Connor Baxter Talks 2015 OluKai Ho’o and Champion Strategy
What's the secret to being the world's most accomplished SUP racer? An agenda of endless travel, for one. A rigorous training regiment and constant time spent on the water, for another. And let's not forget the ability to assess ones opponents and capitalize on their shortcomings. But for champion SUP racer Connor Baxter—2014 SUP Male Paddler of the Year and the communal favorite for this weekend's OluKai Ho'olaule'a race—there's a secret ingredient to success that's often overlooked by the competition. According to Connor, it's all about having fun.
SUP: What's your schedule looking like for the upcoming season?
CB: My schedule is starting to get pretty busy. We had the Carolina Cup, then I flew home and now we're going straight into the OluKai. The OluKai will be a double-weekend for me because Saturday is the standup race, but I'm also competing in the OC1 on Sunday. Right after OluKai, I’m heading down to Mexico for the ISA World Championships. Then I go straight from Sayulita over to Europe for six weeks for a bunch of races over there. All the events kind of roll into each other. But then I'll head home in July for all the Maui races and the Molokai 2 Oahu. I'll go straight from there into Brazil, then Japan, then over to Cali for the BOP and all those fun ones. Then I head back to Hawaii for Turtle Bay, and after that I'm pretty much done for a short month. Then it all starts again.
How are you feeling going into all of that?
Well, since the Brazil contest got changed, I ended up getting an extra two weeks at home before the Carolina Cup, which was amazing. Instead of going from the contest in Brazil straight to North Carolina for the Cup, luckily I was able to stay home for two weeks. During that time there was a lot of training, photo shoots—all that fun stuff—but it was nice to get in a rhythm with training and eating before heading into this crazy schedule.
How is the transition from the Carolina Cup to the OluKai Ho'o?
Luckily it's pretty easy for me, since the OluKai run is in my backyard and that's what I do every day. It was more difficult going from my training at home to North Carolina, because over there there's no wind. And if you're not working with the wind, you're paddling against it, which is always fun (laughs). Carolina is a flatwater race—Danny Ching's favorite—so it's fun to go battle him over there. Carolina makes the OluKai feel like a short sprint, because with the wind we've been having on Maui lately, eight miles goes by like a two-mile sprint on flatwater.
Who's going to have the competitive edge at the OluKai Ho'olaule’a and why?
These days, everyone seems pretty equal in terms of riding swell and reading bumps, so now it's about whoever can paddle over bumps faster. The extra edge of paddling over bumps and connecting them is going to make the difference for whoever crosses that finish line first.
Who are your predicted standouts this year?
I'm sure it's going to be a lot of the normal guys. I'm not sure if Kai Lenny's doing the race—he's always doing his own thing—but there's also Kody Kerbox and some other Maui people like Travis Baptiste, Zane Schweitzer and Livio Menalau. Then there's the guys who are flying in like Danny Ching and Travis Grant. Those guys are always really strong, fast paddlers who always put up a good fight. It's going to be an interesting battle. The field is pretty evenly mixed as far as people flying in versus people from Maui.
Any new training strategies going into the OluKai?
Earlier this year I spent a month in an intensive training program in New Zealand and it really opened my eyes to how professional athletes are training these days. So I've been applying that to my preparation for all the races. I'm training hard, spending a lot of time on the water, time on the board, time racing, and just enjoying it. Most of all, I'm just having fun with it. I don't think I'll ever stop doing that, I think that's the secret key right there.