It’s been a wild nine days for Lina Augaitis, with victories in California and Hawaii punctuating what has been a big year for the Canadian in general.
Lina quit her job twelve months ago to pursue the dream of being a professional athlete and she hasn’t held back. Barely a race went by this year that she wasn’t a part of: From Florida to Nicaragua to California to Oregon to Europe to Hawaii, the SIC team rider was racking up the frequent flyer miles and stocking up her trophy cabinet.
Several standout performances at the inland races helped build on her reputation of being one of the fastest women in flat water. Apart from the freak-of-an-athlete that is Annabel Anderson, I don’t think anyone can out-paddle Lina in the flats.
Only problem is… the biggest race of the year isn’t held in flat water. The biggest race of the year is the Battle of the Paddle. And this year the BOP was the complete opposite of flat.
Lina wasn’t one of the favourites coming into the Battle, at least not in the famed Elite Race, an event that basically invented the notion of racing stand up paddleboards in the surf. The first to admit that waves are her Achilles’ heel, the reigning ISA Gold Medalist’s best hope at Salt Creek seemed to be the Distance Race on day two.
At one point I even tried convincing her to just sit out the Elite Race and save her energy for the distance event.
But in a show of the kind of stubbornness and determination she’s become famous for, the diminutive Canuck charged her way through the Elite Race Final, survived the carnage, the chaos and the crashes in the surf, powered down the flat stretches and crossed the line top three.
She was stoked. The biggest race of the year, against the best female competition, in conditions she wasn’t supposed to excel in, and she’d scored a podium spot. To add to the rollercoaster, Lina suddenly moved up another place into second after the “Buoygate” incident, which saw Annabel Anderson (as well as Sonni Hönscheid) cop a one minute penalty.
It was a very impressive performance from this globetrotting Canadian.
I later found out that Lina had received special coaching in the lead up to the BOP from none other than Ian Cairns (pictured below in the brim hat), the legendary Aussie surfer that now works for Surfing USA. That work had clearly paid off.
As if finishing runner-up in the biggest race of the year isn’t enough of a high to finish your amazing year on, less than 24 hours later the Canadian was back on the podium. However this time she was one step higher, completing a remarkable BOP weekend by taking out her preferred Distance Race.
But while the distance was always going to be Lina’s specialty, she didn’t make it easy on herself.
It was with great irony that Lina had the worst ever start to the long distance race. After punching above her weight in the surf the previous day, the ever smiling star was looking anything but happy after getting caught by a set in the first 30 seconds. That put her at a huge disadvantage in the one event she was expected to excel in.
Lina is nothing if not a fighter though, so over the next hour and a half she fought her way back through the field and into second place.
With less than a kilometre to go, only Annabel Anderson stood between her and a BOP title. In most cases, Annabel is an immovable object that nobody can pass. But despite being the two-time defending champ in both the Elite and Distance events, this wasn’t Annabel’s weekend. While Lina had the worst possible start, Annabel had the worst possible finish, getting cleaned up by the set of the day on the way in.
This opened the door for the beaming girl in jersey #33 to grab a come-from-behind victory, crossing the line surrounded by her ecstatic and very supportive SIC team managers.
(And as a side note: In a time of endless debates about equipment, it’s also worth noting that the victory came on a production 14′ board straight out of Thailand.)
Lina’s 48 hour Battle of the Paddle fairy tale was completed by the awarding of “Most Combative” alongside Danny Ching, an accolade generally reserved for the best overall paddlers across the Elite and Distance Races. It was a fitting tribute to a paddler who has fought endlessly all year.
But Lina’s rollercoaster didn’t stop there. Fast forward one week and the endless traveler was on Oahu’s infamous North Shore for the Stand Up World Series Finals at Turtle Bay.
While the waves at Salt Creek were intimidating, the forecast for the North Shore was downright deadly. On the eve of the event, Pipeline was firing. There were solid 10 ft waves (that’s 20 ft faces…) breaking along the Seven Mile Miracle and most of the athletes, even those who surf giant waves for a living, were feeling slightly anxious.
So spare a thought for a Canadian girl that feels more at home on a lake than the wild coasts of Oahu.
However failure wasn’t really an option because on the line was the 2014 World Series title. While not as prestigious as a Battle crown, the World Series is something Lina had spent endless hours flying across the globe chasing this year, so she wanted to finish with a bang.
Standing in her way were not only the walls of water crashing down onto Oahu, but also Australia’s Angie Jackson, her chief rival in the World Series and someone who takes her race board out into the waves on a daily basis back home. Whoever finished with a higher placing in this two-day event, after the distance and sprint results were combined, would take the 2014 Stand Up World Series crown.
So the odds were certainly stacked against Lina. But, for those of us who have charted her season, we knew that the former school teacher’s year was in for one more twist at Turtle Bay. And sure enough, the rollercoaster continued.
On Saturday afternoon, day one of the event, competitors lined up for the Distance Race. Usually distance races are long, boring affairs, but not this year at Turtle Bay. This year the distance race course involved navigating your way out through a channel as huge swells bore down on either side. Even experienced ocean goers such as Zane Schweitzer were getting caught out at the start:
Lina had the worst start out of anyone. After some dubious officiating, in which changes to the course were made at the last minute but without being relayed to the entire field, the champion from the Battle suddenly found herself at the back of the pack. By the time the wounded competitors had washed up on shore a few miles down the coast, Lina was in 6th position. Out of a field of just 8 women.
That basically ended her title hopes right then and there. She pretty much had to hope for a miracle, as Angie Jackson had finished second (after leading for much of the race) and only had to stay on her board during the sprints on day two for the title to be hers.
Lina was bummed on Saturday night. She was frustrated with the race officials, annoyed that the conditions were against her and was probably just plain tired after a year on the road:
But as we predicted, the rollercoaster still had one more loop left to run.
In the sprint race on day two, which was held in macking surf, Angie Jackson’s leash plug was torn right out of her board by a freak set right near the end of the race, literally sending her own World Series title hopes washing in to the shore.
It was a cruel end for the Australian, not helped by the fact she took three massive waves on the head after her board had disappeared. It was also not helped by the fact organisers had sent the only working jetski home before the start of the women’s final. This led to a frantic rescue mission in which Angie’s husband Paul “Jacko” Jackson had to paddle out and help bring her to safety while Angie’s fellow female competitors screamed for someone to assist their rival.
This bizarre, freak incident did open the door for Lina though, who held on to claim a respectable finish in the sprints that gave her 4th place overall for the event. With an equipment malfunction and virtual last place finish in the second half of the event, Angie finished the weekend in 5th place.
So Lina won the 2014 title at the last second of the last race by the smallest of margins. A gracious victory speech followed, in which she thanked the very-unlucky Angie Jackson for pushing her all year.
The change in fortunes and change in mood in the space of 24 hours was summed up by her Facebook post on Sunday night:
Meanwhile her primary sponsor and chief-plane-ticket-financier SIC (Lina is also supported by Werner Paddles) was understandably stoked for her.
Lina’s wild weekend at Turtle Bay was a fitting way to end what has been a crazy year in general. Those of us who follow SUP racing for a living would have seen her in tears at least once (most likely several times…) throughout the season. She wears her heart on her sleeve and has invested so much into 2014, both emotionally and physically, that at times the Canadian seemed to want nothing more than to go home to her extremely supportive husband (who has basically had to provide two incomes while his wife pursued her dream).
So it’s with a full bag of trophies, a big smile and a huge sigh of relief that Lina will return home this week. Nobody knows, perhaps not even her, if her rollercoaster will continue for a second year. But no matter what, Lina has definitely added some flair to the women’s racing scene in 2014.
Congratulations Lina Augaitis on your wild, successful, rollercoaster of a year.