The pre-season shuffle is virtually complete with nearly a dozen athletes changing teams ahead of the international race season.
I call it “Trade Week” in honour of the big sporting leagues (NBA, AFL, etc) that have set periods each year where players can be poached by rival teams. SUP athletes aren’t really “traded” per se, but hey, never let the truth get in the way of a catchy title ;-)
Paddle athletes change teams for a variety of reasons. Some are chasing more money, some are chasing better equipment, and some are just chasing any opportunity they can find. Several teams have trimmed their squads over the past two seasons, which has left a lot of athletes on the sidelines. Long gone are the “Wild West” days of inflated travel budgets; paddlers are now having to get very creative in order to maintain a career in this sport.
While the team changes usually go down in the first week of January (right after athletes’ contracts expire on December 31st), this year’s trade period extended into more than two months–movements were happening as early as New Year’s day and as late as last week.
Here are the big ones.
Former team: Starboard
New team: Lightboardcorp
This was the first and probably most significant announcement of Trade Week. Bruno’s move to Lightboardcorp isn’t just a star signing for a relatively unknown manufacturer, it could be a sign of things to come.
While Lightboard is a minnow in the SUP world it’s backed by one of the paddling world’s biggest brands: surfski giant Nelo. At a time when the ICF is fighting for Olympic “control” of stand up paddling, the entry of the world’s most-famous ski brand into SUP racing, even if only by proxy, could prove to be a bellweather.
There’s also the small matter of Bruno Hasulyo being one of the favourites to finish this year ranked world number one.
The guy was in crazy-good shape by the end of Season 2018 and will carry podium favouritism at every race he enters, especially the longer distance events. Bruno has relocated from Bali to Europe in order to focus on the world’s biggest paddling market and will be a regular on the EuroTour this summer.
He told me that while he wants to win the big events – Carolina is a major goal while he’ll also chase back-to-back 11 Cities crowns – Bruno also wants to focus on the grassroots, mass participation races this year to help support the real core of the sport.
It’s going to be an exciting year as Lightboard aims to live up to its name and make extremely lightweight race boards. Bruno seems happy with the prototypes he’s been testing so far, but we’ll have to wait til Carolina before we know whether they’re fast enough to compete against his former team plus the Sunovas and NSPs of the world.
Oh and on a side note: If Bruno’s crazy Instagram posts are anything to go by, this guy is no longer just a flat water paddler…
Former team: Naish
New team: NSP
Arguably the most exciting prospect in the women’s sport has a new home this year, with Maui wunderkind Annie Reickert leaving Naish to join Titou and Travis at Team NSP.
She’ll wince if you call her the “female Kai Lenny” – she wants to forge her own path – but the comparison is apt. She’s smart, attractive and very level-headed while also incredibly driven to succeed. Just like Kai, Annie hails from Maui, is talented in half a dozen different ocean sports and won the first ever Molokai-2-Oahu foil race last July.
I doubt there’s another woman on the water who gets close to Annie in terms of foil ability, while she also absolutely charges. An all-round talent for sure.
NSP is the perennial runner-up on Battle of the Brands so this is a major pickup for a team that’s long lived in Starboard’s shadows. But while Annie’s signing is a major coup for NSP it’s also a major sign of decline for Team Naish…
Once considered the “Team Ferrari of SUP,” Naish has seen a slow and steady slide over the years. They still have Aussie Queen Karla Gilbert plus the prodigious Bernd Roediger and highly-talented Manca Notar on their books, but none of them are regulars on the international race scene anymore. That leaves only Casper Steinfath to regularly fly the flag for Robbie, though even the Viking is tiring of racing and will focus a lot of attention on his adventures (and vlogs) in Season 2019.
Naish also bailed from the Gorge title sponsorship (SIC stepped in to fill the void), which means we could be nearing the end of an era.
Former team: JP
New team: ONE
Kenny Kaneko didn’t achieve the results we all know he’s capable of last year, but he regularly reminded us that he’s one of the finest ambassadors our sport is lucky to have. A hard worker on the water and a great spokesman off it, Kenny carries a huge amount of respect at home in Japan and throughout Asia where he regularly competes.
This is also a big score for Team ONE, the boutique Aussie brand founded by Paul & Angie Jackson a few years ago.
ONE has a relatively small budget compared with the glamour teams, which means Kenny’s decision would have been primarily influenced by two things: being the face of a brand that has great potential in what is probably the second-biggest consumer SUP market (Japan), and the fact that ONE’s R&D is much more streamlined (read: faster) than most other brands, which means Kenny will have some of the best boards under his feet every time he races.
Kenny’s announcement last week marked the official close of Trade Week 2019. Barring any mid-season ship-jumps, the athlete rosters should be set for the remainder of the year.
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この度、オーストラリアのボードブランド One Ocean Sportsと契約致しました。ONE本社のSUPレースへの熱意・シェイパーのボード知識も素晴らしく、自信を持ってレースに挑めるベストのボードブランドと判断しました。 今後、世界中でONEのボードでレースをするのが楽しみでたまりません！ また、Oneの国内代理店FavusがプロデュースするPeaks 5のインフレータブルレースボードの開発も手伝わせていただきます。 応援よろしくお願いします。 Very excited to announce my partnership with @oneoceansports So awesome to have world class boards under my feet. Love the look and feel of these boards and this company. #oneoceansports #sup #supracer #standuppaddle #スタンドアップパドル
Guilherme dos Reis
Former team: free agent
New team: SIC
The number one dark horse of Season 2018 finally has a place to call home, with Guilherme dos Reis (“Gui” for short) signing with SIC a few weeks ago.
Most people thought Gui was already on Team SIC given that he pushed the brand to the brink of victory @ the PPGs last year (he settled for a narrow runner-up behind world number one Lincoln Dews). But no, Gui was actually just borrowing Jade Howson’s board in that race. He was still a free agent.
While he doesn’t have the international reputation of his fellow young guns, Gui cedes ground to nobody when it comes to raw talent and potential. He’s been flying under the radar for a few years and has already picked up 4x national titles at home in Brazil, so it’s safe to say he’ll be dropping the “dark horse” tag and trading it for a target on his back this year.
Gui will be joined at SIC by his brother-from-another-mother David Leão, with the duo already going by the name @brothersofpaddle on Insta.
The Sunova Crew
Yuka Sato (formerly Starboard)
Terrene Black (formerly ECS)
Amandine Chazot (Starboard)
Boris Jinvresse (Starboard
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The underdog brand Sunova managed to land five new riders over the off-season, with Japan’s number one Yuka Sato probably the most significant signing. She’ll be racing regularly this year and has the potential to match it with the Sonnis, Olivias and Fionas of the world.
Highly-talented couple Amandine Chazot and Boris Jinvresse are brand ambassadors and will likely feature at the European summer races. Terrene Black has also been seen riding Sunova boards the past few months after former-sponsor ECS dimmed their focus on the racing niche, however the bronzed Aussie will only race sporadically as she focuses on her new career as a firefighter.
[edit: I originally posted a fifth name that apparently hasn’t mentioned their move Sunova publicly yet, so it was retracted]
It’s a testament to the quality of Sunova that a brand with a tiny team budget can attract so many top riders — many of its dozen or so athletes are essentially just “ambassadors” rather than full-time contracted athletes.
Based in Thailand, the brand is famous for having pioneered the “two-piece” design, which was the real winner of the ISA Worlds in China last December when so many other athletes struggled to get their boards on the plane.
But while many of Sunova’s new ambassadors are ex-Starboard, nobody needs to shed a tear for the reigning Battle of the Brands champions: they’re still the world’s strongest race team by a comfortable margin.
Starboard still has Connor, Boothy and Daniel Hasulyo threatening a podium sweep in every major men’s race, while world number one Sonni Honscheid and number three Fiona Wylde are leading the women’s charge. There’s also Leo Nika, Clement Colmas, Larry Cain and at least half a dozen of Europe’s top junior prospects flying the Tiki flag.
The brand also spends countless hours (and dollars) on their race board R&D program, which, combined with an all-star team, means it’ll probably be many years before anyone else challenges for the BoB title.