Key West Paddle Classic

25th Annual Key West Paddle Classic

Sep 23, 2022

Wow, I can’t believe that the Key West Paddle Classic is in its 25th year! This special event takes place at 1000 Atlantic Boulevard, Key West, Florida. Participants have five hours to complete a 12-mile course that travels around the southernmost island in the United States! Calling all watersport enthusiast’s to sign up or just come and cheer on the racers.

*UPDATE: Due to Hurricane Ian the event has been postponed to December 3, 2022. 

Key West Paddle Classic Finish Line

An Interview with the Hosts

We had the chance to catch up with the hosts of the event Sue Cooper, owner of Lazy Dog and Holly Amodio. They have been hosting the Key West Paddle Classic since 2012. Sue is a veteran of the event as she competed in the first race 25 years ago! Sue said, “Holly’s history with the race is a funny one. Her first time on a paddle board was by [my] casual invitation to meet up to paddle on Smathers Beach. What Holly didn’t know was that her skills would be tested in this very race! She completed it and has enjoyed it ever since!”

When asked what the goal for the Paddle Classic was when they took over in 2012 Sue said, “Early on, it was their goal to share their passion for paddling with their local community and create FUN! Fun is what inspired them most! Sue and her crew have always lived and worked by this personal mantra. Soon after they became involved with the Special Olympics paddle program. This gave the event more meaning. Each year the event raises money for the Special Olympics of Florida, Monroe County Paddle team. They also raise donations for another event near and dear to the paddle community’s heart, Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, formerly known as Crossing for a cure. The racing community is best described as philanthropists with a paddle habit! The generosity has truly been mind-blowing!” When a fun event like this can also be a driving force to raise money for a good cause that makes all the difference. 

Key West Paddle Classic

We asked Sue what kind of watersport wisdom she can bestow upon any new (rookie) racers and she was gracious enough to give us four helpful tips! 

  1. Complete versus Compete mentality can help racers of all levels enjoy their own personal goals along the course! Only a select few will be at the top but we can all feel a sense of accomplishment and belonging!
  2. Never underestimate the power of hydration – It starts weeks before you perform at the final event! So drink up!
  3. Know before you go/when in doubt, don’t go out! – this is an old stand by in water sports but oftentimes when folks are new to the sport they may not be aware of this! Seeking a reputable certified outfitter or individual that can teach beginner paddlers the basics of water safety and local paddle area knowledge is key to a good experience overall.
  4. Lastly, some sage advice would be to truly “Take it all in!” Avoid getting caught up in your head, of course focusing on the course is important but, be sure to notice your breath, the color of the water, notice the conditions around you, feel the wind in your face as it cools you down or at your back as it helps propel you along! Feel gratitude for your body and its power.

Wow, those antidotes are helpful things to think about before jumping into a 12 mile course!

Key West Paddle Classic Athlete

Our last question for Sue and Holly was, “what’s your favorite part of the course?” Holly said,” I like the start, I love the chaos of the masses assembling at the beginning and [the] urgency of a good strategy when choosing your line! The more turbulent for me as a paddler, the better – flat water racing bores me! We are rather unique (and crazy) as we organize the race and we participate in the race! The first few years, we participated in the full distance as individual competitors while simultaneously hosting it as well. We have since added a relay making it much more feasible to play on the water with our favorite people and then jump back into the event due to the fantastic support of our steering committee and volunteers!” Not every race organizer can also participate! Put a big hand together for the great group of volunteers who make it all come together. 

Sue added, “The 12-plus mile paddle isn’t for everyone so we added the relay a few years ago (3 person relay with 3,4 & 5 mile legs) to encourage participation. One of my reasons for putting on events is to get people out there doing something they might not have done to encourage them to challenge themselves.” 

Key West Paddle Classic Athlete

Racer Quotes

“The conditions are almost always brutal, and the race is tough! But, it’s the best finish line ever, and a fantastically good time! And it keeps me coming back…..Every Year!!! The positive energy is amazing throughout the entire weekend, and is always something I want to experience!”

– Bethany 

“Attending the 2016 Key West Classic was a memorable experience. I heard about the race from Larry Cain. I was blown away by the race course around the Key. Constant changing water conditions, currents, tides, waves and wind, Yes! I liked this standup paddle race because of its large scale, good level of competition and like-minded enthusiasm. The organizers from Lazy Dog even helped me rent a Race board as I had traveled from Canada. This trip was well worth it.”

– Gander Tawaststjerna. Toronto, ON Canada

“Few races are quite as fun and challenging as the Key West Paddle Classic! I love destination races, those places you go and get to be a tourist or travel while taking part in something you love to do. Every year I’ve been, I’ve had a blast visiting Key West, and then, circumnavigating it on a paddleboard. Although I’ve never run out of fun things to do on land, I enjoy paddling and exploring the islands around Key West in the days surrounding the event. The course is super challenging and ever-changing, offering up conditions to keep all levels of paddlers on their toes. I personally love the grass-roots feel of the event, and the fact that proceeds go to the Monroe County Special Olympics.”

– April Zilg – Female SUP Winner

“Sometimes it’s less like a race and more like Survivor.” 

– Cat Uden

Now that we have heard from the hosts and racers here are the nitty gritty details for those of you who are up for the challenge!


If you are interested in competing you can register by clicking here. The entry fees for this celebrated annual event start at $85 for individual racers and go from $160-$360 for teams (based on size and division). There is a kick-off party (pick up your race packets or late registrations) at Salute! It’s located at Higgs Beach overlooking the 1000 Atlantic Ocean on Friday, September 30th. 


“Starting point is at Higgs Beach, Paddle South toward the Southernmost Point, through the Key West harbor, around the USCG base and under the Fleming Key Bridge. From here we cross the sailboat mooring field and paddle around Dredgers Key (Sigsbee) into Cow Key Channel which connects Key West and Stock Island.  Exit Cow Key Channel back out at the front side and continue past Smathers Beach and White St. Pier to return to Higgs Beach for the finish.” (Source) The race starts at 9:30 a.m. on October 1st for the stand up, relay and prone. The second race starts at 10:00 a.m. for rowing, OC’s, kayaks, surfskis, and dory. Don’t miss out on all the action!

Key West Paddle Classic Finish Line


The rules for the Paddle Classic are simple. Each SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) has a five stroke maximum. It runs in the same gender and same class only. And you have to complete the race in five hours or less! The relay teams are made up of 2-man, 3-man, and 6-man teams. A PFD (life vest) is required by the USCG to compete in the race. Leashes are recommended but not required. Check out all the in’s and out’s of the rules and race by clicking here

Lunch & Awards

Key West Paddle Classic Medals

After the races conclude the participants have a lunch hosted by Salute! Following the lunch there is an awards ceremony to congratulate the winners.

Get your feet wet!

If you are not ready for a race but would like to explore paddleboarding or kayaking check out this post for some great places to go paddleboaring in Key West including our friends at Lazy Dog Key West!