The Top 10 Performances of 2014
Each year as part of SUP magazine’s annual SUP Awards, our editorial team chooses the top male and female performances of the year. But there’s so many more athletes to recognize for their feats throughout the year–and in this young sport, each act of physical fortitude represents serious progression for the game. Needless to say we’re honored to be a part of it. After much internal debate, we present to you the top ten SUP performances of 2014, in no particular order.
Have another contender? Disagree with our picks? Let us know in the comments or on social media. We love a good discussion.
Candice Appleby is officially the queen of the Battle of the Paddle. Before this year she'd won four BOP titles (including Hawaii). But Kiwi Annabel Anderson had held her off in 2012 and Appleby sat the race out due to a hand injury in 2013, when Anderson took the title again. Appleby faced a formidable summit to climb this year to reclaim that title. But when Anderson faltered in the big surf at Salt Creek, Appleby was there to pounce and she never let up, completing her storied comeback.
Bonus Performance: Appleby capped off her year with a win at the BOP Brazil to add her sixth Battle title.
After winning four of five contests on the Standup World Tour this year, Izzi Gomez claimed her first SUWT World Championship. That kind of dominance is rare at any age, but Gomez is just 14 years old. We could be witnessing the start of a dynasty. Gomez charges in all conditions and is single-handedly raising the performance bar for female SUP surfers. Even if this is just a flash in the pan, Gomez has forever changed women’s performance surfing mixing her graceful style with a powerful, no-holds-barred approach.
Bonus Performance: Gomez had already secured her World Title at Huntington Beach but won France’s La Torche Pro to round out her incredible year.
After an amalgam of top results this year, Canadian paddler Lina Augaitis enters 2015 as a legitimate threat in competitive distance racing after only a year of paddling full time. Augaitis won the ISA World Championships, the Standup World Series and the Distance Race at the Battle of the Paddle. Her weakness lies in the surf but with her work ethic, she’s sure to compensate. Look for her to make more podiums in 2015.
Bonus Performance: She also won the Lost Mills "Fastest Paddler on Earth" 200-meter sprint race back in June.
Connor Baxter set a new record last July when he reclaimed his title at the grueling 32-mile Molokai 2 Oahu World Paddleboard World Championships. His third M20 win came after a tight battle with defending champ Travis Grant, who took second over Scott Gamble (3rd), Kai Lenny (4th) and Travis Baptiste (5th). Baxter’s open-ocean ability is preternatural and he will continue to set the bar in that realm.
Bonus Performance(s): Baxter took his sixth consecutive title in the Maui 2 Molokai World Cup, won the Olukai Ho'olaule'a, dominated the Gorge Paddle Challenge and took the Standup World Series title.
If you pay attention to SUP racing, you've seen "The Wave" from the 2014 Battle of the Paddle Salt Creek, where Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter—two of the top contenders in the sport—literally played a game of bumper-boards on a wave mid-race, hyper-charging the competitive atmosphere. Lenny was able to regain composure–as he so often does when the pressure is on–and went on to win the most competitive SUP race in the world for the second year in a row.
Bonus Performance: Picking a top performance for one of paddling’s best athletes is difficult. On the surf side, Lenny won his fourth Standup World Tour title this year.
Determination is among the most distinguishable trademarks of a top performer. After winning his second consecutive stock (14' board) title at the Molokai 2 Oahu World Championships this year, despite being sick going into the race, 17-year-old Travis Baptiste earns his rank in the elite realm by pairing raw talent and athletic ability with the perseverance of a world champion. The teen took fifth place among the unlimited paddlers for goodness sake.
Bonus Performance: Baptiste was awarded the Male Breakout Performer for his effort at M20.
In this era, no top performance list would be nearly complete without including Annabel Anderson, who took first at the 2014 Carolina Cup, a grueling 12.5-mile mix of open ocean, intracoastal waterway and surf zone paddling. The Carolina Cup, held at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., is one of Anderson's pet events (the two-time BOP champ won the 2013 CC by over seven minutes). She had to work harder for it this year as Lina Augaitis and Jenny Kalmbach drafted together to catch up to her but Anderson's deep, mechanical stroke won out.
Bonus Performance: Anderson took home another prestigious win against the best in the world at the Gorge Paddle Challenge in Hood River.
Danny Ching owns the Carolina Cup, taking his third victory in as many years in 2014. As we mentioned above, this race is not an easy course but Ching seems to revel in the conditions—and the competition. The race is the unofficial beginning of the elite race season and draws the best racers in the sport like Connor Baxter, Travis Grant and George Cronsteadt. “This year was so tough,” he said after the race. “There were about 15 people that couldn’t separate in the draft train for about ten miles.” In the end, Ching managed to put a gap on them and pull away with his third win.
Bonus Performances: Ching smoked the "Fastest Paddler on Earth" 200-meter sprint at Lost Mills, Germany this year. Ching not only finished three seconds ahead of defending champ Connor Baxter, he also broke the unofficial (but pretty much official) world record for the 200-meter SUP sprint. Also, after taking a crushing third place in the BOP Elite Race, Ching easily outpaced the competition in the Distance Race.
Sonni Hönscheid had a major breakthrough win with her victory at M20 this year, setting the third-fastest women's time across the Ka'iwi Channel. Winning what is often called the hardest paddle race in the world is no easy feat. Hönscheid earned the Female Performance of the Year at the 2014 SUP Awards for her victory.
Bonus Performance: Hönscheid won the 17-mile downwind Na Pali Race on Kauai.
Fernando Stalla’s first experience in whitewater was in Cascade, Idaho when he traveled there to compete in—and win—the 2014 Payette River Games, which had the biggest prize purse of any SUP competition in history. That prize purse meant the field was incredibly deep and Stalla not only had to overcome the best ocean paddlers but the sport’s top whitewater paddlers as well. If you've ever paddled whitewater, you know how impressive this win really is.
Bonus Performance: Third place at the Punta Sayulita Classic.
Caio Vaz had a hell of a year on the Standup World Tour in 2014. He came out of the gates strong, winning at Sunset and then in Brazil. In the next two events, he made the semis. It looked like his year. When we saw him surf in Huntington, where he lost in the semi-finals to a white-hot Poenaiki Raioha, we thought he was the only guy with the competitive chops and raw talent to take down Kai Lenny in the last contest of the year in France. It didn't work out that way though, as Vaz went down to Zane Schweitzer in a quarterfinal matchup, handing Lenny his fourth title and leaving Vaz with a runner-up finish for the second year in a row. A worthy performance. Don't be surprised if he one-ups it next year.
Bonus Performance: Every free surf edit the Vaz brothers drop is a bonus performance. Check them out.
Dark Horse Performance
Titouan Puyo is our Dark Horse Performance for 2014. The New Caledonian (a French island east of Australia) came out of nowhere to qualify in the French nationals to earn a berth at the 2014 ISA World SUP Championships. And then he won the thing ahead of Fernando Stalla, Lincoln Dews, Eric Terrien, Slater Trout and others with a ridiculously-strong performance.
Bonus Performance: His bonus is spanking everyone as a total unknown.
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Additional reporting by Will Taylor.