It was hair-brained, it was chaos, it was a bigger hit than anybody imagined. The inaugural Cardboard Kayak Race took place Sunday, September 14th at the launch ramp by the Crow’s Nest.  With 34 entrants and hundreds of spectators the day exceeded everyone’s wildest (and they were wild) expectations.  Many sank, plenty floundered, but a select few actually floated and raced their way around a course from the launch ramp out around a buoy at the edge of the channel and back. 

Two years ago Liz Kroft of the Santa Cruz Yacht Club dreamed up the idea but could not find a partner in crime who shared her same pension for wackiness and determination to bring the event to life, until a few months ago.  The Santa Cruz Harbor turned 50 this year and events were scheduled in celebration throughout the year.  Marian Olin, Administrative Services Manager at the Santa Cruz Harbor, shared the same vision as Liz and with Barry Whittall’s help connecting the two a dream team was born. 

After a few short months of plotting and scheming and wondering what the heck they were doing, registration was open on Regatta Network and a handful of believers signed up for the first ever Cardboard Kayak Race in Santa Cruz.  The NORs and SIs were drafted based on typical regatta format with the atypical content developed from hours spent watching YouTube videos and reading about other cardboard races held around the world (yup, we weren’t the first).  Thanks to Holland MacLaurie and Liz Kroft’s marketing efforts, registration began pouring in a week prior to the event, with skippers and crew ranging from families to local organizations.

The race was divided into two classes: Build at Home and Build and Race.  The Build at Home folks had an extensive list of what materials and methods were permitted and what were not.  Many skippers had questions about what was “class legal” and caused a lot of head scratching and shoulder shrugging this first time around.  The Build and Race entrants were given an hour to construct their cardboard contraptions on Sunday and were limited to the following supplies:

3 sheets of cardboard, 5×8 feet in dimension

1 roll of standard issue grey duct tape

1 box cutter

1 yard stick

1 Sharpie (though sharing was encouraged)

Many passersby that morning were confused about what was going on as set up began, but when they heard what the afternoon had in store people’s eyes lit up and they laughed while shaking their heads wondering how a cardboard boat could possibly float, let alone paddle out to the edge of the main channel of the harbor and back.

Races began at 3:00pm-ish when the launch ramp was miraculously closed for two hours thanks to the Harbor’s hard work and preparation.  What showed up on the start line was…well, it was something.  It is still up for debate if the contraptions or costumes were more impressive. Crowds packed the docks and the Build and Race entrants began racing in heats of eight at a time, some with crews of one others bravely with three or four.  At the sound of the gun and emcee Steve Reed’s encouragement they were off, kind of.  Many never made it more than a foot, but a select few actually floated and survived a paddle out and around a buoy and back.  Following the Build and Race division the colorful and strange Build at Home boats paraded down to the start line.  It was announced that following the first lap if judges felt the vessels were seaworthy enough a second lap would be required.  Lo and behold around they went again, flailing and splashing and sinking spectacularly.

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The crowd cheered on all of the racers, with hundreds laughing and applauding and sharing in the pain of those who did not float or sank just short of the finish.  Thank goodness life jackets were required.  Lifeguards and paddle boarders offered support as did dogs and spectators.  The “Clean Marina” flag was flying and debris was diligently plucked from the water and recycled at the end of the day. 

At the conclusion of the races a panel of five judges reconvened and cast their votes.  Competitors and spectators gathered around a table laden with beautifully bizarre trophies and goodies from local businesses to be handed out to the winners.  The following categories received awards:

First in Race – Build and Race

First in Race – Build at Home

Team Spirit

Best in Show

Ugliest Boat

Titanic (for the most spectacular sinking)

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The organizers were completely blown away and delighted by the turnout.  It would not have been possible without the exceptional group of volunteers from both SCYC and the Harbor.  The enthusiasm, creativity and sportsmanship were truly ones for the books.  Competitors happily complied with the “No Sniveling” rule and laughed whole-heartedly when Steve announced at the competitors meeting that there would be an Armpit Rule (boats are considered sunk when the skippers armpits were wet) and that protests were to be submitted on a post-it note and reviewed in London. 

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The feedback has been exceptionally positive, with competitors and spectators thanking the organizers for such a fun family affair.  At the sound of things it would be crazy not to turn this into an annual event, there might be a mutiny of cardboard pirates otherwise.

For those who were not there, or those who were and want to relive the magnificent madness the following links will take you to various articles, photos and videos from the day.



Article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Promotional Write Ups: