In 1932, Tom Blake wanted to promote his new-patented paddle boards that were under construction by Rogers. Blake convinced Santa Monica Lifeguards, Pete Peterson, Wally Burton, and Chauncy Granstrom, to train hard and paddle from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Catalina Island.
Blake said he wanted to, “prove the paddleboard was a good rescue device.”
Granstrom pulled out of the paddle before the event, but on September 30, 1932, the three remaining paddled to Catalina, escorted by S.M. Lifeguard Dory men, Bob Butts, and Pat Lister. The Captain of the O.C. Olsen Company boat “Gloria” led the way with timers and a doctor on board. While it was not intended to be a race, Blake broke away towards the end and reached Catalina in a time of 5 hours 23 minutes, Pete and Wally followed at a time of 6hr 31m and 6hr 53min respectfully.
The paddlers were transported to Avalon on the Gloria for an awards ceremony , newspaper photos and interviews “Guards Conquer Catalina Channel.” Blake, Peterson, and Burton had proven that Blake’s and Roger’s 14 foot, 75 lb. hollow paddleboards were up to the task. His hollow boards were in production from 1932 to the early 1950’s.
In 1955 Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce leaders Cliff Webster, Bob Jean, Paul Garber, Bob Rueben, Lee Cave, Hal Newell, Bob Smith, and Bud Caldwell, (to name a few) joined forces with L A County Lifeguard and Manhattan Beach resident Bob Hogan. Together they created and conducted the Manhattan Beach International Paddleboard Race.
The 32-mile marathon would start at Isthmus Cove on Catalina Island and finish on the south side of the Manhattan Beach Pier. The Chamber’s goal was to bring positive attention to their growing beach community. The first few years competitors used boards of the hollow Blake design lent by the Santa Monica Lifeguard Service. All boards were supposed to be the same, but their condition differed.
The first year was a difficult run into Santa Monica Bay since thick fog had rolled in. Bob Hogan, who many thought should win, over shot the finish line of the Manhattan Beach Pier and ended up in Playa Del Rey. Greg Noll ended up at the El Segundo oil pier. The young Ricky Grigg of Santa Monica won that first race. By 1956 the boards were much more custom and two race classes were established. The 14-foot stock and the Unlimited. The boards were more hydro dynamically designed and constructed with lighter materials.
The two paddlers with the most wins during this period of the Manhattan Beach International Paddleboard Race were Mike Bright and Tom Zahn. The event was only held five times from 1955 to 1960 and was cancelled in 1959 due to pier construction, and in 1961 due to dangerous ocean conditions. With the death of Cliff Webster, the driving force and biggest promoter of the race, the City decided to abandon the race. Marathon paddleboard racing went into a sort of hibernation.
In 1982, LA County Lifeguard Lieutenant, Karl “Buddy” Bohn was approached by the Manhattan Beach Historical society to find and donate a 1950’s style paddleboard for their museum’s exhibition. While searching for a good example of a racing board, Buddy was convinced by many of the original paddlers to re-start the race. The Chamber had been trying to give Buddy and other Lifeguard Association Directors that responsibility for years. So at last, Chamber executive, Trudy Smart turned over the Race By-laws and Articles of incorporation. With the support of some of the original channel paddlers and fellow county lifeguard and ManhattanBeach resident, Weldon “Gibby” Gibson, they got things started again. Together they put together the race known as the Catalina Classic 32 mile Paddleboard Marathon.
The rules were updated, changing the stock class board length from 14 feet to 12 feet. All else was kept as close to the original Manhattan Beach International Paddleboard Race as possible. With the help of friends from the Catalina Channel Swim Federation, they were able to garner valuable advice on the subject of logistics and safety as it related to channel crossings. Several of the Catalina Channel Swim Federation members; John York, Siga (Goodmundson) Albright, and Cindy Cleveland really stood out. Many of the Swim Federation’s swimmers became Catalina Classic paddlers as well (John and Andy Hill, Cindy Cleveland, Dave Yudovin and Cathy Moore). Mickey Pittman was a big help with navigation and volunteered as the first lead boat for the Catalina Classic in 1982.
Over the years the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon race has continued to grow in size and popularity. The race has been held consecutively since 1982 ( with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic).
Heartfelt gratitude to the tireless help and committed volunteers. Gibby, Buddy, Steve Fairbrother, Cindy Cleveland, Joe Bark, Tom Allen, the Meistrell Family, the Bohn Family, Glenn & Pam Dexter, Jeff Petty, Scott Hubbell, Kevin Barry, Kyle Daniels, Matt Walls, Gene Rink, Theresa McDowell, Francziska Steagall, Bob Willis, Paul & Kyle Morgan, Scott Rusher, The Southbay Boardriders, L.A County lifeguards, and countless others!
The Catalina Classic is a race made up entirely of volunteers. This is a race by paddlers, for paddlers.