What you likely didn’t learn from the live coverage at the 2016 West Marine Carolina Cup
Coming into the sixth annual Graveyard Elite Race at the West Marine Carolina Cup presented by Surftech--the first major event of the 2016 standup paddle race season--the salty North Carolina air at the East Coast’s flagship SUP event was laden with an undercurrent of speculation.
Will Australia’s seasoned stud Travis Grant reclaim his Carolina crown? Will New Zealand speed fiend Annabel Anderson remain the undisputed paddle queen of Wrightsville Beach? Will paddling’s prince of Dana Point Danny Ching be crowned dad before he can be crowned king of Carolina? How do you pronounce the name of this high-frequency Frenchman, Titouan Puyo?
…And where the heck is Kai Lenny, anyway?
The off-season, albeit short, provides gaping space for gossip and guesswork as paddling’s athletes and enthusiasts, amateur and elite alike, train fervently to anticipate the unknowns that await them at the start line of the season’s inaugural competition.
Suffice to say, by the time the final finisher sprinted up the sand and through the gates at Carolina’s flagship SUP competition yesterday, the peanut gallery was finally silenced by the awe-inspiring performances of the world’s fastest SUP racers.
The verdict among the women: reigning champ Anderson maintains her reign for the fourth consecutive year. That woman is an animal--Annimel, if you will--her 2:17:07 course completion made all the more impressive by besting the prestigious pack of following finishers led by World Series champion Candice Appleby (2nd), whose highly anticipated return to Carolina marked the end of a three-year hiatus from the event, with a grand gap of nearly five and a half minutes separating her from the trailing train of talent. Behind Appleby, German powerhouse Sonni Honscheid (3rd) and rising teenage heroine Fiona Wylde (4th) lead 30 other elite females--not to mention a slew of world-class male paddlers. It’s no wonder Anderson crossed the finish line smiling.
Among the men, a new champion, a New Caledonian--Titouan Puyo--claimed his crown ahead of a front-running pack of all-star athletes comprised of last year’s Carolina Cup champ, Travis Grant (2nd) and 2014 Carolina Cup winner Danny Ching (3rd). An impressive performance from the 2015 Lost Mills Fastest Paddler On Earth victor Trevor Tunnington found the teenage Kiwi in fourth, with a cunningly seasoned, astoundingly in-shape Kelly Margetts cinching fifth.
According to Maui’s debonair downwind superstar--three-time Molokai 2 Oahu champion Connor Baxter--who finished a respectable seventh at yesterday’s race, conditions at this year’s Cup were uncharacteristically tame and cooperative.
“Normally this isn’t my favorite course because of the crazy conditions, but luckily it played out pretty ideal this year,” Baxter told SUP in a post-race pow-wow. “Last year, we hit a 10+ knot headwind and an opposing current coming out of the inlet to the final leg. It was nonstop pounding. This year it was overcast--perfect temperature for racing--and the wind was mellow compared to pretty much every race I’ve ever done here.”
The 13-mile Carolina Cup circuit starts and finishes on the beach adjacent to the event’s hosting venue, the Blockade Runner Beach Resort. The direction of the course--this year starting northbound around the island past Jonnie Mercer’s Pier--isn’t announced until race-day and depends on the direction of the wind, adding yet another variable to the challenge. The launch and landing sandwiches a 4+ mile section of typically wind-wrought ocean along the island’s Atlantic shore, then a wonky wish-wash of waves and current entering the inlet to the Intracoastal Waterway, followed by a daunting stretch of flatwater that runs the opposing direction along the island’s westerly edge before rounding the breakwater at Masonboro Inlet and heading back north for another mile or so, usually into a headwind, to the finish. Suffice to say, Baxter’s apprehension for the unpredictable conditions at Wrightsville Beach is warranted.
Moreover, many of the variables that made this year’s Carolina Cup especially entertaining had nothing to do with the weather. Until the morning of the race, no one was sure which worthy title contenders would even be competing, or competitive, given the unique circumstances of some of the sport’s most reliably front-running racers. For instance, while Ching was onsite for the festivities leading up to the race, the expecting patriarch’s participation depended on the condition of his wife’s pregnancy, her water set to break (pun intended) any day now. Similarly, 2014 Standup World Series champion Lina Augaitis returned to Carolina this weekend for her debut performance after ending the 2015 season short to safely harbor her since-born baby boy. She finished seventh among the pack of elite women racers, not a bad result considering the majority of her off-season training consisted of breast feeding and broken nights’ sleep.
Another female force, Appleby--considered by many to be the only lady capable of challenging Anderson for the Carolina crown--made her highly awaited return after three years away from Carolina, delivering even more drama to the Wrightsville Beach race. On the men’s side, the absence of three-time World Series champ, renowned and big-wave SUP hellman, Maui boy Kai Lenny was busy making his appearance at the prestigious Billabong XXL Awards big-wave surfing ceremony in Los Angeles this weekend, adding even more mystique to the inaugural race season event in Carolina.
The cumulative take-away from all the above: one of the most entertaining events in the history of standup paddleboard racing, according to many of the sport’s top figureheads and athletes. It set an intense and inspiring precedent to the slew of awesome events to come, with Maui’s north shore downwind race--the eighth annual OluKai Ho’olaule’a--coming up next weekend. SUP magazine is already staged on Maui, having traveled cross-country from Carolina to Maui without missing a stroke, much like the athletes we revere. Our editorial squad is stationed at the North Shore’s luxurious Lumeria Resort for our first-ever Maui Dream Retreat, preparing to both race and report live from Maliko Gulch for next weekend’s big race.
We’ll be bringing you the action live with real-time web coverage and video webcasting via SUPthemag.com and social media. Tune in this week for pre-race reports, exclusive imagery, athlete interviews and all-around, onsite coverage. See you on the water!
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Check out our live webcast during the season’s biggest races via Facebook Live.
Get ahead of the competition with five facts you probably didn’t know about this year’s OluKai Ho’o.
Get to know the Maui Dream Retreat, and get onboard for next year.
Main Event: Graveyard Elite Race Womens’ Results
13 miles (21 kilometers), 12’6″ board class, ocean/flatwater, varied conditions
|1||Annabel Anderson||2:17:07||Lahui Kai||New Zealand|
Main Event: Graveyard Elite Race Mens’ Results
13 miles (21 kilometers), 14′ board class, ocean/flatwater, varied conditions
|3||Danny Ching||2:05:26||404/Hippo Stick||USA||32|
|4||Trevor Tunnington||2:05:41||Starboard||New Zealand||18|
|5||Kelly Margetts||2:05:51||Lahui Kai/Quickblade||Australia||43|
|16||Chase Kosterlitz||2:08:51||JP Australia/Quickblade||USA||29|
|34||Billy Swezey Jr||2:16:17||26|
|110||Daniel Willis Iii||2:58:27||43|