World's top-ranked paddler shares in-depth Graveyard Race analysis and predictions for 2018
– Healing from a late-March surgery and a concussion sustained earlier in the year, five-time Carolina Cup elite champion Annabel Anderson of New Zealand remains on hiatus.
In a check-up interview with North Carolina Press Release, Anderson provides an update on her recovery and reveals an in-depth analysis including her predictions for 2018’s grueling 13-mile Graveyard Race.
Anderson’s outlook for both the men and women elite races is uniquely meaningful, based on her empirical knowledge of the Graveyard course plus considerable experience on the course with the world’s top-ranked male and female paddlers.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes of all time in the sport, Anderson won two gold medals in the recent ISA World Standup Paddleboard Championships; is the reigning World SUP Tour Salt Life Champion; Champion of the Pacific Paddle Games; and ranked overall number-one in the world, the only female to achieve this recognition.
The 8th annual Quiksilver Waterman Carolina Cup will draw thousands of spectators and more than 1,000 event participants. Races, clinics, expos, entertainment, and festivities will be in Wrightsville Beach, April 18-22, 2018. All races will begin and end at Blockade Runner Beach Resort, the official resort of the Carolina Cup.
“The Graveyard course is the most punishing single-day race on the international calendar every year,” said Anderson. “It is technically demanding, tactically difficult, and physically punishing, the true test of the complete paddler.”
Text of Robert B. Butler’s interview with Annabel Anderson:
First and most important, how are you, and how are your recoveries from surgery and the concussion progressing?
I’m getting there. Recoveries are as much of a mental challenge as a physical one and my concussion has definitely proven that. Some of the post concussion symptoms I’ve experienced over the last couple of months have scared the living daylights out of me and I’m just starting feel like I’m getting back to normal following surgery just over two weeks ago.
I listen to the signs my body has given me and have taken the foot off the accelerator for a while and am taking baby steps to make forward progress.
Slowly but surely I’m making that progress on both fronts and it’s been a valuable reminder not to take anything for granted.
You have been on a very competitive fast track for years. How are you handling the downtime?
In some ways I love it, and in some ways it’s really challenging slowing down the pace of life for a while. It’s been nice to take a breath and its been an opportunity to lend a hand playing the support role and helping to pay back a few favors in the process. There’s a lesson in everything.
Do you miss being on the SUP circuit?
There are elements that you miss with anything if you have been doing them for a long time. For me, it’s about the art of nailing the preparation, the challenge of pulling the plan for one particular day in time.
Are you maintaining your physical conditioning in expectation of a return in 2018?
I came off a massive December and January and I’ve been very quiet on the activity front during the last couple of months doing less and doing things purely for love of doing.
I rode the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego this past weekend as a test to see how things are progressing. While it was a major step in a positive direction starting an event like that, it definitely gave me the feedback that I need to give myself more time to inch back to my usual performance benchmarks.
I’ll continue to set little milestones on the road to recovery to gauge where things are week-by-week, gauging where my head, my heart and my body are, and make decisions on what is next based on this feedback loop.
If this was a younger version of me, I would have felt a lot of pressure to push the boat out to speed up the recovery and to come back as soon as possible. But, with age and experience you learn to have patience and give things the time they need to heal and recover properly.
Turning to the 2018 Carolina Cup, briefly describe the 13-mile Graveyard Race and the key challenges facing the elite competitors.
The Graveyard course is the most punishing single day race on the international calendar every year. It is technically demanding, tactically difficult and physically punishing, the true test of the complete paddler.
The 13-mile Graveyard is SUP’s equivalent of a marathon where you are operating at threshold and above for over two hours. The training and preparation that is required to allow you to do this is immense and highly involved.
You have to be able to navigate shore break, read bump, negotiate entering or exiting very challenging inlets, battle head winds, be extremely tactical, read current and be able to out-wit, out-last and out-play your fellow competitors on the final leg to the finish.
If you make any kind of mistake in a technical section of this course you will be tortured for it. You have to be the most complete athlete you can be on race day, as any technical, physical or tactical weakness will show up and be exploited by the course and your competition.
Will weather play a significant factor in the outcome of the race for elite paddlers?
Weather is a major determining factor of the Carolina Cup, and while everyone is served up the same conditions it’s the unpredictability of the weather forecast and how people handle it that makes and breaks people’s days. Often the decision on the direction of the course will not be made until 20-minutes before the race start meaning you need to understand exactly what the wind forecast is doing, what the tide is doing, and how this affects each different section of the course in either direction.
The course is run to best allow a downwind section on the ocean side of the course – hopefully, a downwind to start and finish the course, which could also be a flat water grind, quartering or straight from the side. But this means it’s 50/50 on what kind of tide you’ll be dealing with through Mason’s Inlet and through the flat waters of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).
At present the forecast is for a moderate breeze, but any local will tell you not to bother looking at the forecast days out. Simply see what the wind is doing on the morning of race day given the changing nature of the weather conditions in Wrightsville Beach.
What we do know is that high tide is 12.32 PM which means it will be an incoming tide for the entire race.
If the course goes north, it will be a slog up the ICW. If there is wind texture on the ocean, those who are masters in the bump can gain a significant early advantage heading into the first major challenge of the race, surfing through Mason’s Inlet with the push of the incoming tide. As paddlers enter the Intracoastal Waterway, anyone who is off the back of the front pack will face burning valuable matches to climb onto the back of the draft train - as inevitably they will not only be punching into a head wind but also paddling against the tide.
If the race runs south, the shorter distance to the break wall and ICW reduces any early advantage gained in the bump, while the incoming tide will make for a fast back section along the ICW for anyone off the back of the front pack to potentially paddle back on. This will make for an extremely tactical race punching out through the incoming tide of Masons Inlet and picking the fastest line back to the finish in front of the Blockade Runner Resort.
Regardless of the direction, the race will be won and lost on the final leg of the race from either the breakwater or Masons Inlet to the finish. Expect a tactical and strategic race from both the men’s and women’s fields until this point as it’s from these points that the real race will begin to see who will reign supreme.
As five-time elite champion at the Carolina Cup, you know the course, the conditions, the obstacles, and the male and female elite competitors. Who are the top contenders in 2018 in the men's elite division for the Carolina Cup Graveyard Race title and what are the competitive advantages of each?
Like the reading of the weather, the swell and tidal conditions, understanding each athlete’s strengths, weaknesses, equipment selection and preparations are all critical going into the Graveyard Race to truly be prepared for what may be thrown at you.
Over the past three years we have seen the elite men’s race become a tactical game of cat and mouse where the real race has started at the breakwater or Mason’s Inlet. From there it’s a case of who has enough gas left in the tank to launch an attack and who can gain as much advantage in the ocean from what the water is giving them. Expect to see the same happen in the women’s race. My caveat to this is that one of the girls who does not have the ocean skills of her fellow competitors may attempt to launch such an attack off the front along the ICW.
It will be a brave man or woman who tries to break off the front in the ICW, but we have seen this happen before as the flat water specialists such at Michael Booth and Seychelle Webster may attempt to put the acid on those who are better in the bump and navigating the Inlet. The challenge of risking an attempt like this is burning too many matches with a significant portion of the race left to paddle and getting mown down by those that come to the fore in open water conditions.
In the elite men’s race I think you will see some familiar and lesser-known faces play a major part at the front of the race. Traditionally it has been the outrigger exponents such as Danny Ching, Travis Grant and Titouan Puyou rise to the occasion largely due to their Molokai Solo OC1 preparations that have them in exceptional form leading into Carolina Cup. This year you need to add the youngster Ryland Hart, Tahitian Steeve Teihotaa, the Hasulyo brothers to this mix along with the usual cohort of Connor Baxter, Lincoln Dews, Georges Crondstead, Michael Booth, Mo Freitas and the fresh prince from the Air Tahiti Paddle Festival, kiwi Marcus Hansen.
Expect the odd fresh face to be added to this mix as this is a race known for throwing up the unknown and being the first major of the season, anything is a possibility.
Who are the top contenders in 2018 in the women's elite division for the Carolina Cup Graveyard Race title and what are the competitive advantages of each?
This year I think you will see a fairly tight race in the elite women’s field and it will come down to who is the most complete athlete on the day and who has the skills and preparation to put together the complete race section by section.
Going on pre-season form, you can’t go past Sonni Honsheid, April Zilg, and Yuka Sato from Japan. Sonni paddled away from a strong field in Tahiti a week and a half ago while Yuka has put in a dedicated off season of training and racing in Australia with the benefits really starting to show. Former Wrightsville local April Zilg made the move to the West Coast and has likely had her best ever off season preparation notching up a number of results both on the SUP and the OC1. All have a well-rounded skill set, are well-prepared and would love nothing more than to add a Carolina Cup victory to their 2018 resume.
My prediction is that if there is bump to begin the race Fiona Wylde will gain an early advantage but will likely be reeled in by the strength of those behind her. While these shorter downwind legs that start the race don’t seem to give too much of an advantage, SUP is one of the hardest sports in which to bridge a gap and to pass people. To do so will take a huge amount of energy and effort and has the potential to cost you dearly in the latter stages of the race but if there is one person that may find herself in this position it will be Seychelle Webster and may potentially tow anyone who is also off the front back on.
While these names are familiar, look out for those with pedigree and those that may be underestimated in a race like the Graveyard. And while the men’s field is somewhat predictable as to who will turn up to tow the start line, it’s not always as easy to know who is going to show for the women.
Other names I expect to be in the mix, should they make it to Wrightsville Beach this week, include Angie Jackson, Terrene Black, Jade Howson, Shae Foudy, Candice Appleby, Kalia Alexiou, Lara Claydon and Olivia Piana.
If it comes down to the final leg from either the Inlet or the breakwater and there is a lumpy ocean, expect Sonni, Fiona, Olivia and April to shine in the open ocean conditions where it will come down to who is physically the best prepared and has the most optimal equipment to capitalize on the conditions.
Based on your knowledge of the course, the athletes, and the long-range weather outlook, who do you think will be the male and female elite champs in 2018?
If I had to hedge a bet, I’d be putting money on Danny Ching and April Zilg. Danny has the pedigree and is currently in the best form of his life heading into Molokai Solo on the OC1, while former-local April Zilg would love nothing more than to win on home turf in front of many of her long time friends and supporters.
Will you be back on the Carolina Cup course in 2019?
If it feels right and life aligns to allow this to happen I will consider it. For the meantime, I’ll stay focused on the present and resist looking that far ahead.
Is there a message you would like to send to SUP athletes and fans at the 2018 Carolina Cup?
Have fun and relish the opportunity to participate and be a part of an incredible weekend of paddling be it competing, supporting or simply sharing stories with friends old and new. Wrightsville Beach always knows how to throw a party.
Thank you, Annabel. We wish you a speedy and complete recovery.
ABOUT THE CAROLINA CUP
Returning races on the 2018 Quiksilver Waterman Carolina Cup schedule:
•The Graveyard, a grueling 13.2-mile ocean and flatwater race for the elite and professional paddleboard racers
•The Money Island Open, a 6.5-mile flatwater race designed for the intermediate to advanced paddler
•The Harbor Island Recreational, a 3.5-mile flatwater race for first-time to intermediate paddleboarders
•The popular Kids Race for children 7 to 14.
New to the race schedule in 2018:
•The Longboat Graveyard, a 13.2-mile race exclusively for Elite OC-1, OC-2, Surfski and Double-Ski.
Organized by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club, affiliated with the newly formed Paddle League, and sanctioned by the World Paddle Association (WPA), the Cup will attract paddlers from over 20 countries and virtually every state in the nation. Competitors include Olympians, world-record holders, champions, professionals, amateurs, and first-time paddlers. The Carolina Cup is the first race of 2018 on the WPA World SUP Tour, and the second major race of the season on the Paddle League World Tour.
Race information and registration