April 8, 2018
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Sonni Hönscheid Tames the Tahitian Sun to Defend Her Air France Paddle Festival Title

Sonni Honscheid dominated this year’s Air France Paddle Festival (photo: Georgia/The Paddle League)

German powerhouse Sonni Honscheid has flexed her muscles and shown she’s a genuine contender for The Paddle League World Title this year, dominating the elite women’s field in sweltering conditions to defend her Air France Paddle Festival title in Tahiti.

After a hard fought 8k “Lagoon Race” earlier in the day, where 15-year-old Leeloo Desanti showed she’s a name to watch for the future, it was a hectic start to the small but hyper elite women’s long distance race.

With a field that included four of the top six seeds and arguably the number one dark horse in the sport, reaching the podium was always going to be a mission. Throw in the blazing hot blue skies and high humidity, and victory would have almost seemed like a mirage.

After getting caught behind at the start, the 3x Molokai champ broke the field early and paddled solo around 24km course, looking calm and in control despite the South Pacific sun doing its best to slow her down. Showing the type of form that’s earned her the past 2x EuroTour crowns, Sonni opened up a huge lead and was virtually out of sight for every other competitor… except one.

While the headline of this year’s race is certainly Sonni Hönscheid’s masterclass, another big story to emerge from the Air France Paddle Festival is the strength of runner-up Yuka Sato.

The Japanese dark horse proved her win at the 12 Towers last month was no fluke, staying within shouting distance of Sonni for most of the race to surrender less than three minutes over nearly three hours of paddling.

Japan’s smiling assassin, Yuka Sato (photo: Georgia/The Paddle League)

Sonni was full of praise for her humble team mate, telling us that no matter hard she paddled Yuka was always within range. And in a sign of how competitive the women’s sport is becoming, Yuka will be leading the new-look Paddle League World Rankings when they’re revealed this week (including results from the pre-season events).

Yuka is one of the happiest paddlers you’ll ever meet, and her always-on smile stretched from ear-to-ear as she crossed the finish line.

Team Starboard enjoyed a clean sweep of the podium after the gutsy Fiona Wylde outlasted Olivia Piana in the duel for third place, with the Oregon native saying this was the “Longest, hottest, hardest race I’ve ever done.”

Fiona earns 60 points for her performance and will be looking for even more in Carolina on April 21, the next stop of The Paddle League World Tour and an event where she’s a serious contender given her runner-up finish in 2017 and the expected absence of defending champ Annabel Anderson.

Fiona Wylde gliding over the clear blue waters of Tahiti (photo: Georgia/The Paddle League)

Despite the onslaught of international stars, Sylvana Ozbõlt salvaged some pride for the home team with a determined top five finish, while the Tahitian sun claimed a few scalps including Molokai Queen Penelope Strickland.

Pea was hospitalised after the pre-season Hoe Toa event in New Zealand two weeks ago, and doctors advised her against competing this weekend at all. “An expensive holiday but still good fun” was how the ever-positive Kiwi summed up her day.

But the day definitely belonged to Sonni, and given how comfortable her victory looked on Saturday she’ll be odds-on to collect another 100 Paddle League points in Carolina where the women’s field is going to be intense. If she can pull off the double, that would set her up for a serious crack at the World Title in the middle part of the season, when The Paddle League heads for the EuroTour and a part of the world where Sonni is virtually unbeatable.

Congratulations to everyone that got out on the water for a fun but extremely draining day of racing. It was a pleasure to call the action from the live stream booth alongside our awesome partners at TNTV and TotalSUP, and we’ll be focused on providing the women more screen time during the Carolina Cup.

Results below, and you can also catch up on our recap of the Air France Paddle Festival elite men’s race.

The lead women round the first buoy at the Air France Paddle Festival (photo: Georgia/The Paddle League)



2018 Air France Paddle Festival

RESULTS: Men’s Elite Race
course: 24km
conditions: mostly flat, entirely hot

1Sonni Honscheid2:35:2710037Germany
2Yuka Sato2:38:527532Japan
3Fiona Wylde2:44:336021USA
4Olivia Piana2:48:165027France
5Sylvana Ozbolt2:49:1842.529Tahiti
6Hinarii Yiou3:03:463536Tahiti
7Sandrine Berthe3:14:453036Tahiti
8Lauriane Bisch3:18:032526Tahiti
9Penelope StricklandDNF-40New Zealand
10Marguerite TemaianaDNF-42Tahiti


RESULTS: Men’s 8km Lagoon Race

1Leeloo DesantiF1:01:4015Juniors
2Mahia Berdichevski-PoroiF1:02:1517Juniors
3Floriane BroustalF1:02:3525Open
4Regine CalmelF1:03:1040Veteran
5Nathalie HaumaniF1:03:2146Veteran
6Haniarii BrillantF1:04:1716Juniors
7Martine FanF1:04:4352Veteran
8Cindy BernardinoF1:05:5733Open
9Meherio, Manuhere MollonF1:08:2616Juniors
10Vahine Moea MaramaF1:09:0549Veteran
11Rahera TaaroaF1:09:3032Open
12Veronique JullienF1:09:3151Veteran
13Ranihei BonetF1:10:1324Open
14Vaihiria TemaianaF1:10:1718Juniors
15Maima GaudotF1:10:2336Open
16Noelyne TeitiF1:10:4949Veteran
17Kaleen Van CamF1:10:5915Juniors
18Mareva LopezF1:11:0828Open
19Rosie HoughtonF1:12:4857Veteran
20Ilona MillerF1:14:5747Veteran


RESULTS: Grom Race

Champion: Kimleen van Cam