Editor’s Note: Annabel Anderson dominated the Elite Women’s division in both the Distance and Technical races at #PPG2017 last year en route to her first Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life title. While Anderson has been sidelined from SUP competition this year by both an off-season surgery and a recent skiing accident, she recounted her victorious run last year and revealed that if not for her “village” of a support system, she might not have even made it to the start line. 

Words by Annabel Anderson

3rd Time Lucky – Or Was It?

It's not like I've had a lack of end of season outings in Southern California. I've had seven of them in succession.

Each year I've made the end of season pilgrimage to the Doheny State Beach showdown (not forgetting the one-time deviation to Salt Creek). From BOP to PPG, that three letter acronym has represented what mattered most to the insiders of the SUP world when it really counted.

You either think you have the goods to have a crack at the pros, or you want to experience what a paddle battle on steroids is really like.

As I was getting ready to leave California last fall, SUP Magazine editor Will Taylor asked me if I would like to jot down some notes on what it was like to "finally crack" the Pacific Paddle Games.

Photo: Lorenzo Menedez

It wasn't that I hadn't 'cracked' the season ending finale weekend, I'd done that twice over at the Battle of the Paddle becoming the first person ever to win both the technical and distance races back-to-back. But for the past two years, I had failed to crack the top step of the Pacific Paddle Games overall podium.

In the moments and days following the PPG mayhem, my thoughts and focus was about as far from celebration as you can get.

Months on the road means layers upon layers of logistics and planning. Thoughts and actions are always focused on what is about to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. It's almost as though I’m too scared to look back at the moments of the weekend, possibly for fear that they didn't actually happen or that somehow they weren't quite real.

As I look back on that final weekend of September and of that season-ending weekend at Dana Point for the past seven years, there is a sense of familiarity in what happens in the aftermath of the annual Super Bowl of SUP.

As the presentations wind down and sun starts to set over the Pacific, you'll find me schlepping gear across the sand. I'll still be wearing the same gear that I put on when I woke at early-o'clock that morning and there's a high possibility that I'm still running on the two cups of coffee I had for breakfast and possibly a post race beer if someone was kind enough to plant one in my hand. You see by this stage in the day, anything wet and cold is going to be appreciated.

Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Between the barrage of celebratory embraces from friends and strangers alike, the focus and intensity that I approached the weekend with remains the same. Unlike many, my boards and gear will not move themselves and I won't relax until I know that I have everything off the sand and back at wherever I've bunked down for the weekend. Trust me, the pack down is close to the most challenging part of the weekend.

What it does offer is a few precious moments of solitude. A chance to collect and gather my thoughts as I traipse multiple loads of gear out to the parking lot. It never really 'feels' any different. It’s one part relief that the season is now over, one part numbness that only comes when you're emotionally spent and one part relieved that the relentless months of competition, travel and logistics now take a welcomed break for a few weeks.

In the days that follow, I'll take myself to an oasis of home away from home with good friends who live just inland. As is customary, we celebrate not the result, but the end of the summer as we chew the fat and turn our focus and attention firmly towards what the waves are doing for the next few days. The summer may be over, but the logistical tasks of getting home always loom large.

Photo: JP Van Swae

You see, this is how my post-event plays out regardless of the result. I get so wrapped up in what's about to happen that I fast forward past what the actual result may have represented. Maybe it's because I tend not to get too wrapped up in the results, or maybe because I'm a one-girl band who has honed the ability to pull off the unthinkable and love the challenge of competing across multiple sports in different parts of the world.

This is the reality. There are no parents, there are no managers, there is no team.....but there is a village. A village of good friends and great mates alike who are always there to lend a hand, offer a hug and will always love you and be there regardless of the result. There is no entourage, this is old school. For the love of doing, the love of challenge and the love of sport.

Super September

If there was a month of the year that was going to test my ability to travel, prepare, compete and roll with the punches, it was the September of 2017. The fact that I even made it through August still blows my mind.

With the ISA Worlds in Denmark, a quick trip to Maui via Los Angeles, a work contract across Southern California, Battle of the Bay in San Francisco and the SUP Awards and Pacific Paddle Games in Dana Point, I was stretching the bandwidth of what was humanly possible.

Photo: JP Van Swae

Had I committed to too much? The answer was likely yes. Did I really have any time outside of travel and competition to get any real workouts in during September before the final showdown? No. Was I running on adrenaline? Highly likely. Did I stop to think and comprehend everything that was going on? Absolutely not, if I'd thought too much about the sheer magnitude of what I was undertaking, anyone in their right mind would have talked themselves out of it.

But hey, I seem to have a habit of throwing myself in the deep end and I was in way over my head.

Coming out the other side, reaching the top step of the PPG podium was not about winning, it was metaphorical about taking a major step in the game of life - having pulled off the unthinkable in not just September but all year long.

Against the odds, I rose to the occasion regardless of what was thrown my way.

New Board, No Problem

They say that you should never pull out or try anything new the day of a competition (let alone a major one) but in the true spirit of 2017, I threw that whole rule book out the window, not because of choice but absolute necessity.

Having my board broken on the way to the ISA World Championships in Denmark forced my hand on this one. A quick patch-up job in Cold Hawaii got it through the ISA Worlds and Battle of the Bay but knowing what can happen at the season finale, I didn't trust it to go another round in the bull ring of racing.

Having pre-empted that the damage may have been at the severe end of the scale, Brian Szymanski had already ordered a blank just in case.  If there is one guy in the wider surf industry that can pull a trick at the 11th hour, it's this guy. And when I talk about a 'village’, this is the kind of 'village’ that I'm referring to.

Rolling into Encinitas eight days pre-PPG, he saw the damage and immediately got to work. Two days pre-PPG, we sanded and painted the fruits of that work and Pink Lightning emerged from the legendary doors of Ding King. Not just a board but another Szymanski masterpiece that was ready to go to battle.

There was no time to figure things out, only to roll with the punches and focus on the task at hand.

Mates Before Stickers

If there was one thing that resonated about 2017, it was taking the risk to do things differently.

To go it alone and sticker-free takes courage, a leap of faith and the village of good mates who have got your back. When it came to winning, it wasn't about what it meant to win on a personal level, it was about what it meant to be able to deliver for the 'village' that had all played a part in making it happen.

Photo: JP Van Swae

From doctors Tierney and Goines who had strapped up my knee from the meniscus I'd torn at practice on Friday afternoon to the Chings and 404 Ohana, the legends of the North County Paddlers, Brian Szymanski, the locals of the South Bay and North County who have become my family away from home and all those who have supported me from afar and in absentia – most likely screaming at their computer screens watching the live stream, crossing fingers and toes that I remembered to count after infamously miscounting in the biggest brain fade of my life last year.

You see, PPGs and 2017 wasn't about what it meant to me, it was about what it meant to all those who had my back, helped, cheered and supported from near and afar.

And like the way these things usually play out in my world, when it's all said and done, it's less about the results and more about the stories.

Related

Annabel on what it was like to lose #PPG2016 in gut-wrenching fashion.

Annabel Anderson on gender equality in SUP.