HONOLULU – Standup paddling came full circle back to its home of Waikiki, Hawaii, this weekend as over 600 paddlers from around the world gathered for the inaugural Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle Hawaii, presented by Quiksilver Waterman Collection.
Thousands turned out to watch as the turquoise waters of Waikiki and the surreal backdrop of Diamond Head reminded all of a time long ago, when the upright figure of Duke Kahanamoku riding a board first captured imaginations.
But it was California’s Danny Ching (Redondo Beach), 27, who captivated the crowd this time around, making a clean sweep of the 5-mile Elite Battle and the 10-mile Downwinder.
In Saturday’s Elite race, Ching was embroiled in a five-mile battle royale with dark horse Australian paddler Travis Grant (Gold Coast). Punctuated by three offshore laps, 19 buoy turns and two 75-yard beach sprints, their race ended in a sprint for the shoreline that left them separated by just 13 seconds after close to an hour and a half of dueling. He then overcame Sunday morning’s fatigue to go on and win the 10-mile distance race.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” Ching said. “I was hoping to win one of the days but luckily it panned out for me. I definitely felt fatigued (in the distance race). But once I got out into the surf I was able to build a bit of a gap. I was figuring that would hold them off at the end because if you raced (the Elite race) you were going to have a hard time making the final push the last two miles.
“Sparky’s Rainbow Sandals races are the best,” Ching said. “He puts up the biggest prize purse, the best competitors and the biggest event. Everything about it is amazing.”
Ching crossed the Elite race line in one hour, 22 minutes and 42 seconds to take win $5,000. He completed the 10-mile downwind race in 1 hour and 26 minutes for an added $1,100.
Grant, 27, finished the Elite race in 1:22:55 for $3,500; and veteran Hawaiian paddler Aaron Napoleon, 43, was third in 1:26:30 for $2,500. Jamie Mitchell (Australia), the most dominant paddleboarder in the world, was fourth in 1:27:00.
“Today was pretty hard for me,” Napoleon told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I didn’t train for this, but it was one of those races you had to do, all the guys love each other. I got lucky, caught a wave at the end, went from seventh to third. I’m stoked to still be doing what we do, but I look at my son [12-year-old SUP phen0m Riggs, who finished the race 50th] and he’s not even tired. The good thing is it was all good fun.”
In the women’s division, Hawaii’s Candice Appleby took out the Elite battle, earning $2,500 with her time of 1:35:25. Second was Australian Shakira Westdorp, reigning female winner of the 2009 Battle of the Paddle California. In the distance race, Maui’s Andrea Moller took line honors.
Beyond the world’s best, paddlers who participated this weekend ranged from pint-sized, surf-savvy kids, to mothers, grandmothers, and 72-year-old Frank Perna (Malibu, Calif.) – the oldest competitor of the weekend.
The Battle of the Paddle also featured exhibits, booths, clinics for children, relays for families, fun races and plenty of SUP sampling. There were spirit-moving cultural ceremonies, impassioned volunteers and priceless ocean-based programs like Na Kama Kai. But beneath it all, there was the pure and simple fun that Waikiki has famously offered the world for centuries.
In some ingenious way, Gerry Lopez, Jay “Sparky” Longley, and the families of Rainbow Sandals and Quiksilver Waterman Collection tied together all the best elements of the standup paddle lifestyle and presented them in an exciting, easy to grasp, 21st century framework. The total prize purse for the weekend was equally stunning: $25,000.
ELITE RACE – MENS TOP 10:
1 1:22:42.3 – DANNY CHING (Redondo Beach, CA)
2 1:22:55.1 – TRAVIS GRANT (Queensland, Australia)
3 1:26:30.8 – AARON NAPOLEON (Waianae, HI)
4 1:27:00.6 – JAMIE MITCHELL (Queensland, Australia)
5 1:27:20.6 – BYRON KURT
6 1:27:23.1 – SCOTT GAMBLE
7 1:27:26.1 – SLATER TROUT (Maui, HI)
8 1:27:32.7 – CONNOR BAXTER (Maui, HI)
9 1:28:39.0 – MATT BECKER
10 1:28:47.4 – SEPA K. NAPOLEON
ELITE RACE – WOMENS TOP 5
1. 1:35:25.3 – CANDICE APPLEBY (San Clemente, CA/Honolulu, HI)
2. 1:36:35.2 – SHAKIRA WESTDORP (Queensland, Australia)
3. 1:37:51.6 – BRANDI BAKSIC (San Clemente, CA)
4. 1:41:30.2 – JENNY KALMBACH (Big Island, HI)
5. 1:41:50.9 – MORGAN HOESTEREY (Oahu, HI)
HAWAII KAI DISTANCE RACE:
1st male: DANNY CHING (Redondo Beach, CA)
1st female: ANDREA MOLLER (Maui)
Complete results were NOT available at time of writing.
Check http://www.rainbowsandals.com/battleofthepaddle/HI/ for updated results.