The Bohinj SUP Challenge, Slovenia’s Flagship event since 2015

Meet Damjan Mozina, the driving force behind SUPklub, Slovenia’s largest stand up paddle club, and the propeller behind the acclaimed Bohinj SUP Challenge held on the picturesque Lake Bohinj since 2015. Despite adversities, including pre-event floods, this year’s edition proved a triumph, attracting a record 100 SUP racers including many young paddlers. Looking ahead, the organizing team anticipates an even grander 2024 edition. Join us as we delve into Damjan’s journey, his contributions to Slovenia’s SUP racing landscape, and his vision for the future of the Bohinj SUP Challenge. Scroll down for the full results of the 2023 Bohinj SUP Challenge.

Hello Damjan, can you share with us your journey in the world of stand-up paddle racing?

Hello Mathieu! I’ve been around the SUP world for a decade now. In Slovenia, it all started back in 2008 when Naish-sponsored world champion windsurfer Tine Slabe and Watermen Toni & Špela Zupančič brought the idea of establishing a SUP community.

In 2011, when we were introduced to the SUP world by Toni, SUP was an ‘only’ after-work activity among friends. Not really knowing how to paddle, I participated in the first SUP race in Slovenia: Piranja. Real training and racing developed over the years. One thing led to another, and we invited and brought more people, organized several events and races. Things organically grew to the 100 participant race at the Bohinj SUP Challenge this year. Throughout the years, we were participating (and learning) in races around the world, including Hawaii, California…

How did you get started, and what motivated you to become a prominent figure in the Slovenian SUP racing community?

In the first years of paddling, it felt like being lone wolf paddlers in Ljubljana. My girlfriend Mihaela and I were often called to the side of the river, being asked about what this (SUP) was called, how to do it, and if we were willing to teach them. The Kajak Kanu Club Ljubljana offered us a small corner to store a couple of boards, which was convenient and located by the river. From two, we grew to six the following season and then to 15 a year after…

The advantageous location attracted many individuals and groups, which led to after-work paddling, recreational paddling, training sessions, and serious competition in both local and numerous international races. The opportunities led to acquiring more space and developing the club, optimizing training programs, and supporting paddlers on their ambitious journey toward excellence and championship titles. Personal growth alongside teaching others was truly rewarding. SUP, in general, is a highly competitive yet fair and enjoyable sport. I was excited about the ‘competitors on water, friends on shore’ spirit, which continually motivated me.

Can you provide an overview of what SUPklub represents and elaborate on your role within it.

SUPklub boasts a 12-year registered history and has undergone significant development in various aspects. As the director, instructor, and trainer, I am involved in a multitude of responsibilities – working with beginners, recreational paddlers, beginner and intermediate racers, as well as guiding tourist groups. Since 2014, we have collaborated with the Academy of Surfing Instructors (ASI), where I have attained several levels of instructor certification, including the trainer level earlier this year. Both women and men now have the opportunity to become international instructors through SUPklub, designated as an ASI Instructor Training Center.

The Bohinj SUP Challenge has gained recognition in Slovenia over the years. Could you delve into the history of this event, from its inception to becoming a notable fixture in the Slovenian SUP racing calendar?

Since 2015, the Bohinj SUP Challenge has gained recognition as a popular event. The first in a series of events was organized with significant assistance from the local and European Kayak and Canoe Association. Through this collaboration, we gained the opportunity to utilize existing infrastructure and host a 10 km race conducted in two rounds with portage. This required racers to carry their boards for 100 meters, reembark, and complete another round. The inaugural race received substantial attention and acclaim, prompting us to continue co-organizing it with the local Kayak club from Bohinj.

The popularity and recognition of the Bohinj SUP Challenge likely stem from a variety of factors. Racers are drawn to compete in the stunning environment of Triglav National Park, with the added appeal of facing different challenges each year due to ever-changing conditions. This race has encompassed upwind and downwind segments, featuring waves up to 40 cm and wind speeds of 15 knots. Additionally, the heat is a constant presence each season. However, what stands out the most is the people – the camaraderie among participants is truly exceptional. Of course, a key factor contributing to the event’s success is the efficient and well-organized execution. Our aim is to maintain a simple and achievable event that can be completed by all participants. Many paddlers select this race as their inaugural experience in the world of competitive racing.

Lake Bohinj serves as the stunning backdrop of the event. Can you describe what makes Lake Bohinj a unique and captivating location for stand-up paddle racing?

A stunning view unfolds of the majestic peaks of the Julian Alps, rising above the expanse of Bohinj Lake. As the largest natural lake in Slovenia, this location offers solace even during the busiest seasons, ensuring that everyone can discover their own secluded spot and savor a moment of tranquility, silence, and peace if they so desire. Encircled by mountains on three sides, the scene is such that you might feel as if you’ve arrived at the end of the road, where only a footpath ventures onward.

The 2023 Bohinj SUP Challenge just concluded. Could you provide insights into how this year’s event unfolded? Specifically, what was the race format, prevailing weather and water conditions, the number of participants, and the level of international representation?

Certainly, every event organizer faces the challenge of unpredictable weather. July of this year proved to be exceptionally wet, with rainfall persisting throughout the entire month. Therefore, we took into account the potential for rainy conditions, but fortunately, this aspect went well, and the racers enjoyed a hot Saturday.

However, an unfortunate incident less than two weeks prior to the Bohinj SUP Challenge had a significant impact on our focus in organizing the event. Catastrophic floods occurred, diverting some of our attention away from event preparations as several of our team members dedicated their time to aiding the most affected areas and individuals in cleaning up after the flood’s aftermath.

Despite these challenges, the event was a resounding success. It marked the largest Slovenian SUP race to date, with just under 100 participants at the start line. For the kids’ race, a 500-meter round race with 2 buoys was set up, while the Elite, Fun, and Youth categories engaged in a 7 km and a 2 km race. Although some participants expressed interest in a longer, 10+ km route, they ultimately agreed that 7 km was a suitable choice for a hot day. The group start saw more than 70 racers, and the event drew participants from Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and North Macedonia, including 23 kids under 12 years old.

Walk us through the different races and the standout moments of the 2023 Bohinj SUP Challenge. Were there any particularly exciting or unexpected occurrences during the event?

Organizing a SUP race within a national park presents both advantages and challenges. Due to the limitations imposed by park regulations, the race format needs to be straightforward and uncomplicated. Unfortunately, not all the creative ideas we have for the race can be implemented due to these restrictions.

Nonetheless, the event unfolded smoothly and pleasantly. The young participants had their well-deserved 5 minutes of fame in the U12 race, which took place before the Elite and other categories set off. The U12 race follows a circular 500-meter route with two turns, providing an opportunity for proud parents to watch and cheer for their children.

For the Elite racers, the challenge involved completing both a larger 5 km circuit and a smaller one, originally designed as the route for the Fun race. During the event, we witnessed several group dynamics forming, with certain leaders displaying the strength to maintain their positions until the finish line, while others experienced shuffled positions at the buoy turns. Spectators enjoyed watching the fair competition unfold at these buoy turns. Notably, two young individuals stood out: Hungarian Szabo Zeno, a 16-year-old who emerged as the absolute winner, and Slovenian rising star Maj Abas Jokhadar, a 15-year-old who secured the 5th position. In the women’s Austrian powerhouse Petra Pyffrader finished first with a comfortable lead over Slovenia champion Maja Dolzan and Polona Pusljar (Full results below)

Slovenia seems to have a growing SUP Race scene. Could you introduce us to the SUP racing scene in Slovenia, highlighting key events, locations, and the overall community’s enthusiasm for the sport?

The SUP race scene experienced a slowdown due to Covid and a couple of quiet years. However, it’s gradually regaining momentum with the assistance of the Surf and SUP Association. Several surf and SUP clubs are diligently working towards sports development and community expansion. The city of Ljubljana and the local government recognize the importance of safe paddling, and SUPKlub receives support for recreational paddling. The city offers free SUP courses to locals, resulting in the growth of the inland SUP community.

Not widely known, but the Slovenian SUP race scene reached its initial peak in the years 2016, 2017, and 2018, with numerous standout competitors participating in domestic and international events. In fact, the 2017 ISA Sprint World Champion was Slovenian, and Manca Notar was a member of Sup Klub at that time. The conditions, expertise, and ambition for progress exist, and it’s worth keeping an eye on this small country. Anticipation is high for the return of those “good old times.”

Looking ahead, do you have tentative dates for the 2024 edition of the Bohinj SUP Challenge? Are there any new and exciting features or additions that participants and spectators can look forward to in next year’s event?

For this year’s 7th edition of the Bohinj SUP Challenge, the organization board was brimming with ideas that couldn’t be implemented this year, but they are sure to be introduced in the 8th edition. The dates for the 8th Bohinj SUP Challenge are set for either August 17th or August 24th. This upcoming edition promises more attractions and excitement for both spectators and racers. The event will extend from the evening before the race day itself, offering more activities and a variety of races for participants.

As we aim for the event to experience steady and organic growth, the option of a two-day event remains under consideration as well.

Full Results of the 2023 Bohinj SUP Challenge

Thank you for your time Damjan and all the best for the 2024 Bohinj SUP Challenge preparation!

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About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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