Red Bull Heavy Water is happening tomorrow

This story was originally published on SUP Magazine. Words by Jack Haworth.

Take one look at the surf forecast and you’ll know why tomorrow’s second annual Red Bull Heavy Water will be talked about in the SUP community for years to come.

red bull heavy water

With swell forecasted in the 15- to 20-foot range for Ocean Beach this weekend, the water in San Francisco is sure to be heavy for Red Bull’s race. Photo: Zak Noyle/Red Bull Content Pool

A huge northwest swell in the range of 15- to 20-feet is forecasted to punish the coastline of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, the notoriously powerful and brutally unforgiving beachbreak that is the launch site of tomorrow’s big race.

If conditions are anything resembling the forecast when the race starts at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, this will be the most hair-raising, awe-inspiring clash between man and ocean the sport of standup paddle racing has ever seen. For more than 20 of the world's top male paddlers who accepted the invitation to compete in the event, the competition will be as much about survival as anything else.

red bull heavy water

Zane Schweitzer rounds Fort Point during last year's Heavy Water event in far less swell than tomorrow's racers will see at the famous break. Photo: Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool

Oh, and did we mention there's a $50,000 prize-purse on the line?

“We created this event to make a new mark with racing,” said Heavy Water organizer Tristan Boxford. “We definitely don’t follow the traditional route in what this event is trying to achieve.”

The race is set to kick off in the churning waters off Ocean Beach before paddlers navigate a zig-zag course in and out of the punishing surf zone. We expect to see more than a few drop-outs and plenty of broken boards in this portion of the race, but those who make it through this section will head north around Fort Point and east beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. With the XL swell on tap, paddlers should be able to catch a wave under the Golden Gate Bridge before a sprint to the finish line in front of the Sir Francis Yacht Club.

“It really brings together all the different skill sets in standup paddling which I think is a really interesting proposition,” said Boxford. “I don’t believe there is any other race that tests an athlete to that level and in so many different ways.”

red bull heavy water

Jake Jensen punching through whitewash at last's years race. Photo: Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool

He’s not entirely wrong. Forecasts are not always dead on and there is a chance the swell could arrive later than anticipated tomorrow and spare the event. Even still, while nobody really knows exactly how this race will play out, we do know it will test each one of these world-class athletes to their absolute limits.

“This is a totally new event because we’ve never had a race in this big of waves,” said Denmark’s Casper Steinfath. “I treat this more like a big wave session or like a survival race than a standup race.”

When we're talking about racing 12+ft paddleboards through 20ft, barrelling waves, obviously the first thing that comes to people’s mind is going to be safety. Because no matter how talented these paddlers are, competing in conditions like this is completely uncharted territory.

To quell worried minds, Boxford has enlisted the help of the Maverick’s Water Safety team to run point on the ocean safety effort. There will also be a National Parks ski on the inside and prior to the beginning of the race, competitors will be ferried out beyond the surf to the start line.

“We wanted to ensure that if they are going to break a board, at least they’ll break it in the race,” Boxford said.

red bull heavy water

A pulled back look at the chaos that is Ocean Beach. Now imagine it with double the swell. Photo: Trevor Clark/Red Bull Content Pool

While there has been lots of talk about this being a pioneer race unlike any other, its inaugural race came last year. However, a mega-swell never showed up during the waiting period and organizers settled for holding the contest in six- to eight-foot surf. While Connor Baxter claimed victory, many of the top competitors got worked and a third of the field failed to finish.

It begs the question: How does anyone plan to finish with a swell over twice the size?

“The strategy is going to be keeping a cool head and don’t rush into anything,” said Steinfath. “Between the inside bank and the outside bank is a dead zone, so when there’s a lull you better be ready to go.”

And ready to go they will be. The action is scheduled to kick-off at 9 a.m. PST and SUP magazine will be on-location to bring you a full livestream of the race via our Facebook page.

Make sure to tune in to witness what promises to be a memorable race.

More from SUP Magazine

6 SUP brands that are getting serious about sustainabiilty

A look inside photographer John Rathwell’s #Vanlife

SUP surfing tips on positioning to catch waves