Catalina Classic 32 Mile Paddleboard Marathon begins Sunday

In the absence of any previous Catalina Classic winners competing in this year’s race, local favorites are expected to meet their toughest competition from Hawaiian and Australian paddlers.

The 32-mile race starts at 6 a.m. Sunday at the Isthmus on Catalina Island and is expected to finish about 11 a.m. at the Manhattan pier.

The local favorites in the unlimited division are orthopedic surgeon Brad Thomas and Los Angeles County Lifeguard Anthon Vella.

Thomas won the eight mile Hennessey U.S. Paddleboarding Championship in July, defeating last year’s Catalina Classic winner Adam Buckley. Vella won the Father’s Day Rock to Rock, a 22 mile race from the Isthmus to San Pedro. But the two will be challenged by Hawaiian paddler Brian Rocheleau, who placed second in last year’s Catalina Classic, and Australian Mick Porra, who at age 50, placed sixth overall last month in the 32-mile Molokai Channel paddleboard race.

Brad Thomas paddleboard champ

Sea lions on the R10 Buoy urge on Brad Thomas in the 2011 Hennessey’s U.S. Paddleboard Championships. Photo by Ciley Carrington

In the stock division (12-foot boards, under 20 pounds), Sunday’s two favorites will each be recovering from victories in last month’s Molokai race.

Jack Bark, 18, of Palos Verdes teamed with 2008 and 2009 Molokai stock winner Mickey Cote to win the 2011 stock relay division. Eric Abbot, of Hawaii, won this year’s solo stock division in a Molokai record time of 5:26. Both paddlers race for Bark Paddleboards, owned by Jack’s father Joe Bark, a perennial top finisher who has competed in every Classic since 1983.

Jay Sheckman, of San Diego, is expected to put pressure on the two stock favorites. Sheckman finished third in Classic’s stock division last year.

The tradition-bound race has just the unlimited and stock divisions. There are no relay, age or sex divisions. But for the first time this year, an honorary relay team will compete to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Battalion. Wounded veterans from the Afghan War will team up with Catalina Classic veterans, including Ron Robuck, Gene Boyer, Kyle Daniels and Chris Brown.

Also, for the first time since 1960,  the Catalina Classic is being held on the same day as the Manhattan Beach Open Volleyball tournament. The tournament was established by the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce that year to entertain paddleboard fans waiting for the paddlers to reach the finish line at the Manhattan Beach pier. But the race was canceled the following year, due to rough weather and not resurrected until 1982.

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