Heather Levitt will have more than her race plan on her mind when she slides out onto the Jordanelle Reservoir on her slick paddleboard.
She will be taking in the beauty of the water against the contrast of the mountains during her second year of competing at the Park City Standup Paddleboard Cup (PCSUP). The Park City native finished fourth overall last year in the inaugural 1-mile open division, and she has set her sights on finishing the 2-mile in less than 27 minutes.
She'll jockey for position in the pool of paddlers. The long boards will line up along the buoys waiting for the air horn. The smooth waters then will be churned in a competitive whirlpool as the long paddles cut through the lake like crazed chopsticks. Some will be tossed off their boards in the frenzy, and that energy is what has gotten Levitt onto her board for the past four years.
"The race start is chaotic," she said. "Everyone will be fighting to take the shortest line around the buoys. It's all of the bumping going on that makes it exciting."
The standup regatta takes the racers around a series of markers and directs them toward the shoreline. Paddling onto terra firma, the winner is the first to sprint across the finish line.
"There is so much camaraderie at the end of the race," Levitt said. "While you're running the gantlet, there are so many people cheering you on."
Park City landscape artist Derek Elbert loves the hectic nature of paddleboard racing but prefers the ease in which boards are able to explore Utah's lakes and reservoirs. Elbert, who grew up surfing in Southern California, discovered paddleboarding in Hawaii six years ago.
"Paddleboards are great for exploring channels, rivers and getting lost up in the Uintas," he said. "It's an amazing workout and great way to experience any of Utah's waterways."
The PCSUP is broken into five categories, which opens the field to a wide range of participants. The paddlers will range in ages from 16 to 60 with various skill levels. PCSUP director Trent Hickman said the appeal of the sport is that it is easy to pick up but challenging to master.
"Anyone can do it after you learn some of the techniques," Hickman said. "It's a great workout that gets you out on the water, and the sport is growing."
San Diego transplant Francie Mortenson thought the sport was frightening at first. A self-described beach bum, she got on the board for the first time three weeks before last year's PCSUP. With just a little instruction, she was able to finish the race and develop a new passion.
"Being out there with families is what I love," Mortenson said. "People are out there with their children and dogs and having such a great time."
Prepare to paddle
Proceeds from PCSUP go to Park City Education Foundation, Recycle Utah and Design Build Bluff.
The PCSUP starts at 8:15 a.m. at the Jordanelle Reservoir.
The five categories are elite (4 miles), open (2 miles), coed tandem (1 mile), youth (1 mile) and surfboard (1 mile).