Here comes the Carolina Cup. And the nearly 800 racers who will be competing in it. Photo: Jodi Caplan Photography

Here comes the Carolina Cup. And the nearly 800 racers who will be competing in it. Photo: Jodi Caplan Photography

Preview: 2015 Carolina Cup

It’s race season again. It feels crazy to write, but it’s true. The best paddlers in the world—and hundreds of avid amateurs—are all converging on Wrightsville Beach for the East Coast’s biggest paddling event, the Carolina Cup.

SUP the mag is on site and will be covering the event in person. The fifth annual Carolina Cup will provide an explosive start to the season and give the standup paddle racing world a proverbial measuring stick for 2015. What kind of rivalries will we see this year? Does the old(er) guard have what it takes to stay one stroke ahead of the next generation? Who’s going to surprise us? We’ll know a lot more after tomorrow.

The Course

The Graveyard Race, as it’s lovingly called, is a grueling circuit. This year, organizers plan to run the race in whichever direction will give the paddlers the best downwind section, hopefully breaking down open-water draft trains and creating an elite free-for-all. The race starts on the beach, then up or down the coast before ducking into an inlet. Racers must then wind their way through the inland waterway, likely in large draft trains. Then it’s back to open water and a finish on the beach in front of the huge crowd. Who’s favored? Here are some of our best guesses, grains of salt included.

Annabel Anderson
Anderson has a V8 engine for a paddle stroke which has served her well on this course in the past: she won this race the past two consecutive years. After a loss at BOP and a win at the Air France Paddle Festival last weekend, Anderson will be hungry and have a winning taste in her mouth. Plus, the only woman who consistently challenges the Kiwi, American Candice Appleby, won’t be here.

Jenny Kalmbach
Kalmbach is a lock for top-three in this event and almost any other for that matter. She’s fast, strong and wants to win. We don’t know what it will take to get on top of the podium this year, but we do know Kalmbach is always a threat. This could be her year, depending on her training over the off season.

Lina Augaitis
We think Augaitis has an engine to match Anderson. She doesn’t have as much open-water experience but she’s been working on it. She’s an endurance athlete that’s crossed over from land to water and in the past couple years has made dramatic strides in our world. She beat Anderson in the distance race at the BOP last year after Anderson lost her board to a set wave and Augaitis was able to capitalize. Augaitis probably won’t get any gimmes here, but she could take it under her own power.

Connor Baxter
Baxter finished 12th here last year. Why should he be on the favorites list? Baxter doesn’t like to lose. After his finish in 2014, the current Standup World Series champ will be looking for redemption in the Graveyard. We wouldn’t be at all surprised—along with the rest of the paddling world—if he climbed the ranks to take the win. Plus, Kai Lenny‘s not going to be here.

Danny Ching
The 2015 Carolina Cup is Ching’s race to lose. He’s taken it down the past three years running and won’t want to give up his title to the most competitive field the event has ever seen. We’re not sure what motivates Ching but he seems to thrive in the beatings that this course doles out. His knowledge of the circuit’s intricacies shouldn’t hurt either. His tank is full and he’ll leave it all on the course.

Georges Cronsteadt
Cronsteadt took second to Ching here last year. These guys are well matched in terms of raw paddling power. Cronsteadt is coming fresh off a win at the Air France Paddle Festival and is carrying the weight of Tahiti on his back. As he told us last year in his home country, “I want to show the world what Tahiti can do.” Pride can go a long way, especially in as talented a package as Cronsteadt.

Jake Jensen
Even after finishing second at the 2014’s all-time BOP, Jensen doesn’t get the credit he deserves. The young Australian is still living in the shadows but that could all change this weekend. Jensen is a fierce competitor and has a training regimen that will have him fully-tuned for the Cup. If anyone’s going to cause a major upset, it’s him.

Who are your picks? Let us know in the comments!

More Carolina Cup.

Course maps.