January 15, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

The “Countdown To Carolina” Begins Now: 100 Days ‘Til The First Major Race Of The Season

Carolina Cup Stand Up Paddling Race

Time to start training: The 2015 Carolina Cup is just 100 days away.

As the first major SUP race of the season, the Carolina Cup is shaping up to be a true classic this year. With a unique mix of top-level stars, weekend warriors and first timers, the sleepy, seaside hamlet of Wrightsville Beach will be transformed into a SUP mecca in the last week of April.

Technically the Carolina Cup begins in 97 days: Carolina has grown into a five-day festival of clinics (really good clinics), expo’ing, demo’ing and general good times. The full schedule runs from 22-26 April, however the main event, the Elite Graveyard Race (as well as the open and rec races) will go down on Saturday 25th – exactly 100 days from now.

While it attracts a pretty stellar lineup of pros, the best part about the Carolina Cup is how you’re made to feel welcome no matter whether you’re an international superstar or a complete beginner. This is a true grassroots event that’s grown from a community race into an international blockbuster while still managing to keep its identity.

The location is perfect: The cool little town of Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, North Carolina (Google Maps) is basically one long, skinny sandbank island, which offers protected flat water on the inside and ocean/surf on the outside.

The open and rec races stay in the flats, however the big one, the 13 mile Elite Graveyard Race, does an entire loop of the island. This forces paddlers to use pretty much every trick in the book: You’ve gotta race out through the waves, handle the open ocean conditions, power through the flats, hit the ocean for one final burst before surfing your way in to the finish line.

Carolina Cup Stand Up Paddle Board Race

Last year’s Carolina Cup SUP race was an interesting one. As I remember it was a rather lovely day in Wrightsville Beach, but while the weather was nice unfortunately the tides were not. Organisers made the correct call to wait and see which direction we’d paddle around the island based on the wind, however mother nature didn’t really follow the script.

I’m pretty sure we had the water moving against us for about 70% of the course. At one point, as we came in through the mouth of the inlet and turned right to enter the flats, I could swear we were paddling upstream on a fast flowing river… There was a lot of hang-onto-the-back-of-the-draft-train-for-dear-life desperation during that long flat water section.

To make it even more of a challenge: By the time we hit the ocean for the final three mile “mini downwinder” to the finish, the sea breeze dropped right off and so we got no help from the promised bumps.

It felt like a long race. Actually it was a long race: Danny Ching’s winning time in 2014 (2:23:56) was almost 10 minutes slower than his performance in 2013 (2:14:40). That goes to show just how much conditions can change at Wrightsville (and just how in shape and experienced you’ve gotta be to perform well). Those paddlers who were just hanging on through the flats (including yours truly) were mercilessly punished over the final 30 minutes.

Of course it’s not all hard work in Carolina: There are fun three and six mile races on offer in case you don’t wanna punish yourself with the pros, however there is definitely something special about that Graveyard course…

Apart from Danny being Danny, in 2014 we saw a bunch of super strong performances from many of the world’s best. That included Georges Cronsteadt, the raging bull from Tahiti and the guy who challenged Ching harder than anyone. Travis Grant was on song as well but fell away in the final mile to settle for third. Chase Kosterlitz had the worst start imaginable before charging his way back through the field to catch the lead pack, while there were also some good innings from a rejuvenated Jamie Mitchell and Matt Becker.

Carolina Cup (19)

Meanwhile the women’s race was a very tight affair. After a dominant performance in the first half of the race, an injured but spirited Annabel Anderson managed to hang on and hold off the fast-finishing trio of Jenny, Lina and Sonni. It got so close at the end that it nearly came down to a photo finish, with the leading ladies hitting the beach one wave after another. In the end just 11 seconds separated the top three – not bad after close to three hours of racing.

MORE >> 2014 Carolina Cup Results

Annabel will be back this year to defend her title (in her first big race for the SUP ATX Lahui Kai team) as will Danny Ching. And they’ll be joined by a very large selection of the world’s top paddlers – I’m excited to see who shows up but I’ve got a feeling the Carolina Cup will be one of the most competitive (and best attended/most fun) races of the entire year.

I also anticipate it’ll have a big impact on the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS.

In fact the Carolina Cup has grown into such a significant event that I crowned it as one of the five major stand up paddle races of 2015, up on the same top-tier as the Battle, Gorge, Molokai and Payette.

There are few weekends on the SUP racing calendar where you’ll have more fun, enjoy more challenging racing and get to hang out with more of the awesome SUP racing community than at the Carolina Cup.

And it’s all happening in 100 days. Time to start looking for flights to Wilmington…

Carolina Cup Stand Up Paddleboard Race Wrightsville Beach

Photo credit: All photos above by Chris McQuiston/Local Sessions for SUPracer.com