Day One of the 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life kicked off with a bang at Doheny State Beach with challenging ocean conditions created from a combination of solid swell from Hurricane Sergio, a gusty south wind and the sharpest competition the venue has seen yet. It was a historic day of action — one that will only be topped by Final’s Day tomorrow.
The action began early with the Distance race for every class of paddler. For the gentlemen, it was Australian powerhouses Michael Booth and Lincoln Dews who put the hammer down early and took turns leading a draft train of the world's best male paddlers. With both Booth and Dews locked into a points battle for the Paddle League title at this event, it was evident early on that this would not be an easily forfeited battle.
While Booth has held the competitive edge in distance racing this year, Dews grabbed another gear once the field began the second lap and began to pull away by a couple board lengths. It was a slim gap that he would not relinquish. Dews pulled off the big win while Titouan Puyo took second and, in perhaps one of the biggest upsets of the day, 20-year-old Brazilian Guilherme Dos Reis claimed third. Arthur Arutkin and Michael Booth would round out the top five, respectively.
"It was brutal out there, one of the hardest races I've ever done,” said Dews. “I'm so stoked to win it."
The ladies would not settle their Distance race until the final right-hand buoy turn back to shore. While Seychelle streaked out to an early lead, Candice Appleby, Fiona Wylde and Shae Foudy dogged her the entire race as the group swapped spots throughout. As they made their final approach to the beach, Appleby and Seychelle lost control and fell around the final buoy turn back to the beach as a set rolled out the back. This opened the door for Wylde, who would proceed to catch a set wave to surf clear of her rivals and claim a victory that had eluded her for years.
“I didn’t think that I could do it,” Wylde said. “That’s the greatest part for me. This is my ninth year coming here to compete between Battle of the Paddle and PPG, and I’ve always had that dream of winning a race here. And today I proved it to myself which is really cool.”
The day’s action also included the quarterfinal heats of the Men’s Pro Technical races and the semifinals of the Women’s Pro Technical races. Highlights included a rematch of last year’s epic battle between Baxter and Dews. And while Baxter was able to fend off Dews once again, it seemed to foreshadow another battle between the two tomorrow. Danny Ching and Arthur Arutkin also pulled off statement wins in their respective heats. Meanwhile, Olivia Piana held off Terrene Black to win the Women’s first semifinal heat, while Shae Foudy stomped the field in the second semi to prove she’s here to win it all on her home turf.
Near the end of the day, Pro Junior Tyler Bashor stroked into a Hail-Mary set wave and the crowd began to rumble.
The fans and paddlers at his home beach assembled on the shoreline and continued to holler as the swell propelled the young paddler to catch up to the race’s two leaders.
Three paddlers, one wave and a PPG race title all hinged on an impending foot race up the beach. Fueled by adrenaline and the roars of the crowd, the trio leapt from their boards simultaneously as they hit the sand. Seconds later, the beach was a frenzied scene of celebration as the crowd-favorite local paddler completed one of the most exciting come-from-behind victories in PPG history.
Moments earlier, Bashor appeared to be relegated to finishing third after a heavy wipeout allowed Tahiti's Keoni Sulpice (second) and Brazil's Guilherme Cunha (third) to pull away from him.
That was before one big set wave set up the magical finish.
"It's something like I've never experienced before," he said afterwards, tearing up, "So many people on the beach believing in me."
Last but not least, the Pro Junior Women’s Final rounded out the racing with a dominant performance from Jade Howson.
"Really I was just trying to stay up, the strategy was: do not fall,” said an exhausted Howson after a full day of racing in both the Pro and Pro Junior categories. “I'm just ready to go to sleep."
Howson is likely not alone with that sentiment. The world’s best paddlers will all be hoping to get a good night sleep before Finals Day tomorrow. Racing action begins at 8:30 AM PST with Open Technical racing, while our live broadcast will kick off at 11:30 AM PST to bring you all the Pro Technical action from Finals day.
See you on the beach!