SoCal Winter Series Preview - La Jolla Invitational

November 02, 2015 Clarke Graves

[This series of race previews is an unaffiliated* effort to share experiences from each of the races that comprise Southern California's Winter Series of Races for OC1, OC2, Surf-Ski, SUP and Prone Paddlers. We would very much like to offer this for races in NorCal and invite anyone who might wish to be a regular contributor with knowledge of the races there to contact us. * If any information is not consistent with the race day setup, they have either changed it, or I am simply wrong. So consider this a friendly free guide, and please do not run up to the race organizers if something is different and say "Cali Paddler says it is this way" as we are not the ones putting on the race. They are. And we are grateful to them for that!]

La Jolla Shores hosted by San Diego Outrigger.

Nothing better than the Winter Race Series. We meet new friends, try new craft and try our hand as an individual paddler after enjoying a summer of dragon boat or oc6 paddling. I love this time of year as the logistics are simple. Show up. Drink coffee. Hang out. Race. Eat Food. Hang out. This race is a perfect example of why its fun to partake in all of these winter series events. Great vibes. Beautiful race course. Fun on the water. Oh, and rigging (assuming you have any at all) takes all of 3 minutes. Life is great.

La Jolla Invitation SoCal Winter Race Series

Overview: This race typically is the start of the SoCal Winter Racing Series. Turnout is high, as folks are looking to extend the life of their hard-earned summer fitness, and it also is a chance for many to take their first stab at racing an outrigger canoe or surf ski or hop on a SUP before the winter comes. It is one of my favorites because it’s ALL in the ocean. AND has beach launch/return. Now, this might not be welcomed n­­­ews for everyone, but don’t let it scare you off. The ‘shores’ and the launch area are usually to the south where kayaks launch safely 99 days out of 100 and the waves are small. That said, always a good idea to practice something before the race itself so if you haven’t done beach launches before on your sup or canoe or ski, consider coming early or a few days before. Remember, timing IS EVERYTHING. Sit and watch the waves, where they break, where they don’t and you will increase your chances of a positive experience and be ready to race! (Tips for beach entry article is coming soon!).

Courses - As with many of the SoCal races, the course(s) are subject to change based on conditions for the day. Buoy drops might also be set based on how stretched out the racers are for safety. So in other words, nothing is set in stone as you will see with these. Which is actually a good thing because they will often times line us up for good wind. :) So go to the meeting beforehand for maps and markers.

  • Short Course (All craft). Usually this is a triangle or square course that racers do twice before finishing. While its not far from shore, its not close enough to have breaking waves be a factor. Also far enough out though that spectating is not really possible without some solid binoculars. You might be accompanied by a sea lion or dolphin around here as it is a marine reserve. Pretty cool nature to see! Just be aware of sea weed.
  • Medium Course (Sup and Paddleboard) - Added in 2014, this runs north parallel with the shore line about .5 miles off shore. Buoy turn about 2.5-3 miles north and then back south to create a tight rectangle course. Then finish with a left turn to the beach so you get a little with-swell direction in before the finish dock which is .25 miles off shore or so. All racing in the water, not beaching and running on the sand as far as I know. (see below "long course" for more details of area and water).
  • Long Course (Surfski, Kayak, and Outrigger Canoe) – This race course only has a few landmarks, the Scripps pier at about .75 mile in, and a bunch of cliffs. That said, cliffs are pretty and there is always a little chance to scoot in north of the pier and ride some swell. Just not too far in however as the famed beach-break “Blacks” is there and it is known as the heaviest wave in SoCal when it breaks. So yea, enjoy the rollers if they are there but don’t push it if its big.

    As you trek north, there are a few kelp paddies to be aware of depending on the tide. My advice, watch the pack in front of you. If you see someone come to a stop, back paddle and pull some salad off their rudder, pick a different line. (I have some kelp secrets I will share with you all in a separate article so keep your eyes peeled for that.) As you get up towards Torrey Pines state park look for a parked boat that drops the buoy as your cue that the turn is coming up soon. Two 90 degree left-hand buoy turns and you are headed back south along the course you just paddled, just a little further out to sea. Hoot and holler for the paddlers you know heading the other way and enjoy getting to see someone’s front for a change instead of their back for once! Oh yea and get a good gauge on where your competition is now without doing the all-telling look over your shoulder.

    Now we head ~4 to 5 miles back south and boy do those beautiful high cliffs all look the same! This is an area that is very easy to zone out. I almost huli'd one year (it was totally flat) because I just lost focus for a few stokes. It's undeveloped and gorgeous coastline, so don't get me wrong, but make sure you stay on point and not let your eyes wander too much. The Scripps Pier will be your landmark to use and from there another mile so of racing. After the pier you trek south along the La Jolla Shores beachline and its time for you to do a left hand turn straight into the finish line. I really look forward to this last stretch because I am going WITH THE SWELL. Bump time, whoohoo. But don’t think it’s a short stretch by any means…in other words, its .25-.5 miles at least and you can blow through your reserve tank early if you aren’t careful. I personally always think its a short run, but after 9+ miles it feels a bit longer. Rev up your jet engines, sprint to the finish and have fun catching folks.


  • After your race, take some time to make sure those around you can get in through the surf ok.
  • Also be sure to enjoy the usually clear water where you can see little fishies, and leapard sharks (totally harmless bottom feeders so don’t freak out).
  • If you are really in no hurry to come back in, head south to the La Jolla Cove area and check out the sea life, Garibaldi fish (CALI State Fish!), and caves. Just don't get too close, and make sure you respect the swimming lane for swimmers. This is a very highly traffic swim area and they get the right-away!
  • Careful when you are walking your canoe back to the staging area. The beach and boardwalk will be more crowed now and its easy to whack someone with your craft with being tired and all. Enlist a friend to co-carry each-others craft on separate trips even, and retell your race stories. Because that's what paddlers do right? Talk about paddling?

Usually the weather is sunny and summer like. But one time it was rainy and big surf so they usually have a contingent location in ready if that ever happens and if the forecast is dangerous. That said, the last few years it has been sunny, with minimal conditions.

Race Registration and Info:

[ Got some tips to share on this race? Leave them in the comments below. Interested in sharing your own preview for a race? We would love to team up! Race-organizers, please let us know if additional info can help your racers enjoy the day. ]

Cali Paddler Team Writer Clarke Graves

Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.

One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!

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