Hanging Out at the First Surfski Symposium: The Photo Recap and Interview with Founder, Omar Chacon
Photos by Christina Gonzalez
Article by Alessia Faverio
On a sunny spring weekend, March 11 and 12th, the Surfski Foundation hosted the First Surfski Symposium in Fort Peirce, Florida. This event was a fantastic success. Around 115 people raced in the Treasure Coast Paddle Battle on day-one and around 30 people in surfskis joined in the knock-out style sprint races on day-two. Overall, the event had over 60 surfski paddlers from Wisconsin, Maryland, New Jersey, Michigan, and Florida. In addition to racing, many folks attended the symposium just to hop in a demo boat, buy some surfski gear, listen to speakers, or attend a coaching clinic with Southeast Paddle Sports or Haley Nixon, former World Champion.
After the event, we caught up with Omar Chacon, founder of the Surfski Foundation and organizer of the First Surfski Symposium, to chat about his background and the Surfski Foundation. Omar has a long history in paddle sports. His biggest accomplishment came last year when he won a silver medal at the 2022 Pan American Games for Puerto Rico in surfski racing. We’ll let him tell you the rest himself!
Alessia: Can you share a bit about your background? In both surfski and life.
Omar: I’m an orthodontist by day and a surfskiier the rest of the time. I grew up in Puerto Rico and paddled sprint kayak from 2003-2008 on a national and international level in the 200m, 500m and 1000m events in single, tandem and four-person kayak. In 2008, I found surfski and fell in love with it. I found surfski to be an easy transition because I was used to the instability of a sprint boat. After some practice, I found it easy to master the waves. After a break from paddling for dental school, I rejoined the paddling community in New York. Now I currently live in Tampa with my wife, Normaliz and my son, Felipe.
Alessia: Tell us a little more about the Surfski Foundation. How did it start and what is the mission?
Omar: In 2012, myself and a few friends began discussing the idea of founding a surfski organization to get people introduced to the sport. When we were at surfski events and races, we saw a lot of older men. We wanted to get younger people, and more women involved in the sport. In May of 2022, the Surfski Foundation was finally established. We are a non-profit organization that works to connect people to surfski sport, and works to decrease the barriers of entry to the sport. In order to paddle with the Surfski Foundation, you just need to show up! You do not need a boat, a paddle, a lifejacket, a leash, a car, roof racks… you don’t need anything but yourself. We will get you started in either a single or double ski based of your skill. In addition, the foundation offers free group classes to anyone. We want to give guidance on how to pick appropriate gear and information on how to practice surfski in a safe way. We have three locations currently: Tampa, Miami, Bonita Beach and Marathon in Florida and Puerto Rico. Our goal is to help provide resources so folks that are interested can set up a center near them.
Alessia: What are your future goals for the Surfski Foundation?
Omar: We just had the First Surfski Symposium in Fort Peirce, FL. This event was fantastic and next year we hope to grow the event. We are hoping to host it in the Tampa Bay area and have a full weekend of instruction, demos and racing. Our goal for the year is to start the first children’s paddle school in Tampa. We want to continue reaching out to new people and get as many folks involved in our program as possible.
To get involved or donate to the Surfski Foundation, head over to the website www.surfskifoundation.com or find each one of their locations on Facebook and Instagram.
THE RACE & VENDOR SITE
The Treasure Coast Paddle Battle kicked off the event with their 10K race. This race started on the ocean side of the park, came in the inlet and finished on the intercoastal beach on the west side of the park. Afterwards, the race hosted a 5K loop race on the intercoastal waterway side, while vendors offered demos, and products for sale.
Many vendors had items for purchase, and boats/paddles to demo. It was a busy day, with a wide selection of boats from Epic Kayaks available to try. From V5 to the Gen 3 V12, we had everything available.
On Saturday evening, the Symposium moved to a nearby hotel. Three keynote speakers presented on varied topics. Alessia Faverio from Epic Kayaks spoke about appropriate surfski, paddle and rudder selection. Robert Norman owner of K2N Online Paddle School spoke about how to transition from flatwater to downwind paddling. Hayley Nixon, former World Champion, spoke about her experience with beginning surfski paddling and her efforts to increase women’s participation in the sport.
Sunday morning found the racers back at Jaycee Park on the Intercoastal Waterway side for 800m sprint races. These races were designed in a knockout format with the top half of the field entering the winners bracket and the bottom half moving to a consolation bracket. The competition was fierce and the race certainly came down to a sprint finish every time!
Winners from the men’s race from left to right: Robert Norman, Walker Peck, Andrew Surles, Chase Robertson and Flavio Costa
Winners from the women’s race left to right: Damien Lin, Alessia Faverio, Hayley Nixon and Kaitlyn Shemenski
Sunday afternoon wound down around 1pm, finishing with an awards ceremony and BBQ at the Pavilion. This was a time to share comradery, cement friendships, and hop in a demo boat one last time!
While lots of people put time into this event, a big thank you goes out to Omar Chacon and co-organizers JD Smith and Geoffrey Pearson for making this event possible. We at Epic Kayaks, would also like to thank Epic Expert, Brian Blankinship for donating his time and energy to work the table and provide hands-on help with demos during the event. We are already looking forward to next year!
From left to right: JD Smith, Omar Chacon and Geoffrey Pearson