HOLDING OFF THE PACK
How Connor Baxter and Fiona Wylde delivered the Goods at this Year’s 2016 SUP World Championship Series
by Evelyn O’Doherty
Dynamic, adventurous and highly skilled. These words describe each of the Top Men’s and Women’s competitors in this year’s 2016 SUP World Championship Series. The tour held stops in Japan for the Victoria Cup, Germany for the Mercedez Benz SUP World Cup, Maui’s legendary downwinder the Maliko to Kanaha Run and finally San Francisco for Red Bull’s Heavy Water Classic. The ride was long. The wins well fought and earned. Here’s the recap.
Kai Lenny, Naish team rider and Connor Baxter of Starboard are familiar faces battling it out across the globe; and yet, this year, they had a dark horse contesting them in the form of Denmark’s competitor Casper Steinfaith. Casper, also a Naish team rider, took the overall win in Japan, surprising both Baxter and Lenny and earning him the legendary yellow jersey marking him as 1st place leader in the Tour’s standings and the one to beat.
After Japan, the men moved onto Germany’s Mercedez Benz SUP World Cup where Casper held onto his lead by placing second overall in the event behind Baxter but having enough points to keep him in the lead for the World Series Tour standings. At the next event, the Maliko Run in Maui, home turf for both Baxter and Lenny, Steinfaith kept his stoke high and, although he faltered in the semi-finals forcing him to compete in the consolation finals, he fought his way back by WINNING that heat and earning himself one of the last two spots in the final. In addition, Steinfaith managed to take down the sprint race for himself placing first over overall in that category causing a huge upset to the Maui boys and placing heavy heat on the final event, The Red Bull Heavy Water Classic.
The Red Bull Heavy Water event was the highlight of the Men’s SUP World Championship Series. Held in San Francisco in the dangerous currents beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the Red Bull Heavy Water required a concentrated mix of paddling skills, ocean know-how, top level fitness and commitment to compete along one of the most intimidating stretches of coastline in the world. If Steinfaith took 3rd place in this event, it would edge Baxter out of the first place rankings on the Tour and award the championship to Casper Steinfaith of Denmark. A lot was on the line.
The event required contestants to surf in and out of the pounding shorebreak and complete a grueling 12KM (7.5 mi) course. “The Heavy Water was everything I anticipated and expected,” said Lenny. “With these conditions it’s so gnarly that you can get so lucky or totally pounded.” Carnage supreme, boards flying, watermen diving under waves made this day one for the books. Top seeds Baxter and Lenny put on a show trading off the first place position for the length of the course and, with Lenny in the lead at the final turn, he got caught in a crushing set of waves that allowed Baxter to sneak through and claim the overall win and $20,000 paycheck for the day.
“I’ve been training my whole life to be a waterman,” said an elated Baxter. “This race was way more than I expected in many ways. The water is coming from every direction; you have backwash, wind-wash, ground-swell, and current moving underneath you, so all those different variables made it really interesting and very difficult at the same time. So, to win it, I just feel like the luckiest guy, the hard work is definitely paying off and I can’t wait for next year.”
Connor Baxter was awarded the Men’s World Championship title after his win by accumulating a total of 33000 points for the Series. Casper Steinfaith finished an impressive second overall with 32500 points and Lenny stood his ground to place third at 30500 points.
On the women’s front, the terms were no less demanding and we saw young Starboard rider Fiona Wylde take her first World Championship title. At Japan’s Victoria Cup, Wylde came on strong where she finished second overall to Aussie Angela Jackson riding for One Stand Up Paddleboards. Jackson, always a leading contender in the World Series over the past few years, continues to be a major force to be reckoned with as we look ahead to 2017. Wylde’s win in Japan also placed her ahead of Candice Appleby who finished third for the day riding for Infinity SUP.
At the Mercedez Benz SUP World Cup in Germany, Wylde won the sprint race but could not beat local hero Sonni Honscheid in the long distance course. Honscheid, always a feared competitor on the distance course, put her paddle down to contend in front of her home crowd and contend she did. Since she and Wylde had each won an event, the tiebreaker was the distance race, and Honscheid was awarded first overall for the German’s event . This left Wylde with two second place finishes moving into the Women’s SUP World tour’s final event on Maui.
Coming into the women’s third and final event, Wylde looked focused and strong. Wearing the World Championship Tour’s 1st place competitor’s yellow jersey, Fiona dominated the long course for the Maliko to Kanaha downwind run from the beginning easily winning the overall event for the day. On Day 2 for the sprints, the waves at Ho’okipa were firing and Wylde struggled in some of the bigger sets, getting taken out of the lead pack and having to claw her way back to finish second in Round 1. Mistakes in Round 2 of the sprints again cost her a 1st place finish, but on the final and third Round, she locked on the title and took down a convincing win which secured her a win both for the event and the World Championship’s overall title. Angela Jackson and Sonni Honscheid each winning separate events both tied for second place in the World Series’ standings and the level of competition among these women makes for a great lineup going into the 2017 SUP Race season.
Next up, we are looking ahead to the ISA World Stand Up Paddle and Paddleboard Championships to be held on Nov 12-20th in Fiji. Stay tuned for a list of the roster and what we can expect as these top athletes in the sport of stand up paddling come together for another great event.