Carolina Cup draws legends and locals

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More than 700 paddleboarders from around the world will gather at Wrightsville Beach for the Fourth Annual Carolina Cup, hosted by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club and held at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort from April 23–27.

The five-day event draws all ages and ability levels with a variety of clinics, the Carolina Cup Expo, and four paddleboard competitions, highlighted by the Graveyard Elite race. The Elite course, which is often described as the most technical in the world, is a 12.5-mile loop around Wrightsville Beach, beginning and ending on the ocean side of the Blockade Runner.

“Lots of paddlers are either very quick in the flatwater or they’re very balanced in the open ocean, but in this one you have to be able to do every discipline. … You have to read the water conditions, see where the currents are, where the eddies are, ride waves and draft with people,” said Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club board member John Beausang. “It’s unlike any other race in the world.”

The world-class course attracts world-class talent. Annabel Anderson, having recently clinched her second World Championship title, is back to defend her 2013 Carolina Cup victory in the women’s division, as is 2013 men’s division winner Danny Ching. Other likely entrants include three-time World Champion Kai Lenny, two-time World Champion Connor Baxter, reigning Molokai champion Travis Grant and Olympic gold medalist Larry Cain.

Beausang said he expects competitors from 12 to 20 different countries for the 2014 Carolina Cup, but he’s also seen plenty of local paddlers signing up to test themselves against the sport’s elite.

“A lot of us paddle this course every weekend so we’re used to the challenges and it’s sort of like a home court,” Beausang said. “For a local, this could be a really good opportunity … to make a name for themselves.”

During the Carolina Cup, athletes will compete against world champions, and will also learn from them. Quickblade founder Jim Terrell, Jamie Mitchell, Jenny Kalmbach and Larry Cain will give paddling clinics. Legendary waterman Dave Kalama, who along with Laird Hamilton pioneered the sport of standup paddleboarding, will speak at the pre-race pasta dinner on Friday night.

There will be plenty of activities throughout the five-day event, even for those who are not competing. The expo, which lasts from Friday to Sunday, is a great chance to try or buy boards, paddles and gear. After a full day of racing on Saturday, Sunday will feature kids’ races and clinics as well as the Ocean of Hope Cancer Awareness paddle to benefit the Sarcoma Alliance.

This combination of a family-friendly atmosphere and world-class competition creates an event that grows more popular with every passing year.

“Everyone loves to come here, because they can bring their whole family,” Beausang said. “Pretty soon we will have a full week of events, bringing business and people to Wrightsville Beach.”

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