6 Things You Never Knew …

About Hosting a Grassroots Paddling Race

Text and photos by Eric Adsit

Everyone notices when an event isn’t totally dialed in. As an organizer, the best thing you can hope for is to not hear anything at all. This weekend, Sandy River Showdown directors Sam Drevo and Teri Smith got an earful … of positive feedback. Steve Fisher said it was “the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike!” The success of the event can undoubtedly be credited to the organizers’ and volunteers’ commitment to a positive athlete experience. “When running an event, it all comes down to what the athlete is feeling,” said Smith, “I felt like we accomplished that. It makes me smile seeing everyone having a good time.”

Here are 6 aspects of hosting a grassroots event—in this case a pedal-paddle—that you might not expect.

1. Location, Location, Location
Choosing an area that has easy access for competitors, volunteers, and spectators is critical. For a maximum turnout, race courses should cater to intermediate skill levels. The recently renovated Sandy Ridge Trailhead was an easy choice. A 1,200-foot descent over roughly three miles of twisting, berm-studded trail called Hide and Seek provided a great mountain bike venue, while an eight-mile stretch of Oregon’s Sandy River beginning just across the road provided class II-III fun for the paddlers.

2. It’s Not Your Job
If you’re hosting a grassroots event like the Sandy River Showdown, it’s probably not your full-time job. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you just break even on the venture. Both Drevo and Smith were working at their own businesses (eNRG Kayaking and Life Outside, respectively) while trying to balance all the challenges of hosting this kind of event.

3. Marketing
For those who determine the success of an event by the number of people competing, marketing will be your best friend. Start early, and find your way onto as many calendars as possible. Drevo opted out of scheduling the event on the OBRA calendar to keep the group a little smaller and “make sure the mountain biking was totally dialed in for the first year.” An aggressive facebook campaign and word of mouth will also draw in the racers.

4. Logistics and Timing
According to Smith, “getting results quickly is key for athletes.” If you look carefully at any event, you’ll see a handful of people that aren’t competing shuttling up and down trails and rivers, standing behind registration booths, and holding stop watches. These are the volunteers and the lifeblood of any grassroots event. A 13-passenger bus and well-chosen staging area relieved the normal logistical headache of driving shuttle, and two clocks linked by satellite provided accurate results immediately.

5. Safety
For any successful event, a solid safety crew should be present. American Medical Response donated their time and equipment to the Showdown. While their medical services weren’t necessary, their presence was reassuring to all involved.

6. Next Year
It’s a good idea to keep the momentum going from the get-go. Solid media content for a website, magazines, and blogs will get the competitors stoked for next year and the people that hadn’t heard about it before wish they had. Capturing people’s immediate impressions of the event is helpful for planning in the future, and for the directors of the Showdown, the main goal was getting more people involved.

— Go to sandyrivershowdown.com for full results.

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