SUP magazine’s Paddle Rankings
Welcome to the first-ever SUP magazine Paddle Rankings. Sound authoritative? Good, that’s what we’re going for.
If you're not into the whole pro paddling scene, move on to the next post. This is serious. Mostly. The list below is SUP magazine’s take on the world of racing. We wrote this one as fans first, reporters second. So yeah, it may be a bit biased. We rely more on the eye test than analytics, even though we'll use hard facts too. This is unabashed, unadulterated, opinionated, pro-race reading. And with the U.S. Open of SUP finishing up last week in Huntington, and the Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life set to kick off at Doheny State Beach this weekend, the timing couldn't be better.
1. Kai Lenny
Is it just me or has Kai Lenny's body changed? He's actually moving more toward the Danny Ching body type these days. Almost no one trains harder than Kai, so it's easy to see how he's bulked up. That extra strength seems to be paying dividends; he's been tough to beat at World Series races (he may likely wrap up a world title on Oahu next week) and I love watching him paddle: super powerful, yet he moves his race board with a style that's pleasing on the eyes. The technical race as this year's Pacific Paddle Games is an ideal match for Lenny's style. Distance is always the wildcard for him. He finished second at Molokai, albeit 16 minutes behind Travis Grant, and ended 25th at Hood River. Don’t expect him to blink on this big stage.
2. Connor Baxter
Connor has had a tough year by his standards: he pulled out of the Molokai—his pet race—and to be frank, he just hasn't looked in form compared to years prior. And his results have reflected that. But the kid is so accomplished at age 21, it’d be foolish to count him out of anything. He seems worn out after a long year of endless travel, but this weekend will be a true indication of where he’s at with his racing.
3. Danny Ching
Our Top Four is extremely muddled as each paddler is capable of taking a win against the others depending on the day. But Danny Ching has stayed successful for so long I can't help but make this proclamation (and would be stupid not to): Ching can never be underestimated. He's got the ideal body for power paddling in any condition: He's light, muscular and built in a perfect package for winning races over time, much like Mo Freitas, Zane Schweitzer and Kai Lenny. And his paddling record at Doheny is second to none. The winningest paddler of his generation, he's without a doubt a favorite to take the Pacific Paddle Games' overall title.
4. Travis Grant
Travis Grant is one of our favorite paddlers. He knows the sport—and the mechanics of paddling—supremely well as he has a background in building paddles and paddling outrigger. No one in the world is better in distance and downwind (he won best performance at SUP magazine's 2015 SUP Awards for his second, and dominant, Molokai win). But he hasn't won a major technical race in several years now so it'll be interesting to see how he fares at the PPG's this weekend. If he wins the distance, he'll most likely just need to crack the Top 5 in the technical to take the overall title.
5. Mo Freitas
There's no need to justify Mo Freitas being in the Top Ten in our Power Rankings. But we might need to rationalize putting him this low. One of the most uniquely gifted paddlers in the sport, Freitas is a podium threat anytime he registers for a number. He's so young, it'll be interesting to see how it pans out for him in 2016 after finishing 3rd overall at the World Series event at Huntington Beach last week (he's currently in 5th for the year). For now, he's a legitimate threat to win the PPG's and climb his way up this list.
6. Kelly Margetts
Alright, this is a nod to the mature paddlers among us. At 43, Margetts is having an unbelievable year, winning the grueling Gorge distance race against a stacked field and finishing second in the Aussie titles. And he always did well at the BOP. There are plenty of athletes doing impressive things at older ages, but Margetts’ saga is in a league of its own. Kelly Slater is similar, but Slater has had a lot more sustained success. I could think of some baseball pitchers who've had late-career revivals, but the comparisons are too obscure for most SUP fans. So I’ll just say this: Dude is killing it into midlife, something most of us can only dream of attaining as the years pile up.
7. Zane Schweitzer
Blatant bias here, Zane is a sentimental favorite for me. His ability is endless. He might not crack the top-ten of some world rankings, but he's just as talented as the field above him. I always feel like all he needs is one big win to put him over the top, and I find myself rooting for him on the beach. He definitely had a breakthrough season this year on the surf side, finishing second in the world, and he’s also ranked 7th in the World Series. It could be his time at the PPGs.
8. Casper Steinfath
Fear the beard. Or at least know it's chasing you down. Casper hasn't won a big event when paired against the world's best competition, other than a victory at an ISA World’s in 2013, but he's always right there in the top seven of most races he enters. He's an extremely versatile paddler and is comfortable racing rail-to-rail with the best paddlers. It’s only a matter of time before Steinfath—and his beard—earn a break.
9. Titouan Puyo
Titouan Puyo has become one of the best paddle athletes alive. Mostly because of where he grew up (there’s a lot of God-given ability in there too): his parents raised him in New Caledonia and he’s been a canoe racer for most of his life. Needless to say, he knows how to read the open ocean. And that may be why he's busted out this year, finishing third in both distance and technical in Hood River. He still hasn't taken that final step to the podium, and his technical race ability is still developing, but he has all the tools in the shed.
10. Slater Trout
Slater, Slater, Slater. Gifted. Talented. Marginally interested in chasing the international race circuit. But that's OK because he can still come out and crush it with the best athletes in the sport on any given day. And that's why he's always on the watch list at every event he chooses to attend. Slater seems to do well at combo events like the PPG (he finished 6th overall at the Payette River Games).
1. Candice Appleby
Candice Appleby will be the first to tell you that God makes her a great racer. We tend to think it's because she's an outrageously intense competitor. Whether it’s divine intervention, an uncanny competitive ability or all the above, Appleby’s recipe is working. And that’s an undeniable truth. She won the U.S. Open of SUP last week, sweeping first in both the distance and sprint races, and she’s all set for a rematch against her stiffest rival, Annabel Anderson this weekend. Whether that rivalry is as heated as it once was is debatable, but it still makes watching these two go at it fun.
2. Annabel Anderson
Still one of the sport's greatest athletes, Annabel Anderson picks her races strategically and plans for them a year in advance. Her performance at the Gorge was supremely impressive as she swept the podium. Appleby wasn't at the event to contest her rival, but it was still a fine showing. The live webcast of #PPG2015 will undoubtedly see a ratings boost when Appleby and Anderson are in the same beach start. Stay tuned.
Wylde has the potential to become the next star of women's racing. Some would argue she's already there, but with Anderson and Appleby still in the game, it isn't quite her time. That hasn't made her results any less impressive, though; she’s currently tied for second overall on the Standup World Series, and at the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge she finished the elite course in third and the distance race in second.
4. Angela Jackson
Angela Jackson is a gifted Australian racer and is in that “top four” conversation anytime she's in an event. She's been concentrating on building a board brand with her husband Paul, so her focus hasn't been entirely on the water. Even so, she’s currently holding down fourth overall in the World Series rankings. I always keep my eye on her at the start line—she's always a threat.
5. Shae Foudy
Dana Point, California's Shae Foudy is having a breakout year. It's official. She won the Santa Monica event this summer and grabbed the Breakout Performance award at the 2015 SUP Awards—one of the few "locals" to ever win an award at the annual event held each year in San Clemente, right down the road from where she grew up. At only 16, she has a legitimate shot at becoming the best female racer in the sport. And that could happen next year. It’ll be interesting to see how she fares this weekend at her home break. —JC
Tune in to PacificPaddleGames.com to watch the LIVE webcast of the event! Races kick off with the Technical Race early rounds at 8:30 PST!
Stay tuned to @SUPthemag on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for real-time updates from this weekend’s action!