2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard Race
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The Carolina Cup 2017 Graveyard course delivers high wind and swell for an action packed event!

As a season opener, The Carolina Cup delivers.  As a venue, as a race course, as a professional event, it delivers.  As probably one of the greatest stoke fests in the world of stand up paddleboarding, it definitely delivers.  This year, the 2017 Carolina Cup was no different.

2017 Carolina Cup Connor Baxter, Josh Riccio

Pre-race stoke and smiles for World Champ Connor Baxter at the 2017 Carolina Cup Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Men’s Graveyard 14′ Elite Race:  2017 Carolina Cup

In a day of high action, gusty winds, strategy and chance, the Graveyard Race was one action packed event.  It was intense and fraught with both stamina and determination.  For the Men 14′ Elite division,  so many contenders were on the roster it was hard to get one’s head around it and make an accurate prediction.

On the beach, prior to start, the air was casual, even friendly.  A lot of laughter, sharing of stories and Danny Ching kissing his baby girl on the head for good luck.  The Graveyard Course is uniquely special as a 13-mi Pro event that has top level athletes lined up next to the guy from New Jersey.  And somehow, it works.

Danny Ching Lea Ching Kaimana

Danny and Lea Ching were clearly a happy tribe all weekend. Both Danny raced AND Lea raced (and crushed it in her division) while always holding space and smiles for Kaimana, who is clearly the center of their universe. Aloha, Danny!

As racers lined up on the beach for the start of the legendary Graveyard Course, spectators kept asking, “Who do you think is going to win it this year?”  Everyone was advocating for their favorite paddler.  The line up looked STACKED.  This was gonna be fun.  The horn sounded and the men charged the shore break.

Blockade Runner 2017 Carolina Cup

Racers line up in front of The Blockade Runner resort, host to the 2017 Carolina Cup’s Graveyard Race  Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Stamina and Strategy: Winds and Swell at the 2017 Carolina Cup

The winds were expected, but came on a little heavier than predicted.  Gusting out of the SSW at 15-20, it was going to be a challenging run up the intercoastal waterway on the backside of the course.  After Mason’s Inlet, the white caps and water lines showed the average wind speed was building.  The race was going to be a long haul for that backside of the Graveyard course where paddlers were looking at a good seven miles into the wind.

As the lead men came made the turn from the Inlet into the intercoastal waterway, there were two packs.  In the lead was a draft train that held fellow NSP riders Titouan Puyo and Travis Grant, Focus SUP Hawaii’s Mo Freitas, Starboard’s Michael Booth and Starboard’s Connor Baxter.  As their train came up into the wind on the intercoastal, Booth broke away early – maybe too early – and headed for shelter along the bulkheads on the south side of the course.  There was a moment of decision, and then Travis Grant made the break as well and struck out after Booth.

2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard Course

As the lead train faltered and divided, the wolf pack crept up and merged to create a draft train of 17 lead paddlers. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Wolf Pack: Draft train pulls up to lead group and makes a ferocious pack of paddlers

Titouan, Mo and Connor headed straight up the middle of the causeway, slowly tacking their way across and clearly hitting faster moving water than Grant and Booth.  It was in that moment that things began to get interesting.  The following train – more of a wolf pack – headed by Sunova team rider Kelly Margetts, 425’s Georges Cronsteadt and F-ONE’s Josh Riccio, were clearly working together to pull the pack – a group of 11 paddlers – up to the front.  As they headed under the final bridge, their cadence synchronized, their movements were a mirror and their ferocity apparent.  The pack was coming.

Following the same line as Titouan, Mo and Connor, the wolf pack caught the leaders as they passed by the back of the Blockade Runner with about four miles left on the course.  The lead train now held 16 paddlers and merged into a deep V-shaped pattern with racers sitting along 4 or 5 adjacent lines to pull the pack forward.  Game ON.

Carolina Cup Titoun Puyo Graveyard Race

The Mens’ lead train from the start shows Titouan pulling, followed by Booth, Connor, Mo and Travis. Photo by: Leiza Wyrick

Game ON:  Final Choices

As a force to be reckoned with, the pack surged forward to the far inlet, bracing against the building windswell and the gusts up to 25 knots.  A treacherous upwinder with the world’s top finishers of stand up paddle racing meant no one could miss a stroke or be caught off guard.  You were either in the game or left behind.  There are no second chances with a pack that holds Danny Ching, Travis Grant, Kelly Margetts, Connor Baxter, Mo Freitas, Josh Riccio, and Tahitians, George Cronsteadt, Steeve Tehiotaahta and  Rete Ebb among others.

Right before the turn at the far inlet, Booth hit the wall, further advancing the theory that he broke from the lead train too early.  He began to lose ground and drop back.  The pack moved forward.  Around the far turn into the inlet, strong side shore winds and current forced the group to begin choosing their own lines and splinter apart.  Within minutes it was every man’s game to round the jetty at the top of the inlet and catch the bumps to ride them home.

2017 Carolina Cup Men's Elite Top 10 Graveyard Course

Men’s Top 10: The ultimate bro-fest, a gathering of good will and champions on the water. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Around the jetty and a long glide home

Titouan literally put the questions to bed immediately around the corner as the first glide he caught put him in a clear lead.  A lead he kept to win by a margin of 17 seconds over fellow NSP rider and former Carolina Cup champ Travis Grant.  Putting in an impressive third place performance was the ever-close and to-be-watched George Cronsteadt.  Following George was Steeve Tehiotaahta in fourth and Connor Baxter in fifth place.

What is exceptional about the Men’s race, aside from the drama and strategy on the course, is the deep respect these men show each other once the competition is over.  In an unrestrained show of brotherhood, every paddler in the honored Top 10 took the time to fully greet and congratulate his competitors on the way to the podium.  The honesty and respect of it was very real.  These elite athletes enjoy the challenges they provide one another and, in the end, are excited and refreshed to share the stoke of it.  One of the aspects of stand up paddling that makes this sport stand out again and again is it’s camaraderie.  At the awards ceremony, in the bro-fest that unfolded, that connection was both palpable and real.  Thanks guys for an impressive show both ON and OFF the water.  Aloha!

For FULL RESULTS you can go to the West Marine Carolina Cup Result’s page and see the final standings.

Thank you West Marine and The Blockade Runner for showing the rest of the world a professional event on the East Coast holds it’s own in the world of stand up paddle racing.  Thanks too to ALL of the volunteers for The 2017 Carolina Cup.  I can’t even imagine the work that goes into hosting this beast from marketing and retail to set up, logistics and safety.  We, at Standup Journal, salute YOU for hosting – yet another – killer event!  Mahalo.

Stay TUNED for our next recap on the 2017 Carolina Cup Women’s Graveyard and other stories!

 

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The Carolina Cup 2017 Graveyard course delivers high wind and swell for an action packed event!

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