Winner Toby Cracknell (left) and runner-up Ryan Helm, neck-and-neck to the finish line. Photo: Lindsey Hendricks

Winner Toby Cracknell (left) and runner-up Ryan Helm, neck-and-neck to the finish line. Photo: Lindsey Hendricks

2015 Hobie/Hennesseys Waterman’s Challenge Wrap Up

Toby Cracknell, Shae Foudy and Groms Galore Reign Victorious At The Hobie/Hennesseys Waterman’s Challenge

On Saturday, as contenders gathered in Orange County, Southern California, for the Hobie/Hennesseys Waterman’s Challenge at Dohney State Beach, a reminiscence for the Battle of the Paddle—the famous SUP race widely adored as the most prestigious race in the industry, held at Dohney and recently cancelled when its main sponsor pulled out—lingered in the salty morning air.

But then, as droves of talented groms poured in and out of the surf zone and top athletes from around the country squared up for a slew of tremendous paddle battles, the nostalgia lifted as the overwhelming positivity and passion of the race community settled in. An overarching truth took hold: while the BOP is no more, events like the Hobie/Hennesseys Waterman’s Challenge are here to pick up the pace, making full use of the awesome race venue that is Dohney State Beach.

The main event of the Waterman’s Challenge—a five-mile distance race with three laps through the surf zone—was crowned by Australian speed demon Toby Cracknell, with runner-up Ryan Helm battling tightly till the last steps before the finish line. The duo, which stuck with the leading 4-pack that included Giorgio Gomez (3rd) and Noa Hopper (4th) throughout most of the race, caught the same wave to the beach ahead of the others, and were side-by-side till they hit the sand. But Cracknell’s fast footwork came into play once they hit the sand, and he was able to out-sprint Helm to the finish.

“I was pretty much right where I wanted to be at the end of the distance race, but unfortunately for me, Toby was right there with me,” Helm told SUP. “We had a little gap on the guys behind us, and Toby and I caught the same wave to the beach. He came from behind on the wave and then beat me on the sprint (laughs).”

The surf slalom, a short-course race emphasizing skill in the surf zone, played out in a similar fashion, with all four top contenders finishing with the exact same placement as they did in the distance race.

“I had my chance to get (Toby) back on the short course,” Helm said. “I was a little behind and we caught the same wave in again. But I didn't get my revenge that time; he beat me on the run again.”

On the woman’s side, Shae Foudy reigned supreme in the WaterWoman’s Challenge Surf Race, partially due to the fact that she was the only entrant in the woman’s division. But after finishing the race in 23:05:54, Foudy found herself with impressive placement—she would have finished seventh in the men’s race with the same time.

Beyond the adult competition, Helm said the most inspiring aspect of the event was “watching the future of SUP.”

“There were a bunch of grom races, and getting to see all the kids charge was amazing,” Helm said. “They were charging so hard. As hard as the adults and then some.”

“The junior racing was spectacular in that it highlighted the deep and diverse talent pool of the up and coming paddling community,” said event organizer, Hobie’s Sean Douglas. “Kids that had been only paddling as much as six months demonstrated skills and athletic talent that can only indicate and lead to a much bigger and brighter future for paddleboard racing.”

Events like the Hobie/Hennesseys Waterman Challenge, along with SUP Fiesta and a small hand full of other events that cater to youth, assume responsibility for grooming the next generation of our sport. Organizers that take this consideration seriously provide a valuable service to the SUP community.

“It was really inspiring to see the level of SUP in the junior events,” Helm said. “This event did a really good job with the junior section. It was great to watch and awesome to be a part of.”

Want more SUP grom talk? Check back for an exclusive interview with Candice Appleby and Anthony Vela of Performance Paddling, organizers of SUP Fiesta, highlighting the next generation of SUP in our upcoming online feature.