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The 45th Annual Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon

CATALINA ISLAND— On Aug. 28, Catalina Island will host the 45th Annual Catalina Classic; this year, the race is dedicated to legendary waterman Tim Ritter. During the event, paddleboarders from all over the world will come together to take on the challenge of a 32-mile paddle from Isthmus Cove to the Manhattan Beach Pier.

This year, approximately 100 paddlers will leave from the Isthmus, Catalina Island, at 6 a.m. and attempt to paddle the 32 miles, passing the PV-10 buoy on their way to the Manhattan Beach Pier using only their hands to propel their boards through the water. The first finishers are expected to arrive shortly after 11 a.m. Racers must paddle out on boards between 12 and 19 feet long.

This competitive race draws the top-prone paddlers from around the world. The event is limited to a field of 100 paddlers for safety logistics. In addition, each paddler is required to have their own dedicated escort boat. It is a grueling race, and conditions change yearly, humbling even the most experienced and prepared paddlers.

This event is considered a historical paddleboard event by participants and is organized and conducted by the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Association, Inc.

The race was inspired by Tom Blake’s desire to prove and promote his new paddleboard design after he, along with Pete Peterson and Wally Burton, had completed the first paddleboard crossing to Catalina Channel in 1932. Later, the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce leaders Cliff Webster, Bob Jean, Paul Garber, Bob Rueben, Lee Cave, Hal Newell, Bob Smith, and Bud Caldwell joined forces with LA County Lifeguard, and Manhattan Beach resident Bob Hogan made the event an official race in 1955. Together they created and conducted what was then called the Manhattan Beach International Paddleboard Race. The 32-mile marathon would start at Isthmus Cove on Catalina Island and finish on the south side of the Manhattan Beach Pier. The Chamber’s goal was to bring positive attention to their growing beach community.

According to the National Museum of American History, Blake introduced the patented hollow paddleboard in 1931, cutting the board weight in half and fueling the first boom in surfing as the lighter boards made surfing more accessible to the masses.

This board became a standard piece of life-saving equipment that went on to be used by lifeguards worldwide. In 1935, Blake’s second innovation was the stabilizing fin. Although it did not catch on in Hawaii for another five years, this advanced design inspired future board designs and became a standard for boards in 1940.

This original event was only held five times from 1955 to 1960. The event was then canceled due to construction of the pier and then again in 1961 due to dangerous ocean conditions. After the death of Cliff Webster, who was the driving force and most significant promoter of the race, the city decided to end the race. As a result, Marathon paddleboard racing went on a hiatus.

In 1982, LA County Lifeguard Lieutenant Karl “Buddy” Bohn was approached by the Manhattan Beach Historical Society to find and donate a 1950’s style paddleboard for their museum’s exhibition. While searching for a good racing board to present, many convinced Buddy to re-start the race, a responsibility the Chamber had been trying to give Buddy and other Lifeguard Association Directors for years. At last, Chamber executive Trudy Smart turned over the race by-laws and articles of incorporation. Buddy enlisted the support of some of the original channel paddlers, fellow county lifeguard, and Manhattan Beach resident Weldon “Gibby” Gibson to start the race up again. Then, they put together the race known as the Catalina Classic 32-mile Paddleboard Marathon. The rules were updated, changing the stock class board length from 14 feet to 12 feet. With the help of friends from the Catalina Channel Swim Federation, they garnered advice on the subject of logistics and safety as it related to channel crossings. Today the race is called The Catalina Classic.

The race will begin at 6 a.m. this year, leaving from Isthmus Cove. Once paddlers take off, swells, currents, and wind conditions will begin to play into what is one of the most intense endurance challenges.

The race must be completed in 9 hours to qualify for completion. The first-place winner for the 2021 race, Scott Clausen finished the race with a time of 5:38:44 out of 87 racers, and the first woman in the 2021 race to the finish was Liz Hunter with a time of 7:26:50. The fastest record time was set in 1999, standing at 5:02:12, set by Tim Gair.

Many paddlers utilize the race to raise money and awareness for their favorite charities, including:

  • The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, with the US Marine Corps relay team from Wounded Warriors Battalion-West
  • The Ocean of Hope Campaign for the Sarcoma Alliance
  • The ALS Association Golden West Chapter

In addition, each year, the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Association, a non-profit organization, donates to local non-profits that have included: 1 percent for the planet, Los Angeles County Junior Lifeguard Scholarship Fund, MB Roundhouse Aquarium, Jimmy Miller Foundation, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and ECF Kayne Eras Center.

There is a planned award ceremony and celebration for this year, but the details have not been entirely worked out yet.

Registration for the event concluded on June 20th.

More information, history, photos, records, and volunteer opportunities can be found at

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