The sun was shining and the water was calm as paddleboarders put their skills to the test over two days at the second annual North West SUP Fest.

About 120 paddlers glided out onto Dampier waters to compete in a 6km distance event around Sam’s Island, 1km and 200m sprints, and dragon boat races on Saturday and Sunday.

Dampier’s Jaclyn Nicholl and Exmouth’s Tom Powell were the overall champion female and male for the event in both the adult long-distance and sprint categories.

Abbey Cawthray and Patrick Smyth were the junior female and male winners and Gone Troppo won the dragon boat race title.

Competitors take off from the shore for the men’s 1km sprint. Picture: Pilbara News
Jaclyn Nicholl in the lead in the women’s 1km sprint. Picture: Pilbara News

Nicholl, the event organiser and owner of Cracker Jack Paddle Sports, said the popularity of paddleboarding in the North West had reached the point where it was “about time” the region had a competitive event.

“It’s just a huge sport here, people love it, and it’s really great to see people pushing their boundaries and giving competitive SUP a go because it’s a totally different level to paddling around on a nice flat day at a slow speed,” she said.

“Add a little bit of speed in and it’s extremely challenging — people don’t realise that to change from a basic SUP skill level to going into competition, you need a lot of muscle strength, really good endurance, and it’s very much a mind game to be able to hold pace and continue on.”

She said the dragon boat races — a new addition this year — had been a highlight, getting a wider range of people involved.

Gone Troppo won the dragon boat racing division. Picture: Pilbara News
Dragon boat team the Wobiri Wahines, from Exmouth. Picture: Pilbara News

Several competitors travelled from Exmouth, Hedland and Pannawonica to be part of the racing.

Powell, who is also the owner of Exmouth Surf Centre, said the event had the capacity to grow involvement in paddleboarding across the North West.

“You can go as easy or as hard as you want, but I think when it comes down to the people who take this at least semi-seriously, it’s a serious event,” he said.

“I think the competitive side of it will grow in time and the grassroots side will also stay strong, and hopefully the people that had a go this year just as a play-around next year will come back strong and looking to be competitive.”

Skateboarding clinics and a watersport expo were held in conjunction with the racing over the weekend.

Tom Powell finishes the men’s 1km sprint. Picture: Pilbara News
Kelsey Leo and Abbey Cawthray go head-to-head in the final stretch of the juniors 200m sprint. Picture: Pilbara News