With hundreds of competitors, thousands of spectators, two event villages and a swathe of international of racers including the world’s best paddlers, the 2017 West Marine Carolina Cup was more than just your average SUP event, it was a big SUP festival, if not THE biggest SUP festival in the world. For this year’s edition, the Graveyard race delivered some hectic conditions as the second stop of the WPA World Tour saw last year’s winners repeat their success with their victory on the 13-mile elite race. Read our recap, results and analysis below to see how Titouan Puyo and Annabel Anderson defended their title this year.
The graveyard race has never been so well named
Sun, wind and a strong tide were the three major environmental elements that turned the already difficult ‘Graveyard Race’ into what was one of the hardest SUP races to date. The wind was blowing at 20 m/h (SSW) in the perfect direction to allow the racers to enjoy a little 3-mile downwind leg right at the beginning, before heading to the inlet where the conditions were quite the opposite : upwind and up-current for 8 miles. Nevertheless, for the last two miles, the conditions were fun again, with a rewarding downwind leg right up to the finish line. Now, add to these conditions, the biggest field of international racers ever assembled since the Pacific Paddle Games last October and it becomes the hardest race of the year in terms of field, conditions and distance combined.
Titouan Puyo uses the same strategy to outclass the competition
After his victory last year, the Frenchman from New Caledonia Titouan Puyo was definitely THE man to beat, alongside the Australian phenomenon Michael Booth. After a good start that gave him the lead, alongside Hawaian paddler Mo Freitas, by the end of the first downwind leg, the NSP rider was quickly joined by Connor Baxter, Michael Booth and his teammate Travis Grant in a group of five that led the race for an hour and a half. Just behind them, another group of nine, including the two Tahitians, Steeve Teihotaata and Rete Ebb, as well as Josh Riccio, Martin Letourneur, Kelly Margetts, Vinnicius Martins, Trevor Tunnington and Arthur Arutkin, were also quickly joined by Bruno Hasulyo (who was first at the first buoy), George Cronsteadt and Danny Ching (who suffered from a pretty bad start).
The situation remained the same for most of the race until George Cronsteadt, Kelly Margetts and Josh Riccio put on an impressive effort to catch the first group after almost an hour and a half of racing. The gap in between the two groups, though it was considerable to begin with, began to tighten, until George finally led the chase group to the back of the front pack. At that moment, a five-man race for the win became a 16-man race to cross the finish line first.
One of the key moments of this year’s result was when the front group hit Mason’s inlet, which saw some of the big favorites, such as Michael Booth or Arthur Arutkin, give up from the train. They were soon joined by Mo Freitas and Trevor Tunnington who had no more energy on the last leg to keep up with the group.
Furthermore, right after turning around the jetty, the most impressive move came from defending champ Titouan Puyo who did the exact same thing he did one year ago. He broke out from the group right after the jetty by sprinting on a bump to take an early lead on this last downwind leg and never looked back until he crossed the finish line.
Titou’s NSP teammate Travis crossed the line in second once again in front of Tahitians George Cronsteadt and Steeve Teihotaata. Connor Baxter finished in fifth right in front of
the impressive Brazilian Vinnicius Martin. One of this year’s race heroes, Kelly Margetts, showed that a 45-year old paddler can still outclass his younger counterparts by finishing in seventh. Indeed, the Australian veteran finished in front of Josh Riccio (8th), Rete Ebb (9th), Danny Ching (10th) and Martin Letourneur (11th) in a very tight group. Then followed Bruno Hasulyo (12th), Mo Freitas (13th), Arthur Arutkin (14th) and Trevor Tunnington (15th) to round up the top 15.
Annabel Anderson outperforms Fiona Wylde to claim her fifth straight victory
On the women’s side, the race was significantly less close than in the men’s. Turning the first buoy first was hometown hero Hobie rider and east coast champion April Zilg. However, Fiona Wylde and Annabel Anderson quickly made their way to the front of the race, alongside French paddler Olivia Piana. As a downwind expert, Fiona Wylde was the only female paddler able to keep up with Annabel’s pace when the girls hit the flatwater inlet section. Olivia Piana and April Zilg missed it, but just barely, which cost them the opportunity to stay close to the undefeated Kiwi.
Just behind these four paddlers were Seychelle Hattingh, Brazilian top paddler Lena Ribeiro, ISA world champion Penelope Strickland and Spanish competitor Susak Molinero, alongside the two young rising stars Lexi Alston and Hannah Hill. The situation remained the same for most of the race, with most of the women paddling alone.
Annabel Anderson made a move when Fiona and her hit Mason’s inlet, which saw her taking a lead over Fiona several hundred meters before the downwind leg. It was for sure a smart move from Annabel considering Fiona is probably the fastest woman in the world on a downwind (she outclassed everyone at the Gorge Paddle Challenge last year by more than 5 minutes). Moreover, Annabel Anderson was once again feeling it this year and put on a clinic on the last section to cross the line in first, two minutes in front of Fiona Wylde.
Olivia Piana, two time Vice-World Champion at last year’s ISA was never far behind and kept a strong pace for the whole race. Indeed, she finished just 3 minutes behind Annabel and 1 minute behind Fiona after paddling the whole race by herself. This is an impressive result from the Frenchwoman who is looking for some big results this season.
Also paddling by herself for the entire race, April Zilg made her hometown crowd very proud by finishing in the top 5 this year. Her fourth place is a good sign of how in shape the Hobie rider is right now. 2 minutes behind her was the other east coast top paddler Seychelle Hattingh (5th). Followed by Lena Ribeiro (6th), Penelope Strickland (7th), Susak Molinero (8th), Hannah Hill (9th) and Lexi Alston (10th).
The Carolina Cup has been the most anticipated event of the season for several reasons. Firstly, it is the first major race of the season, which is THE indicator of who’s in good condition right now. Secondly, it is a very difficult race, in which you need to invest a lot of training to get a good result. In this sense, it also allows paddlers to take stock of their off-season training and gain an understanding of what they need to improve for forthcoming races. And finally, this event happened just before the first other big races of the season (Olukai, Euro Tour…) so it helps everybody to set their goals for what lies ahead.
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