After a year that feels like it started half a decade ago, we’re finally about to bring the curtain down on season 2016, with the ‘last big weekend of the year’ set to feature points races in Paris and Perth and a torturous specialty event in Tahiti.
Here’s a quick at what’s in store over the next couple of days…
King of the Cut, Western Australia
The King of the Cut is not only the headline act of Aussie Downwind Week, it’s also arguably Australia’s most prestigious race full stop.
Touted as one of the fastest downwind runs in the world, the King of the Cut has established itself as a major part of the Aussie calendar over the past few years, and is probably the most prestigious trophy in the country. This year we’ve got it down as a three-star event, meaning it’ll be one last chance of paddlers to earn some points on the SUP Racer World Rankings before the end of season lockout.
While Australia’s paddling talent is centered in Queensland over on the east coast, the wind in West Oz is definitely the best in the country.
With the wind forecast improving by the day, this year’s race is going to be a thrilling battle on the water. While there are only half a dozen internationals competing, virtually all the Aussies are there, and the level of talent in this country is so strong and deep that just making the top 10 on Sunday will be a big struggle.
Angie Jackson is looking to go three straight in the women’s race, while Matty Nottage is the defending champ on the men’s side. The runner-up from 2014 and 2015, Travis Grant, is sitting it out this year after the recent birth of his first child, but there’s still an incredibly solid lineup that, in addition to Nottage and Angie, includes the likes of Titouan Puyo, Michael Booth, Jake Jensen, 2014 runner-up Karla Gilbert, 2013 champ and last year’s runner-up Terrene Black, 2013 and 2014 champ Beau O’Brian, James Casey, Kelly Margetts, Marcus Hansen, Lincoln Dews, Paul Jackson, Ben Tardrew, Tomo from Japan and the young dark horse from New Caledonia, Clement Colmas.
I’ll post a full preview of the 2016 King of the Cut tomorrow, including my personal predictions for the top 10 men and top 5 women (after an almost flawless score sheet in Fiji, let’s see if I can’t keep the perfect guesswork going til the very end of the season).
Here’s a little teaser to show you what’s in store:
The race starts at 1:30pm on Sunday, with organisers wisely electing to utilise their two day window and push it back 24 hours in search of better wind. The course is roughly 24kms, and last year’s winning time was 1 hour 48 minutes, so look for results to start filtering through around 3:30pm Sunday arvo.
That finishing time equates to 5:30pm QLD, 6:30pm NSW, 11:30pm Saturday in California, and 8:30am Sunday morning in the center of Europe, which means the race will be happening at the exact same time as the Paris Crossing (so much for my relaxing Sunday evening).
The Paris Crossing
With the revered title of ‘biggest race in the world’, the Paris Crossing isn’t so much an elite showdown as it is a magnificent spectacle: 600 stand up paddlers standing on the same start line in the cold, semi-dark dawn of a sleepy Sunday morning in the French capital.
Highlighting just how popular this event is, despite having more competitors on the start line than any other single race in the world of SUP, the Paris Crossing still manages to sell out every year. After previous editions filled up half an hour after registration opened, lottery system was introduced this year that was so over-subscribed you might as well have taken your entry fee to the casino and put it all on black.
Those lucky enough to paddle on the weekend will have a unique experience: This is the only day of the year that paddlers are (legally) allowed on to the busy River Seine that snakes its way through Paris past landmarks that include the Eiffel Tower and the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
But while the vast majority of entrants are there for a SUP-based sight-seeing tour, there is still a large contingent of elite paddlers and weekend warriors that take it very seriously.
The defending men’s champ, Titouan Puyo, is in West Oz this weekend, so looking to take his title will be the likes of last year’s runner-up Casper Steinfath, Arthur Arutkin (3rd in 2015), Vinni Martins from Brazil, the 11 City Tour-conquering Hasulyo Brothers, Italy’s Paolo Marconi and several more of Europe’s finest.
Not sure exactly which of the top ladies are in town, but if defending champ Olivia Piana is on the start line nobody will get close. The Frenchwoman has been on fire this season, culminating in a top four finish at the PPGs and a couple of silver medals in Fiji. Also keep an eye on Spaniard Susak Molinero.
Ironmana doesn’t count for points, and stand up paddling is only one part of a much broader paddling event, but it’s still one of my favourite races on the calendar. For one, the setting is ridiculously spectacular: The almost-too-perfect-that-it’s-a-cliché island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia.
But while the backdrop is beautiful, the race itself is anything but; Ironmana could just as easily be called ‘Five days of Pain in Paradise’.
A unique combination of paddling disciplines, from SUP to prone to outrigger to swimming, the Ironmana race isn’t so much about deciding the best all-round paddling champions as it is about finding the best all-round survivors. Ironmana will break even the most seasoned competitors, with the extremely long courses, unique demands of multi-discipline racing and searing heat of the South Pacific sun combining to create an almighty challenge.
I did this race a couple of years ago and it still ranks up along the 11 Cities as my toughest race. And from all reports, the format has only gotten more difficult since then.