Champions Crowned at 2015 Pacific Paddle Games

The first annual Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life featured big waves, great weather and the world's best paddling athletes. That combination made for a fantastically successful event.

In the most important prize of the weekend, Connor Baxter and Candice Appleby captured the overall titles.

Baxter, a Maui native, finished first in the distance race this morning, besting a pack of hungry paddlers looking to take down the sport's best racer. But it was his timely snag of an important wave in the Technical surf race final that saved the event for the 21-year-old. Mo Freitas pulled away from the field, winning the technical race by 1:35, but thanks to his distance finish, Baxter only needed to stay in the top four to win the overall. He was stuck in a cluster of racers at the first buoy that derailed other paddlers like Danny Ching and Kai Lenny and had to fight to stay in the money. Stuck in the large chase pack, he caught his game-saving wave in front of the announcer's booth. "I snuck onto that wave before I even made the turn," he said. "I was thinking in my head, 'If I catch this, it'll change everything.'" That wave propelled Baxter into a fourth place finish, leaving him first overall.

Freitas' performance in the Technical final was transcendent. In fact, the 18-year-old from Oahu has had a remarkable year. He won the Payette River Games in June and looked in-form all weekend. His first place finish in the Technical propelled him into third overall (he ended 8th in the distance). After he built his monster lead, he just had to hold it: "When you have a lead like that it definitely puts a smile on your face," he said. "But then you're like, 'I can't fall.' It's nerve-racking." That finish put him third in the overall rankings.

Denmark's Casper Steinfath also finished off one of the biggest weekend's of his career, ending third in distance and second in the technical, going against the grain by using a 12'6" board instead of a 14' like the rest of the field and taking second overall. "It was definitely a risk," he said. "This is a big accomplishment for me just because the talent level was so deep. I was stoked to be here and represent Europe."

The women's Technical final lived up to its billing as a showdown between Appleby and Annabel Anderson. Appleby pulled away from her rival with on-point surfing, lineup know how and pure physical preparation--her pace never slowed as she worked her way through the waves at Doheny. "Off the water, we've definitely built a great relationship over the years but on the water, it's as intense as ever," says Appleby, who was pushed deep inside the first buoy after the field was scattered by a breaking wave. But she easily paddled her way back into the lead.

For her part, Anderson wasn't her usual self after finishing fourth in the distance before ending second in the technical race for second overall. She fell on several key waves but still fought hard, catching up to Appleby multiple times before losing her for good. "I could definitely detect some fatigue," says Anderson, whose travel schedule has been jam-packed. "I made some uncharacteristic mistakes. But I'm happy with the weekend. When Candice and I show up, we know all eyes are upon us."

Hood River, Oregon's Fiona Wylde spent the entire race chasing down Appleby and Anderson, ending third in the Technical and fifth in the Distance for third overall. The performance was especially inspiring considering Wylde was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes earlier this year. "I've just been learning to train and deal with my blood sugar levels," she said. "It was an up and down year but this feels awesome."

The Junior and Grom Pro races were equally impressive. Go here for full results and please stay tuned to PacificPaddleGames.com for more galleries and video of all the action.

Check out the Distance recap and gallery.

-Joe Carberry