Stand-up paddleboarder Anna Blackburn stroked through the clear water at Public Beach Access No. 38, paddling hard to catch one of the larger waves of the day. Nearby, her 12-year-old sister Jenna stood on her own paddleboard, cheering as 14-year-old Anna steered her heavy board down the face of the wave.
The Blackburn sisters were competing in the SUP Surf division final of the Wrightsville Beach Wahine Classic, held Aug. 16 and 17 at the south end of Wrightsville Beach.
Throughout the day, encouragement and congratulations were exchanged between competitors, from the professional surfers to the novices competing in their first contest to the 10-year-old guppy division competitors.
“There’s lots of community building and mentoring that goes on from the older more experienced surfers to the younger surfers,” contest organizer Jo Pickett said during an Aug. 8 phone interview.
On the beach after the SUP Surf final, Anna Blackburn said she offered advice to her younger sister several times during the heat, helping her figure out which waves to catch.
“Jenna was watching me surf [one wave]and she was saying, ‘Go Anna!’ But I saw a second wave behind it so I was like, ‘There’s one behind it, Jen!’ She went for it, but if I hadn’t told her she would have just been watching me.”
The girls’ father, Barry Blackburn, wanted to make sure Jenna had a positive experience in her first contest.
“Just make sure you love on her and tell her good job, make sure she knows that,” he said to Anna.
“I think it’s great that they have a girls-only event,” he added. “Most of the time when Anna goes to compete there’s no other girls doing stand-up so she has to compete with the men.”
The positive atmosphere persisted all weekend despite a lack of swell in the water. Pickett correctly predicted Saturday’s competition would be cut short by thunderstorms and high tide so contest organizers held side-by-side heats all morning to finish in half the time.
Sunday offered more pleasant weather, with blue skies, glassy waves and clear water. Competitors relaxed on the beach between heats, chatting with each other and enjoying free lunch donated by Mellow Mushroom and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches. Sinetta Ruiz and Molly McCray stood in the shade of the judge’s platform, comparing surfing competition stories.
“This contest has a lot more community spirit than other contests because it’s an all- female competition,” Ruiz said. “We’re always the odd ones out at the contests because it’s 100 guys and only 15 girls so it’s nice to have something that’s just ours to represent the girls’ side of surfing.”
The very first wahine contest was held the year 18-year-old McCray was born, and she competed in the guppy division of the contest growing up.
“This is the one contest I’ve done since I was a kid,” she said. “All the girls are friends and we all know each other. And even if I don’t know them I’ll still go congratulate them.”
As Sunday’s competition wrapped up, Airlie Pickett won the pro shortboard division and Misty Mangiacapre finished first in pro longboard. Anna Blackburn won both the SUP Surf 16 and up and the SUP Surf 15 and under divisions, and her sister Jenna placed second.
A prize was also awarded to the most radical maneuver completed throughout the entire contest. The award went to Bree Labiak, a 10-year-old shortboarder who aspires to be the first professional surfer with cystic fibrosis.
“The guppies were throwing the highest scores of the contest and they’re 12 and under,” Jo Pickett said. “That’s a bright future for women’s surfing.”