Puakea Designs’ Wild Buffalo Relay Returns to Catalina

CATALINA ISLAND— Puakea Designs will host the all-small craft relay, Wild Buffalo Relay, within the SoCal Ocean Racing winter series from March 31- April 2. The race includes all small craft divisions with relay teams of 2-4 people (depending on the craft) or select solo divisions. The race runs from Avalon, Catalina Island, CA, to the Newport Aquatic Center in Newport Beach. This is a 31-mile course.

“The Catalina Channel Crossing is historic in Outrigger Racing in one form or another,” said Jimi Spoto from Puakea Designs. “The first 6-person outriggers crossed the channel from Avalon to Newport Beach in 1959 with the Hawaiians beating the Local California team. This race is ongoing every year in September and is put on by Southern California Outrigger Racing Association. There was a “small boat” channel race that existed up to 2011, but organizers moved on.”

Puakea Designs has reintroduced this version of the “Small Boat” race and has been going since 2018, with a break from 2020-21. This will be the 5th Wild Buffalo Relay. In past years, the race has run from Two Harbors on the northwest end of Catalina Island. While that venue was naturally wild and beautiful, it could not accommodate an event of this size. Therefore, this will be the first year it has been brought back to Avalon.

This race centers on one-person outrigger canoes (Oc-1) and 2-person outrigger canoes (OC-2). Still, there are also divisions for single and double surf-ski (Surfskis are ocean-capable racing Kayaks), and there will also be a standup division. Divisions are further broken down by age category: 19-under, open, masters, sr master, golden master, men, and women.

A Short Course will take place in and around Avalon Harbor on April 1, less than five miles. April 2 is the main event starting outside Avalon Harbor and will go to the Newport Beach Harbor and through the Back Bay, finishing at the Newport Aquatic Center. The total course length is estimated at 31 miles. There will be a large motorboat with tall red flags to lead the pack of racers, but athletes often use their own escort boats with GPS to plot a course that will take advantage of wind and currents. In addition, there are typically 3-4 dedicated safety boats with paramedics for this race, and every relay team must have its own motorboat.

Awards will be given to the top three in most divisions and include commemorative hand-made wooden plaques. Additionally, the race is a “winter season” ender race and is considered the SoCal Championship. The weekend consists of curated activities on Catalina, such as hiking and yoga, and is seen as a community event with a big race.

“We want to congratulate paddlers on training through winter and get stoked for the team paddling season in the summer,” said Spoto. “Bringing the competitors and the full support staff to Catalina allows a special experience on the island.

Entry fees for the event range from $185-$265 depending on whether you are a relay team with your own motor escort boat or going solo and may need support. Furthermore, a raffle will be held for an OC-1 canoe, and all proceeds will benefit “We Are Ocean.”  The WAO mission is to improve the lives of cancer patients and survivors through ocean-based, healthy, active lifestyle camps and adventures as well as create opportunities for cancer patients and survivors to develop new passions, skills, and relationships to help navigate life post-cancer in, on, and under the ocean.

For more information, please visit https://paddleguru.com/races/WildBuffaloRacePresentedbyPuakeaDesigns2023.

The schedule is subject to change:

Friday, March 31

ALOHA Collection Happy Hour and registration check-in – 3 p.m.

Saturday, April 1

Beach Yoga – 8 a.m.

Short Course Safety Meeting at the Green Pier – 9:30 a.m.

Short Course Start – 10 a.m.

Hike – 10 a.m.

Cocktails and Canoes Panel Start – 12 – 3 p.m.

Registration Check-in – 12 – 3 p.m.

Short Course Awards – 1 p.m.

Safety Meeting and Dinner at City Park – 4 p.m.

Sunday, April 2

Race Start – 9 a.m.

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