Andrew Rice and Joel Brand were riding waves at Little Dume in Malibu about a decade ago when they came across famous surfer Laird Hamilton … on a paddleboard.

They had to try it.

Over the next year they got their hands on the proper equipment and put their surfing sensibilities to use in a different way, learning the ins and outs of paddleboarding.

“We were both hooked,” Rice said. “It’s something that anyone can do, it’s great exercise and it’s a terrific way to reconnect with nature.”

Rice and Brand figured other people might like it as well. They launched what is now the Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival at the Santa Monica Pier, the seventh-annual edition of which is slated for Saturday.

“When we started it, it was a fringe sport,” Rice said. “In those seven years, especially the last three or four years, it’s totally exploded.”

As area historian Jim Harris has learned, the event adds to nearly a century of paddleboarding history in the waters around the local pier.

In the 1920s, after lifeguards began using wooden boards for ocean rescues, beachgoers adapted them for recreational use. The popularity of paddleboarding soared after surfing legend Tom Blake made it from the Southern California coast to Catalina Island on a paddleboard, and a slew of paddleboarding groups and events popped up in the local area. The first official Santa Monica paddleboard race was held in 1934.

Throughout the 1940s, the pier hosted paddleboarding championships and the sport began growing in the youth ranks.

But its momentum subsided in the 1950s as surfing became the dominant water activity for decades. It wasn’t until 2010 that the pier established an annual paddleboarding competition, capitalizing on renewed interest in an activity that has been enjoyed locally for decades.

“[Harris] discovered there was this great history of prone paddleboarding,” Rice said. “To celebrate this rebirth and reinvention of the sport, we figured, ‘Let’s see about doing some kind of festival … It really grew from there.”

Rice said that although some paddleboarding enthusiasts have surfing backgrounds, many people are now coming to the sport directly. This year’s event, which will run from 8 a.m. until about 2 p.m., is expected feature several hundred competitors in several events as well as thousands of spectators.

The short paddle offers a 2-mile loop for novices, while the long-course race will pit participants against each other in a 5.5-mile loop designed for more-experienced paddlers. An elite race for top-tier competitors, held concurrently with the long-course event, will feature cash prizes. A PaddleCross event with multiple heats and lifeguard dory races also been organized.

All of the races will start and end on the sand south of the pier.

The ocean contests are complemented by entertainment on and around the pier, Rice said. The festival includes beach volleyball, museum exhibits and a performance by surf guitar legend Dick Dale. The title sponsor, beach lifestyle brand Tommy Bahama, will hand out free ice cream from an old-fashioned truck.

A portion of proceeds from the event will support the Bay Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the restoration and protection of the Santa Monica Bay.

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