The Paddle League officially kicked off its regular season this past weekend at the 5th Annual Air France Paddle Festival in Tahiti. With blazing temperatures and sky-high anticipation, the race would produce a surprise comeback and some gritty performances from the world’s best paddlers.

In the end, it was Marcus Hansen and Sonni Hönscheid who stood atop the podium after an exciting finish.

The day appeared to belong to Michael Booth, who had dominated the 24-kilometer race and built up a one minute advantage in the waning stages of the race. However, Hansen began to reel him in over the course of the final few kilometers and eventually passed Booth in the final 500 meters.

Booth looks back the moment that Marcus Hansen catches him in the closing stages of the race. Photo courtesy of The Paddle League

The defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Booth, who voiced his displeasure via social media following the race. Booth believed that boat wakes had aided Hansen’s comeback, a claim that Paddle League organizer Chris Parker has since denied (more on this spat tomorrow).

Nevertheless, the victory was Hansen’s first international race win and one of the most improbable and gutsy performances in recent memory.

A tired and frustrated Booth would settle for second. Photo courtesy of The Paddle League

Rounding out the podium was a local Tahitian hero Steeve Teihotaata, who charged from eighth to third in the final five kilometers. 

Other notables included Titouan Puyo coming home in fourth and a surprise DNF from elite paddler Connor Baxter–a result that demonstrates just how difficult this race was.

For the women, German Sonni Hönscheid put forth a dominant effort. She would claim victory by more than three minutes over runner-up Japanese paddler Yuka Sato. Fiona Wylde would place third in a race she would later call, “Definitely the hardest race I've ever done."

Sonni was in prime form. Photo courtesy of The Paddle League

The brutal conditions would also derail Kiwi paddler and 2017 M2O champion Penelope Strickland, who was forced to retire after suffering from heat exhaustion.

The Paddle League will resume in two weeks when it makes the second stop of its tour at the world famous Carolina Cup. Stay tuned to SUP Magazine for more follow-up, analysis and race coverage.

Results

ELITE MEN (24km)

1st: Marcus Hansen (2:16:45) — New Zealand

2nd: Michael Booth (2:17:20) — Australia

3rd: Steeve Teihotaata (2:18:17) — Tahiti

4th: Titouan Puyo (2:19:00) — New Caledonia

5th: Manatea Bopp du Pont (2:20:06) — Tahiti

6th: Enzo Bennett (2:20:15) — Tahiti

7th: Rete Ebb (2:20:56) — Tahiti

8th: Hapowa Mai (2:21:05) — Tahiti

9th: Georges Cronsteadt (2:21:51) — Tahiti

10th: Niuhiti Buillard (2:22:27 20) — Tahiti

ELITE WOMEN (24km)

1st: Sonni Honscheid (2:35:27) — Germany

2nd: Yuka Sato (2:38:52) — Japan

3rd: Fiona Wylde (2:44:33) — USA

4th: Olivia Piana (2:48:16) – France

5th: Sylvana Ozbolt (2:49:18) — Tahiti

6th: Hinarii Yiou (3:03:46) — Tahiti

7th: Sandrine Berthe (3:14:450 — Tahiti

8th: Lauriane Bisch (3:18:03) — Tahiti

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