow."
The idea for a big race sprouted not long after Brackett and family launched their Wednesday night stand-up paddle races at South Lake Tahoe's Regan Beach in 2011. With the popularity of the weekly event and the nationwide boom in the sport of stand-up paddling, competitors and organizers began to have larger visions.
Brackett and friends began researching what it would take to put on a large lakeside contest. Among permits, insurance and a host of other logistics, the crew kept busy until the day of the race.
"That first year, we put so much into it and learned a lot," Brackett said. "Now that we've learned the process, each year is easier."
This year, Brackett expects attendance to double. He may have to send paddlers in heats because the lineup at the start of the races extends hundreds of yards down the beach. He's pondering prize money, but he doesn't want to change the event that means so much to him.
For Brackett, Race the Lake of the Sky has grown into something that's difficult to put into words — hence his struggle with the "About" section. Stand-up paddling and its growth in Lake Tahoe changed his life. He has made new friends through the sport. He's become healthier and closer to his family. But what's really touched him is the way the town has rallied behind his creation.
"The community support and our local community is what makes the race special," Brackett said in almost a whisper. "And where we live. We live in a beautiful place that people want to come to. I'm just hoping every year it grows."