There are certain names that are synonymous with the Battle of the Paddle. Names such as Danny Ching, Candice Appleby, Jamie Mitchell, Travis Grant and Connor Baxter. These fine athletes have dominated the BOP and pushed the sport to new levels, while at the same time creating strong rivalries among themselves.
Rivalries are what make sport so enthralling. Federer vs Nadal. Slater vs Irons. England vs Australia. It gives individuals added motivation to perform while giving fans something extra to get excited about and cheer for. And now thankfully we have a few genuine rivalries in SUP racing as well.
Battle Of The Paddle RIVALRIES
Travis Grant vs. Danny Ching
After being two of the leading paddlers in the world of one-man outrigger paddling, Danny and Travis made a very quick and very successful jump over to stand up a few years ago. Immediately they were winning races and often had only each other for company at the front of the pack.
While Danny quickly made a big name for himself and became known as the man at the Battle, Travis was perhaps quieter, more humble and less of a celebrity than Danny. It didn’t help that Travis lived all the way out in Australia, while Danny was at the epicenter of SUP in California.
These two have given us some of the best battles we’ve seen in SUP racing, most notably during the 2010 and 2011 editions of the Battle of the Paddle Hawaii. In 2010 Danny took the win ahead of Travis, while the next year, despite Danny’s overwhelming favouritism, the Aussie reversed the result and was the first (and one of the only) to put a dent in Danny’s seemingly impenetrable armour.
Sadly, the BOP only lasted in Hawaii for two years, meaning these two guys will go down in history as the two totally dominant forces in the event. However we can safely assume their rivalry will continue at Dana Point, especially on September 28th this year, when they will both start as two of the big favourites in the Elite Race.
Candice Appleby vs. Every Other Woman
For a long time Candice Appleby was unbeatable at the BOP, winning four straight titles as she blizted the competition in both the Californian and Hawaiian Battles of 2010 & 2011. During that time Candice was the undisputed Queen of the BOP.
Even more amazing than her four straight is the fact that Candice’s worst ever result, in all seven editions of the Battle (5x at Dana Point and 2x in Hawaii), is second… in which she finished at the 2008, 2009 and 2012 California BOPs. That highlights her dominance pretty clearly to me.
During her time at the top, Candice’s biggest competition came from her good friend (and constant bridesmaid) Brandi Baksic, as well as 2008 champ and perennial podium getter Jenny Kalmbach (who’s been in fine form lately and could challenge for the title again this year).
These days however, the main woman pushing Candice around the Elite Course is undoubtedly New Zealand’s Annabel Anderson. See below…
Annabel Anderson vs. Candice Appleby
In the past 18 months Annabel Anderson has taken over the women’s SUP racing scene. After a strong third place in the 2011 BOP California, Annabel totally blitzed it in 2012, culminating in her double victory at Dana Point twelve months ago where the Kiwi claimed both the Elite and Distance races in comprehensive fashion (and, in doing so, ended Candice’s reign as the BOP Queen).
Annabel and Candice are extremely driven, fierce competitors, beating not only the other girls on the course but also most of the men (something that Annabel has made into her signature move lately…). The two women don’t really get along on (or even off) the water, which only seems to fuel the rivalry even more.
Connor Baxter vs. Kai Lenny
This is one of the great rivalries in the sport of SUP racing, one that not only excites armchair fans around the world but also motivates other elite paddlers to race harder (“It’s not the kids’ time just yet”).
The Kai vs. Connor rivalry has really only been evident at one edition of the BOP so far (last year), however it goes well beyond that. The duel has spilled over into other races, namely the Stand Up World Series that’s usually dominated by these two young Maui chargers. But it doesn’t start or end there. For those who have only discovered the names ‘Kai’ and ‘Connor’ through SUP racing, you may be surprised to learn just how long and deep this rivalry runs…
These two, who are still just kids in most peoples’ eyes, have actually been competing against each other for more than ten years already.
Both Kai and Connor grew up windsurfing together on Maui. Kai is two years older but Connor was always ahead of his time, so the two would often compete against each other. From there it crossed over into Stand Up Paddling, which for a while was a fairly harmonious transition; Connor started killing it in the races but only cared about free-surfing, while Kai was winning the SUP surfing world title without giving too much thought to the races.
But then, as soon as Connor won the 2011 Battle of the Paddle (a race in which Kai finished in a surprisingly-high fifth place – and I say ‘surprising’ as he still wasn’t taking racing seriously at that point yet still blasted past a whole stack of serious talent), something snapped in Kai’s mind. Suddenly he wanted to be a champion SUP racer as well, because that’s what Connor was.
The two aren’t the best of friends off the water but they’re certainly not enemies either, they simply just want to beat each other, badly, because that’s all they’ve ever known. They have a deep, mutual respect and push each other to the limit every time. As Kai said recently: “I love racing against Connor – he’s the reason I’m out here pushing myself to go faster.”
The Kai/Connor rivalry will continue at Dana Point in a few weeks’ time, with the young guns likely to start as two of the hot favourites alongside the likes of Danny Ching and Travis Grant.
The Old Guard vs. The Kids
The “Old Guard” (and I say ‘old’ in a purely relative sense… these guys aren’t actually old) include the BOP Elite Race Champions Jamie Mitchell, Danny Ching and Travis Grant, as well as the likes of Georges Cronsteadt (4th at the 2010 Cali BOP), Kelly Margetts (4th at Cali 2012, 5th in 2011 at Waikiki) and European #1 Eric Terrien.
Meanwhile the “The Kids” are younger paddlers such as Connor Baxter, Slater Trout and Kai Lenny. Though while these three were the original “new school,” there’s a whole new wave of paddlers in their late teens and early 20s who are challenging for the title as well (names such as Kody Kerbox, Mo Freitas, Casper Steinfath, Lincoln Dews and Riggs Napoleon). Basically if you’re not old enough to drink at the after party, you’re one of The Kids.
At every Battle in the past few years we’ve seen an interesting showdown between the Old Guard and The Kids. In 2011 Travis and Danny (1st & 2nd) held off Connor and Slater (3rd & 4th) at Waikiki, before Connor ground out a victory ahead of Jamie and Danny at Dana Point four months later.
At the 2012 Battle of the Paddle California the showdown was set once again, though this time the Old Guard got one back on The Kids after Danny Ching won a memorable Elite Race ahead of Kai (2nd) and Connor (3rd). The minor placings saw a tit-for-tat between the two generational groups: another member of the Old Guard, Kelly Margetts, came home 4th, before Slater and Mo filled the next two spots ahead of Jamie Mitchell, who also had Casper right on his tail.
At the 2013 Battle of the Paddle look for much of the same, with a reinvigorated Travis Grant likely to lead the charge for the “Old Guard” along with Danny and perhaps some new members of the club (30 year old Beau O’Brian will be one to keep an eye on), while Kai and Connor will have plenty of backup as the latest wave of Kids chases Battle glory.
Even though we added the “Kids vs. Old Guard” rivalry to this list as a little bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, there is actually a serious element to it…
I know a lot of the new generation get motivated by being able to match it with the guys they looked up to just a few years ago, while the original talent use the meteoric rise of guys like Kai and Connor as fuel to help them paddle faster and stay at the top for longer. So all jokes aside, there definitely is a generational rivalry in SUP racing, at least on the men’s side.