battle of the paddle, candice appleby

Photo: Will Taylor

Candice Appleby on Winning BOP

Last year, Candice Appleby faced a long road to recovery after hand surgery. Her results weren’t up to her standards and she didn’t see the top of the podium at the Battle of the Paddle for two years. But that all changed last week when she sealed her fifth BOP title at Salt Creek, capping a fantastic comeback season. Here, she gives us the inside scoop on taking a BOP title for the sixth time, competing on a new course, and training groms to challenge her.–Shari Coble

How was this win different than years past?
It meant a lot more to me after coming back from injuries and a rough 18 months. The level of the competition has been growing so much that it definitely meant a lot because it was the culmination of all the hard work, the trials and tribulations, and all the obstacles and support I had. I feel like I really did earn it. And all the good things I've tried do and try to put back out into the world, I feel like it all kind of came back to me.

Take us through the race.
They started our race with one of the biggest sets of the day. I didn't think they’d start us with the set pumping. There were lots of waves to get over and I popped over a bunch, but I'd fall on my board, and then I fell off once. In that first lap, I was fifth or sixth with Jenny [Kalmbach] right with me.

I wasn't entertaining any bad thoughts even for a second. My mentality was was just pure positivity with eyes on the prize.

In the second lap, I was trying to get out front. Lina was right behind me, going for it. I think Annabel had a couple board lengths and I thought, 'Don't let her get away.' I couldn't draft or anything.

As we headed toward the last black buoy I saw Annabel veer north to catch a wave. The way she angled was sort of opposite of where you were supposed to go to round the buoy. Then, she missed it. I yelled, 'You missed the buoy! You missed the buoy!'

I don't know if she heard me or not, but Lina yelled, 'I saw it!'

It almost looked like Annabel hesitated for a minute, like she thought about going back but didn't. From my perspective—from what I saw in her body language—it looked like she hesitated, then kept going.

I caught a wave and kind of passed Annabel. Then, we both hit the beach and chicane. We came out for the third lap and I got out in front, but she got on me. She drafted me the entire third lap. We'd made it out over the waves clean and so did Lina. There were a bunch of waves that came through after and cleaned a bunch of girls out, separating third and fourth by a lot.

candice appleby, battle of the paddle, Photo: Will Taylor

Photo: Will Taylor

We came in from the outside buoy to catch a wave, and where I was, there was a weird side angle bump. So, I'm about to catch it, but braced because I lost my balance with the bump. I overcompensated and almost fell, so I braced again and had to go onto my butt as I'm dropping into the wave. Then, I had to roll onto my belly and get back on my tail so my board wouldn't pearl, so I rode that whole wave out on my stomach.

We hit the chicane for the last run and Annabel was ahead. We came out and Annabel hit the water before me, but I saw a bunch of waves coming, so I stayed standing on the bottom. I got on my board but saw another wave, hopped off, grabbed the handle and went under. Annabel was under too, but I climbed back on my board quicker and started paddling.

I heard the announcer say, 'And she fell off again.' The crowd went crazy. When I heard that, I thought, 'Go now!'

That last lap, I put my head down and paddled. I looked back once after the first buoy. From there, it was no looking back. I just paddled with my heart.

Aaron Napoleon gave me a pep talk the night before and told me, 'If you want to win this thing, you gotta paddle with your heart.' I heard that in my mind the whole time.

Coming in, Annabel was a couple board lengths behind. I caught a bump and thought, 'I'm not claiming this. I'm not going to screw this wave up.' Never did I think I had it in the bag. I told myself, 'This is my race,' and 'I'm winning it,' but I wasn't going to get comfortable. I rode that wave into shore, did a little paddle pump and ran up the beach.

It was so rad. Everyone was freaking out. I was freaking out. Check out her victory wave here.

battle of the paddle, candice appleby

Photo: Joe Carberry

What does it mean to you to beat your rival and defend your home turf?
It feels really good to win and get my BOP crown back, but at the end of the day, it is my job. I don't want to be one of those football players that gets a touchdown and does cartwheels on the field.
The emotion in the moment is there and I think that's a culmination of all the hard work and hard times I've had. But what means more to me is all the people that supported me. Seeing the emotions of my friends, family, and sponsors, my community and the SUP community, and how much it meant to them, that's really what feels good.

What's this win a result of?
I don't think there's one thing I can pinpoint. But, two weeks before the Battle, I came home from the Standup World Tour event where I lost to Izzi, and was super bummed to not make the final. I was genuinely happy for her to win the World Title, but I've worked really hard in surfing and just haven't had that great of a year. I was bummed out talking to Anthony and at the same time was opening up a thank you card from a grom I coach. I was thinking, 'When's it going to be my time again? I'm working super hard. I'm giving back.'

The card had a devotional in it that said, 'A generous person will prosper. Those who refresh others will be refreshed.' That hit me so hard. The next day at Huntington, I won the sprints and distance race, and now, the Battle. I think what goes around comes back around. And it was a culmination of hard work, dedication and God giving back to me from what I've been putting out.

battle of the paddle, candice appleby

Photo: Joe Carberry

Earlier this year, you said you were trying to make a comeback. Do you feel you achieved that with this win?
Everyone's gotten a lot better and a couple years ago I’d win everything. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to win everything, but I've learned I don't have to win everything to be me or to be great. I do feel like the Battle of the Paddle is the biggest thing—it's the Superbowl of our sport—so I feel like I achieved it, but I also know I have a lot of room to grow and improve.

I have some goals I haven't achieved yet and I'm by no means going to be complacent in the fact that I've won the Battle of the Paddle six times. I know I can still improve athletically and in racing, and I'm going to keep working on doing my best, improving every day and with every race. So, yes, I feel I've achieved a comeback, but I still have quite a few more things I want to accomplish.

battle of the paddle, candice appleby

Photo: Will Taylor

Where's your focus now?
After winning, I feel even more fired up to paddle harder and train more. I trained hard, but I battled smaller injuries this summer besides my hand. I sprained my ankle in Abu Dhabi and couldn't run. Lots of little wear and tear things happened, so I'll take October off. I'll just surf, do yoga and get healthy.

I'm working on planning my season for next year and setting up training programs. I'll spend time on the North Shore in November and get caught up with some rest time, working on my surfing and putting together a girls surf movie with SUP the Mag.

Tell us what it's like to be in your position as a top athlete but also a mentor to kids that are becoming your competition as well as top athletes themselves.
I love it. It's so fun to see them improve and yeah, they're my competition now. It's funny because some people wonder why I do it and ask me why I'm training them to beat me.

At the end of the day, I measure my success not just on things I'm able to accomplish, but on how many other people I'm able to help become successful. I think that's what its really supposed to be about—sharing things with people and helping others along the way. Winning is great, but that's my job. I feel like my purpose is really to help others.

More from the 2014 Battle of the Paddle here.