What Were The Performances Of The Year? I Nominate Travis Grant, Annabel Anderson, Eric Terrien And Terrene Black
Remember the “Top 11 of 2011” and “Top 12 of 2012”? Well we’re only a couple of days away from releasing the third installment in our end-of-year “best of” list: The Top 13 of 2013, where we’ll attempt to rank the year’s best paddlers in order of merit across all the major events.
But until then I think it’s time to recognise some of the best individual race performances of the year.
Because while I’ve been drafting up the list of who’s been on fire across all of 2013 this week, one thing has stuck out: Rarely do we stop, look back and acknowledge the amazing performances from individual races throughout the year. So for the first time, I’m introducing a “Best Performance Of The Year” award (yes, yet another SUP award).
This is a slice of totally unofficial but also totally overdue recognition for those paddlers who gave 110% in a certain race, overcame odds, blitzed an elite field or just generally nailed it on race day.
There were plenty of exceptional efforts this year and many more names who deserve to be listed below, but the list has been trimmed down to four of the best for the sake of my (and your) sanity. So without further ado, here are the SUP Racing Performances of the Year for 2013. As voted by me.
Men’s Performance Of The Year
Winner: Travis Grant, Battle of the Paddle Elite Distance Race
Dislocated knee. Could barely walk. Hadn’t paddled in two weeks. Elite field. A draft train that refused to break. And Danny Ching out front setting the pace.
Travis Grant had little going in his favour midway through the BOP Elite Distance Race on that fateful, late September day in Southern California…
The Aussie had busted his knee two weeks prior to the biggest race of the year, forcing him out of Saturday’s Elite Race, an event that, considering his recent form, Travis was in contention to win. It was a cruel blow for a guy that missed the same race twelve months earlier with another injury, especially considering the fact he’d won Molokai and a long string of other events in 2013. Travis was on fire this year and would have given Kai, Connor and Danny some very close company in the Elite Race. If he was fit.
But Travis wasn’t fit. He had to watch the Elite Race from the commentary booth and wasn’t even thinking about doing the Elite Distance Race the following day. He was only in town because he’d already booked his plane ticket and had sponsor obligations to fulfill. But then he decided, at the last minute, to enter the 10 miler, an event that in past years has played second fiddle to Saturday’s main event, but that recently has taken on its own elite status.
Suddenly this had become a serious race, and suddenly Travis decided he was going to have a crack at it.
However there was still the small matter of him not being able to paddle properly, let alone run. The Aussie champ couldn’t put too much weight on his bung knee, which was impacting his paddle technique and also made his race start (a short run off the beach) quite hard and the his race finish (a sprint up the sand to the line) even harder.
Oh and there was also the most competitive field in SUP racing history standing in his way…
I was lucky to be seated in the official photography boat and following the race very closely on that Sunday morning, giving me a rare view of an event that usually involves paddlers racing off into the distance, turning at San Clemente Pier, and coming back into view a couple hours later. But this year I was live blogging the whole thing and, hopefully, bringing it a little more attention than it usually garners. If you relive our live coverage you can virtually see me getting more and more excited as the distance event progressed.
Travis made a good start, sprinting out through the waves and hitting the outside turning buoy in first place. He sat there for the first one or two kms, setting the pace until Beau O’Brian and Danny Ching took turns out front. Behind those three were another ten guys; the lead pack was 13 deep and sticking together rather stubbornly. During the entire first half of the race, the group simply refused to break and give anyone a clean shot at the win. Conditions weren’t helping either: The wind was dead flat and the ocean was glassy (as usual for this race), making it an absolute grind and as much of a mind game as a physical one.
During the second half the scenario still looked fairly similar… Danny had taken charge and was setting the pace, Travis was sitting second and Beau was third. Behind him were the same 10 guys (including the likes of Kai Lenny, Casper Steinfath, Eric Terrien, Jake Jensen, Zane Schweitzer, and… well you get the point, it was an all-star elite field).
The whole thing was starting to turn into a procession. Instead of 10 miles, the race seemed destined to be a 200 yard sprint to the line at the end.
And that was bad for Travis. Very bad. If he hit the beach next to any other paddler he had no hope: The last 30 metres of the BOP Elite Distance Race is a soft-sand sprint to the line. Not the easiest thing to accomplish when you’re wearing a knee brace.
So while Danny continued to set the pace and while the other 11 guys near the front continued to hang onto his wash, Travis had to do something different. He knew that his only chance at victory was to break away from the pack and finish the race well clear of his rivals, so that he had time to hobble to over the line.
But how was he going to do that? Danny Ching, the master, couldn’t break this draft train, so how was a half-fit Travis Grant going to do it?
What happened in the next 20 minutes is the reason why Trav’s win at the BOP was an easy choice for Performance of the Year…
Sensing that the train was sticking together like glue and that he was fast running out of time, Travis peeled away from the pack, drifted 30-40 metres inside, closer to shore, and then started paddling in parallel to Danny and the others. All by himself. It was a very bold and very risky move, but he had no choice.
There he was, all alone, paddling in perfect unison with the main draft train. It was as if he was surfing an invisible side wash that had somehow projected fifty feet off to the side of Danny’s board.
Only he wasn’t…
While Danny dragged the other 11 guys back towards the finish at Doheny, Trav was going solo, doing all the work and hoping his gamble would pay off.
It wasn’t enough to just paddle away from the main pack though, Tavis also had to make ground and start paddling in front of the lead train, otherwise they’d all group back together at the final turning buoy, surf a wave to the shore together and leave Travis crawling up the sand while they ran to the line.
The champ was fully aware of this, so a few minutes after peeling off to the side the NSP team rider made a concerted push and gained a virtual 30 yard lead over the pack. He was now paddling in parallel but also in front of Danny, Beau and the rest of the contenders.
Travis had to hold this pace for a good couple of kilometres, all the way back to the outside turning buoy that marked the final, frenzied sprint back to the shore and the run up the beach to glory. Somehow the Aussie kept the pace, despite Danny (who at that point had never been defeated in the BOP Distance Race) and co trying to reel him in.
Trav turned the buoy first, five board lengths clear of Danny, Beau and Zane – the front four had a clear lead as the pack turned from a uniform draft train into an every-man-for-himself sprint to the line – giving himself a clear run to the line for what looked like it was going to be a win for the ages. All the Aussie needed was a little wave and he could calmly surf his way clear to the shore then hobble up to the beach to the line while the others battled for the minor placings.
But then, cruelly, the ocean went flat just as Trav needed that wave.
Guy couldn’t catch a break.
For a few very tense seconds he powered towards the beach, looking over his shoulder as Beau and Danny gave chase. He was looking, hoping for some little bump to rise up out of the ocean and give him a ride home.
Finally a few tiny waves started to form, but it looked as though too much time had passed and that Danny had done enough to get onto the same wave that was heading for Trav. Then, in yet another twist, the man in the green cap gave everything he had but fell agonisingly short, dropping off the back of the tiny runner that would, seconds later, catch up to Trav.
The Aussie was just that little bit closer to shore to be able to catch the winning wave. He surfed it, dodgy knee and all, right to the shoreline while Danny caught the next wave and Beau & Zane scrapped for the bumps after that.
Travis’ ballsy game plan had somehow paid off. He’d broken the unbreakable pack. He’d hit the beach clear. He then hobbled up the beach and officially crossed the line just five seconds ahead of runner-up Danny Ching, creating a sweet finish to a bitter tale of injury.
Travis Grant won the 2013 Battle of the Paddle Elite Distance Race with the performance of the year.
Travis’ injury was so serious that he would eventually submit to knee surgery (which has since sidelined him for up to six months). As if beating Danny Ching and pretty much every other elite paddler in the world in a manner that seemed nearly impossible during the race wasn’t enough, Travis’ victory came just two weeks after the dislocation, when he was still in a knee brace and literally could hardly walk.
Hats off to the performance of the year…
Men’s Performance Of The Year
Runner-up: Eric Terrien, Lost Mills
Nobody can possibly beat Connor Baxter by three minutes on a dead-flat lake where all anybody has to do is draft, and where Connor has the likes of Travis Grant, Casper Steinfath, Chase Kosterlitz, Jamie Mitchell, Jake Jensen and Beau O’Brian helping him set the pace and ready to close any gaps that form near the front.
Nobody except Eric Terrien that is.
Eric’s performance in the 18km distance race at the 2013 Lost Mills event in Germany should have been impossible…
From my position somewhere near the back of the second or third chase group and given the shape of the course, I had a very nice view of the action up front in what was one of the races of the year. I saw Eric make his break early and paddle on his own, out front, within the first kilometre. I could see him hit the first run leg (the Lost Mills main event covers two separate lakes, with a 100 metre run in between each that adds an interesting dynamic to the race) well clear of many of the world’s best paddlers.
As we paddled around the second lake for an hour or so, I could see him way out in front. I couldn’t quite figure out how the main chase pack, which contained so many elite guys, had let him get ahead, but I confidently assumed they would soon rectify their mistake and reel the Frenchman in. I mean, how could anyone paddle by themselves for so long when so many of the world’s fastest worked together to give chase?
I figured Eric’s performance by the midway part of the race, where he held a lead of at least 200 metres, was brave but fruitless. I expected to get back to the finish and see everyone congratulating Connor, Travis, Casper, Chase or one of the other elite guys who were conserving their energy in the main draft train.
Except that never happened…
It was like a bizarro stage of the Tour de France, where, on a hopelessly flat stage, a combative cyclist will make a desperate, solo attack on the peleton early in the day and try and hold his lead, all by himself, for the entire race. If you follow the spectacle that is Le Tour, you’ll know that such attempts are fruitless. Even on the mountainous stages where the field inevitably breaks up near the end, going the whole race solo is near impossible. But on a flat stage of the Tour, an early, solo attack rarely lasts more than a few kilometres, as the peleton sticks together and chases down the naive aggressor like a herd of raging bulls. Attacking solo on a flat stage is basically impossible.
But that’s exactly what Eric had done: The impossible. He’d attacked early on a flatwater race, against an all-star elite field that could save their energy and work together in a fast-moving draft train, and he’d had the nerve to think he could hold that lead all the way to the finish line.
Well Eric didn’t just hold his lead the whole way, he kept extending it. By a long way.
By the Connor and Travis had scrapped it out for second place, Eric had already caught his breath and was standing on the beach smiling and waiting.
He’d finished the race three minutes earlier.
It was one of the performances of the year.
Women’s Performance Of The Year
Winner: Annabel Anderson, Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
This one seems almost too easy, right? Annabel was expected to win the BOP Elite Race. She was the defending champ. She’d been undefeated all year. Hell, she’d been defeating most of the men all year. Just to make things even easier, her key rival Candice Appleby pulled out on the eve of the race. Honestly, was this even going to be a contest?
The BOP organisers decided to give the women their own, separate Elite Race final this year. It was a much-applauded (and totally overdue) decision, but also one that could have easily backfired: What if Annabel Anderson won by five minutes and made it a boring, one-horse-race?
Those concerns proved unfounded, because as soon as the horn sounded everything went bizarro on us and we ended up watching thirty-eight minutes of intense action that produced not only one of the closest and most exciting SUP races of the year, but also one of the most hard-fought and thoroughly-deserved victories as well.
Here’s how the 2013 BOP California Women’s Elite Race essentially went:
– Annabel and her nearest rival, the on-fire Jenny Kalmbach, gapped the field early. From there it was a two-woman race.
– Annabel would surge in the long, flat sections and gain what looked to be an insurmountable lead.
– The Kiwi would paddle all the way in from the outside buoy, without a wave, and turn the Hammer Buoy with a solid lead.
– Then Jenny would dig deep, find a little bump and surf her way right back towards Annabel.
– A couple of slick buoy turns by Jenny, another well timed wave and suddenly her and Annabel hit the beach for the start of the final lap side-by-side.
What happened to Annabel’s five minute victory? What happened to the whitewash? What happened to the boring race?
A combination of conditions (or lack therefore), a stubbornly determined and very fit rival and a cheering crowd made for one hell of an exciting finish to the women’s Elite Race this year. Annabel had paddled harder and faster around the entire course but was still stuck in the fight of her life to claim back-to-back Battle crowns.
So it was a testament to her sheer will and dogged determination that the Starboard rider somehow found another gear, dropped Jenny on the final outside leg and paddled clear to win. One of the fittest paddlers in the world, Annabel looked absolutely spent as she crossed the line.
The pundits had called this result before the race, but in reality it took one of the performances of the year from Annabel Anderson to claim the 2013 BOP title. She would go on to smash it in the Elite Distance Race the next day, proving once and for all that she’s a good board length ahead of her nearest female rivals (and, quite often, a board length ahead of her male rivals as well).
So congratulations to Annabel Anderson. This might seem like a far-too-obvious choice for Performance of the Year, but anybody who was on the beach that day knows that Annabel definitely earned this one.
Women’s Performance Of The Year
Runner-up: Terrene Black, Molokai
Partly because she had to beat Queen of the Unlimiteds Andrea Moller. Partly because she was a total underdog. Partly because this was described by many finishers (and non-finishers) as the “hardest race of my life”. And just partly because, hey, it’s Molokai…
Terrene Black’s victory at the 2013 Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Champs was an amazing performance. Her win surprised everybody (except for everybody in Australia) including the M2O officials themselves, who were live-tweeting the event but were so confused about which “unknown” female had taken the crown that it wasn’t until Terrene had well and truly crossed the line that her name was mentioned. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’d taken the last minute decision to do our own Molokai live coverage and had luckily gotten Terrene’s escort boat on speed dial, her five hour epic would have been a total mystery until the very end.
Fortunately we received regular updates from her support crew and got a window into one of the most amazing performances of 2013.
Terrene didn’t lead from start to finish. In fact she was sitting as low as fourth at one stage, battling the likes of Jenny Kalmbach (the bridesmaid of 2013…) and Sonni Honscheid for second place as Andrea Moller did what everybody expected: put a huge gap on the field.
But then something happened. For one, the conditions turned from light-winds-but-still-somewhat-promising at the start of the race into a downright depressing, windless, grindfest of a paddle by the midway part of the Channel. Andrea, without the bumps she so loves (and is so dominant in), started to struggle. The chasing trio caught her and passed her.
By the three quarter mark of the grueling, 32 mile slugfest, Terrene had hit the lead.
While it’s almost impossible to tell who’s winning Molokai, given the fact that while there’s hundreds of paddlers in the race, you’re often paddling in total isolation and out of view of everybody else, including your closest rivals. So all we know for sure is that Terrene had, despite the silence from the official commentary stream, a very solid gap on Jenny Kalmbach as they approached China Walls, the traditional home-stretch marker of the M2O.
By the time the Aussie crossed the line and claimed the crown, she was five minutes ahead of Jenny and over ten minutes clear of both Sonni (third) and Andrea (fourth). It was an incredibly gutsy effort in an incredibly difficult race. Molokai is a lung-buster in the best of times, but the 2013 edition was just plain brutal.
Terrene’s win came just minutes after Travis Grant’s victory in the men’s race, making it a double win for the Aussie compatriots and NSP stablemates. Australia would go on to win both the men’s and women’s unlimited prone divisions as well as the men’s stock prone division, making it a very triumphant day for the Green & Gold.
Ok so there you go…
Travis Grant and his dislocated knee. Annabel Anderson and her sheer determination. Eric Terrien and his Tour de France. Terrene Black and her endless Channel…
The Stand Up Paddle racing performances of the year. In my opinion at least.
And remember: Check back in a couple of days for the Top 13 of 2013, where we rank the world’s best paddlers based on the entire racing season. That is going to stir up some debate for sure…