Preview: 2017 West Marine Carolina Cup

2016 Carolina Cup Finish

Photo: Greg Panas

Preview: 2017 West Marine Carolina Cup

The sandy shores of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina are buzzing with anticipation as the seventh running of the West Marine Carolina Cup is now less than 24 hours away.

This isn’t just any race. It’s the flagship East Coast SUP event, the unofficial kick-off to the 2017 racing season and one of the largest standup paddling festivals in the world.

While racing is the name of the game at Carolina Cup, the days leading up to Saturday’s big race feature a host of noncompetitive activities for the casual paddler. Whether learning from the sport’s top athletes in various clinics, perusing the newest products and boards in the demo zone, snagging a few autographs or relaxing to some live music, the Carolina Cup has something for every paddler, weekend warriors and grizzled veteran alike.

 

The men’s lead pack digging hard in the flatwater backwaters of the 2016 Carolina Cup. Photo: Mike Misselwitz

For amateurs with a competitive itch, this weekend offers up two flatwater races–The Harbor Island 3.5 Mile Recreational Race and The Money Island 6.5 Mile Open Race. However, it’s the 13-mile Graveyard Elite Race that the entire SUP world is buzzing about.

With nearly every top paddler in attendance, boldly predicting who will win the Graveyard is a tall task. But as always, we’ll do our best to give you a few names to watch out for. However, before we jump into that guessing game, let’s start with the basics about this quintessential race.

 

Elite paddlers will compete in Carolina Cup’s revered Graveyard Race, a grueling 13-mile circumnavigation of Wrightsville Beach.

The Course

The Graveyard Race kicks off SUP racing season with a 13-mile grind circumnavigating Wrightsville Beach—a litmus test for paddlers coming into the new season. By the time contenders cross the finish line, we all know who’s training hardest and looking strongest coming into 2017.

The course starts and finishes on the beach in front of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort and includes just about every water condition imaginable–ocean, flatwater, downwind and upwind sections. From the startline, paddlers chug northeast along the Atlantic coast for around 3.25 miles, typically faced with variable winds and rough water. The course then veers inland across the tidal currents and rounds back south into the canals of the Intercostal Waterway for roughly six miles of flatwater slogging back to the southern end of the island. Then comes the final stretch, commonly regarded as the most grueling segment of the Graveyard Race. The course turns east into the sea wind and then north again for the final two miles before reaching the finish.

While last year’s cloud cover was a welcome relief for paddlers, this year the temperatures are expected to be pushing 80 degrees at race start (10AM EST) with winds around 10 knots. To manage the hot, long stretches this race is known for, competitors will form long draft trains to maximize their efficiency and save energy. However, all bets are off during the final mile and this is where the fittest paddlers usually shine.

The start of last year’s Graveyard Race. Photo: Greg Panas

Paddlers to Watch

Michael Booth – This Australian powerhouse bursted onto the SUP scene in a big way this past year. After a heated 2016 Euro Tour spent neck-and-neck alongside Connor Baxter–another athlete to watch here in Carolina–Booth made his presence known with a dominating victory in the Men’s Elite Distance race at #PPG2016. He looks to be in form this year, already notching a victory in the distance event at the 2017 APP World Tour Maui Pro-Am. While this will be his first attempt at the Carolina Cup (inexperience could certainly play a factor) the grueling conditions this race provides seem to favor his powerful approach. Don’t be surprised if this first-timer ends up on the podium.

Danny Ching – Rule #1: Never count out Danny Ching at the Carolina Cup. The man won the race three years in a row from 2012-2014; and he has finished on the podium during each of the past two years. His wife had their first child last year around this time, so it will be interesting to see how becoming a new father has affected his training. Our guess? Probably not one bit. This Dana Point-based paddler has a lot of fight left in him and he will be eager to reclaim the top spot once more.

Titouan Puyo – The New Caledonian came into last year’s Carolina Cup as a dark horse and emerged a winner. It was no gimme either, he powered away from distance dynamos Ching and Travis Grant during the final mile to claim the surprise victory. Does he have it in him to repeat as the King of Carolina? We’ll find out shortly.

Danny Ching and company get ready for the start. Photo: Mike Misselwitz

Annabel Anderson – The undisputed queen of Carolina. This Kiwi has won the Carolina Cup four years running and has no plans to give up her crown. She blew away the competition last year by finishing ahead of female runner-up Candice Appleby by more than five minutes, an absolutely staggering gap. On a side note, we recently learned she is completely self-funding this trip to Carolina. Not that she needs any extra motivation…

Sonni Hönscheid – This German SUP star is starting her season strong with solid results, recently winning the distance event at the 2017 Maui Pro-Am. She also has plenty of success in this race, finishing on the podium at the past two Carolina Cups. While keeping up with Anderson will not be easy for anyone, expect Hönscheid to be a top contender among the ladies.

Candice Appleby – This one is a bit of a wild card. No one has seen Appleby in Wrightsville Beach the past few days, so the rumors are swirling about whether or not she will show up. She is coming off a very rough showing at last month’s Maui Pro-Am, but historically she has been the only woman capable of giving Anderson a run for her money. Could a dramatic last-minute appearance and victory be in the cards? Never say never.

Four-time Carolina Cup champion Annabel Anderson, charging toward victory in 2016. Photo: Greg Panas

Don’t get us wrong, these are just a few of the names that could make a run for the Carolina crown. With such a stacked field, there are any number of paddlers that could emerge victorious. Connor Baxter, Travis Grant, Georges Cronsteadt, Fiona Wylde, Terrene Black, or perhaps another dark horse?

In less than 24 hours we will know.

Stay tuned to SUP Magazine as we will be providing live updates throughout the day tomorrow including Facebook Live of the portions of the race, full recap, and photos. Let the season begin.

Related 

Photos and rundown from last year’s Carolina Cup.

Photos from the 2015 Carolina Cup.