The second annual Wrightsville Beach SUP Surf Pro Am April 16–17 drew what organizer Haywood Newkirk called “one of the strongest women’s fields ever in a contest.”
Reigning two-time SUP Surf world champion Izzi Gomez won the women’s pro final over two-time ISA World SUP Surf gold medalist Emmy Merrill, California champion Candice Appleby and Oregon talent Fiona Wylde.
The wind caused swells to pop up randomly throughout the lineup south of Crystal Pier. Finding the right wave partly came down to luck, women’s finalist Appleby said.
“The waves are all over the place, so you have to be in the right place at the right time,” she said. “It definitely challenges a multitude of paddling abilities — not just surfing, but just being able to paddle in the wind and balance on the really small boards.”
The men’s side also featured the world’s best paddleboarders, including three-time world longboard champion Colin McPhillips, last year’s Pro Am winner Georgio Gomez and other top talent from California, Hawaii and France. Participation was double that of last year, Newkirk said, due partly to event sponsors Hobie and Salt Life bringing their athletes to compete and partly to the success of last year’s event. The contest’s scheduling also boosts participation — it’s held just one week before one of the biggest flatwater races in the world, the Carolina Cup.
After two days of competition, Hawaiian Bullet Obra took first place in Men’s Pro Shortboard and earned the Haywood Newkirk Senior Waterman Award for also advancing to the longboard final.
The conditions tested nearly every facet of the talented paddleboarders’ skillsets. A 20-knot breeze blew all weekend, creating jumbled, chest-high waves. Due to the high winds Saturday afternoon, organizers decided to run the semifinals and finals on Sunday, when a slight change in wind direction created cleaner conditions.
Sunday’s ocean was still what McPhillips called “a washing machine,” but it wasn’t as challenging as Saturday, he noted before paddling out for his longboard final.
“Yesterday was gnarly,” he said, pulling on his contest jersey over his wetsuit. “I’ll take today any day over yesterday.”
Many paddleboarders, like McPhillips and Obra, competed in both the shortboard and longboard divisions. McPhillips said in these conditions, longboarding was slightly easier because the board was more stable.
Despite feeling lost in the lineup in his earlier heat, McPhillips found a rhythm in the longboard final and cruised to victory over Kieran and Fisher Grant, brothers from Florida, and Obra.
While the longboard division was judged on smoothness and style, the shortboarders earned points for radical tricks. Stand-up paddle shortboards are the same shape as surfboards but heavier, so competitors use their paddle as leverage to maneuver the boards across the face of the waves, Appleby explained.
“Paddles allow us to do the more progressive maneuvers with a little more force and a little more power, so if you can utilize that, you’re going to maximize your scoring potential,” she said.
A handful of locals took on the internationally ranked pros. Wrightsville Beach’s Jarrod Covington and April Zilg surfed in their respective pro divisions, and Newkirk surfed in every division for which he was eligible, pro and amateur, joking on Sunday, “I think I lost about eight pounds yesterday!”
Newkirk and his family encouraged other paddlers to enter different divisions by donating the Haywood Newkirk Senior Waterman Award for the paddler who achieved the highest combined finish in the pro and the longboard category. Newkirk donated the award in honor of his father, a surfer, fisherman and open-water swimmer and, Newkirk said, “one of the original watermen here.”
The award, like the contest itself, celebrates the all-around waterman spirit and various ways the ocean can bring joy to individuals and families, Newkirk said, which was why this contest was even more special for him.
“My 13-year-old daughter competed for the first time this year,” he said, smiling.
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Day 1 (Click to enlarge)
Day 2 (Click to enlarge)
Haywood Newkirk All Waterman Award
Men’s SUP Surf Pro
First: Bullet Obra
Second: Fisher Grant
Third: Bernd Roediger
Fourth: Connor Bonham
Women’s 15 and Up
First: Lexi Alston
Second: Anna Blackburn
Third: Nancy Salter
SUP Longboard Open
First: Colin McPhillips
First: Randy Harris
Second: Gregory Waller
Third: Corey Curtis
Fourth: Nick Morketter
Women’s SUP Surf Pro
First: Izzi Gomez
Second: Emmy Merrill
Third: Candice Appleby
Fourth: Fiona Wylde