The Pacific Paddle Games (PPG) Wrap Up & Epic Photo Gallery by Glenn Dubock
I have never raced in a technical sup event here, probably never will unless they have a special division for photographers that can’t get enough of the “agony of defeat” genre of imagery that this location is so famous for.
But in my surf rat youth, I did ride the waves of the nearby Boneyard, the mellower stepbrother of the evil Hammer Jetty that strikes fear into the hearts of even the best of the technical racers. So I have seen from water level just how that wave can creep up and smack the disrespectful.
Oh the Hammer was pounding hard this past weekend, flattening winner’s podium dreams and molding results that were blessings for some and beatdowns for others.
By Day 2 of the Pacific Paddle Games, the surf had grown to a size that could completely rearrange the final order of finishers across the line in just the last 50 yards of the course. A great start was still essential but a lucky buoy rounding and a sneaker set could launch you from the cellar straight up to the name the announcer was shouting the loudest.
Just ask Noa Hopper, the 17 year kid with the golden grin who had little to be happy about until fortune smiled upon him and he was the last man to qualify by riding on a wave of perfect timing.
Now just imagine you are 7 years old, your dad or mom are carrying your board for you and every wave is looking quadruple overhead. That’s what was facing the Juniors but they all left the beach with paddles rotating like lawn mower blades and they all came back with breathless smiles on their faces.
The Pacific Paddle Games Open Division is known as the weekend warriors. I would venture to say that many of these people are spending a lot more than 2 days a week pursuing their passion. The trickle down of technology from the pros and the expert coaching available has made some of these racers look more on the semi-pro level.
It was the most impressive sight of the weekend to see 200 of them launch off the beach en masse. The stomping of the wet sand was deafening and the churning of the paddle blades created it’s own counter current as they left the beach in such haste.
The afternoon, with its brutal low tide is reserved for the Pros.
One heat had Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny, and Travis Grant in it. That’s like having 3 drag racing cars lined up and then telling them they will be making U turns and there will be
6 foot speed bumps in the way!
When the women took their turn, all eyes were on Candice Appleby and Annabel Anderson. These 2 veterans know each other and these waters so very well and they also know how to spend just enough energy capital to get through the qualifying rounds with plenty in the bank for the Finals.
That doesn’t mean that Terrene Black or Shae Foudy are not ready to cash in on that infamous Boneyard Bonus – the wave of luck that can sweep out of the deep southwest and carry them to ultimate victory.
Finals Day at the PPG awakes to a topcoat of grey flannel clouds and decidedly smaller surf. That doesn’t dim the hopes or the energy of Race Director Anthony Vela for he knows well that the swing of the tide can completely change the game at Doheny.
The Women are soon off the beach on their long distance race and to almost no ones surprise it is Annabel Anderson with about a 2 minute lead bringing it back up the coast on the home stretch. As the men are moving in to position for their start, a few of them stop and pay homage, wondering just how she consistently dusts the competition.
Michael Booth borrows a chapter from Annabel’s’ how to dominate manual and comes back with an impressive 48 minute grinder of a paddle.
The clouds part and the crowds mass to see the Pro Women Technical Final. The surf is smaller but there are some sets to contend with and the buoys have been brought closer into a fin-scraping distance from shore. Right out of the gate you could see that this was going to be a race that would change leaders several times. Annabel, Candice and Shae were not backing down and Jade Howson and Terrene Black were right on their backs. Tight turns at the buoys, neck and neck in the straights, this was racing at it’s best.
Annabel had the lead, had her magic wave to ride to glory – but must have not had the lap count in her head and mistakenly went for another turn. Candice saw her opening, slammed down the throttle and rode right into her hometown driveway with yet another huge victory.
I am not a betting man, I don’t play favorites and I like all the guys in the Pro Mens Division – but after seeing the way Mo Freitas was ripping around the buoys while riding waves- well, my money was on Mo. He came off the start line like somebody told him there was a huge wave coming in with his name on it. Mo set a blistering pace but once again the Boneyard Bonus wave came straight to Connor Baxter and allowed him to pass Kai Lenny and the rest of the guys with so much room to spare that he sat back on his board in a cockroach pose to the finish line.
So the Pacific Paddle Games 2016 is in the history books, the circus will pack up and leave town but the Hammer will remain to remind us all of who really has the power around here.