The 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life is less than 24 hours from kicking off and the energy down at Doheny State Beach is thundering—it could have something to do with the already pumping surf from Hurricane Sergio. The world’s best paddlers have gathered to test their abilities against each other and the rising south swell. But with so many different talented paddlers gathered in a single place, it can be difficult to figure out who are the favorites to claim their share of the gender-equal $60,000 prize purse. And while there are plenty of other top paddlers who could steal the glory this weekend, we have our eyes on these 10 paddlers.

Men

Connor Baxter

You can’t think of PPG without thinking Connor Baxter. The man is undefeated in standup paddling’s biggest race of the year, going a perfect three-for-three thus far. He swept both the distance and technical races at #PPG2017, but it took a thrilling battle with Lincoln Dews in the Technical Final to do so.

Connor Baxter enjoys the sweet taste of victory (aka beer) after his third-straight PPG title. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez

This year, a few cracks have begun to develop in Baxter’s dominance of the sport. While he won this year at the Olukai Ho’o and recently took a sprint racing victory at the New York SUP Open, he has uncharacteristically struggled in several other races (he mentioned to us that it might have something to do with his gorgeous European wedding to his sweetheart—a most honorable distraction). Nevertheless, the PPGs are a surf race which is an entirely different beast than flatwater races. Could ConBax end the year in spectacular fashion? We certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

Lincoln Dews

One year later and people are still talking about the incredible battle between Lincoln Dews and Connor Baxter in the Pro Technical Final at #PPG2017. Neither racer would give an inch and spent much of the race either in a dead heat or nose-to-tail. While Dews narrowly lost that battle, he carried the momentum into 2018 and posted some strong results in Europe including two second-place finishes and a big win in Germany.

#PPG2017 overall champ Connor Baxter going blow-for-blow with Lincoln Dews in the Technical Race. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez

These solid results have him hot on the heels of Michael Booth in the Paddle League standings and #PPG2018 represents his last chance to catch him. You think Mr. Dews might have redemption on his mind as he returns to Doheny State Beach? You can count on it.

Michael Booth

Whereas Baxter and Dews are long and lanky, Michael Booth produces his speed with brute power and force. He looks akin to the Hulk and has hammered his way to several big wins this year, including his first-ever victory at the Carolina Cup.

Michael Booth called the Carolina Cup victory the “biggest win of his career.” Photo courtesy of Chris McQuiston / Paddle League.

While the Aussie is leading the Paddle League standings over Lincoln Dews, he is narrowly trailing Arthur Arutkin in the APP World Tour rankings with both Casper Steinfath and Baxter right behind him. Expect him to perform well in the Distance race, but the Technical race will determine whether his championship lead stays intact.

Casper Steinfath

You can never count out standup paddling’s friendly Viking. The Danish powerhouse has a knack for big races, as is evident by his win at the 2017 Red Bull Heavy Water and earlier this year at the London SUP Open.

Casper Steinfath weathers subzero temperatures and harrowing seas during The Viking Crossing 2.0. Photo courtesy of Casper Steinfath

In addition to racing, he also completed an 80-mile SUP expedition from Denmark to Norway — The Viking Crossing. He’s always good on the Technical course so the Distance race on Saturday morning will be his real test for the weekend. Could this be the Year of the Viking?

Arthur Arutkin

The windsurfer-turned-paddler from France has quietly had his biggest year to date. He’s coming off a big win at the New York SUP Open over elite competition including Steinfath, Baxter and Booth.

Arthur Arutkin took home the win in the Pro Men’s Division over Travis Grant and Michael Booth. Photo courtesy of APP World Tour.

This result has put him in the driver’s seat of the APP World Tour title hunt as the world’s best paddlers prepare for their next stop of the tour at Doheny. While he finished 10th overall last year at the PPGs, his results have improved across the board this year and we expect that trend to continue this weekend.

Women

Candice Appleby 

The Queen of SUP is in the midst of a major rebound year and comes into her home race with plenty of momentum on her side. She just notched a major victory at the New York SUP Open and is hot on the heels of her Infinity teammate Shae Foudy in the APP World Tour rankings. Appleby is no stranger to success at the PPGs, having won the overall title in the event’s first two years.

Candice Appleby. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Though at last year’s race, Appleby never seemed to be able to find her groove and ended up finishing seventh overall. Nevertheless, her recent results suggest she has found her top gear once more. We spoke with here this morning and she’s relaxed and feeling strong. If she can carry that calm throughout the weekend, we may very well see the Queen reclaim her crown at the conclusion of the weekend.

Shae Foudy

While Appleby looks strong, Shae Foudy cannot be underestimated. She took home a pair of huge wins this year at both the London SUP Open and the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge course race. Foudy finished third overall at last year’s PPGs and second the year prior.

Shae Foudy with a second-place finish in the Pro Women Technical Final in 2017. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez/SUP magazine

Foudy is one of the best surf racers in the field and with the crowd support behind the Dana Point local, as well as growing up paddling through the reefs of Doheny, this could be the year she stands on the top step of the podium.

Fiona Wylde

One of standup paddling’s most consistent paddlers is undoubtedly Fiona Wylde. If there’s a major race, you can bet Wylde will find her way to the podium by the end of it. She already has a slew of podiums this year, including another win in the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge downwind race. She finished fourth overall at last year’s PPGs, but will be looking to improve on that this year.

Fiona Wylde was working hard to hold off a hungry pack of paddlers giving chase. Photo: JP Van Swae

Like Steinfath, her test will come in the Distance. South wind bumps are possible in the morning tomorrow and that could either hurt or hinder. With #PPG2018 being a combination of both Distance and Technical race results, don’t be surprised if Fiona ends up with the most coveted podium spot this weekend.

Olivia Piana

Olivia Piana has steadily been rising through the SUP ranks for the last few years and it’s no stretch to say that 2018 has been her breakout year. In addition to two big victories in Europe at Bilbao and Germany, she claimed runner-up honors at the Carolina Cup, making her a threat in the Distance Race tomorrow morning.

Fiona Wylde and Olivia Piana were exhausted yet cheerful after a tough race.

Will she be able to handle the overhead head surf? Regardless, there’s no doubt Piana will be looking to make a good first impression here at Doheny.

Sonni Hönscheid

Last but certainly not least is the German powerhouse Sonni Hönscheid. Once again, this elite paddler has had an outstanding year even by her standards and is leading the Paddle League standings by a healthy margin over Piana. She has four big wins this year, but perhaps none bigger than her win at the Carolina Cup.

Sonni Hönscheid was in a league of her own in Carolina. Photo courtesy of The Paddle League / Georgia Schofield

Nevertheless, the PPGs have always been her Achilles Heel. She finished eighth overall last year and has yet to finish on the podium at Doheny. We know she’ll be eager to reverse this trend when the buzzer sounds this weekend.

Honorable Mention

We would be remiss to not mention Annabel Anderson in this write up. The dominant #PPG2017 champ underwent surgery after the season last year and then, while out skiing, took a nasty fall from which she’s still recovering. We wish her the best on that journey.

Related

More info on #PPG2018.