After a weekend of sun, surf and great performances, the Carolina Cup is making its case as one of the premier SUP events on the East Coast. The men's and women's elite division races are part of the World Paddle Association's national points series. The Carolina Cup also counts towards the 2011 six-race regional points series for the Mid-Atlantic Region.
Before the racing started, Brody Welte and Karen Wrenn, who earlier this year became the first person to paddle between all of California's Channel Islands, hosted a Paddle with the Pros clinic for 12 racers on Friday prior to the competition.
The banner Carolina Cup event is the Graveyard Race, which takes elite competitors 12.5 miles through the inland waterways and Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW) around Wrightsville Beach. What makes this contest stand out from other SUP races is that it involves both flatwater, intracoastal and ocean conditions. For the latter, racers go out of one inlet and into the Atlantic Ocean, before heading downwind along the coastline. They then surf into another inlet before moving onto the final section of the paddle through the ICWW.
At 9:30 a.m. on a clear, breezy, 75-degree morning this Saturday, 36 amateur and semi-pro men lined their boards up by the Bridge Tender Restaurant and Marina start (pictured below). There was a strong headwind and current as they paddled south down the ICWW. The 14-foot race soon came down to a three-way battle between Quickblade Paddles founder Jim Terrell, 24-year-old Fanatic rider Chase Kosterlitz and veteran Boardworks racer Anthony Vela. In the final two-mile stretch heading south down the inland waterway, Kosterlitz and Vela pulled away, upping their stroke rates as they stayed neck-and-neck to the finish. Vela edged out front in a near-photo finish for a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, 3 seconds—just three seconds ahead of Kosterlitz. Terrell finished just over five minutes later, with a time of 2:20:29.
"I felt strong, but each time I got within a couple of board lengths, Anthony pulled back ahead," Kosterlitz said. "I made about three attempts over the last mile and with about 100 yards left I really went for it. It was a fun sprint as the crowd was right there, and Anthony battled forward. In the end he did a great job of keeping his lead and pushing me to go hard."
The women's 12'6'' elite race was equally competitive. In addition to battling a strong current and heading out into the ocean through higher than normal sets, the athletes paddled through a sailing regatta as they approached the second jetty. Team BARK paddler Heather Baus, Santa Cruz Paddlefest 2011 winner Candice Appleby, and Wrenn, who was evidently not tired out by the previous day's coaching clinic, emerged from the pack with a couple of miles to go, despite battling an increasing headwind and going against the current. Wrenn dug in hard, putting distance between herself and Baus, who pulled ahead of Appleby. Wrenn crossed the finish line in 02:38:41, Baus in 02:40:21 and Appleby in 02:43:15.
"Candice and I battled it out for almost the whole race with Heather behind us in striking distance," said Wrenn, pictured above. "I have learned a lot about my body and how far I can push it in the 149-mile Channel Islands crossings that I did this winter. I believed I could win, and when I had a lead at the end, I just kept telling myself 'you got this,’ and kept on pushing."
John Becker and Betsy Risner came in first in the men's and women's 50-plus races, with Dave Russ winning the men's 12'6'' category.
On the men's side of the open Money Island races, which featured a shorter eight-mile loop, Bill Trayling won the 12'6'' category, Wesley Stolp took the 14' crown and Bill Gasset took care of business in the 14' age 50-plus race. For the women, Andie Johnson, Georgia Curry and Bre Hughes finished first in those categories, respectively.
Sunday’s activities featured a kid's race, a showcase for new boards and paddles from Surftech, Starboard, Hobie, Fanatic, Boardworks, Quickblade, Werner, Kialoa, and more. Later in the day, indefatigable Wrenn hosted a beginner's clinic as competitors noted that the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club hosted a well-organized event which challenged the elite and open racers, introduced SUP to adults and kids, and enabled the public to try out the latest board designs.
"We had an amazing turnout with roughly 160 racers exceeding our expectations and setting the bar high for next year," Carolina Cup organizer Megan Eaton said. "The enthusiasm on the dock by the finish line was incredible and the competition was fierce." — Phil White