With the most stacked field in SUP history, Finals Day of the 2017 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life was expected to be an all-out barnburner. By the time the final stroke was taken, all expectations were exceeded.
The day kicked off with an incredible show from almost 400 paddlers on the water together for the Distance races. A light, offshore southeast wind kept things relatively smooth for the start before the wind took a nasty turn to the west, throwing some challenging chop across the course.
The Men’s Distance Race was a tight affair with veteran stalwart Danny Ching taking a dominant lead early. But on his way to the lap-two turnaround, he headed for the incorrect outside buoy and dropped from first to seventh. Michael Booth took advantage and pulled into first while Connor Baxter lurked a few spots back in the draft chain and plotted his final approach. During the last leg back from Capistrano Beach, Booth tried to go it alone and hammer away but Baxter and Ching weren’t letting off. Baxter used his downwind knowledge to create a gap and finished just nine seconds ahead of Booth in second, with Ching two seconds behind him in third.
On the women’s side, Annabel Anderson put on another dominant Distance performance to take first for the second year running. It wasn’t a sure thing by any means, as Fiona Wylde and Olivia Piana stuck with her for over half the race before Anderson opened up a gap. Wylde was a wave away from challenging Anderson at the finish with Piana right behind her.
On the Prone side, Matt Poole, Luke Cuff and Lachie Lansdown held a tight top-three for the men while Lizzie Wellborn (first) and Harriet Brown (second) claimed the top two spots for the ladies.
Next up was the semifinals for the Men’s Pro Technical event and the heats were as stacked with top-tier talent as we’ve ever seen them. Danny Ching came out like a man on a mission to claim the first heat over Titouan Puyo. But with only 10 advancing, there were some heartbreaks including both Hasulyo brothers and Mo Freitas failing to advance into the final.
The second semifinal featured drama right from the get-go when James Casey’s board made contact with Slater Trout’s board. While it initially appeared to be a minor incident, Trout’s board suffered a ding and would eventually buckle, a tough-luck ending to his PPG weekend. Staying clear of the chaos was Denmark’s Casper Steinfath, who claimed victory in the heat over Frenchman Arthur Arutkin.
While the pros prepared for the Technical Finals, they got a glimpse of their future competition when the Junior Pro division took to the course. For the girls, it was 15-year-old Jade Howson putting on a dominant performance, while 17-year-old Ryan Funk narrowly edged out Noic Garioud to claim the Boys title.
A few minutes later the hooter sounded for the start of the Women’s Pro Technical race. Less than a quarter of the way through the three-lap race, the battle for first was essentially over. Annabel Anderson quickly put more than 30 seconds on the field and proceeded to lay down one of the most dominant performances in recent memory.
In the midst of the race, SUP legend Dave Kalama exclaimed what many of us were thinking, “(Anderson) is putting on a non-human demonstration of paddling, but we must remember she is human.”
Barely. It’s almost if she had planned it that way all along.
“I knew that if I pulled away from them for the third time in 24 hours, there was no way they were going to reel me back in,” said a triumphant Anderson. “I feel so good right now, it’s time to party!”
Local favorite Shae Foudy would eventually break free of the field for a strong second-place finish, with French paddler Olivia Piana rounding out the podium.
Following that incredible performance, it was time for the men to dual it out. After some initial jockeying off the start, Baxter grabbed an early lead and for a brief moment, appeared poised to make it back-to-back runaway races. Australian Lincoln Dews would allow no such thing.
The Aussie closed the gap and managed to execute a flawless crossover move on the hammer buoy to pull side-by-side with Baxter. What ensued was one of the most thrilling legs of racing in SUP history. The duo remained neck-and-neck for the final 10 minutes of the race, neither giving an inch or making an error.
After Baxter gained a slight edge around the final buoy, the duo emptied their tanks as they sprinted to shore, desperately trying to catch any micro-bump the ocean would provide. With Baxter ahead by two board lengths, Dews caught a tiny bump that nearly brought the two back side-by-side.
It would not quite be enough. Dews would fall agonizingly short as Baxter got the edge on the dismount and sprinted across the line first for his third straight PPG title.
“Three is my lucky number and from wind surfing and surfing, 33 has always been my sail number,” said Baxter. “To get the third one here today and win both races…there’s no other feeling.”
That puts a wrap on another unforgettable weekend of racing at #PPG2017. Congratulations to all the winners and a special thanks to Salt Life, competitors, spectators and everyone that made this a weekend to remember. Stay tuned for more analysis, photos and video highlights of the biggest weekend in SUP.