The 13-mile Quiksilver Waterman Carolina Cup is generally regarded as one of the toughest races of the entire season. But this year, the world’s best paddlers came across the finish line all smiles and repeatedly described the race as fun.
With the Elite Graveyard course being reversed to run clockwise around “Wrightsville Island” for the first time since 2014, competitors were able to take advantage of both calm flatwater and some fun downwind bumps. These optimal conditions contributed to an exciting race throughout and one of the most electrifying finishes in recent Carolina Cup memory.
Men’s Elite Race
The race began under sunny skies as Mo Freitas led the pack during the one-mile sprint from the Blockade Runner to the inlet entrance. He was pursued closely by the usual suspects including Connor Baxter, Travis Grant, Lincoln Dews, Danny Ching and a host of other paddlers. After a bit of jockeying for position, a pack of 17 paddlers settled in for the long stretch of flatwater along the intercoastal waterway.
At this time, the race settled into a more mellow pace as the front pack worked together to grind through the long miles. This “teamwork” came to an abrupt end once the paddlers neared the end of the flatwater stretch and prepared to head back into the ocean for a three-mile downwind run to the finish.
At this point, Michael Booth made a strong move to snatch the lead. Before long, he settled in for the tall task of holding off a hard-charging Mo Freitas, Travis Grant and last year’s Carolina Cup champ, Titouan Puyo.
Freitas and Grant managed to close the gap and set up a frantic 250-meter sprint to the finish. Nevertheless, Booth was able to successfully thwart their efforts and get redemption from his heartbreaking defeat two weeks ago in Tahiti. Behind him, Grant was able to best Freitas to secure the runner-up position.
Following the podium finishers was Puyo coming home fourth and Tahitian legend Georges Cronsteadt placing fifth. But with a highly-competitive field, many of the top stars would finish further back, including Connor Baxter who finished outside the top 15.
Women’s Elite Race
With five-time Carolina Cup champion Annabel Anderson sitting out this year’s race due to injury, the door was wide-open for someone new to take home the trophy. That is, until Sonni Hönscheid promptly slammed it back shut.
Following her dominant performance in Tahiti two weeks ago, Hönscheid put another stomping on the elite women’s field in Wrightsville Beach.
The race began with Fiona Wylde jumping out to an early but short-lived lead. Before long, Hönscheid caught her and began to pull away at the five-mile mark. From that point forward, there was no looking back for German powerhouse as she would go on to win by over three minutes.
The real race was for second place, where Olivia Piana was able to overpower Wylde in the closing stages of the race to secure second place. Meanwhile, Wylde would manage to hold on for third. Hometown favorite April Zilg came home fourth to big cheers from her local fan base, while Seychelle Hattingh rounded out the top five.