The 2018 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life were another huge success as paddlers from around the globe gathered at Doheny State Beach for a weekend of paddling, racing and camaraderie. From the Pros to the Juniors, competition was at its highest level in event history and there were plenty of surprise story lines that caught our attention. From a dark horse stealing the show in the Pro Men’s category to a big announcement about the future of PPG, these were our top takeaways from the biggest weekend in SUP.

New Overall Winner in Pro Men’s Division

In the first three years of the PPGs, only one man had ever stepped atop the podium at the end of the weekend: Connor Baxter.

This year, that finally changed after a gritty performance from Australian Lincoln Dews. The Aussie started the weekend with a hard-fought victory in the Distance race and then secured the Overall title with a fourth place effort in the Technical Final following an memorable battle with Baxter, Guilherme dos Reis and Mo Freitas (Baxter scrapped his way to win the Technical Final in one of the best surf races we’ve ever seen).

Lincoln Dews put in a commanding performance to finish the Pro Men’s SUP Distance division with a healthy lead. (See also: overall title contender). Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

While stealing the PPGs crown from Baxter is impressive on its own, it also allowed him to leapfrog fellow Aussie Michael Booth and claim the inaugural Paddle League championship. Not a bad weekend — or payday — for Mr. Dews.

Brazilian Dark Horse Steals the Spotlight

Coming into PPG weekend, Guilherme dos Reis was far from a household name. While he has dominated the SUP racing circuit in Brazil with four national championships, he was relatively unknown outside of his own country. That changed this past weekend.

20-year-old Brazilian Guilherme Dos Reis pulled off the upset of the weekend by taking second overall in the Pro Men’s Division. Photo: JP Van Swae

Dos Reis started the weekend with a surprising third-place finish in the six-mile distance race and followed it up on Sunday with a thrilling second place effort in the Pro Men’s Technical Final. In fact, he was leading the race with only half a lap to go when a closeout knocked him off his board and Baxter pounced. Nevertheless, his second place overall was one of the weekend’s biggest surprises. It put the SUP world on notice that Dos Reis is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

The Candice Comeback

At last year’s big showdown at Doheny, Candice Appleby did not seem like herself. She struggled in the races and ended up with a mid-pack finish, well below what we had come to expect from the Queen of Doheny. Some folks even began to wonder if she was approaching the twilight of her career.

Not a chance.

Candice Appleby felt the thrill of victory after winning the Women’s Pro Technical Race. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Appleby came into 2018 with a renewed focus and the results followed. But it was #PPG2018 where we truly saw that Appleby had returned to her dominant form. She took a second place in the Distance race and stormed back from a rough start in the Women’s Pro Technical Final to take a convincing victory. These results earned her a third PPG Overall title and a return to the throne.

APP sanctioning PPG in 2019

Once #PPG2018 wrapped up and the SUP community was still buzzing from the thrilling action on the water, some big news dropped about the future of the event.

The Association of Paddlesurf Professionals (APP) will be the sanctioning body for the Pacific Paddle Games for a three-year deal beginning in 2019. The biggest race in the sport will officially become part of the APP World Tour but also count towards the APP’s US Cup, which will feature the New York SUP Open and the Red Bull Heavy Water event in San Francisco.

Prior to the SUP Awards announcement, APP World Tour CEO Tristan Boxford addressed the crowd to talk about the exciting partnership between the APP and PPG in 2019 and beyond. Photo by Aaron Black-Schmidt

It’s an exciting move for both the sport and PPG as it represents a coming together of two prominent entities in the standup paddling world.

Huge International Audience on Facebook Live Stream

While we would suggest that the best way to watch PPG is from the beach, that’s simply not possible for everyone. But to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to see the action, we broadcasted the race live on our Facebook page for over 10 hours while thousands of SUP fans from around the globe tuned in.

Drone shots gave an international audience the bird’s eye view of the action. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Their enthusiasm was strong and we received nearly 3,000 comments as folks chimed in to talk about the race, support their favorite athlete and let us know where they were watching from. They were as diverse as they were was passionate, and were treated to some of the best SUP racing in recent memory and excellent commentary from the broadcast team of Chris Parker, Dave Kalama and Beau Hodge.

Positivity and Sportsmanship in the Open Division

While lots of focus gets placed on the Pro ranks, it’s the Open division paddlers that are the heart and soul of this sport. At #PPG2018, these everyday paddlers proved once again that SUP is one of the most inclusive and positive sports communities you’ll ever find.

Kristin Thomas (left) and Mel Wygal (right) cross the finish line together in the Open Womens Technical Final. Photo: Jack Haworth

The paddlers cheered on one another at the finish line as high-fives, hugs and pats on the back were shared among strangers and racers spent hours swapping stories and making new friends on the beach. And then they all joined to help us celebrate at the official #PPG2018 After Party.

Youth Rising

Every year, the Youth paddlers just get better and better. 2018 was no exception.

Arguably the most exciting finish of the weekend came in the Men’s Pro Junior Final when local paddler Tyler Bashor stroked into a set wave out the back and rode it all the way to the beach — passing the race's two leaders and earning him a thrilling victory in front of screaming fans.

Jade Howson is on her way to the top. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

As for the ladies, Jade Howson dominated the Women’s Pro Junior division and also qualified for the Women’s Pro Technical Final. These performances were proof that the next generation of SUP racers isn’t just on the way, they’re already here.

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