The 12 biggest stories from the past 24 days
It’s been almost a month since I posted any news on SUP Racer.
That’s the longest break I’ve taken in the seven years I’ve been running this site. I’ll talk about why next week, but for now let’s get this show back on the road. Because the reason why SUP Racer exists is to give you an honest look at what’s happening in this great, whacky, wild, rollercoaster sport of ours.
(I think the word “honesty” has been sorely lacking from our sport in general recently. That’s also another topic for next week, but for now here’s what’s happening the past 24 days: The 12 biggest stories, in no particular order…)
Instead of Brekkie Bites, consider this as your Breakfast Banquet.
1. AUSSIE DOWNWIND WEEK
The Doctor, King of the Cut
24th November – 1st December
“Downwind Week,” Western Australia’s answer to Hawaii’s traditional Downwind Month (July), has been building over the years into one of the sport’s major downwind gatherings. The week is book-ended by two big races, The Doctor and the King of the Cut, and features several smaller events and countless practice sessions on some of the finest downwind runs in the world.
Team Sunova’s James Casey was the stand out performer this year, defending his Doctor title against dark-horse Tim Cyprien before going on to make it a clean sweep by winning the prestigious King of the Cut.
Jimmy conquered the Cut by defeating New Cal wunderkind and Gorge runner-up Clement Colmas along with a host of Australia’s top paddlers. Despite spending more time on a foil these days, Jimmy is earning a reputation as one of the world’s finest ocean paddlers — he also snagged a podium spot at the granddaddy of them all this year, Molokai-2-Oahu.
Despite Jimmy winning by almost five minutes, Clement was pretty damn impressive considering he was on a 14 footer. It’s the second time Clement has finished second at the King of the Cut, mirroring his result against compatriot Titouan Puyo back in 2016. The 2014 King of the Cut champ, Beau O’Brian, rounded out this year’s podium with a vintage performance.
It was a big weekend for Sunova: the team’s chief race board (and foil board) designer, Marcus Tardrew, was crowned the Foil King after taking line honours on his floating samurai sword.
Karla Gilbert won the women’s downwind showdown to cement her status as the winningest athlete in Australia. Karla has won countless titles in her SUP career, which adds to the countless titles she won in her surf life saving career, where she was a household name and regular fixture on national TV for an entire decade.
Kate Baker, the British expat who calls Australia’s paddling mecca of Queensland home, was runner-up ahead of local Jade Lane. Defending champ Angie Jackson was forced to watch from the beach, still on the sidelines after rupturing her achilles at the Japan Cup almost three months ago.
2. BRAZIL HAS A MASSIVE SUP SCENE
Aloha Spirit Festival
Stand out performances: Lena Ribeiro, Luiz Guida
Brazil is home to arguably the most vibrant, stoked and under-rated stand up paddling community in the world. It’s huge.
I traveled to Brazil as a guest of last month’s Aloha Spirit Festival, an incredible event that combines SUP, outrigger and swimming into a weekend where more than 500 athletes hit the waters of Cabo Frio (about two hours north of Rio).
I’d heard this event was a big deal here in Brazil but I was blown away by what I saw. And from all reports, last month’s stop in Cabo Frio was actually the smaller version of the festival: The big one is happening in April down south near Sao Paulo.
The Queen of South America, Lena Ribeiro of Team Mistral, was the standout stand up performer in Cabo Frio, sweeping both the short and long course races, while Luiz Guida did the same in the men’s event. “Animal,” as Guida is affectionately known, was followed by Brazilian-turned-Floridian local (and the East Coast of America’s winningest athlete this year) Eri Tenorio and Marinho Cavaco.
But the real story of Aloha Spirit is the… spirit.
Hundreds and hundreds of paddlers that were just genuinely stoked to be on the water for a fun, challenging (and extremely well organised) event. It feels like a throwback to the good old days of the BOP, except it’s happening now, not in the past. And it’s continuing to grow.
Next year’s Aloha Spirit Festival in Ilhabela, Sao Paulo is set to be the biggest one yet. That corresponding event earlier this year had over 400 competitors in the SUP divisions alone, and next year the combined total of all disciplines should tilt well over 750 athletes.
With a world class event setup (they even had a jumbotron on the beach), top quality live stream and awesome atmosphere, this could easily be one of the most significant SUP events in the world (if it’s not already). Just get a few more international athletes to come and support the event and it’ll be the icing on top.
Given its geographical and business isolation (it’s a long flight from anywhere and very few major board brands actually distribute here), it’s easy to forget about Brazil, but the community here has shown it deserves to be ranked alongside the Australias, Hawaiis and Frances of the world.
3. EURO TOUR 2019 REVEALED
The 2019 European Summer of SUP has been launched, with several new additions making for a total of 22 stops.
The Tour has borrowed the “Regionals” concept from The Paddle League to grow its reach beyond the traditional summer months, now covering April through til October.
With its signature board transport and this year’s dramatically improved media output, the EuroTour has established itself as a cornerstone of the sport. And given the locations: Spain, France, the Greek Islands, it’s one of the funnest parts of the season as well.
Basically a summer holiday in Europe with a bit of racing on the side.
The tour also now has gender equal prize money across the board (it already paid equal on the podiums, but now that extends to the entire prize purse at every event).
4. THE CHAMP SPEAKS
Lincoln Dews earned The Paddle League World Title after overpowering compatriot Michael Booth and almost all of the rest of the world’s best on the shores of California two months ago.
We haven’t heard a lot from Linc since then — the world champion has been taking a hard-earned break — but this video gives us some good insights from one of the most talented, hardest-working and humble athletes you’ll ever meet.
Video not loading? Click here to watch on YouTube.
5. NEW NAME STANDS UP IN SINGAPORE
Singapore Ocean Cup
Stand out performer: Jack Seymour
Hong Kong junior and definite name-to-watch, Jack Seymour, won the Singapore Ocean CUP last month, a regional stop on The Paddle League circuit and one of the “new frontiers” in the world of SUP racing.
Jack has been a permanent fixture on the Hong Kong racing scene, however this is certainly his biggest win to date. He then went on to represent his adopted home of Hong Kong (his family hails from South Africa) at the Worlds a week later.
With strong roots in dragonboat and ski racing, not to mention being almost surrounded by water and corporate dollars, Singapore is uniquely poised to help lead the Asian charge over the next decade.
The region has the potential to challenge Europe as the center of the SUP universe in the coming years, with Japan already maturing and places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, China and Thailand all starting to embrace the sport.
6. FIVE DAYS OF PAIN IN PARADISE
28th November – 2nd December
One of the most beautifully-torturous events in the world has just wrapped up on the exotic Tahitian island of Huahine.
IRONMANA, an event I like to call “Five Days of Pain in Paradise” due to the brutal, sweltering nature of the race format (five days of multi-discipline endurance racing under the belting Tahitain sun) is the culmination of the year-long Waterman Tour of Tahiti.
Former outrigger star (or “va’a” as it’s known in Polynesia) turned SUP convert Bruno Tauhiro won the men’s IRONMANA title this year, while Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Bescheron took out the women’s title for the second time. But honestly, anyone who simply finished this “race” deserves a big shiny medal. It’s brutal.
TotalSUP was on location and has a stack of videos on Facebook from behind the scenes.
7. THIS GUY JUST PADDLED ACROSS PATAGONIA
Italian Stefano Roversi became the first person to stand up paddle across Patagonia, completing a month-long adventure from the Andes to the ocean.
Wrapped in his SupSkin drysuit, the bold adventurer hit the coast on November 22nd, almost a month to the day after setting out in the mountains to the west.
8. SEASON FINALLY ENDS
The Paris Crossing aka Paris SUP Open
Renamed from the Paris Crossing to the Paris SUP Open, the final event of a long year is known as the world’s largest SUP race, with hundreds of paddlers taking to the River Seine for a true bucket list experience.
There were about 625 paddlers on the water 12 months ago and the event has capacity for up to 800. Some of those will be top pros, with the event falling under the APP super league series this year (alongside the London and New York SUP Opens).
The traditional race through the Seine is on Sunday morning, but tomorrow (Saturday) sees the pros take to the kiddie pool inside the massive Paris Boat Show expo hall for a unique new contest: One-on-one knockout racing.
Kinda sounds like it’ll mirror the man-on-man (or woman-on-woman) velodrome cycling events you see in the Olympics, which could make for some spectator-friendly showdowns.
But apart from the pros, all paddlers have the unique opportunity to paddle through Paris’ River Seine (I believe it’s strictly forbidden to paddle on the river any other day of the year) past iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedaral. Selfies are mandatory:
9. ISA WORLDS
The ISA Worlds concluded in Hainan, China last week, and despite the logistical nightmare involved, the event (which was originally set for Brazil) was generally a success.
On the water, Team Australia defended against a strong but ultimately disappointing French team to retain the teams title, with USA also punching above their weight thanks largely to an all-star women’s squad (and the addition of Hawaiian superstar Connor Baxter).
The Aussies were led by Shakira Westdorp who was quite easily the standout performer of the entire event. Shak claimed gold in the SUP surfing and medal’d in both the short course and distance races.
Shak won the 2009 Battle of the Paddle and was seen as the best paddler in the world a decade ago, however she’s focused almost exclusively on surfing in the past nine years. Hopefully that will change and she can help reignite the women’s sport in 2019…
Shak’s partner in crime, Terrene Black, also had a big week, finishing on the podium in the beach race and marathon and making the final of the sprints.
France had one bright spark in Olivia Piana, who after five silver medals at the ISA Worlds finally claimed a well-deserved Gold in the long distance. She also picked up a copper (or “chocolate medal” as Olivia has nicknamed it) in the beach race, while her compatriot Melanie Lafenetre took silver in the junior beach race.
Unheralded Italian Caterina Stenta was another stand out performer, claiming Italy’s only medal of the event. In the men’s sprint, Brazilian Arthur Santacreu lived up to the hype to blitz the men’s field and earn Brazil its second gold (they also took out the men’s surfing courtesy of Luiz Diniz).
Former sprint king Trevor Tunnington had a surprisingly big week for someone who spends a lot of time foiling and very little time training, claiming silver in the sprints, bronze in the beach race and helping Team New Zealand to a bronze in the relay.
One of the hardest working athletes in the game, Vinnicius “Vinni” Martins from Brazil, was probably the happiest medal-winner of the event. Vinni took bronze in the long, draining marathon race after outlasting world class rivals such as Titouan Puyo and Connor. Michael Booth won that race, repeating his 2016 victory in Fiji and making up for a disappointing result in Denmark 12 months ago.
The Hasulyo Brothers dominated, with tiny Team Hungary (size: 2x athletes) finishing fourth on the virtual Olympic-style medal tally after the bothers double podium’d in both the beach race and marathon.
However the real highlight of the event was the juniors. After doing many things wrong this year, the ISA’s inclusion of a junior beach race was definitely a great step forward.
There are too many youngsters that deserve shout-outs. Apart from the champs, USA duo Jade Howson and Ryan Funk, two names to watch are Aaron Sanchez and Aida Soberbio who both hail from the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean.
The event was not without complications though: Most notably, many paddlers had difficulty getting boards to the event due to both airlines and strict customs. That’s kind of ironic given how many hundreds of thousands of SUP boards China manufactures each year…
In terms of logistics, the saviour was Sunova and it’s magic two-piece paddleboard. The unique design circumvented the traditional “check-in roulette” of the airlines and went on to earn several medals in Hainan courtesy of Terrene Black, Amandine Chazot and Noic Garioud.
Considering the exotic location, attendance was always going fall after last year’s event in Europe. The 2017 Worlds in Denmark saw a record of 42 nations; 2018 had just 24, a fairly dramatic drop of almost 50%. This is the first time the number of nations has dropped at all from the previous year, but a move back to Europe in 2019, which is rumoured (and definitely needed), would quickly solve that.
Questions were also raised about innovation in the course formats, which hasn’t happened at all since the ISA started their championship event back in 2012 (to call the ISA a slow-moving bureaucracy would be an understatement). The only change has been the addition of a 200 metre event, which is seen as a poorly-run version of the ICF’s specialty (the ISA sprints don’t even have a timing system let alone start gates).
There is also the persistent question of the Olympic dogfight with the ICF. See below.
10. OLYMPIC FIGHT CONTINUES
Speaking of federations, the ICF announced they haven’t given up on their fight to be the Olympic governing body of stand up paddling. They’re also pushing ahead with plans for a 2019 ICF SUP World Championship to match (or surpass) the ISA’s offering.
The vote at their annual congress in Budapest, Hungary, which coincidentally took place in late November just as the ISA Worlds were getting underway in China, produced a press release with the headline: “The congress of the International Canoe Federation has voted unanimously to continue to fight for the right to oversee stand up paddling.”
Pretty much sums it up.
So where we at with the whole Olympics thing?
This massive clusterfuck is currently being fought at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland. Which means, yes, lawyers sitting behind closed doors a thousand miles from the beach may ultimately decide the Olympic future of the sport. Great.
Many in the community, myself included, still question whether the sport is even remotely close to being ready for Olympic inclusion, regardless of who’s “in charge” of the sport. And either way, neither federation has done a great job of convincing the community it should be in charge. It’s all just politics these days.
11. PAN-AM PREVIEW IN PERU
Continuing the theme of the Olympics, the Pan-American Games (aka the “Olympics of the Americas”) are set to feature surfing and stand up paddling for the first time in 2019.
The event will be hosted in Peru, and that country is currently hosting the Pan-American Surfing Games, an annual event and now the major qualifier for the quadrennial PanAms.
Look for South American powerhouse Team Brazil to dominate this week led by the likes of Vinni Martins, Caio Vaz, Lena Ribeiro, Aline Adisaka and Luiz Guida. However the 2018 competition has received added interest from the North Americans (who weren’t involved in last year’s contest) with athletes such as Lina Augaitis and Zane Schweitzer chasing qualifying spots for next year’s PanAms.
Well-known brother-sister duo Giorgio and Izzi Gomez are also competing, however they’re representing Colombia not the USA.
OG athlete Fernando Stalla is also back in the game this week, as is young Peruvian star Itzel Delgado. The final of the SUP race is on Saturday afternoon.
12. SANTA MAKES A SPLASH
To finish on a lighter note: The biggest news story in SUP over the past month had nothing to do with racing or Olympics or anything else from our narrow slice of the paddling world.
The biggest news story was 100 paddlers dressed up as Santa Claus paddling through Cambrdge in the UK.
The story was picked up by several major news outlets, and the footage racked up hundreds of thousands of views. Here’s a snippet from the BBC (click here to watch on Facebook if the video doesn’t load).
That’s a wrap on the past month of SUP news.
Check back over the weekend as the daily Brekkie Bites series resumes.