Nearly 100 paddleboarders of various ages and skill levels participated in the 2016 Blake Real Estate’s Paddle the Bay event in Safety Harbor on Saturday, as crystal clear skies and a steady breeze made for ideal, yet somewhat challenging, conditions for the racers.
Now in its third year, Paddle the Bay, which serves as a fundraiser to help raise awareness for newborn screening programs, has grown considerably since its inception.
In fact this year, racers praised a number of the event’s components, from the course layout to the trophies to the VIP treatment given to the participants, leading many veteran paddleboarders to say they now consider Blake’s Paddle the Bay event to be one of the premier paddleboarding races on the West Coast of Florida.
“I think this is a great event,” Jennifer Monnich of Tarpon Springs said.
“It’s very well organized, the course is excellent and went very smoothly, and the VIP tent for the racers was a nice touch. The whole thing was top notch.”
Monnich’s fellow racers echoed her thoughts.
“This venue is one of the most comfortable ones for racers on the entire West Coast of Florida,” experienced paddleboarder Bob Brodhead, who finished first in his division, said.
“The parking is easy, there’s plenty of wide open spaces, and it’s a wonderful service that Blake provides,” he added. “Even the trophies are better than everyone else’s. It’s really one of the best events of its kind in the area.”
Holly Jones, who has participated in all three Paddle the Bay events—and won her division each time—concurred with Brodhead.
“I love this race,” Jones, who goes by the handle Holly-Star, said. “I love the fact Rick listens to the racers input about the event. There aren’t many events where the organizers care so much about the opinions of the participants. But they really do a great job of including the racers in the planning and execution of the entire event.”
“Of all the races I do, this is the best one.”
Non-racers were also impressed with the event.
“Even if you don’t paddle, you should come hang out,” Ian Tabb, who was there to offer support for Jones, said. “Anyone who loves the outdoors should be out here.”
For his part, organizer Rick Blake, a former City Commissioner who owns a real estate brokerage in town, said he is enjoying seeing the Paddle the Bay event grow in popularity each year.
“It’s rewarding to see so many of the same paddlers come back every year, we all have a blast out on the water. It’s cool to watch it grow but I know we still have a ton of room for improvement. I already wrote down a half dozen ideas today that will improve it for next year.”
In addition to receiving the praise of the participants, Blake is especially proud that the event is supporting a cause that is close to his heart, newborn screenings.
“The coolest thing about all this is the strong foundation we are laying at Paddle For Kids Corp. These events not only raise awareness for newborn screening programs but will soon provide funding for new research to identify and expand the number of chronic diseases tested for in newborn screenings, a program which saved our own daughter.”
Here’s a look at some of the sights from the 2016 Blake Real Estate’s Paddle the Bay event: