We can breathe now. Whew. That was a show for the ages.
Day Two of the 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life lived up to its billing as the biggest event in SUP with a Finals Day filled with historic victories, thrilling surf-zone races and quintessential Southern California sunshine and south swell. After the drama of Saturday’s Distance Race and Pro Men’s and Women’s Qualifying Heats, paddlers and fans alike eagerly awaited a Finals reckoning split into a pair of Pro showdowns featuring the deepest field of paddlers ever assembled.
The action did not disappoint.
After carnage-packed semifinal heats winnowed the Pro Men’s field down to 20, the day of racing at Doheny closed with a new classic. On just the first lap of the Men’s Final, 11 paddlers rode a single wave inside, into the Croakies Hammer Buoy (and each other), with the lead swapping constantly from the beginning to end.
Connor Baxter and Lincoln Dews resumed their epic battle from last year’s Technical Final, but not without heavy pressure from dark horse Guilherme dos Reis and Mo Freitas. Dos Reis, the 20-year-old Brazilian champ, left no doubt that his third-place finish in yesterday’s distance race was no fluke. He raced like a poised veteran looking to claim victory by scratching into a wave and extending his lead on the final lap. It wouldn’t last; the wave doubled-up and morphed into a heavy closeout that knocked Dos Reis from his board. Moments later, Freitas, Baxter and Dews pulled even to Dos Reis to create a frantic four-way duel for the win with half a lap to go.
In typical Baxter fashion, the Maui paddler executed a textbook pivot turn on the final Hammer buoy turn and turned on the gas to create a small gap. Dews and Dos Reis paddled furiously to catch Baxter but the three-time PPG champ found an outside wave all the way to a hard-fought victory. Dos Reis held on for second, while France’s Arthur Arutkin claimed third.
“That was by far the closest technical race I’ve ever been in!” Baxter exclaimed. “The field we had was incredible, it was so close and at any moment anybody could grab it. I was just trying to stay calm. I had a horrible start and had to fight as hard as I could to get back to the front.”
Meanwhile, Dews’s fourth place finish in the Technical final would be enough to be crowned the Overall #PPG2018 Pro Men’s champion.
“Words can’t describe how good this win feels,” said Dews. “I’ve been coming to Doheny to compete for a long time and to get the overall win on a day like today -- and in a race as good as this -- is incredible.”
Incredible is a good way to describe the thriller in the Pro Women’s Technical Final as well. The ladies got off to a blazing start with Fiona Wylde picking up where she left off yesterday, hammering strokes to take the early lead. Terrene Black was in close pursuit, while Candice Appleby recovered from a multi-board pile-up at the Hammer Buoy to turn the race quickly into a three-woman race for the lead.
Halfway through the second lap, Appleby made her move and scratched into a small bump that Wylde just missed. Surfing to a clear advantage, Appleby went on a tear and extended her lead to well over 100 yards. Behind Appleby, her Infinity teammate and training partner Shae Foudy overcame a slow start to reach second place and set her sights on her mentor. Foudy managed to close the gap in the final lap to give herself a chance to catch Appleby with a lucky set wave into the beach.
Foudy’s wave, however, wasn’t quite enough to close the gap.
Appleby caught a smaller bump on the inside and looked to have the win locked up when the crowd gasped as she began to turn around the inside buoy. For a split second, it looked like déjà vu of Annabel Anderson’s famed extra-lap mistake in 2016. With fans screaming from shore, Appleby realized her error in the nick of time and turned back toward her home beach, managing to hold off Foudy and claim both the Technical crown (her fourth), and with it, the Overall title.
“My brain was starting to play tricks on me and I almost went for another lap!” said Appleby. “But it worked out and really this wasn’t only a victory on the water, it was a victory in my spirit.
“I had such doubt for the last year and a half and God has been doing a new thing in my life lately,” Appleby added. “I’m just so grateful for that. I have such an amazing support system--No. 1 Jesus, my family and my team…PINCH ME!”
The Men’s Pro Technical Semifinal races set the stage for afternoon epics. With only 10 of the 15 paddlers advancing into the final and competition at an all-time high, the world’s best paddlers duked it out under intense pressure.
The Pro Men’s Semifinal started with a bang - literally. As the pack charged out into the horizon and made their first buoy turn, the biggest set of the day arrived just in time to clean up the entire field into an epic yard sale. Denmark’s Casper Steinfath and France’s Martin Vitri emerged from the carnage battling throughout the heat to claim bragging points going into the final. However, both would fall short after an impressive comeback paddle from the breakout star of this weekend: Dos Reis, who took the win and put the Pro Men’s field on notice.
In the second semifinal, Danny Ching dominated up front but all eyes were on the race for the final transfer spot. As five paddlers stroked into the same wave to shore, only four would transfer to the final. After a mad footrace up the shore, the odd man out was Maui’s Zane Schweitzer. Or so we thought. Enzo Bennett had missed a buoy turn in the race and ended up being disqualified, giving InZane a free pass to the final.
The day began with the Open Technical and Youth races in the morning where everyday paddlers of all ages got the chance to compete on standup paddling’s biggest stage. Perhaps the biggest cheers of the weekend came out for San Clemente local and SUP ambassador Mel Wygal, who took a dominant victory in the Women’s Open Technical Final. (Click here for full results.)
Stay tuned for much more photos, video recaps, analysis and more the biggest weekend in SUP.