Toby Cracknell

Toby Cracknell (left) with a look of determination as he narrowly beats Ryan Helm at the 2015 Hobie Hennessey’s Waterman Challenge. Photo: Lindsey Hendrick

Toby Cracknell Should Be On Your Radar

Along the central coast of New South Wales, kids have a very different sporting education than their American counterparts. Instead of baseball, basketball and football, it's surfing, rugby and Nippers (that's junior surf lifesaving for the uninitiated). So it was no surprise that Toby Cracknell, one of Australia's rising SUP stars, felt at home in the ocean long before he could even pop up on a board.

"I don’t really go searching for waves as I’m lucky to live in Avoca and we have waves every day," he said. "At Avoca Point the wave breaks around the edge of the kids' rock pool and it's my favorite spot to surf."

Though he grew up in and around the ocean, Cracknell didn't start focusing competitively on surfing and SUP until a few years ago. Instead, he concentrated on basketball and rugby until his mid-teens, and then switched his focus to track, cross country and triathlons. Putting in countless miles on the bike, in the pool and pounding the pavement, Cracknell worked fervently to achieve his goal of becoming a professional triathlete.

Fate had other ideas. In 2011, he suffered a back injury that dashed his dream. Though Cracknell says he "still rides and runs a fair bit and my Mom wants to race me in a half marathon some time," he went back to the water in search of solace and a new outlet for his competitive fire. In 2012 he bought a SUP surfboard and then borrowed a longer 12' 6'' board to try his hand at distance paddling. Soon he'd identified some downwinders like the 12 km run (about 7.5 miles) from Terrigal Haven to Towoon Bay and started putting years of endurance work into action.

Cracknell's early results showed his potential, as he finished third behind Jake Jensen and Beau O'Brian in only his second competitive race. Soon he signed with Naish and made his first trip to the US to compete against an international field for the first time in summer 2013. Cracknell quickly served notice that there was a new Australian to be reckoned with on the scene, taking third place behind world champ Connor Baxter and Zane Schweitzer at Chuck Patterson's Water Warrior Event on Camp Pendleton.

Last season, Cracknell continued his ascent, winning the competitive New South Wales state SUP championships and the Australian SUP Titles and representing his country at the ISA World Championships in Nicaragua. For Cracknell, racing against his countrymen is just as difficult as taking on the best that the rest of the world has to offer.

This year, Cracknell has again excelled against other Aussies, earning another spot at the ISAs. He has also made his mark on the race calendar, beating Ryan Helm in two knife-edge finishes at the 2015 Hobie Hennessey Waterman's Challenge. With no Battle of the Paddle this year, Cracknell plans to focus on defending his title at the Australian SUP Titles so that he again makes the national team. He's also taking aim at the King of the Cut, "an epic downwind race in Western Australia," and then working a few more races around his lifeguarding schedule back home in Avoca.

When we asked Cracknell what he sees for the future of SUP, he didn't highlight multi-disciplinary events or a return of the Battle of the Paddle, but rather a discipline he got to try first hand at the recent Payette River Games: "People talk about how can we make standup appeal to audiences that don’t know a whole lot about the sport and whitewater is the answer!" he said. "The Payette event was the most fun I've ever had in a race and if SUP makes it to the Olympics, it should be on a whitewater course."

One thing's for sure, the Payette River Games won't be the last sighting of Cracknell on the river. He intends to excel right along with the hottest new sector in SUP.

Toby Cracknell SUP surfing:

Featured image courtesy of Toby Cracknell’s Facebook.