PHOTOS: World’s Top SUP Athletes Surfing Crazy Big Waves in the Off-Season
What are some of the world’s top SUP athletes doing in the off season? What they love most: Surfing big waves.
Jamie Mitchell, Kai Lenny, Mo Freitas, Connor Baxter, Zane Schweitzer and 7-time OluKai champion Andrea Moller were just some of the stand up paddlers to feature recently in a string of historic big wave sessions.
Maui’s famous big wave mecca of Pe’ahi (Jaws) saw arguably the largest paddle-in day of all time last Friday, while virtually the entire Pacific – from Hawaii to Northern California to Mexico – has been on fire the past month or two. Here are some of the stand outs from the stand up world…
Jamie Mitchell (everywhere…)
Mitcho has been racking up the frequent flyer miles the past six weeks, chasing swells from Spain to California to Oregon to Mexico to Maui to Oahu. The reigning Big Wave Awards’ “Biggest Paddle-in” title holder seems to pop up every time the surf heads north of 30ft. After starring in the all-time session at Maui on Friday and Saturday, Jamie competed in Mexico’s Todos Santos Challenge (part of the WSL’s Big Wave World Tour) on Sunday.
After winning 10x Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Titles, Mitcho has been focused on his big wave career, which is clearly going places. But as a bonus for SUP racing fans, the Australian captain will be getting back on the race board in March for the Ultimate Waterman multi-sport event in New Zealand. Quite a fitting title for a guy that truly does it all in the ocean.
Kai Lenny (Pe’ahi)
Kai is the undisputed superstar of stand up paddling these days. But it’s not just his SUP achievements that have seen land sponsors like Tag Heuer, GoPro, Red Bull and Hurley. In fact his paddling career is probably the least valuable part of the deal, as he continues to become more and more visible in the big wave world. Over the past few winters, Kai has staked his claim as one of the guys out at Pe’ahi.
Mo Freitas (Oahu Outer Reefs, Pe’ahi)
I had Mo pegged at #4 in the world on my Top 15 of 2015 chart last month. He’s one of the fastest stand up paddle athletes on the planet, and he’s clearly putting that speed to good use by stroking into gigantic mountains of water that most people can only look at in awe. Mo has been charging both at home on Oahu and over on Maui, where he even got to share a wave with Kelly Slater the other day.
Connor Baxter (Pe’ahi)
Current world number one Connor Baxter loves nothing more than the “off season” – that brief window where SUP athletes don’t have to worry about training for the next race and can relax at home instead. But while most people think of “relaxing” as a hammock and a good book, Connor’s version is to throw himself over the ledge of five story buildings made of water.
I was speaking with Connor yesterday and he told me about one particularly crazy beating he copped a few weeks ago out at Pe’ahi, where his safety vest inflated and got pulled over his head, resulting in a two wave hold down. Imagine wearing a straight-jacket while you’re trying to swim through 30ft walls of whitewater.
Here’s a close up shot (he made it):
Zane Schweitzer (Pe’ahi)
Just like his fellow Maui Boys, Zane charges big waves. He’s been featuring in virtually every swell recently, including a couple of monsters out at Pe’ahi. Zaniac went so hard last week that he landed in hospital following a nasty wipeout.
Andrea Moller (Pe’ahi)
Not to be outdone by the guys, Andrea was also out there during Maui’s recent mega swell. The current record holder for “longest winning streak in the sport of SUP racing” (seven straight OluKai victories), Andrea is no stranger to big waves, having been nominated at the Big Wave Awards in the past.
Chuck Patterson (Pe’ahi)
Speaking of not being outdone – Chuck Patterson is still showing the youngsters how its done. The first ever Battle of the Paddle Champion (way back in 2008) chases the swell every winter, and usually finds himself on a few bombs such as this:
Matt Becker (Maverick’s)
Becker was one of the first guys I heard of when I got into SUP way back in the day. He was a regular fixture at the Battle of the Paddle and joined the “Young Guns” club well before many of today’s young stars. Matt doesn’t jump on the race board as much these days, though when he spends so much time surfing one of the heaviest waves on the planet, it’s no surprise that SUP racing isn’t quite enough of an adrenaline rush…
Update: I also just spotted this shot of Lucas Medeiros out at Pe’ahi the other day — Lucas represented Team Brazil at the 2014 and 2015 ISA Worlds. And there are probably half a dozen more stand up paddlers that got in on the action who I’ve missed.
Oh and a special shout out to the Froth of SUP himself, Justin Holland, who is nearly back to 100% fit and fighting after his horrific, bone-breaking wipeout during this session in West Oz late last year: