France is one of the strongest paddling nations in the world, period. They’ve long been the powerhouse of Europe, while their athletes often mix it with the best on the world stage. A full-strength Team France would probably be the biggest threat to the ruling triumvirate (Australia/US/Hawaii).
But despite some big names in the 2015 squad, the French team is lacking in one critical area. And this highlights a wider problem with the ISA World Stand Up Paddle And Paddleboard Championship…
Men’s SUP Racing
Titouan Puyo (distance)
Arthur Daniel (course)
Eric Terrien (course + distance)
Women’s SUP Racing
Celine Guesdon (course + distance)
Men’s SUP Surfing
Women’s SUP Surfing
No prone specialists currently selected. Most likely the SUP surfers will double up in this event.
Holding down the fort in the SUP racing will be France’s long-time stalwart Eric Terrien, who won two medals at last year’s Worlds. He’ll be joined in the distance event by reigning ISA World Champ Titouan “Titou” Puyo, while young gun Arthur Daniel will join Eric in the course race. The women’s rep is the hard-training, fast-paddling Celine Guesdon.
The paddling world is well aware of Eric Terrien’s ever-reliable power, however it was the virtually unknown Titou who starred for France last year. The New Caledonian will be looking for back-to-back gold medals in the 20k distance race, where I think he’ll start a pretty solid chance even with the likes of Danny Ching and Connor Baxter in the field for the first time. I had a front row seat for Titou’s winning run year, watching and commentating from the media boat as the “World’s #1 Dark Horse” tore the field to shreds during the mini downwind leg right before the finish. If there are bumps in Sayulita – and after my trip there last month I think that’s a real possibility – Titou will fancy his chances of holding pace with the rest of the world.
Titou was the revelation of last year, not just at the ISA event but for the entire international SUP racing season. He only began stand up paddling at the beginning of 2013 (I know, scary huh?), bursting onto the scene by winning the 2013 French nationals and then sweeping past countless big names at the major races in 2014. By the end of the season, Titou had reached #14 in the World Rankings. Can he continue his meteoric rise into 2015? We’ll be able to gauge his form at the massive Carolina Cup next week, which is almost identical in length to the W0rld Championship course.
The sole debutante in Team France’s SUP racing lineup (in fact, in the entire team) will be Arthur, who secured his spot just last week in the second-round of national team qualifying. Arthur is one of the leaders of France’s new wave of paddling stars, which includes fellow Arthur, Arutkin, Martin Letourneur and half a dozen other names you’d never be able to keep up with. The youngster is a regular winner of the long-running Swell Beach Race Series in Brittany, while he’s had a string of big results at the international events as well (remember his awesome performance in the Gorge course race last year?).
On the women’s side of the draw, Celine may not have the status of the Candices and Linas of the world but will be an outside chance at a medal in Mexico next month. Celine was recently in Australia training with the hardcore Gold Coast SUP crew for a couple of months, which will put her in very good shape for the Showdown in Sayulita.
France’s talent pool runs deep, which should translate to some very strong performances in Mexico. The 2015 Worlds have attracted the highest level of competition this event has ever seen, by far, but I still think the Frenchies will take home a few medals like they always do.
France enjoyed a rather interesting qualifying process for this 2015 Worlds, with a bit of a rollercoaster ride on the way to the final team selections. It began with the National Titles late last year, which in a bizarre chain of events ended up counting for very little: Eric and Titou already had their spots locked after other results form last year, while Arthur and Celine largely made it on the back of the second-round event that was held just last week.
The loser of all this was Arthur Arutkin, who won both the course and distance races at the National Titles but wasn’t given an automatic spot. Arthur is in Maui this month for a Team Fanatic photo shoot and was therefore unavailable for the all important second-round selection race-off. I also doubt he was too thrilled about being asked to compete all over again for a spot he (and many others) thought he’d already well and truly earned at the Nationals.
Then again the word “bureaucracy” is of French origin, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Though in defense of the French Surfing Federation, it’s kind of cruel that some teams get criticised for doing too little to properly select a team, while France gets criticised for doing too much. I guess we’re a hard community to please.
France’s SUP racing stars will be strongly backed up in the SUP surfing events, with 2012 gold medalist, longboard world champion and perennial ISA podium-getter Antoine Delpero returning once again. He’s joined by the very capable Jérémy Massière and women’s champ Caroline Angibaud.
So on the Stand Up Paddling side of the draw, Team France looks super strong and will surely give the “Big Three” a run for their money on the overall team standings.
Unfortunately there’s a huge asterisk next to the Frenchies right now, with no specialist prone paddlers currently selected. And that’s going to cost them big time on the Leaderboard.
The national team for the ISA Worlds is managed by the French Surfing Federation, however, as with most countries, the prone paddleboarding community has nothing to do with the surfing community (which often has nothing to do with the SUP community either, but that’s a whole nother debate).
The French Surf Lifesaving Association manages prone paddling, and apparently they haven’t responded to the Surfing Federation’s request to nominate three prone athletes for the team. Perhaps that’s because Lifesaving (and therefore prone paddling) already has a World Championship of its own. There’s probably very little incentive for France’s best prone paddlers to go and compete in yet another “Worlds”, especially one where the attention is firmly placed on the stand up paddleboarders.
Hopefully something positive happens in the next few weeks and France’s star prone paddlers (who would probably be medal certainties) will join the team in Mexico. Unfortunately that doesn’t look very likely right now.
This situation in France echos what I’m seeing and hearing from many other nations: That prone paddling is a sticking point for their national teams for one (or more) of three reasons. (1) The prone and SUP communities are totally separate, (2) the race formats at the ISA Worlds are unfamiliar to most prone paddlers, or, most commonly, (3) prone paddling simply doesn’t exist in their country.
The “prone problem” gets amplified by the ISA’s bizarro points system, which gives a huge weighting to traditional paddleboarding relative to SUP surfing. The prone events are worth a combined maximum 5,220 points (as is the SUP racing), while the SUP surfing is only worth 2,860 points max. Or in other words: Prone is almost twice as valuable as SUP surfing. It’s such an extreme imbalance that the sole female prone athlete is capable of scoring almost just as many team points as the three SUP surfing athletes combined…
This issue is amplified when you consider that it’s “easier” to gain points for your team in the prone races. The prone events have the least participants and the fewest ‘world class’ athletes, which makes it far easier to pick up points relative to the other disciplines.
The whole imbalance creates a lopsided Teams Leaderboard, where only nations that have strong prone paddlers can succeed no matter how good their SUP athletes are. And the vast majority of teams at the ISA Worlds simply don’t have strong prone paddlers, while even some of those that do have the talent can’t get their prone paddlers to the Worlds.
France is the best example of this imbalance. They’ve selected a group of world-beating stand up paddlers but will be long odds to reach the Teams Podium (overall top 4 countries) without any prone specialists. France actually has quite a few world-class prone paddlers, they just won’t be competing in Mexico because of the disconnect between the prone and SUP communities.
I think this whole prone issue will come to a head after Mexico, and I expect there will be changes to the Championship format ahead of the 2016 Worlds. I don’t want to see prone wiped out of the event – it’s steeped in tradition, has many parallels to modern SUP racing and draws several colourful (and incredibly athletic) personalities to the Worlds – but the race format and overall event points system needs some serious tweaking.
Let’s not get too sidetracked right now though: Congratulations to the Frenchies who’ve been selected to represent “Les Bleus” in Sayulita, it’s definitely a strong squad of stand up paddlers. And no matter where they finish on the overall leaderboard, Team France is almost certainly going to take home a medal or three.