"Most of the guys, including myself, struggle the first lap and you shoot out of the gate a little harder than you should," says Ching. "I think (the new format) is scary because if you make a mistake on one lap, there's not enough time to come back. I'm a little nervous about that. And catching one swell could make a huge difference this time. My big advantage is that I can out-paddle the others over distance, but now we've got two shorter races, not one long one, so that levels the field."
Travis Grant expects that the heat format will help everyone iron out the bugs and result in a greater battle between more paddlers for the win: "The longer the race, the better I do, so shortening it up will really change things. In Australia we do heats for a lot of races, so I don't mind that, it gets you ready, but it gets the other competitors ready, too! For me, in a straight out final you can break people straight away, but it's going to be very different with the heats. It's incredible that the sport's grown to the point where we need to run heats now."
Jamie Mitchell admits he's nowhere near his performance goals yet, so the Elite Race format will be a true test for him: "When I said SUP was my next thing, I meant over the course of a year, not straight away," said Mitchell. "I went from Molokai (world championship race in July) to my honeymoon, then to New York (where he headed up water patrol for the ASP World Surfing Tour), and now I'm here. But I'm nowhere near where I'd like to be at in terms of performance. I know how to race and I have plenty of experience so I'll be trying to draw on all that. For me, a Top 5 finish would be a good result. I know what I'm capable of and I'm nowhere near it at the moment, so I can't be too confident.
"You can't get ahead of yourself. You've got to get through that first heat. And while the distances are shorter, when you combine the 2-mile preliminary heat with the 3-mile final, you're actually paddling 5-miles this year compared to 4-miles before."
Candice Appleby is excited about the new format, but wishes the Elite Final had the men and women starting at the same time: "You're going to see the strongest, deepest, fastest women's field you've ever seen in stand-up paddle this weekend," said Appleby. "The gap between the men and the women is really closing, so ideally, I'd like it if the women started with the men in the final so we could see where we stand in the field overall. But it's going to be exciting regardless, and there's a lot more aspects to the race this year with the new format."
The preliminary heats of the Elite Race will commence at 9am Saturday. The Elite Final will commence at 2pm. Saturday will also feature the Open Race at 11:30am, the SUP beach expo, and kids races. The distance race from San Clemente Pier will take place on Sunday, finishing at Doheny. In total, more than 800 starters are expected to compete throughout the weekend.
All event proceeds to go to the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association.