SUP mag’s BOP Predictions
The 2014 Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle is shaping up to be one of the most exciting races in its illustrious history. We have a brand-new venue in Salt Creek Beach, waves forecast in the four- to six-foot range and the biggest names in the sport battling it out. Race season, it seems, “all comes down to this.” Will Kai Lenny get barreled on his race board going around the inside buoy (RIP hammer buoy)? Will Connor Baxter reclaim the title? Does Annabel Anderson have the wave-riding chops to handle overhead Salt Creek? This weekend will answer a lot of questions but we’ll put ourselves out there and make some calls. Read on.
The reigning BOP champion always comes to win--especially at big events. Last year was his official shot across Baxter and the rest of the competitive SUP world’s bow that he can race, and can win on a consistent basis when he gives that side of the sport his full attention. He’s had a big year filming The SUP Movie (which premieres on Saturday in Dana Point), and a less-consistent year racing around the world, competing for the Standup World Tour title (which he’ll have to compete for after BOP) and we kind of sense a little burn out. In the recent Standup World Series event in Huntington Beach, he had a shocker of a race, finishing in the back of the pack. Baxter has his number more often than not this year, beating him head-to-head the majority of the time at events like the Ultimate SUP Showdown. Lenny will be in the top three but we’re guessing that Baxter has the hunger for the number one spot.
Connor Baxter just reclaimed his Standup World Series title. He won Molokai-2-Oahu a third time this year. He looks strong. He looks hungry. And his energy seems in a much better place than it was last year. At this time in 2013, he was fatigued and mentally worn down and was still the only person to give Lenny a run for his money. Baxter does not like to lose, especially two years in a row. Our guess is we’ll see him at the top of the podium this year in the elite race.
The Australian paddling veteran is hungry. He won Molokai 2 Oahu last year and the distance race at BOP with a bum knee (he skipped the surf race because he couldn’t run around the chicane). He’ll be looking to put in a strong performance in the surf race this year. But I don’t know if he has the quick-burst speed to keep up with the young guns in and out through the pounding surf. You’ll see him on the podium for the distance race for sure.
Ching has won the BOP elite race twice here in California. He’s never finished worse than third. He’s a savvy competitor with one of the most efficient strokes in the sport. But again, we think the pounding waves at Salt Creek may wreak havoc on his punishing, steady strokes. But on this call, we could be completely wrong. He’ll be another one at the front of the pack in the distance race.
You read it here: Freitas has a good chance of winning the elite race. He’s as talented as anybody in the world on a SUP surfboard and has been steadily honing his race chops over the past couple years. He’s right there with the top pack at most events and will be looking to make even more of a splash than his fifth place last year and sixth the year before that. With his wave-riding talent, agility and speed, look for Freitas to play spoiler.
Another athlete that has come from the surf side and really created a strong racing presence, especially this season. Schweitzer seems to be constantly nipping at the heels of paddlers like Baxter and Lenny which probably chafes a little bit but also makes him want it all the more. Don’t let his aloha vibe fool you: he’s here to win and has the ability to work a 12’6″ race board through the big south swells expected on race day (especially since he’s a goofy-footer and lefts are predominant at Salt Creek). Schweitzer is hungry for a big championship trophy on his mantle. And there’s none more important than the BOP’s hardware. The expected surf melee should play into Schweitzer’s favor and if there was a year for him to pick off a big win, this would be it. Look for him to challenge for one of the top three spots.
Tahitian Cronsteadt took a board to the ankle last year in a BOP qualifier, requiring surgery, so we really aren’t sure how he fairs this weekend. He took second place at the Carolina Cup this year in a grueling race against the best in the world, losing to Danny Ching, but beating Travis Grant, Chase Kosterlitz, Connor Baxter, etc. Where we haven’t really seen him race is in the surf. Tahitians are generally good all-around paddlers and obviously surf exceptionally well, but he might not have the race experience in the surf. He’s as fast as the top guys, though, and could create a serious upset or two, especially in the distance race.
Dark Horse: Jake Jensen
Jensen really isn’t an underdog. He’s third on the Standup World Series, right behind Baxter and Lenny, respectively. He’s from Australia, which means he doesn’t get as much coverage over here, but he’s extremely strong, as shown in the Huntington Beach long distance race a couple weeks ago when he gave Baxter a serious chase. If you don’t know his name now, you might by the end of this weekend.
Anderson has won both the surf race and the distance race for the past two years. Let that sink in for a moment. To call her the favorite is a major understatement. It will be interesting to see how she performs in the heaving shore break of Salt Creek, which is a far cry from the sloped walls of Doheny. But she’s by far the strongest of the women and, barring a major mistake, she’ll be number one again.
Appleby is back in a big way. The four-time BOP champ sat out last year for the first time in the event’s history with a nagging hand injury that required surgery. Anyone who knows Appleby knows how hard it was for her to watch from shore. She’s made big noise about her comeback this year and put on a dominant performance at the recent Standup World Series event in Huntington Beach, which had some pretty similar shorebreak to what we’ll see this weekend. Does she have the extra gear to catch Anderson? Maybe. She’ll have to put together her best performance ever to do so.
Kalmbach could have won the BOP last year. One little bobble by Anderson would have given her first place. She fought hard and in the end came up just short. No competitor as serious as the Big Island’s Kalmbach wants to relive so close a defeat. That said, she’ll have to put on a superhuman effort (again) and have Anderson slip up. It will be a serious battle.
The Canadian steam engine, Augaitis has a serious motor on her. She’s one of the strongest women in the distance scene and is a serious contender for Sunday’s race. She doesn’t have a lot of wave experience though and that will hurt her at Salt Creek. We would be surprised to see her in the top three in the surf race. Expect it in the distance.
Hönscheid won M20 this year. As an experienced windsurfer and surfer, she’s used to getting pounded in the surf which will be very useful this weekend. We think she’s a better distance paddler and will fair better on Sunday, but she might find her rhythm within the sets to make a big finish on Saturday. She has it in her.
Jackson is always racing and always training, especially in the wild waters of eastern Australia. But she tends to struggle against top seeds like Anderson. She’s second on the Standup World Series right now and could really use a big win to solidify her place as one of the best female racers in the world. The BOP makes careers and Jackson would love to make hers.
Dark Horse: Karla Gilbert
Gilbert got third at Doheny last year and she knows how to compete. In Australia she’s renowned as the best female surf life saving athlete of all time, a competitive series in which prone paddleboarding--often through sizable waves--plays a major role. She came back to competition to standup paddle and won an Australian title. She’s a dark horse who doesn’t race very often but when she does, she goes hard. It’ll be interesting to see where she finishes. She could find top three again.
Check back on SUPthemag.com for ongoing coverage of the event.
Do your homework: 2013 Recap.