July 14, 2015
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Following A Massive Month Of Racing, Big Changes To The World Rankings

SUP Racer World Rankings FB4

Following the completion of the Euro Tour, the massive Payette River Games and a string of other international-level events, there’s been plenty of leaderboard movement on the SUP Racer World Rankings.

Since our post-Lost Mills update a month ago, we’ve seen nine new races qualify for the World Rankings system: Bilbao, Payette River Games, Noja, Adriatic Crown, Namur, Barcelona, Race The Lake (both the 5 miler and 14 miler) and yesterday’s Poi Bowl Race on Maui (men only).

Skip straight to the updated SUP Racer World Rankings

There are now 34 men’s and 28 women’s races from the past 12 months counting towards the World Rankings. Every single race in the world is eligible, however only events that attract a “minimum level of elite competition” are included. This is determined by our custom Race Index formula, which rates all events from 0-100%. The more elite paddlers that are competing, the higher an event’s Race Index score. Any event that scores 15.0% or greater will have its results count towards the World Rankings. To keep results fresh, races are dropped from the system after 12 months.

Any paddler that finishes in the top 50 at one of the eligible races will earn points towards their World Rankings total points tally. The number of world ranking points on offer is directly proportional to the event’s Race Index score. Basically: The more elite paddlers that are competing (and therefore the harder a race is to win), the more points you get.

Though no matter how many eligible events a paddler competes in, only their best five results ever count. For example: Connor Baxter has raced in 20 major events over the past 12 months – quite an extraordinary stat – however only his best five results are included in his total points tally.

And although we only show the leaderboards for the Top 100 Men and Top 50 Women, there are hundreds more paddlers in the full rankings database. This latest update pushed the total up to 899 athletes, with 656 guys and 243 women having finished top 50 in at least one of the big races over the past 12 months.

Anyway let’s look a little closer at the latest leaderboard updates…

This week saw the biggest ever change to the Men’s Top 100 Leaderboard, with 89 of the 100 positions switching hands. This is partly due to sheer volume of big international races lately, though also partly due to the fact it’s been a month since the previous World Rankings update (all updates will be weekly from now on).

Stand Up World Series Barcelona

Connor taking yet another big win (and another big bag of points) in Barcelona last month

Connor Baxter still sits at world number one, a position he’s occupied every single week since we launched the World Rankings almost a year ago, however he’s got some new company at the top.

Kai Lenny, after finishing runner-up at the 39.5% Barcelona World Series event (the second most competitive race in all of Europe, behind only the Lost Mills at 43.5%), has reclaimed the #2 world ranking from Danny Ching. Danny took over the number two spot after his runner-up finish at the massive Carolina Cup 10 weeks ago, but today he returns to third. Kai only *just* edged out Danny, with the Maui superstar currently on 227.00 points vs Danny’s 225.93.

However in a cruel twist, the Stand Up World Series, which was responsible for elevating Kai back into world number two slot last week, will also be responsible for dropping him back down in just seven days time.

Apart from Barcelona, the World Series’ other big race in Europe was set to be the SUP World Cup in Fehmarn, Germany. The 2014 edition was held on July 20th, however this year’s event was completely cancelled. Therefore the points from that event will be dropped from the rankings system next weekend (events are removed from the database after 12 months, in order to keep the rankings fresh), which in turn will cause Kai to fall back below Danny.

Kai’s only safety net is if he wins Maui 2 Molokai on Saturday (assuming it attracts an elite field again this year), though I’m not sure he’ll even be racing given M2M’s proximity to M2O this year (and even if he is, Connor Baxter has never lost that race).

Kai Lenny and Danny Ching

Kai and Danny during last year’s Battle. If only Kai’s jersey had a #2 on it, that would be the most perfect photo to accompany this article…

Speaking of M2O, that’ll be a very interesting contest this year as we have the top four guys in the world all competing: Connor, Kai, Danny and Travis Grant. Throw in a bunch of other top ranked names, including the new world number six Mo Freitas, and there should be a solid bounty of points up for grabs. Though some of the top guys have more to gain than others…

Events are only held in the system for twelve months or whenever that race comes around again. A paddler could never be counting their results from two editions of the same single event. So at the end of this month, the 2014 Molokai results will be replaced in the rankings system with the 2015 results.

Connor will be replacing his win from Molokai 2014 with whatever he gets this year, while Travis will be replacing his runner-up finish. Even assuming that Molokai 2015 will be worth more points than 2014 (there’s definitely more elite guys signed up this year), Connor and Travis will still need a big result just to tread water. On the other hand, Kai, who finished 4th last year, and even moreso Danny, who didn’t compete at all in Moloakai 2014, could make a solid gain if they can snag a top finish.

Travis is too far behind Danny and Kai to make any positional gain this month either way, however a slew of points at Molokai could set him up for a tilt at a top two spot later in the year.

Molokai 2 Oahu

Another big Molokai result for Travis Grant could lay the foundation for a top two world ranking later in the year

The big leaderboard opening will come in the first week of October, when the Battle of the Paddle (which isn’t returning this year) gets dropped from the system and a whole lot of paddlers lose a whole lot of ranking points. The hardest hit will be Kai Lenny, who’s currently holding 92.00 of his 227.00 points from his BOP Elite Race win. When the BOP gets dropped, Kai will fall back on to his current-sixth-best result. Kai’s sixth best result right now is kinda ordinary, so he’d be replacing his 92.00 points with a roughly 15 point result, and in turn his points tally would slide way, way down.

I just ran a simulation of what might happen when the BOP gets dropped and the results are fairly major. Let’s call it the BOP-pocalypse.

With Kai losing his Elite Race points, he’d drop from 227.00 down to 144.33, which would slide him down to 4th place and keep him only just above Titouan Puyo (who would be a big beneficiary of the BOP’s removal), Mo and Georges Cronsteadt (who will also both drop a few points with the BOP’s removal). Jake Jensen (runner-up at the BOP) would also be hit very hard, dropping from 5th down to 8th, only just ahead of Casper Steinfath in 9th and at risk of dropping from the Top 10 altogether by the end of the year.

One of the most significant gainers from the BOP’s demise will be Travis, who would move just ahead of both Kai and Danny (Danny is set to drop both his 3rd place in the Elite Race, worth 55.20 points, and his 48.00 point win in the BOP distance race come October) and take over as world number two on the first weekend of October. Danny will be 3rd and Kai 4th, while Titou would jump three places to the #5 world ranking. Georges would be 6th in the world, Mo 7th, Jake 8th, Casper 9th and Bicho Jimenez would just hold on to the #10 world ranking ahead of the supremely talented all-rounder Zane Schweitzer.

Battle of the Paddle

With the demise of Salt Creek, a lotta paddlers are going to lose a lotta points…

Amazingly, Connor Baxter isn’t holding any results from BOP14 in his “five best” scores, so his total points tally won’t drop down at all. Connor’s endless travel schedule and consistent podium finishes have given the Starboard superstar a massive cushion to fall back on, so once the BOP is dropped he’ll have en even bigger lead (much bigger) on top of the World Rankings Leaderboard. Right now he’s 14 points ahead of Kai, but if the BOP was removed today he’d be 64 points ahead of second place (Travis).

Oh and there will be a smaller but still significant version of the BOP-pocalypse in mid-August, when points from the Ultimate SUP Showdown (the second most competitive event of 2014, behind the BOP Elite Race) are dropped from the rankings database. Just like the Battle, the Showdown doesn’t appear to be returning this year, so the top paddlers from that event in Waikiki (namely Connor and Kai) will see a significant drop in their respective points tallies come August 18th.

In fact Danny could very easily overtake Connor by the end of August, as Connor is probably going to miss the Gorge event this year. Connor’s huge bag of points from the 2014 Gorge event will expire just one week after his Showdown points are dropped, meaning his total points tally will take a big hit in the space of just seven or eight days.

So, quite interestingly, the big changes to the World Rankings Top 100 Leaderboard may happen without anyone even getting their feet wet.

Though all of these apocalypse scenarios come with one very big asterisk: Any of these paddlers could earn some big results in the next three months that would give them a buffer against the loss of their Battle points. With at least half a dozen international-level events in the next couple months, that’s quite likely.

But still, long story short, this month’s Molokai race could be an early indicator for the end-of-year World Rankings. Molokai will have a mild impact on the World Rankings immediately following the event, however its impact will be amplified when the Showdown and the BOP get dropped in August and October respectively. If Travis wins Molokai he’s looking very good to become the world number two in October.

The second asterisk here is that a BOP replacement event is actually in the works, however I doubt it’ll be worth as many points as Salt Creek. And either way, this replacement event (the Pacific Paddle Games, which we’ll give you more details on this week) will be held six days later than Salt Creek 2014, so even if the PPGs attract a Battle-level crowd of elite talent, the BOP-pocalypse will have a huge impact on the rankings for at least one week.

But I’m getting massively sidetracked here. Back to the current World Rankings…

So Connor is still world number one, Kai is back as world number two, Danny is ranked #3 in the world and Travis unchanged at #4. Jake is lucky to be holding onto a top five position after a run of below-his-best results the past few weeks, but that bounty of points from his runner-up finish at Salt Creek keeps him safe for now.

Payette River Games

Mo’s win at the Payette River Games means he’s now ranked #6 in the world

Mo is banging on the door of the top five, thanks largely to his epic win at the Payette River Games. He replaces Georges at #6 in the world, with Mo on 147.95 vs. Georges at 141.46.

Another massive mover over the past month has been Titouan. The New Caledonian (it’s a French island in the Pacific) showed world-best form during the Euro Tour, and was unlucky not to claim the overall champion’s crown, finishing runner-up just behind Connor Baxter.

Titou’s run of great form, including his win at the 29.5% Bilbao World SUP Challenge, elevated him inside the Top 10 in the world for the first time ever, with the quiet-spoken and well-respected 24-year-old now occupying the #8 world ranking.

And I don’t see any reason Titou will stop there.

On current form, I’d say Titou is one of the four best paddlers on the planet right now. Plus as we showed with the BOP-pocalypse above, Titou could get a free ride inside the top five once his rivals drop their Battle points.

It’s been an amazing rise for Titou, who was a complete unknown just over 18 months ago, not only on the international scene but even within the tight-knit French paddling community. He won the French Nationals at the end of 2013, before stepping up for gold at the Worlds six months later. The series of big results that followed made his charge towards the Top 10 unstoppable. The scary thing for his rivals is that Titou has now figured out how to race in his unfavoured conditions, such as flat water and sprints (he’s always been unstoppable in downwind conditions).

Titouan Puyo

Titouan Puyo (aka “Titou”), the smiling assassin of stand up paddling

The only other move in the Top 10 comes from Bicho. The hero of Mexico’s ISA Worlds campaign did just enough in Europe and Tahoe to sneak inside this ultra elite club for the first time. If anyone saw Bicho’s epic performance in the distance race at Sayulita, where he broke a star-studded field before settling for the silver medal behind Danny, you’d know that he could easily go even higher than world #10.

There are position changes all the way down the Men’s Top 100 Leaderboard, with quite a few European guys making a significant move. France’s Arthur Arutkin is finally showing us how talented he is, climbing inside the world’s top 15 after some consistently big results in June. Another one of the “New Heroes of Europe” is Leonard Nika from Italy, who jumped inside the top 20 on the back of a near endless string of European podiums this summer.

Leo’s Italian compatriot Paolo Marconi, one of the revelations of the 2015 Euro Tour, rises to world number 25, just one spot below everyone’s favourite Brazilian, Vinnicius Martins, who also rose on the back of his strong Barcelona result.

One of the biggest movers was Noa Hopper, who finally filled in his “minimum five best results” quota and earned a spot inside the Top 50 as a result. Noa jumped 33 places and now sits at #48, but given his age and amazing talents, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him threaten the Top 20/Top 10 in another season or two.

Anyway you can check out the complete Men’s Top 100 Leaderboard to see all the latest ups and downs, then go inspect the Race Index to see which races are counting for what points.

On the Women’s Top 50 Leaderboard there was less movement at the pointy end of the rankings compared with the Men’s Leaderboard, however the past month of big races has caused quite a few changes further down the order.

Annabel Anderson is still the supreme ruler of the women’s SUP racing world, sitting way out in front as world number one (a position she’s never not occupied). Candice Appleby still narrowly holds onto the #2 world ranking ahead of Lina Augaitis. Fiona Wylde, Sonni Hönscheid and Angie Jackson hold down the top six, before a big jump back to the rest of the field.

Annabel Anderson

Undisputed world number one Annabel Anderson (black) at the Carolina Cup with world number four Fiona Wylde

Molokai will have a bit of an impact on the rankings, however it’s the Gorge Paddle Challenge in August, traditionally one of the most competitive women’s races of the season, that should usher in more significant changes. And then there’s the BOP-pocalypse…

But looking at the current rankings: One of the most significant moves over the past month is from Izzi Gomez, who jumps 11 spots to world number 16 following her podium finish at the Payette River Games (which carried a big weighting on the women’s World Rankings). Izzi, who’s far better known for her SUP surfing than SUP racing (she’s the current ISA World Champ), showed her versatility in Idaho to master the whitewater and pick up a swag of points. And she’s still carrying a donut in her total points tally, so if the colourful young star decides to take racing more seriously, a Top 10 spot is not out of the question.

Though one woman that scored even more points in Idaho was Rebecca Giddens, who jumps to world number 21 largely thanks to her performance in the river. Rebecca now sits right outside the Top 20 despite only holding two out of a possible five scores.

Speaking of the Top 20, a new entrant into the exclusive club is Shelby Taylor, who enjoyed some solid results in Europe before taking a podium double at Race The Lake of the Sky. Another big post-Tahoe mover is 14-year-old Erika Benitez, who filled her “best five results” quota and rocketed up 39 spots as a result. Erika is now ranked #28 in the world and given her age/talent, can surely only go up from here.

Just like the men, the women’s Top 50 Leaderboard will get shaken up big time in October when the BOP gets dropped. Last year’s BOP Women’s Elite Race wasn’t quite as competitive as the men’s (77.0% vs 92.0%), however it’s still by far the biggest factor in the rankings system right now. That means any of the top women holding a lot of points from Salt Creek will take a tumble in a few months if they don’t build a nice cushion before then.

Check out the complete Women’s Top 50 World Rankings to see all the latest changes.

Battle of the Paddle

The “BOP-pocalypse” will have a huge impact on both the men’s and women’s World Rankings

It’s worth noting that the SUP Racer World Rankings become less accurate as you go further down the order. While the system is highly sophisticated – it took 18 months to develop and relies on half a dozen custom-built algorithms – it’s not entirely perfect.

One of the biggest problems it that only a handful of paddlers compete at several big international races, particularly on the women’s side. Outside of the BOP (which doesn’t exist anymore), Carolina, the Gorge and the Payette River Games, you rarely see more than a few top women racing.

I’m confident the World Rankings have produced a near perfect Top 20 for the men, and an accurate Top 10 for the women, however beyond that it begins to fracture. Once you get outside roughly the Men’s Top 50-60 and the Women’s Top 25-30, the results are diluted with paddlers that are counting too many donuts (i.e. they don’t have the minimum five results).

If I could re-do the rankings, I’d probably start by making it a Top 50 Men’s and Top 25 Women’s Leaderboard and expand it over time. I’m very reluctant to cut out half the world’s top paddlers in one update though, so I have no plans to change the current Top 100/Top 50 setup. And plus I do get a lot of cool feedback from paddlers ranked in the lower reaches of the Top 50/Top 100, who see their names up on the big leaderboard as motivation to compete at more elite events.

And that’s one of the main reasons I created and maintain the World Rankings: To promote and grow the sport of stand up paddle racing.

Building the SUP Racer World Rankings system was a saga. It took 18 months for a reason. Maintaining the World Rankings isn’t much easier: It involves staring at and tinkering with giant, ridiculously intricate spreadsheets for hours on end. However it’s all worth it, as I believe the World Rankings provide a unique and very interesting look into this hugely fragmented sport of ours. Think of the World Rankings as a window into the elite side of the sport.

Until we get a real world tour or an authoritative international governing body, I believe the SUP Racer World Rankings offer the best, most accurate and, let’s face it, pretty much the only legitimate indicator of who’s who in our sport.

Plus I’m a total stats geek that absolutely loves playing with numbers. Even though I know how it all works behind the scenes, and can therefore predict the movements ahead of time, I still get a real buzz out of seeing the latest updates to the World Rankings. It’s a thrill to see the precise movements on the Leaderboard after every major race – who moved up, who slid down, who’s in form and who’s failing, how many points does this paddler needs to leapfrog that one, scenarios, predictions, etc.

I hope you love it even half as much as I do.

View the updated SUP Racer World Rankings