A packed beach of eager paddlers—upwards of 700 in total last year—awaits contenders at this year's carolina cup. Photo: Will Taylor

A packed beach of eager paddlers—upwards of 700 in total last year—awaits contenders at this year’s Carolina Cup. Photo: Will Taylor

Preview: 2016 Carolina Cup Kicks Off Race-Season This Weekend

This weekend, for the sixth consecutive year, SUP racing season kicks off at Wrightsville Beach with the Carolina Cup. The event—officially called the West Marine Carolina Cup presented by Surftech this year—is as much a festival as it is a competition. It’s the beloved mother of all East Coast SUP races, a pillar of the international SUP agenda and a celebration of all things standup paddling. And once again, the SUP magazine crew will be on site, covering the action live via social media and real-time publishing on SUPthemag.com. Stay tuned.

What to expect this year

Upwards of 700 racers spread across four courses. The world’s fastest paddlers and eager amateurs galore. Paddling clinics with world-class instructors and certifiers. A demo zone featuring the industry’s top brands. Before parties. After parties. A movie premier. Autograph signings. Award ceremonies. The electric energy of SUP’s vibrant community reconvened yet again for the opening event of another highly-anticipated, action-packed season.

The Arena

Wrightsville Beach is a T-shaped peninsula stemming from the Carolina coast and separated from the mainland by a web of inlets and canals that comprises the Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW)—a popular paddling haven and flatwater SUP sanctuary. On the water, shorter races and demos will take place in the back bay of the ICWW, while the flagship competition—the Graveyard Race—will start and finish on the surf side of the peninsula. A fixture of the area, the Blockade Beach Runner Resort is the event’s official accommodator and will host a slew of parties and industry gatherings in addition to a star-studded list of racers.

The Competition

With four courses comes four races—the hallowed Graveyard Elite Race (13.2-mile main event), the Harbor Island Recreational Race (3.5-mile fun race), the Money Island Open Race (6.5-mile flatwater race) and finally, the kids race.

The Graveyard Race

This is the main event. It stretches more than 13 miles around the Wrightsville Beach community, starting and ending in the surf while covering ocean and flatwater and usually featuring both downwind and upwind stretches. It’s grueling. It’s demanding. It’s an elite race for a reason and that reason is it’s not for everyone. The most comfortable and experienced elite competitors in distance paddling and endurance racing will prevail.

The Competitors

Later this week, we’re bringing you a full rundown of our top-picks for the 2016 Carolina Cup, but until then, here’s something to hold you over.

The elite race is long, varied and unpredictable. The exact course and its directional flow will not be announced until night before or day-of. Point being, there’s little home-field advantage and lots of variables. The racers with the most experience in distance and endurance paddling, as well as those who’ve been training hardest in the off-season, will likely be in the lead. Last year, veteran paddler Travis Grant and three-time Carolina Cup victor Annabel Anderson took home the trophies, a testament to the value of experience among the more seasoned racers. But with in-form all-stars like Connor Baxter and George Cronsteadt looking for the top spot on the podium, and rapidly-rising forces like Fiona Wylde and Shae Foudy looking to cement their space at the top of the sport, the 2016 Carolina Cup title is up for the taking.

Last year’s Carolina Cup recap.

More Carolina Cup.