Choppy seas and high winds did not faze paddleboard elites Sonni Hönscheid of Germany or Michael Booth of Australia, crowned champions of the punishing 13-mile Graveyard Race at the Quiksilver Waterman Carolina Cup, held April 18-22, in Wrightsville Beach.
“I had a good start, which is rare for me, and was third around the first buoy. I am super happy with that,” said Hönscheid, the fifth-ranked women’s paddler in the world. “I tried to gain distance in the downwind before the first inlet. Fiona was in front of me, but I knew I could catch her in the flatwater, and I did. She was behind me for a while so, I kept my pace out there. Once I returned to the ocean for the final leg, I felt relaxed, had a good time and a good race.”
“Interestingly, some of the athletes that are ocean paddlers loved the conditions,” said race director Mark Schmidt. “The race had a strong side-shore wind angling from the Northeast and mainly East. Racers who knew how to work the waves and the runners had no problem, but for some, it was a problem.”
“In previous times the wind worked against me because I didn’t have the skills to compete at that level,” said fourth-ranked men’s pro Michael Booth. “But, we’ve been working hard back home in Perth, and the conditions for the Wrightsville Beach race are the same as I train in every day. When I looked out the morning of the race, I thought, “This is just like home. You can do this.” To have it pay off, in the end, is really great.”
“It feels fantastic to win the Graveyard. Ever since I joined this sport I’ve really wanted to win this race,” said Booth. “This is such a major race in the sport, to have my name on the list of champions is really special.”
Two racers with local roots returned to Wrightsville Beach for the annual Carolina Cup, one of the top standup paddleboard races in the world.
April Zilg, a popular figure in the Wrightsville Beach paddleboard community who last year moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., repeated her fourth-place finish from last year. She was racing in one of the most competitive fields the event has produced, as repeat champion Annabelle Anderson was forced to miss the race due to injury.
“The women’s field was large. A lot of us thought that now was our chance to win,” she said.
Zilg said that despite not improving on her finish, she was overjoyed to return to where she got her paddling start.
“I like it here,” she said. “California is warm, but the paddle community here is great. This is a paddlers paradise.”
Meanwhile, Harrison, a young athlete who specializes in outrigger canoe racing and last year moved to Hawaii with his family, got a big cheer from the crowd after improving upon his 40th place finish in 2017.
“That was loud,” he said of the reception. “It was the coolest thing.”
Deisroth described the race as “mentally exhausting” and physically punishing.
“You’re always questioning if you’re in the right spot,” he said. “You’re constantly thinking about your line.”
Zilg finished just behind Fiona Wylde, a racer some thought would win with Anderson’s absence. In addition to monitoring winds and currents, Wylde must also monitor her blood sugar as she balances her athletic endeavors with her diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes.
Wylde first became aware of the condition shortly after her competition in the Carolina Cup three years ago.
After running out of steam at the end of the race, eventually falling from second to sixth place, she noticed more issues with fatigue in the following weeks.
“I was having the best race of my life, but I was super low, especially during the last mile,” she said.
After being diagnosed with diabetes, she continued with her training, winning her next race. Now, she uses a smartwatch and smartphone to monitor her blood sugar while racing, eating sugar during the race if it falls too low.
With a background in Oregon’s windy waters and in windsurfing, Wylde said the race provides the challenge that meets her abilities.
“It wasn’t that bad this year, in fact, it was really fun, I enjoyed it,” Wylde said of the windy conditions. “This course requires a lot of technique. That’s why I like the downwind portions.”
Following his victory in the elite standup paddleboard category, Booth captured a second Graveyard Race title in the surfski class. Due to growing demand, an elite Graveyard Race was added to the 2018 schedule to include surfski, double-ski, OC-1, and OC-2 (see media site for results). All races for the week originated and ended at Blockade Runner Beach Resort, the official resort of the Carolina Cup.
Organized by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club, affiliated with the newly formed Paddle League, and sanctioned by the World Paddle Association (WPA), the Quiksilver Waterman Carolina Cup attracted paddlers from more than 20 countries and most US states. About 20-percent of the athletes were from North Carolina – a rough estimate provided by Schmidt. Competitors included Olympians, world-record holders, champions, professionals, amateurs, and first-time paddlers.
A partial list of winners:
The Graveyard Race – SUP
Men’s Elite (13-miles / 21km)
1st: Michael Booth (2:03:14) Australia
2nd: Travis Grant (2:03:21) Australia
3rd: Mo Freitas (2:03:27) Hawaii, USA
4th: Titouan Puyo (2:03:43) New Caledonia, France
5th: Georges Cronsteadt (2:03:49) Tahiti
6th: Marcus Hansen (2:04:51) New Zealand
7th: Lincoln Dews (2:05:02) Australia
8th: Niuhiti Buillard (2:05:25) Tahiti
9th: Bruno Hasulyo (2:05:30) Hungary
10th: Danny Ching (2:05:35) CA, USA
Women’s Elite (13-miles / 21km)
1st: Sonni Hönscheid (2:20:35) Germany
2nd: Olivia Piana (2:23:38) France
3rd: Fiona Wylde (2:25:19) Oregon, USA
4th: April Zilg (2:28:26) NC native, now lives in CA, USA
5th: Seychelle Webster (2:29:22) FL, USA
6th: Candice Appleby (2:30:39) CA, USA
7th: Terrene Black (2:30:40) Australia
8th: Shae Foudy (2:31:32) USA
9th: Yuka Sato (2:34:34) Japan
10th: Laura Quetglas (2:37:19) Spain
The Harbor Island Recreational Race – SUP
Harbor Island Men (3-mile open race)
1st: David Young – Wilmington, NC
2nd: Jeff Berry – Rochester, NY
3rd: Dylan Henry – Satellite Beach, FL
4th: Campbell Carter – Wilmington, NC
5th: Mitch Cherry – Atlanta, GA
Harbor Island Women (3-mile open race)
1st: Tabitha Price – Tuscaloosa, AL
2nd: Samantha Stewart – Annapolis, MD
3rd: Elle Newkirk – Wrightsville Beach, NC
4th: Stella Gan – Ontario, Canada
5th: Erin Fitzpatrick – Wrightsville Beach, NC
The Money Island Open – SUP
Money Island Men (6-mile open race)
1st: Jeremy Whitted – Charleston, SC
2nd: David Slemp – St. Augustine, FL
3rd: Justin Schaay – Charleston, SC
4th: Steve Phillips – Surfside Beach, SC
5th: Mike Taber – Ontario, Canada
Money Island Women (6-mile open race)
1st: Heilani Cronsteadt – Tahiti
2nd: Kim Hillhouse – Lanikai, Hawaii
3rd: John Deriggi – Washington, DC
4th: Meg Bosi – Bonita Springs, FL
5th: Lindsay Cook – Annapolis, MD