Annabel Anderson On Losing #PPG2016 and What She Learned

It's been almost a year since I forgot how to count. While I could blame it on a mild and un-diagnosed case of dyslexia, my cognitive nemesis came back to bite me when it mattered most last year during the final lap of the Pacific Paddle Games in 2016. I went for another lap instead of crossing the finish line in first. How did I mistake being able to count to four?

In the months that passed and the season to date, many a person has asked about the story behind losing count when it mattered most. Here’s the blow-by-blow:

Coming into the Hammer Buoy I find a snifter of a bump that no one else has seen. I sneak onto it and make it around the most famous buoy in SUP.

PHOTOS FROM 2016

I look up, I'm back in the game. Somehow I've climbed from the back of the pack and put myself more familiar territory at the front of the field.

Getting boxed at the start off the line and tripped may not have done me any favors, but this is a paddling race … and paddling I can do.

The water is a washing machine on a heavy agitation cycle. A random south wind whipped up minutes before the start of the distance race earlier this morning, turning the normally oily waters off Dana Point into an angry beast. Never have I seen the old lady of Doheny State Beach churn up the water like she has today. If you were hoping for rhythm, you're not going to find any and I could sense that the 'normal' end of season finale at Doho had taken a turn for the more interesting.

For six years, I've been at the same place at the same time at the end of September. The early mornings are getting darker and there's a crispness of fall starting to hang in the air. As I make it back to Dana Point year after year, memories of all that I have experienced come flooding back. But for me, Doheny has been both a place of great elation, celebration and one of more than a few memories I'd rather lock in a box and throw away the key.

There's no rhythm and it's been a war of attrition ever since the gun blew. I can't recall how many lead changes we've had … it's been a lot. I keep uttering to myself to relax, “It's never over until it's over” on this course. Once upon a time we used to start two minutes behind the men for the final, it's OK, I'm used to weaving my way through this mess I see in front of me.

Within half a leg I've taken the lead. As Alejandra Brito would say, I've unleashed the a**hole gear. My heart rate is high but that never phases me. All those spring cross country races in San Diego are coming in handy right now. Out the back I can see a wave starting to form on the low tide boil. I don't let up. I might just squeak onto it as I round the mark to start the final lap. Who would believe it, I've paddled myself back into the lead! There's no time to think about that right now, there's a wave to be caught to get to the Boneyard buoy. I throw Pinky, my highly distinctive geometric pink board around the buoy and I'm on the wave. I take a deep breath to calm the heart a little, Candice and Shae didn't make it. Now I just need to breathe and execute this final lap. It's time to get the job done.

Or is it? As I come into the Boneyard buoy, pull off the wave and start to turn, I get caught on the mark. Candice is heading my way on the next wave. Focus, just sort yourself out. You've fought back all final, and you can do it again if you need to.

I clear myself off the mark and get on my way. The winds today mean the PA from the grandstand is virtually impossible to hear. I look back and no one is behind me. I start to hear a cheer rise from the beach.

What? It can't be. OH MY……..that was the final lap. The criss-cross of the figure eight course, the wind, the chop and I've made the most monumental screw up in the history of Doheny. I've gone for an extra lap and those that I've just pulled rabbits out of a hat to pass have snatched finish line glory on the sand.

There's no time for a pity party, I still have a race to finish and scrounge what I can in the points department of this technical race final. I need to get my a** to that finish line quick smart.

I make it to the beach. Shae and Candice are still lying in an embrace in the sand. Who won?

Adrenaline is pumping through my veins and I know that I've just given away what would have gone down as one of the most monumental comeback performances in SUP. No one makes a come back like that—except for me and I just gave it away. How did I forget to count?

I know what happens when you don't win this race, the attention is elsewhere. I high five and soak up the moment of watching others have their moment of PPG glory. It's a special moment, it's the season ending pinnacle of a long summer and an even longer year of living life by sword of competition.

I take a moment and start to step outside of the bull ring behind the finish line. The odd stray microphone has been proffered in front of me, but I'm still a touch lost for words and trying to work out just how many laps we actually had to paddle today. I'm far from mad, I'm far from angry, I'm just in a suspended moment of disbelief and trying to process what has just happened.

I make my way back to the 404 tent to the south of the finish line. I'm greeted by the familiar faces of long-time friends who are my family away from home. We have all been through a lot together over the years and they give me a look that says, 'It's going to be OK,' and open their arms and give me a hug.

No words are necessary right now, they just witnessed it along with everyone standing on the beach and the rest of the world watching on the broadcast—most likely screaming at me on their computer screens to go to the beach and not for another lap.

I'm fine—in a minor haze—but I'm totally OK. When you've been competing since you were a young squirt and have done a number of various sports, you know that things can go either way. No one has died and it's really not the end of the world.

The men's final is about to start and I make my way to the front of the sand to see the show. The gun goes, the beach goes wild and I make my way back to the finish line corral to properly congratulate Candice and Shae for an epic battle on the water.

We hug, we embrace. Did we really just go through that? It still really doesn't seem real.

"I was sure we had another lap," I say.

"I thought we did too, I caught the wave to follow you then heard the beach screaming at me to come in,” replied my long-time paddle battle partner Candice.

By this point all I can do is make a mockery of myself and see the funny side of the situation. What else can you do when you have just made the most monumental screw up on the biggest stage?

Tyler Callaway stumbles upon us and we jokingly suggest that he record an interview right there and then, straight from the horse's mouth. He knows that there is much more to this coming together of stalwarts than a mere chat on the grass.

So we do it. The laughter flows, it's healing. (http://ppg.supthemag.com/video/a-candid-interview-with-female-champions-appleby-and-anderson/)

They say that it's not how about how you handle things when all go well, but when it all goes tits up. Since the fiasco of the finish chute, I've had a weird sense of calm. In a couple of days the magnitude of what just happened will all set in, for now it's all just a blur.

I have to remember that I had laid a beat down of monumental proportions in long distance race earlier the day and that I'd paddled my way back into a race that I had no business being a part of given what had gone down on the first lap.

I know just how it feels to win on the big stage and I'm genuinely happy for those to have their moment of celebration and jubilation today and to know that for them to have their moment, I had to make them earn it.

Sure that prize check would have come in handy, but it was consolation knowing that it went to someone who needed it equally as much as I did.

And so, as we count down the days to Doheny, come prepared with humility. Come ready to embrace whatever experience the old lady of Doho is going to dish out this weekend. Come ready for the battle, ready to be a part of writing another chapter into the long running novel of season-ending stories etched by the sharp stones of Doheny State Beach.

I'll see you there.

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