Boards are flying high and paddlers are brought to their knees at the Carolina Cup, one of the most spectacular endurance events in the SUP calendar, offering a perfect combo of flat water and ocean racing. Held on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, this competition throws everything it got at its participants, who not only have to power through those 13.2 miles, but are being faced with a fierce mix of conditions – from “shore dumps” and high tides to unforgiving amount of seaweed and upwind sections against constant waves.
In the run up to this super fun and striking event, TotalSUP caught up with NSP International Team Rider, Kaelan Lockhart, an extremely versatile, Sunshine Coast-based pro athlete to talk about the Graveyard and constantly learning from each competition and the toughest paddling environments.
Hi Kaelan, welcome to TotalSUP! How did your adventure with stand-up paddleboarding and becoming a competitive athlete started?
I grew up in Kawana on the Sunshine Coast, a 9km stretch of open beach breaks. Igot a bit frustrated shortboarding as it was only worth a wave every week or so I went to Vietnam pre-COVID to study and on a coastal trip the waves were surprisingly pumping. I found a Russian SUP Surfing Club and hired out a board which surfed unreal compared to Dad’s old river cruiser that I had tried to surf previously.
After getting sent home because of the pandemic, the first thing I did was buying a similar board and it transformed Kawana into an awesome playground every day, no matter what the conditions. I went to a Sunshine Coast SUP Club and after meeting and paddling with all the awesome members, Dyllan Constable got me into racing. Later he introduced me to Paul Jonesy and then Alain Teurquetil of NSP and from there I got involved with the brand and the team where everyone has been incredible and equipping me with the best gear and supporting me to travel and race.
SUP surfing is my favourite discipline, especially on a 10fter when you get immense paddle power and yet can turn the board on a dime. I am quite competitive so love competing in all races from technical to downwinding and long flat water ones.
I’m pretty new to foiling but love the feeling of gliding above the water surface – I will get back to it after this racing season.
Doing all these disciplines concurrently is my real joy with each helping the other in such unique ways – The explosive speed I need for SUP racing comes from my SUP surfing, the leg strength to pump on downwinders comes from foiling.
You’ll be competing in this year’s Carolina Cup. What’s so special about this endurance event?
It’s so much fun because it really tests every part of SUP racing: A beach start through the surf followed by a downwind section then flatwater (with a chance of chasing boat wash) then another downwind section and a beach finish. So to do well in this race you really need to be an all-round SUP athlete which I aspire to be!
Photo by: Laura Grantz / Image Source: Carolina Cup
So the Graveyard… This 13 mile elite race lives up to its name! Could you share your experience?
Last year was my first Carolina Cup and due to the pretty wild weather we stuck to the inside the of island. I had a few ups and downs throughout the race. After a good start I had a few falls amongst a tonne of seaweed and losing my hydration pack down my side in the process.
The downwind section was then super friendly but the upwind was nuts with almost 1ft runners constantly flooding the deck of my SUP. I think the current was also against us.
Photo by: Laura Grantz / Image Source: Carolina Cup
I suspect with the typical Graveyard race the main difficulty will be maintaining my stamina so that my legs can hold out for the final downwind section.
Last year the water was super choppy around the breakwall so I will also be looking out for that. It was tough and should never be underestimated regardless of the weather conditions.
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How do you prepare for this type of flat water and ocean races?
Luckily on the Sunshine Coast I very often have tricky wind and surf conditions. I try to train in harder conditions than I will be racing in to ensure I’m ready for most racing environments.
We also have a tonne of rivers and lakes so it is easy to mix up my training sessions. We also recently had the tip of an island break off, forming a miniature Graveyard so I have done that a lot. I also devised a route that takes me on a 10km downwind before entering a river mouth which I can follow with a few portages to get me back home and achieve that 13 mile distance.
Your three top tips to enduring Graveyard…
Vincent Guillaume is my Coach and he has helped me immensely in preparing for the Graveyard. Making sure you have trained all the energy systems required to excel at this race is essential.
After that I think nutrition is extremely important for your preparation as well as having enough water and sugar to get you through that two-hour race.
Next it would be to ensure you pick the right board – one that is stable enough for the ocean side and yet narrow enough that you can paddle as efficiently as possible on the flat side.
Could you tell us about your collaboration with NSP?
I feel extremely lucky to be an International Team Rider for NSP after only paddling for around a year and a half.
NSP really feels like a family! During last year’s Carolina I stayed with Titouan Puyo, Dan, Caren and Dom in an NSP team house and on my return to Australia, Alain was incredibly kind to host me in NSW while I waited to cross the border to come home.
Also, having Alain designing the SUP range only a few hours away has enabled me to be involved in testing which has been such a rewarding process, helping me to become a better paddler from what I learn.
What’s your NSP set up?
For racing I am incredibly lucky to have a 24” Sonic for heavy downwind conditions, a 20” Ninja for flatwater and calm ocean conditions, a 20.5” Carolina for almost all conditions and a 23” Puma for surf racing. For SUP surfing I love my 10’0”x27 ¹/²” SLX DC SUPER X and 7’8”x27 SLX DC SURF X.
For foiling I have a 5’6″x24″ SUP Foil Pro with an AIRWAVE 1325 SET. I am extremely fortunate to have such awesome gear from NSP! There is always something I can paddle no matter the conditions.
What’s in the pipeline after Carolina Cup?
I had a fantastic graduate job as an electrical engineer working on customizing helicopters and small aircraft at Helimods on the Sunshine Coast, where they were extremely supportive of my SUP training and racing.
However, given the world is opening up again I decided that I would commit to SUP racing this year. I have bought a van in Europe and will head there straight after Carolina Cup to race in all the world titles and many of the EuroTour and APP stops.
Good luck with the Carolina Cup and your 2022 racing season!
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Follow Kaelan on Instagram
*Images courtesy of Kaelan Lockhart