With three victories in the last three races of the week, the French team won the 10th edition of the Stand Up Paddle World Championships this Sunday in Les Sables d’Olonne (Vendée). Mélanie Lafenêtre and Noïc Garioud, both winners of the sprints (200m), clinched their first ISA World Champion titles. The French mixed relay team, defending champions, also became world champions with Julen Marticorena, Mélanie Lafenêtre, Elise Daudignon, and Clément Colmas. With this third consecutive victory, the French team equals the record previously set by the Australians. They will defend their title next year in Copenhagen, Denmark. Translated and adapted from the French Surfing Federation + Photos: ISA.
They did it! As the clear favorites to defend their title after the successes in 2019 (Salvador) and 2022 (Puerto Rico), the French had the skills and dream team to secure a third consecutive world title, a feat previously achieved only by Australia (2012-2014 and 2016-2018). Fueled by their desire to reclaim the top spot after falling behind the Spanish team in the overall standings on the sixth of the seven competition days, the French turned the tables completely last Sunday. Three races and three victories for the French, who stole the show. Under the brilliant sun and in front of a large audience, the French stand-up paddle team definitively proved that they were the number one nation. They had extraordinary athletes like Mélanie Lafenêtre, Julen Marticorena, Titouan Puyo, Benoit Carpentier, Justine Dupont (who was five months pregnant!), and the Garioud brothers, Noïc and Vaïc. They also had a golden team capable of achieving the impossible and winning together. The perfect example was the mixed relay, which shattered records and left their opponents in awe, culminating in a final fireworks display in the colors of blue, white, and red.
Mélanie Lafenêtre had longed for a victory since first participating in an ISA World Championship in 2018 and after collecting silver and bronze medals. Following another disappointment in the technical race on Friday and another silver medal, she wanted to win, finally, here in France. She wanted it for herself and for all her teammates. Fifth in the sprints last year, she had a score to settle. Rested yesterday during the long-distance race, the plan was perfect for her to become the world champion. Concentrated as never before, with a determined expression at the starting line, she was ready to seize the gold that had eluded her for years. After warming up in the quarterfinals, finishing second behind Denmark’s Caroline Küntzel, and dominating Rivera in the semifinals, she entered the water last with nearly a 10-meter deficit behind Rivera. The Puerto Rican surged ahead, but Lafenêtre made a strong comeback. At the turning point, her number one asset, the Frenchwoman emerged just behind Rivera, catching up with her in the final meters. Side by side on a small wave propelling them to the shore, Lafenêtre leaped onto the sand while the Puerto Rican fell into the water. The Mediterranean athlete had only to sprint as fast as possible to cross the finish line and leap over the barriers to rejoin her teammates. World champion at last!
Barely a moment to catch their breath, the men’s finalists were called to the starting line. Impressive in the round of 16, quarterfinals, and semifinals, Noïc Garioud also wore the mask of extreme concentration, with an inner fire burning. The New Caledonian, the runner-up in the technical race on Friday and “only” fifth in the long-distance race yesterday, was on a mission to win his first individual world gold medal, just like Lafenêtre. Second, indeed, in the sprints last year, the young man had only one goal in mind. Fueled by determination, with his eyes fixed on a buoy 200 meters away, Garioud launched himself, driven by his entire team and the large French crowd on the beach. Starting last after a mediocre run, the New Caledonian passed the others in a flash. The rocket Garioud shot forward at an incredible pace, rounding the buoy in the lead, executing a perfect back turn, and pulling away with a roughly 15-meter lead over Italy’s Claudio Nika, the sprint world champion in 2019. He was already on the beach while the Italian was still paddling. A quick glance back, and Garioud slowed down his pace, raised his fist, and fell into the arms of his teammates, including his younger brother, Vaïc, the junior world champion from Friday.
At this stage of the competition, just before the 15th and final event of the 2023 World Championships, France had reclaimed the lead from Spain. They had been in the lead the previous evening after a dominant performance in the long-distance race but had faltered in the sprints. This included Duna Gordillo, who was surprisingly eliminated in the quarterfinals, and Aaron Sanchez, who finished fourth in the men’s final. With a 500-point lead and much less pressure, the French could fully focus on the relay final. As defending world champions in the discipline, they could afford a misstep, but no one wanted to miss the celebration.
Followed by hundreds of spectators gathered on the beach and even in the water, the relay began with a false start… from the timing system! While Julen Marticorena had taken off like a bullet and had a 20-meter lead, the race was halted. It felt like a red card should have been shown for this prank, but the main thing was elsewhere. To regroup, shake off the frustration, recover, and restart. Bis repetita for the Frenchman, who took the lead again, but this time with Spain’s David Buil close behind. Nevertheless, he managed to distance himself while riding a small wave and could slap hands with Mélanie Lafenêtre with a 10-second lead. The newly crowned sprint world champion raced straight ahead, took her time at the face buoy turn, and accelerated on the return. In a state of grace, she also found a tiny wave that propelled her onto the beach. The French team’s lead now extended to 15 seconds as Elise Daudignon set off. At the turning point, the Landaise had a 20-second advantage over Spain’s Judith Verges, which she managed to maintain before handing off to the final relay racer, Clément Colmas. The New Caledonian, who had been eagerly awaiting this race all week, put his heart into paddling as fast as possible toward the distant buoy. A glance back at the pack revealed Italian Claudio Nika now in second place, with Japan’s Shuri Araki trailing behind. One final turn, a straight paddle to the shore, 50 meters on foot in the sand, and they crossed the finish line with arms raised high. Overjoyed, the French team sang the Marseillaise on the beach, joined in unison by the crowd from Vendée.
At the end of an emotional closing ceremony hosted by event announcers Ben Wei and Mathieu Astier, the entire team could lift the trophy as world champions on the stage of the Grande Plage in Les Sables d’Olonne. They will defend their title in Denmark next year at the 2024 ISA World SUP & Paddleboard Championship in Copenhagen!
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