Connor Wins Gold at historic 2019 Pan American Games. Connor Baxter’s gold medal win in stand up paddle racing is a historic moment for the sport of stand up paddling. It marks the first ever award for SUP in the history of the Pan American Games and brings the sport one step closer to being included in the 2024 Olympics. Fingers crossed. Here is Connor’s reflection of this monumental win.
Pan Am Games: Giant Step for SUP Towards the Olympics
The 2019 Pan American Games is an event that changed history for Stand Up Paddling and SUP Surfing. It is forever engraved in my mind. For the people that aren’t familiar, the Pan American Games are a mini Olympics which happens every 4 years. It is always one year before the Olympic Games. The Pan Am Games are only for the Americas though. So, from Canada to the bottom of South America, athletes compete for this qualifier event similar to the Olympic Trials.
This year the Pan Am Games were hosted in Lima, Peru. It was the first year in the history of stand up paddling that SUP Surfing and Stand Up Paddle Racing have ever been included.
Peru’s Parade of Nations: Kick Off to Pan Am Games
This incredible event kicked off with the nation’s parade where thousands of athletes marched into a huge stadium filled with spectators. On Team USA alone, there were over 600 athletes each representing the Red, White and Blue. Looking back at this moment, I still get chicken skin, because the energy was through the roof! Chanting and singing with thousands of spectators cheering us on, was like no other feeling I’ve ever experienced. I literally felt like I was at the Olympics.
After an amazing opening ceremony, it was time to put the game face back on and do what I came down here for…..win A Gold Medal!!! The first few days kicked off with the surfing events including short board, longboard and SUP surf. It was amazing to watch and even more incredible to witness the support and amount of people present at every event to cheer us athletes on.
SUP’s 1st Gold Medal goes to … Connor Baxter!
Friday was the day the stand up paddle race was going down. The swell was a good size with light winds. I woke up the morning of the event ready for battle. I fueled up and went to the beach to get ready. It was a water start with three laps racing in and out of the surf, plus a run up the beach to finish through the infamous shore break. I got warmed up and arrived at the start line with one thing on my mind: Go for Gold!
I lined up with local favorite Itzel Delgado from Peru on my right and Vinnicius Martins on my left. The horn blew and we were off, B-lining it to the first buoy turn, which was a left turn. The top four made a little break at that first turn heading into the second turn inside the surf. Unfortunately, no waves came to help and we all had to paddle all the way inside. I whipped my 14ft Starboard All Star around the turn to head back out with Vinnicius hot on my tail.
I knew if I wanted to win this I had to catch a wave that no one else would be on to give me that extra advantage. With that in mind, I stepped to the tail of my board and swung my body and board around the outside turn. There were little bumps pushing in and I put the gas on to give me the opportunity to sneak onto a wave that Vinnicius and Itzel missed.
Historic Moment for Connor & Sport of Stand Up Paddling
This was the breaking moment for me with one lap to go. I kept my head down and held the gap I created for the rest of the final lap. On my last run in through the surf, I managed to get another wave and make the second to last turn with a comfortable lead. But, Itzel was on the wave right behind me, so I knew I could not make a mistake on the final turn and make it through the gnarly shore break.
I made the final left turn and sprinted hard to the beach. Luckily, a small wave popped up and I was able to enjoy a smooth ride all the way to the beach as the First Ever SUP racer to win a Gold Medal at the Pan American Games. I was greeted by my team and fans to soak up this Once in a Lifetime experience!!!
Moment of Gratitude: Connor says, ‘Thank You!’
Today, I am feeling incredibly grateful and I couldn’t have done it without the love and support from my family, friends and sponsors!
I want to thank all my major sponsors for all their support – Starboard, Salt Life, Salt Life Sunglasses, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water, Haleakala Solar. And my product sponsors Dakine, GoPro, OnIt Pro, Hi-Tech Sports.