The marine layer hung thick and low above Doheny State Beach this morning. South winds twisted through the lineup and if only for a moment, it felt as though conditions might be something short of perfect for opening day of the 2017 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life.
Then as the hooter sounded for the day’s first race, the clouds parted, the sun broke through and the wind mellowed. A quintessential day at Doheny ensued and though the swell was subtle compared to last year, the competition was as good as it’s ever been for Day One of #PPG2017.
The action kicked off with the Beginner Youth Super Grom Race, a new 11&U class designed to give the mini-humans a spot in the action. They put on a clinic on 11′-and-under raceboards most adults could barely balance on sitting down.
“Racing at PPG is really cool because the Pros did twice as much as us, but I know that I can do that when I’m their age,” said 11-year-old first-place finisher Malaya Ring.
Following the Super Groms, the remaining Junior heats showcased a melting pot of talent from across the world. The 12-14 Boys Technical Division-with Shuri Araki and Rai Taguchi both traveling to #PPG2017 all the way from Okinawa--took first in their heats to clinch the division for Japan. Dana Point’s own Malaya Ring took the 11&U Girls Technical, while the top two finishers in the 12-14 Girls Technical-- Sonia Caimari (first) and Duna Dordillo (second) came all the way from the Spanish island of Mallorca. Tahitian powerhouse Aroti Siaon Chin took the 15-17 Boys Technical Division to cap off the Youth Technical rounds and set a high bar for the adults’ Technical Races to come.
After the groms came the Open Technical qualifiers--the largest single division with 215 registered athletes. With only the first 16 finishers advancing from each the Men’s and Women’s Technical Finals, the paddlers had their work cut out for them weaving through the mob around the three-mile course in the surf. This many paddlers all gunning for gold at once is a unique thing to see (see drone shots in the Day One Gallery for evidence), and while it may have only been the qualifying round, the Open Technical qualifying round was among the most impressive sights of the day.
Let’s not forget about prone. Despite being much smaller than the standup paddlers’ Pro class, the stacked collection of paddlers in the Pro Prone division made their presence known with incredible speed and endurance as they rounded the course at Doheny. Returning PPG prone champ Matt Poole out-paddled runner-up Lachie Lansdown, and Australian Lizzie Welborn prevailed above her countrywomen, sisters Harriet (second) and Abby Brown (third).
After a quick water break the Pro Technical Quarterfinals commenced with 117 of the world’s fastest male and female paddlers. Small three-to-four wave sets came through every few minutes as the men took to the water. Of the 15 to 17 paddlers in each of the four Men’s heats, only the top 10 from each would advance. First-place finishers among the men included the Australian Lincoln Dews, California’s Danny Ching, Denmark’s Casper Steinfath and Australian Trevor Tunnington, with Steinfath claiming the day’s fastest time in 18 minutes 51 seconds.
“There was lots of water moving around so it was still very technical even without waves,” said Dews. “With three races, it’s going to be a long day tomorrow and it’s going to come down to the most consistent paddlers.”
The ladies closed out the Pro division with the Women Technical Semifinals and of all the classes on Day One, this was likely the most dramatic. Only the top ten from each heat would advance. Two-time PPG champion Candice Appleby set out with higher-power to claim an early lead and hold it for a comfortable win ahead of runner-up Fiona Wylde.
“I had been dealing with some back pain this week,” said Appleby. “But I just trusted the Lord to give me strength and I felt like I kept a solid pace. The game plan for tomorrow is: don’t think, just paddle.”
The second Pro Women’s heat went to the resounding favorite, New Zealand’s Annabel Anderson.
For the last races of the day--the Open Technical Finals--Open racers took to the Pro Technical course for the first time in PPG history. It came down to tight finishes with Maryland’s Brian Meyer and San Clemente’s own Jennie Sandvig scooping up first-place medals in this exhibition match.
“The pros inspire me every year and I always wondered how I would do on their course,” said Sandvig. “When I heard we’d be racing on their course this year I practiced really hard. To make all my turns and ride a great wave in was awesome!”
Tomorrow is Finals day, and we’ll see the remaining rounds of the Technical Races as well as the Distance Races. Champions will be crowned and $60k will be dished out among them. We’ll be airing it all Live @SUPthemag on Facebook starting at 8:30am…don’t miss it!