Carolina is done and dusted for another year, however I think we’ll be talking about this race for a while yet.
The 2016 West Marine Carolina Cup presented by Surftech had a bit of everything, from the all-star cast of world renowned athletes to the fresh faced dark horses looking to make a name for themselves. Throw in an unexpected swell that caused a bit of chaos at the start, and you had one hell of a race around Wrightsville Beach.
From my vantage point on the lead boat, I’d say this was one of the most incredible races we’ve ever seen. The conditions around the 13 mile course were relatively mild by Carolina standards, which removed a few variables and left it all down to the paddlers to show who was in the best early season form.
And clearly in the best form right now are Annabel Anderson and Titouan Puyo, who claimed the 6th annual Carolina Cup in very different but equally triumphant fashion.
Titou sat with 13 other world class athletes for two hours before making his break in the final kilometre, leaving defending champ Travis Grant, three-time winner Danny Ching and a whole bunch of other big names in his wake. Annabel, meanwhile, did it the hard way: Paddling almost the entire “Graveyard” course on her own as Candice, Sonni, Fiona and Terrene worked tirelessly but fruitlessly to reel her in.
It was a truly epic race.
So to give you a deeper insight into this great event, below is a selection of “photo stories” that go beyond the results and reveal some of the more interesting moments of the race. Some of these anecdotes were obvious for all to see, however many of them were hidden away within the excitement and the noise.
Feel free to repost any of these shots, just give credit to “Chris McQuiston for SUP Racer” (or “@supracer/@localsessions” on insta).
Want more Carolina pics? There’s a good album up on the official Facebook page, while SUP the Mag’s master lensman Greg Panas scored some great shots as well. Meanwhile, Erik from OnIt Pro captured 3,000 photos (no joke) and has already put more than half of them on Facebook.
#1. It was a hectic start to the main event, the Elite Graveyard Race, with around 165 competitors making this probably the largest elite race the sport has ever seen. With so much talent on the line it was always going to be an intense first few hundred metres, but the unexpected swell made things very interesting indeed. Leading the charge out was Beau O’Brian (center) and Chuck Glynn (right).
#2. Chuck Glynn scored the holeshot with a perfectly timed sprint out through the surf to the first buoy, hitting the “Golden Buoy” just in front of Beau O’Brian and Travis Grant. The hard-working lad from San Diego had a great day, helping set the pace early and sticking with the main pack right til the closing stages. He started fading one mile from the finish and looked set to miss a top 10 spot, however a second wind in the final few hundred metres secured a well-deserved 8th place. Trivia: The “Golden Buoy” award went to Casper Steinfath in 2015 and Slater Trout in 2014 (Terrene Black scored the Golden Buoy award in the women’s race this year, however the ladies were unexpectedly sent off at the same time as the men so it was a little harder for them to get a clean shot)
#3. If you’re not in the top 15 or so paddlers around the first buoy, you’re in for a difficult day. Unless your name is Titouan Puyo, that is — the humble superstar was in 34th position at the Golden Buoy after a horror start where he was boxed in behind half a dozen paddlers. But he didn’t panic, and within ten minutes he was in first place, an amazingly fast comeback that setup his monumental victory. From right to left in this frame: Kelly Margetts, Giorgio Gomez, Cyril Burguiere (who had a blinder of a start), Matt Nottage, Jim Terrell in the red jersey, Candice Appleby in the blue next to him, Kody Kerbox on the outside, Trevor Tunnington just behind him, Arthur Arutkin going shirtless, Vinnicius Martins in the black top, Martin Letourneur in the orange shorts behind him, I see Josh Riccio just to the right of them (shirtless), while the dark horse Frenchman Martin Vitry is in the white top with pale blue shorts.
#4. The Carolina Cup isn’t just a stand up paddle race, it also features prone, outrigger and surfski racing. Unfortunately the solid little waves held up a couple of the larger craft, so even though the SUPs started five minutes after the prone/OC/ski competitors, there was at least one guy caught in the middle of everything. Candice Appleby and a few other paddles were forced wide of the buoy after the surfski straggler hit the Golden Buoy at the worst possible time – just as 165 revved up stand ups were charging through. Oh and that’s blue the nose of Titouan’s board on the far left, showing just how far back in the pack he got caught up.
#5. 165 paddlers makes the 2016 Carolina Cup one of the largest “elite races” we’ve ever seen, rivaling the BOP Elite Race at its peak. There were also hundreds of paddlers in the purely flat water events — the 3 mile Harbor Island and 6 mile Money Island races. The Carolina Cup isn’t just a race, it’s a festival of paddling.
#6. Remember how Titouan Puyo got the worst start ever? He was standing in waist deep water next to his board as the leaders were halfway to the Golden Buoy. He was probably in about 70th place at the 30 second mark. He was 34th to the buoy. But the humble Frenchman quickly charged pack through the field and took the lead from Chuck Glynn right as they passed the iconic Johnny Mercer’s pier. That pier is only one mile (1.6km) into the race, making Titou’s comeback rather extraordinary, and putting his monumental win in context. (Chase Kosterlitz had an even worse start than Titou, hitting the buoy in about 60th place, but he powered around the course to finish a very respectable 16th)
#7. This is the next frame from the previous shot, and it features five Australians (R-L: Beau O’Brian/Oz, Matt Nottage/Oz, Arthur Arutkin/France, Kelly Margetts/Oz, Travis Grant/Oz, Trevor Tunnington/Oz*, Giorgio Gomez/USA, Mo Freitas/Hawaii). The Aussies would go on to score three of the top five positions (Trav 2nd, Trev 4th, Kelly 5th), highlighting just how strong the nation really is. And a frightening fact for other nations: Team Oz was missing several of its best paddlers on the weekend, including Jake Jensen, Michael Booth, James Casey, Toby Cracknell and Angie Jackson. The talent pool runs deep down under… (*Trev is technically a Kiwi but has lived in Australia so long I think we can officially claim him as one of ours.)
#8. Annabel Anderson (pink) and Terrene Black (blue) were well clear at the 1.5 mile mark of the women’s race. Annabel would break away shortly after this photo and go on to win by a staggering five and a half minutes, while Terrene got swallowed by the chase pack of Sonni, Fiona and Candice. After getting a perfect start and looking strong the whole course, Terrene was kicking herself after the race that she finished fifth, just seconds behind runner-up Candice. 99.9% of paddlers could never even dream of getting 5th in one of the world’s biggest races, but it just goes to show the standards the top-tier athletes hold themselves to.
#9. Lexi Alston could be a name to watch for the next *two decades* — the San Clemente school kid just turned 14 (fourteen! as in she was born in 2002…) but is already mixing it up with the best. What were you doing when you were 14 years old? Probably not paddling around a 13 mile course alongside the sport’s finest athletes.
#10. Chuck Glynn and Titouan Puyo lead the main pack around the far northern buoy and into the chaos of Mason’s Inlet, where swell was bouncing around in seemingly every single direction, sending several guys tumbling and mixing up the order within a matter of seconds.
#11. The lead pack featured several names that you wouldn’t normally expect in the lead pack at one of the most competitive races of all time. Far right is Starboard’s Bruno Hasulyo, while his brother is on the far left on the same board. In the middle with the orange shorts is Martin Letourneur from France, a rising star of the French scene, while on his tail is another Frenchman to watch, Martin Vitry (Martin and Martin). Next to them, wearing the long sleeve blue shirt, is Giorgio Gomez. Giorgio was supposed to be “just a surfer,” but apparently he didn’t get the memo — he stayed with the lead pack for 12 and a half of the 13 miles, finishing a more-than-respectable 13th. Behind Giorgio is Trevor Tunnington, a guy that only graduated high school six months ago and is now ready to take on the world. Given his finishing position – 4th – I’d say Trev has a bright future ahead of him.
#12. The next few shots show where things got really interesting: Mason’s Inlet, where the tide was rushing out, the swell was rolling in, and an ever-changing sandbank was sending waves rolling in every direction. Even though it was only a foot or two of swell, it was still very technical and tricky, even for the world’s best.
#13. Danny Ching (who had an amazing race despite “only” finishing 3rd) looking like he’s steering a six man outrigger as he weaves through the bumps of Mason’s Inlet. That’s Titouan Puyo up front in the white. Interestingly, the conventional wisdom was to hug the left bank and avoid the outgoing current, however Mo Freitas and Chuck Glynn veered right out into the middle of the inlet and pulled well clear of the field. Mo had been scoping out the inlet in the days leading up to the race and discovered a small sandbank that both deflected the current and created some little runners that you could milk all the way through.
#14. Daniel Hasulyo from Hungary, Kenny Kaneko from Japan and Martino Rogai from Italy convening a mini session of the United Nations as they charged through Mason’s. That board nose on the far left belongs to Vinnicius Martins of Brazil, just to give this shot even more of an international flavour.
#15. I like this shot because it shows the weird angles the waves were rolling through Mason’s Inlet. Even a half a foot bump is difficult to navigate if it’s coming at you sideways…
#16. It was a tough initiation into the world of international SUP racing for Tahiti’s ultra dark horse, Rete Ebb, who lost touch with the lead pack early and spent most of the day on his own. Rete is something of a god in the world of outrigger canoe, having won Tahiti’s uber-prestigious “Super Aito” race three times (along with victories at every other major outrigger race). If he can become half as good standing up as he is sitting down, the rest of the men’s field is in trouble. This was Rete’s first international SUP race, so expect his results to improve rapidly over the next 12-18 months.
#17. This photo highlights one of THE most extraordinary stories I’ve ever heard in SUP racing. Ryan Helm snapped his fin out at the very start of the race but still managed to complete the entire 13 mile course – ocean, flat water, waves and all. And considering his board was snaking its way around Wrightsville Beach, he finished in a very respectable time. Ryan was taking just two strokes on each side in a desperate attempt to keep his board tracking somewhat straight. It was an incredible show of sheer determination and a stubborn refusal to concede defeat against mother nature. However there wasn’t much Ryan could do at Mason’s, with his 12’6 Riviera sliding almost completely sideways as he tried to catch this one (coincidentally, Ryan – who is one of the world’s best stand up surfers – is actually famous for SUP surfing with no fins, however I doubt he’s practiced it too much on a 12’6)
#18. This photo highlights a few things. Firstly: Just how strong Annabel Anderson is — while the men’s lead pack stuck together for 12 and a half of the 13 mile Graveyard course, Annabel broke the women’s field in the opening couple of miles. Secondly: That unmissably pink board she’s riding was only three or four days old. It was a new design from shaping guru Brian Szymanski, but Annabel barely had time to acquaint herself with it before jumping straight into one of the biggest races of the year. The fact she won by five minutes using such unfamiliar equipment makes her win even more impressive. Oh and a third highlight: It was a shocker of a day for Kody Kerbox, who started well but faded quickly and eventually finished outside the top 30 (interestingly, with Casper Steinfath and Kai Lenny sitting this race out, Kody was still the highest placed Naish rider).
#19. Local girl April Zilg proudly representing Wrightsville Beach. She’s probably paddled this inlet more than just about any other paddler on the planet, and that local knowledge came in handy as April finished 8th on the weekend. To put that in context: The seven women who finished ahead of her are all ranked in the top 8 in the world.
#20. Titou made a bold attempt to break the field on the “back straight” of the Graveyard, however he misread the currents. There’s a weird point along the intercoastal waterway where the tidal current switches — because Wrightsville Beach is an island, an outgoing tide will flow in different directions at different points of the course. Right around here the current obviously switched, because the main pack sat out in the middle and quickly closed the gap. The Frenchman had no choice but to rejoin the train and bide his time. Though all’s well that end’s well — Titou broke the field again when it mattered most: at the finish.
#21. After the hectic start and the chaos of Mason’s Inlet, things became oddly calm on the back straight. Guys were chatting and laughing as the group coalesced into one big train that would stay together for the next several miles. Someone shouted out “20 bucks if you can hit the drone with your paddle” and everyone had a good little laugh. It was an odd sight within such an elite race, but it also reminds us why this sport is so good — sure, there’s ego and rivalry aplenty, but there’s also a tonne of goodwill, friendship, respect and camaraderie. Oh and there was also so much water being pulled along at this point that Danny Ching would pause every few strokes to get a free ride. It was quite a sight.
#22. Annabel surprised even herself by the margin of her victory. She admitted to having no idea of her relative position for most of the race, simply setting her own pace and trusting her conditioning and skill to hold off the chase pack. The Lahui Kai team rider didn’t just hold off the chase pack, she blew it out of the water, finishing five and a half minutes clear of four very talented women that are all ranked in the top six in the world.
#23. And here’s that chase group. From front to back: Terrene Black (eventually finished 5th), Sonni Honscheid (3rd), Candice Appleby (2nd) and Fiona Wylde (4th). All of these women are extraordinary athletes and world-beaters in their own right, however this time they had to settle for a battle for the minor placings.
#24. I love this photo because it highlights what was probably the most incredible draft train I’ve ever witnessed. Not only did it hold together despite its large size — it was 21x guys strong for a few miles, before being whittled down to 14x for the last quarter of the race — but it looked absolutely nothing like a regular draft train. Most “trains” are single file affairs, where the guy or girl on front does the bulk of the work and everyone behind gets a bit of a free ride. But not at the 2016 Carolina Cup. Of the 21 guys in this photo, there are roughly 8 different “lines” being taken, with paddlers utilising the side-wash instead of simply sitting on the tail. This has two major benefits: For one, drafting the side-wash is an extremely under-rated skill and strategy, though perhaps even more importantly, it keeps paddlers within striking distance. If you’re 6 deep in a single file train then you’re ~80 feet off the lead, which is a bad position to be in if the train splits after a sudden surge. But if you sit on the side-wash you can be in 6th or 7th place and still be within 20 feet of the lead. Kelly Margetts (far left) played this role to perfection on the weekend.
#25. I thought I had a front row seat in the lead boat, but nobody had a better vantage point of this race than Chuck Patterson. Seen here in the outrigger with GoPro in hand, Chuck tracked the lead guys the entire race. It reminds us that many of the best known paddlers in the sport are just like you and me — true fans of the sport. It was also somewhere around here that Kelly Margetts, half jokingly but probably half seriously as well, yelled “Speak English ya bastards!” (just imagine that in an Aussie accent and it becomes rather hilarious). He was directing it at Georges and Titouan after the pair started having a clandestine conversation in French. I’m not sure what Titou and Georges were discussing, but I do know Kelly’s response created a light-hearted moment that got a few laughs from the boys. Kelly, the Aussie’est of Aussies you’ll ever meet, proved to be the comedian of the group — he kept referring to Daniel Hasulyo as “Bieber” when the young lad was in the lead.
#26. Prone stock winner Jack Bark held off the stand up paddlers for about nine miles, which is a rather impressive feat. He was all smiles as the guys rolled by. His dad was also racing on the weekend. I don’t think the sport of prone paddleboarding would even exist in America if it wasn’t for the extraordinary contributions of the Bark family.
#27. Daniel Hasulyo certainly made a name for himself on the weekend. He didn’t get the result he wanted — he finished 11th — but he enjoyed a mile or two at the front of the train, setting a strong pace as more than a dozen of the world’s best paddlers followed his lead. Unfortunately his pace was so high that he dropped his brother, Bruno, right around this stage. But watch out for both Daniel and Bruno over the rest of the international race season and beyond – you’ll be very hard pressed to find two guys that train harder, race harder and are more determined to prove themselves on the world stage.
#28. Daniel Hasulyo still sitting in the driver’s seat for Team Starboard as the lead pack headed towards the end of the intercoastal waterway. However I suspect the guys behind him are probably quite content with the scene in this photo: They let Daniel do all the hard work, utilising his wash to conserve energy for the final mile of the race. That’s a who’s who of the elite paddling world on his tail — Titouan Puyo, Travis Grant, Kelly Margetts and Danny Ching — so no matter where he finished, that 1-2 mile performance has surely given Daniel a big boost of confidence.
#29. This photo sums up the “Battle of the Brands” at the Carolina Cup. Two Starboards and two NSP team riders at the front of the field. NSP (and also Quickblade Paddles) would score the best result, earning a memorable 1-2 finish with Titou and Trav, however Starboard was more than respectable in claiming 5 of the top 14 men’s positions. The other big performance came from Lahui Kai, with Annabel taking the win and the world’s fittest 43 year old, Kelly Margetts, finishing top five in the men’s.
#30. This is where Daniel Hasulyo’s brave and impressive roll of the dice came to an end — just as the protected flat water of the intercoastal was turning into the turbulent southern inlet that would turn into the open ocean for the final mile “sprint” to the line. That’s Titou, Trav, Kelly, Connor and Danny (and the nose of Mo’s board) all preparing to make a move on the bold leader. It’s like a pack of lions moving in for the kill.
#31. This is basically where the race began — 2.5kms (~1.5 miles) from the finish. After the incredibly resilient and unorthodox draft train held together as a group of at least 14x guys for 11.5 of the 13 mile Graveyard course, the paddlers started to scatter as soon as the flat water of the intercoastal gave way to the bumpy inlet and open ocean, where drafting was at a premium and the guys that were just hanging on were suddenly left dangerously exposed.
#32. Even before the leaders had rounded the southern rock wall for the one mile straight shot back to the finish line, Titou was already flexing his muscles. Only Danny and Travis were able to stick with him, and only for a while.
#33. This left hand turn around the rock wall and into the open ocean is the exact spot where Travis made his break to drop Danny and Connor twelve months ago. This time it was his NSP team mate that used the open ocean to drop him. Have the tables turned? Perhaps a better analogy is that there’s simply a new guy sitting at the head of the table all of a sudden.
#34. This is the last known photo of the “Group of 14” that bravely held their wagons together on the lead draft train for over two hours, before the final mile scattered them like seeds. You can see on the far right that Titou, Travis and Danny are already making a move for it; the rest were left to battle for the minor placings. From front to back: Titou, Trav, Danny, Connor, Georges, Mo, Kelly, Trevor, Daniel, Giorgio, Matt, Arthur, Chuck and Beau
#35. Titouan Puyo all on his own with just a few hundred metres left in the race. For those of us who follow the sport closely, this victory came as absolutely no surprise — I wasn’t the only one who correctly tipped Titou for the win in my pre-race predictions. However after speaking with a lot of the industry insiders and fans of the sport post-race, it’s clear that Titou wasn’t receiving the credit he deserved before this race. That all changed at 12:13pm on Saturday, April 23rd, when the New Caledonian crossed the line and announced himself as one of the finest paddlers on the planet. I don’t think there’s any stopping this guy now — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; this guy has so much raw talent and such a flawlessly efficient technique that he’s simply destined to be the world number one.
#36. This shot is no doubt going straight on the wall at NSP headquarters. The brand has impressively gone from a virtual unknown in the racing scene to a top player in the space of just a couple of years. Travis has been carrying almost all of the load on his shoulders in that time, but now he’s got the perfect foil in Titouan. If Titou’s nickname is “T2” does that make Travis “T1”? Or perhaps after this result, Titou is T1 and Trav is T2…
#37. Great perspective of not only Titouan’s victory but also just how much the final mile had scattered the lead pack.
#38. Travis Grant and Danny Ching. First and second last year, third and first the year before that. For so long these guys have dominated this type of long distance racing, but now there’s a new kid on the block. Was it a one off victory or a sign of things to come? A plucky win or an official “changing of the guard”? We’ll find out over the next 12 months, but it should come as no surprise that this particular trio completed the Graveyard course fastest: All three of these guys have a strong outrigger canoe background, arguably the greatest crossover sport for SUP racing success. The big difference is that Titou is just 24, whereas Trav and Danny both turn 34 this year. But huge credit still has to go to Danny and Trav; they both raced perfectly and they both came fairly close to winning one of the biggest races we’ve ever seen. They’re both still champions.
#39. The great thing about Carolina is that the depth of talent produces world class battles all the way down the leaderboard. Here we see Kelly Margetts and Georges Cronstseadt rounding the buoy that signaled the final, 150m sprint through the surf and up the beach to the line. Kelly got it this time. After 13 miles of lung-busting paddling, it’s amazing that many of these guys can find an extra reserve of fuel when they need it most.
#40. It wasn’t Connor Baxter’s day. Not only did the world number one finish outside the top four at the Carolina Cup for the third year in a row, he couldn’t even catch a break on the ride home — while many guys and girls were being gifted some great little waves to finish in style, Connor had to grind it out all the way to the shore, almost being over-run by Chuck Glynn who surfed a wave all the way to the beach.
#41. This was the battle for 10th place between Starboard team mates Daniel Hasulyo (left) and Australia’s Matt Nottage. Matty snagged the final spot on the extended podium after making the best of this tiny little bump of a wave. It was a very strong performance from Nottage, who is far better known as a downwind expert than a flat water type of guy. He didn’t even have Carolina on his to do list of races until Starboard asked their entire team to compete. I foolishly didn’t have him in my top 10 predictions, but clearly Matty can compete in all conditions. He was actually one of only two guys (along with Chuck Glynn) that I failed to predict would finish top 10, but I’m very glad he proved me wrong — just like Chuck, this kid is a champ both on and off the water.
#42. Arthur Arutkin is a prodigious talent, so even though he faded to finish 12th on the weekend I’m expecting big things from the Frenchman this season. This set of the day, which had the large crowd at the finish line cheering loud, surely helped ease the pain of missing the podium. Arthur’s result probably would have been better if he’d filled his water pack all the way to the top (“I couldn’t believe how long the race was, it just kept going and going – I ran out of water!” he told me later).
#43. I mentioned earlier how there are battles all the way down the leaderboard — this one was for the final spots inside the top 20. From left to right is Kenny Kaneko (Japan), Bullet Obra (Hawaii), Bruno Hasulyo (Hungary) and Martin Letourneur (France) convening another session of the United Nations in Wrightsville Beach.
#44. Larry Cain gave a motivational speech on the eve of the race about how “everyone sucks the first time, so just keep trying.” He recounted the tale of the first time he paddled a stand up in the ocean (TL;DR: He really, really sucked). Larry, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in sprint canoe, has clearly come a long way since that day — he was solid in the ocean, powered through the rough and tumble of Mason’s Inlet, surged along the flat water stretches and commandeered the small bumps over the final mile to finish a very respectable top 25. Not bad for a guy who easily qualifies for the master’s division.
#45. Annabel Anderson stroking to victory. That game face says it all: Annabel leaves nothing out on the water. The fact she won isn’t a huge surprise — this was her fourth straight Carolina victory — but the manner in which she did it certainly was. We had 7 of the world’s top 8 ranked women on the start line, making Carolina 2016 one of the most competitive women’s races ever. Oh and how’s that board… can’t miss it.
#46. While Annabel dominated the women’s race, the battle for second was a gripping affair. These four ladies – Candice, Fiona, Sonni and Terrene, stuck together from the start of the intercoastal waterway (mile 4) right to the line. Candice dug deep and pulled away over the final metres, claiming second while the other three were left to sprint up the beach for third. Sonni edged out Fiona (a running race between Sonni and Fiona is hardly a fair fight…) while Terrene settled for 5th. It was a great finish to watch and it highlighted just how strong the pointy end of the women’s sport is; While the depth of talent doesn’t run nearly as deep as in the men’s, the very top women in our sport train and race just as hard and just as well as the very top men.
#47. I feel this photo of paddle legend Jim Terrell is a good way to finish our Carolina story. Jimmy finished 3rd at the first ever Carolina Cup way back in 2011. He finished 5th in 2012. This year he finished outside the top 50, partly due to a lack of training (and a new prototype board that wasn’t quite ready for the ocean), but also because the level of competition at Carolina has increased so dramatically over the past half a decade. But Jimmy doesn’t come back to Carolina every year to try and win, he returns for the same reason most of us do; To reunite with old friends and make new ones, to enjoy the beautiful little seaside hamlet of Wrightsville Beach, and to celebrate and enjoy this great sport of ours in a festival atmosphere. Jim Terrell could well be SUP racing’s canary in the coalmine: His presence signifies that a race still has its soul, that it’s still a fun weekend no matter whether you finish 1st or 51st, and that stand up paddle racing is a rewarding sport for athletes of all ages. Speaking of fun, Jimmy led us on the now-annual post-race pilgrimage that he started way back in 2011: To the City Limits Saloon bar in downtown Wilmington to ride the mechanical bull. It wouldn’t be the Carolina Cup without a trip to City Limits…