Sonni Honscheid and Connor Baxter Victorious in Japan

Last weekend was the Kerama Blue Cup, it was the 4th stop of the Paddle League held on the the tropical islands of Zamami, Okinawa, Japan.  A dozen of the world’s best stood on the start line alongside Japan’s finest, with grey skies and light rain greeting competitors this morning after a week of blue skies. The long course took a few casualties and there were a few surprises for the top positions. At this year’s event there were 150 paddlers who competed across all divisions and had a prize purse of three million yen (approximately $30,000) equal pay-out between the men and women.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

After a fast start out the 1km opening marker buoy, a pack of five broke away and stuck together for most of the 17km race. Starboard rider Connor Baxter claimed his first major race of the season to match his OluKai victory; the number one seed is back in form after poor results in Tahiti and Carolina

Connor raced smart, always sitting near the front of the pack before waiting till the very end to make his break. He resisted early attacks from the Hasulyo brothers and conserved enough energy to outlast Lincoln and Noic.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

16-year-old Sunova rider Noic “Chicken” Garioud from New Caledonia had the race of his life, pushing Connor all the way to the line to finish a close runner-up. Noic is famous for his downwind skills, but this was a “grind” of a race where he wasn’t predicted to podium.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

The final kilometre was a side-winder that Connor and Noic somehow turned into a downwinder, with both athletes somehow milking non-existent bumps right to the beach Lincoln Dews was in the hunt all day but had to settle for third in the three-way sprint to the beach. Starboard brothers Daniel and Bruno Hasulyo controlled a lot of the race but faded in the final kilometre to finish 4th/5th. However, the brothers from Hungary look to be genuine contenders this year and will be in the hunt for the EuroTour title over the next two months

Local Japanese rider Kenny Kaneko powered home in the final few kilometres to finish sixth for the home team. Right now Martin Vitry looks to be in great form this season. The Frenchman was Kenny’s “domestique” that helped reel in the lead group, however he ran out of gas in the final kilometre to settle for a respectable 7th. Martin will be in action again next week as the EuroTour moves to France.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

Aussie veteran Kelly Margetts did it the hard way after losing touch with the pack around the 8km mark, paddling the second half solo to hold onto 8th place for Team Sunova. Two up and coming Japanese paddlers slipped the top 10, with ninth-placed Rai Taguchi particularly impressive considering he only recently celebrated his 14th birthday. His compatriot Kota Kayshima was 10th.

In the Women’s elite race, there was a solid field of international athletes present on Zamami, which encouraged the Kerama Blue Cup organisers and The Paddle League team to offer gender-equal prize money for all of the top five finishers (the men were paid down to 10th; the women down to 6th). American rider Seychelle Hattingh set the pace early before home-nation hero Yuka Sato started driving the front train. Before long it was a four-woman breakaway with Seychelle, Yuka, Sonni Honscheid and Fiona Wylde dropping Lina Augaitis and Terrene Black.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

Sonni made her signature breakaway at the 6km mark before paddling the final 11km solo. None of the other women could go with her, however Yuka was extremely impressive in staying within shouting distance. Sonni’s victory is her fifth-straight of the 2018 Paddle League season following wins in Tahiti, Carolina, OkuKai and Paddle Imua. The German powerhouse looks unstoppable this season. Yuka Sato aka the “Smiling Assassin” mirrored the result in Tahiti by finishing runner-up to her Starboard team mate Sonni. Yuka is getting stronger with every race and seems to be one of the only women capable of matching Sonni’s power right now.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

One of the best performances of the day was Lina Augaitis who stormed home in the closing kilometres to first reel in Fiona and then almost catch up to Seychelle, Fiona looked strong early but faded late, throwing up on the course as she battled the distance and humidity. But while she didn’t have the result she was hoping, Fiona had the quote of the day: “Tough race, beautiful place, and the kids here are ace!”.

Photo Credit: The Paddle League

The Paddle League heads to Europe next week to support the EuroTour, with the season peaking during the triple header of Bilbao, Hossegor and Germany in the second half of June.



ELITE MEN (18km / 11 miles)

1st: Connor Baxter (1:41:36)

2nd: Noic Garioud (1:41:46)

3rd: Lincoln Dews (1:42:02)

4th: Daniel Hasulyo (1:42:11)

5th: Bruno Hasulyo (1:42:46)

ELITE WOMEN (18km / 11 miles)

1st: Sonni Honscheid (1:50:44)

2nd: Yuka Sato (1:51:59)

3rd: Seychelle (1:54:50)

4th: Lina Augaitis (1:55:16)

5th: Fiona Wylde (1:57:35)



About the Author

Helen Trehoret

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, France with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.

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