No, there is not a typo in the title. Hang in there and you’ll see. It is too soon to herald the beginning of a trend, but the top three men’s finisher’s in the prestigious Graveyard Race at the Carolina Cup in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina yesterday all share a common lineage. They are each accomplished outrigger canoe paddlers over the age of 30.
It has been long known and documented that outrigger canoeing is a common prerequisite for a number of top stand up paddlers – most notably Danny Ching who has twice won the grueling Molokai to Oahu OC-1 race. When Ching noted in a post to social media after the race that he has been competing against 2015 Carolina Cup winner Travis Grant for the past 12 years he wasn’t just referring to stand up. Grant, Ching and third place finisher Georges Cronsteadt are each on the short list of top outrigger paddlers from their respective countries and considered to be among the best in the world.
While I can’t speak to Grant and Cronsteadt, I know Ching spent time in an outrigger the last few months and was a fixture in his OC-1 (and occasionally an OC-2 with his wife) on Southern California’s Winter Series – a collection of races from November – March each winter. Jim Terrell, founder of Quickblade Paddles and a four time Olympic sprint canoeist, also dedicated considerable time over the winter to cross training in an OC-1. A newcomer to the 50+ age division (Terrell turned 50 last week) he finished second at the Carolina Cup to his longtime friend and competitor Larry Cain – himself a former Olympic sprint canoeist. Does Cain also paddle outrigger? If I had to guess, I’d say he probably knows his way around the ama and iaku, even if he does huli from time to time.
A number of top SUP races in the past two years have been won by younger athletes such as Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny who come from surfing backgrounds. Events such as the Battle of the Paddle, Ultimate SUP Showdown and the Stand Up World Series all feature competitions where paddlers must navigate in and out of the surf zone – a challenge where strong surfing skills undoubtedly come into play. But did their outrigger canoe backgrounds give Grant, Ching and Cronsteadt an edge during the Carolina Cup’s grueling 13.2 mile (21.2 km) long slog through the infamous Graveyard? They would probably tell us that every bit of watertime helps and learning to read the conditions in addition to solid paddling technique and physical endurance were the magic formula for success and not any one thing on its own. Will 2015 mark a return to the dominance outrigger paddlers once held on the SUP racing scene? Time will tell.