It’s that time of year again, when we look back at twelve whole months of Stand Up Paddle races and decide who the top performers were.
The Top 12 of 2012 attempts to rank the world’s elite Stand Up Paddlers based on their performances over the past twelve months. That’s no easy feat: There are a LOT of good SUP athletes out there. In fact we had a short-list of 35 guys when we were trying to calculate our Top 12, and honestly, almost all of them could have been squeezed onto the final list if we slightly moved the criteria one way of the other.
We won’t mention who was 13th or who was 35th on our list, I’m sure you’ll know who was close once you’ve finished reading this list. There was half a dozen young whipper snappers who came out of nowhere and took some major scalps, there was plenty of “old guard” paddlers who were pushing for selection, and there was plenty of sentimental favourites who I personally wanted to see on this list but who were just missing that one major result to justify their inclusion.
But before we get down to the juicy part and see which 12 paddlers actually made the list, let’s make one thing clear: The Top 12 isn’t a popularity contest.
It doesn’t matter who’s got the biggest sponsors or the most teenage fans on Instagram. It doesn’t matter who draws the biggest crowds or who’s been around the longest. All that matters is one thing: Who performed in the major SUP races this year?
The Top 12 of 2012 is based on the race results from the biggest SUP races of 2012. This isn’t some random list we came up with on the spot, we broke down every major race result of every elite stand up paddler and then ranked them accordingly. The more competitive and prestigious the race, the heavier weighting it gets in our calculations.
And this is what we came up with.
So without further ado, here’s SUPracer.com’s Top 12 of 2012.
The big guy from Florida had another great year, racking up plenty of wins and countless podium finishes. From Florida to France, Germany to the Gorge, Chase Kosterlitz was everywhere.
Chase is nearly unstoppable in flat water and distance races, though his achilles heel is racing 12’6″ boards in the surf. Unfortunately for Chase, the biggest race of the year (the Battle of the Paddle) is exactly that. The Floridian scraped into the top 20 at the BoP Elite Race, finishing behind a dozen guys who aren’t on this list. But of course the Top 12 of 2012 is about much more than just one race, and apart from a minor slip-up at the BoP, in 2012 Chase Kosterlitz showed why he’s a champion Stand Up Paddler:
He beat Eric Terrien and Europe’s best at the big Lost Mills race in Germany. He came home ahead of Connor Baxter (and just about every other big name paddler) at the Gorge Elite Race. He was leading Jamie Mitchell with just metres to go at Tahoe, before being quite literally overrun on the line. He took out the Hennessey’s World Championship Distance Race down in Mexico and beat everyone except Danny Ching at the Carolina Cup.
2012 was a good year for Chase Kosterlitz, and if there were more races on 14′ boards he’d probably be a few places higher on this ranking list.
1st: Lost Mills
1st: Hennessey’s World Championships Distance Race
2nd: Carolina Cup
2nd: Tahoe Nalu SUP Festival Distance Race
3rd: Tahoe Nalu SUP Festival Survivor Race
3rd: Gorge Paddle Challenge Course Race
3rd: Hennessey’s World Championships Elite Race
4th: Paddle Royal Distance Race
6th: H2O Overdrive Summer Series
#11. Ryan Helm
Ryan Helm seemingly came out of nowhere this year to claim some very impressive race results and take some big scalps along the way. A supremely fit athlete (and former pro surfer), Ryan was born in California, raised in Florida and now resides in Sayulita, Mexico, home of the Punta Sayulita Classic. The 38 year old beat Kai Lenny at that event in March, left a who’s who of the SUP racing world in his wake at the H2O race in Utah in July, stomped on a bunch of young guns at the SUP World Series (both Chicago and Cocoa Beach) before making the podium at the biggest race of the year: The Battle of the Paddle Elite Race.
Ryan still lacks the race consistency of some of the paddlers higher up on this ranking list, but he’s clearly got the talent, fitness and the mindset to challenge for some major race wins in 2013.
1st: Hennessey’s U.S. Championships 14′ class
2nd: Punta Sayulita Distance Race
2nd: Hennessey’s World Champs Elite Race
3rd: Hennessey’s World Champs Distance Race
3rd: Punta Sayulita Elite Race
3rd: H2O Overdrive Summer Series
3rd: Stand World Series (Chicago)
4th: Stand Up World Series (Cocoa Beach)
10th: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
The young gun from the Gold Coast with the massive potential. This year Jake Jensen started to show why he’s so highly regarded at home, putting in some impressive performances at the major international SUP races such as Waikiki and the World Series. Jake was also sitting in a podium spot at the BoP Elite Race until right near the end, eventually falling back to a relatively disappointing 13th place. Though he showed just how quick he is the next day…
The Battle of the Paddle Teams Relay isn’t quite as serious as the Elite Race, but almost all the top guys are involved and there’s plenty of sponsor bragging rights on the line, so the standard is still very high. The elite Naish team gave Jake the responsibility for getting their star quartet off to a flying start, and that’s exactly what he did. The young gun flew off the beach and by the end of the first lap (and the relay laps were pretty short) Jake had given Naish a solid lead over their main rivals, a lead they’d hold onto until the end. Jake deserves his spot on this list from his solo race results alone, but it was his performance in the BoP Teams Race that highlighted just how quick he can be.
The scary thing for his rivals: Jake Jensen only finished high school a month ago. The kid’s now got plenty of time to focus on training and racing. Jake also recently started work as a lifeguard on the Gold Coast (following the path of Jamie Mitchell and Kelly Margetts) so he’ll be virtually living at the beach from now on. Come 2013 expect to see Jake Jensen near the top.
1st: 20 Beaches Classic
2nd: Queensland State SUP Titles Distance Race
2nd: Power of the Paddle
2nd: King Of The Harbour
3rd: Australian National SUP Titles Course Race
3rd: Queensland State SUP Titles Course Race
3rd: Waikiki Paddle Festival Distance Race
4th: Stand Up World Series Finals @ Turtle Bay
5th: Waikiki Paddle Festival Survivor Race
Seems this guy has been around forever, yet he’s not even 20 yet. That’s what happens when you finish runner-up at the BoP Elite Race as a 14 year old.
Slater Trout is one of the most well-known stand up paddle racers in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee him a spot on this list. He had to earn it, and earn it he did. At the start of the year I thought Slater might be slipping; overtaken by his peers such as Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny and unable to keep up with the older guard such as Danny, Jamie and Travis. But the guy with the coolest name in SUP came back strong during the year, showing that he’s got more than just a pretty face.
Slater Trout made the final at Waikiki, beat everyone except Kai and Connor in the World Series and took a bunch of victories in other SUP races. But it was his performances at the Battle of the Paddle which earned him ranking #9 on the Top 12 of 2012. Slater took 5th place in the ridiculously competitive Elite Race, coming home ahead of almost all of the world’s best before backing it up in the Distance Race the next day.
A runner-up at the World Series Finals @ Turtle Bay sprints a couple of weeks later cemented his position and showed just what he’s capable of. If he’s not too distracted posting pics of him and his girlfriend on Instagram (though who could blame him), Slater Trout could just be one of the form paddlers of 2013.
1st: Hanohano Huki Ocean Challenge 12’6 class
2nd: Stand Up World Series (Finals @ Turtle Bay)
3rd: Stand Up World Series (Overall Series)
3rd: Stand Up World Series (Chicago)
3rd: Watermans Paddle For Humanity Dana Point
4th: Battle of the Paddle Distance Race
4th: Gorge Paddle Challenge Course Race
5th: Gorge Paddle Challenge Distance Race
5th: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
8th: Waikiki Paddle Festival Survivor Race
Dave Kalama was the toughest name to include in this list, but it would have been even tougher to exclude him. The big guy doesn’t like 12’6 boards and he rarely races outside Hawaii. SUP racing isn’t really his thing, period, which makes it very difficult to compare him against the more “all-round” type paddlers. But despite only entering a handful of races this year, Kalama showed again in 2012 that when it comes to downwinding, he’s almost unbeatable…
I say “almost” because while Kalama paddled super strong this year, he wasn’t able to edge past Connor Baxter. Kalama and the Kid (who’s almost a third of his age) were almost inseparable in the major downwind races this year. In the third and final Triple Crown race – the Maui to Molokai – Dave and Connor went toe-to-toe right across the channel, before Connor pulled away near the end.
It was a similar story in the Molokai-2-Oahu, one of the most prestigious events in the sport of SUP racing. The young and old champions (Kalama won Molokai in 2010, Baxter in 2011) battled it out for over four hours across the Channel of Bones, never far from each other’s sight. In the end it was the closest finish in Molokai history, with Connor finishing half a minute ahead of Kalama. Despite having to settle for 2nd, Dave showed he can match it with the best.
There’s one other major performance that earned Kalama his spot in the Top 12 of 2012: Olukai.
At the heavily-stacked Maui event back in May, Kalama finished the downwind portion of the race in equal 2nd, right beside Travis Grant and Danny Ching (only Connor Baxter was clear in front). Travis made a break coming in through the surf and Danny made his move on the 250m soft-sand run to the finish line. But still, Kalama picked up a 4th in one of the most hotly-contested races of the year and proved he’s one of the best stand up paddlers going round.
Oh and if you needed any more evidence of Kalama deserving his spot; the only three guys that finished ahead of him in 2012 (Baxter, Grant, Ching) are all at the pointy-end of this list.
#7. Eric Terrien
The workhorse from France, Eric Terrien just keeps on racking up the race results. The guy is unbeatable in Europe (which has a very underrated race scene) and showed up plenty of more well-known names in the U.S.
Eric won a lot of races this year but the one performance that sticks out for me is the ISA World Champs Distance Race. There wasn’t a lot of depth of talent at the ISA Worlds this year, but there was a couple of the worlds best: Team Australia’s Travis Grant and Jamie Mitchell. The two Aussies dominated the Course Race and were unbackable favourites for the Distance Race. Nobody told Eric Terrien though; the Frenchman clung to Travis and Jamie for two thirds of the 20km Distance Race before finally dropping off and settling for third.
But here’s the thing: Eric wasn’t wash-riding (drafting) the two leaders, he was roughly 50m behind for a good hour or two. Not dropping back, but not able to gain either. So he basically kept pace with two of the world’s absolute gun paddlers (who were working together) for 15kms straight all on his own. It was this performance, more than any of his countless victories, that guaranteed Eric a solid spot on the Top 12 of 2012.
Eric’s one major slip came at the Battle of the Paddle, where he finished a disappointing 17th in the Elite Race Final (after winning heat #2, see photo above). However the Frenchman’s performances throughout the rest of the season meant he more than deserved a Top 12 spot (and it also highlights that this list is not based on the BoP alone).
1st: Nautic SUP Paris Crossing
1st: Stand Up World Series La Torche
1st: SUP Race Cup
1st: Surf Race To Victory
1st: Marseilles SUP Race
1st: French National SUP Championships (12’6 Distance, 14′ Distance, Downwind)
2nd: Paddle Royal
2nd: Lost Mills
3rd: ISA World Championships Distance Race
5th: Battle of the Paddle Distance Race
Australia (SUP ATX/Lahui Kai)
The hard-working Aussie, Kelly is now 40 years old but regularly schools guys less than half his age. He’s an absolute machine and showed just how good he can be at the Battle of the Paddle. In arguably the most competitive SUP race of all time Kelly mowed down the field in the back half of the race to finish 4th, behind only Danny Ching, Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter. If there was an extra lap or two in that race, Kelly could very well have won.
The Gold Coaster also picked up some big wins at the State and National SUP Titles back home in Aus, and if he was able to make it to more international races could easily be higher than 6th place in the Top 12 of 2012.
1st: Australian National SUP Titles Course Race
1st: Power of the Paddle
1st: Watermans Paddle For Humanity Florida
1st: NSW State SUP Titles Course Race
2nd: NSW State SUP Titles Distance Race
2nd: Queensland State SUP Titles Course Race
3rd: The Doctor
3rd: Australian National SUP Titles Distance Race
3rd: Queensland State SUP Titles Distance Race
4th: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
6th: Waikiki Paddle Festiaval Survivor Race
#5. Jamie Mitchell
By his own standards and admission, 2012 was a shocker for Jamie Mitchell. The 10x World Champion paddleboarder is used to winning; not just at Molokai but at pretty much every big event (he took out the Battle of the Paddle in 2009 and was runner-up to in 2010 & 2011).
Though despite being under-trained and not in the right frame of mind for racing, Jamie Mitchell still managed to put in some massive performances in 2012.
There was the H2O Overdrive race in Utah, where an absolutely stacked field turned up to try and dethrone Danny Ching – nobody could do it, but Jamie was the only one who got close. There was the Orange Bowl duel with Danny Ching, where Jamie lost in a sprint to the line after 7 miles of toe-to-toe action. There was the Waikiki Distance Race, where he took out the 14′ class by a mile and finished behind only one unlimited paddler. There was the other Waikiki effort, where in his signature Survivor Race he finished behind only Travis Grant and Danny Ching. There was the Gorge Paddle Challenge Course Race, where he looked set to win only for a plucky Kai Lenny to pull a fast one.
And despite his lack of race conditioning, there were still victories for Jamie Mitchell this year: ISA Distance Race, Tahoe Nalu and Santa Cruz among them.
If this is the kind of stuff an off-kilter Jamie Mitchell can do, imagine what a 100% fit & focused Jamie Mitchell can do. Look for the champ to return in 2013 (if he’s not too distracted chasing 40ft waves around the Pacific, that is).
1st: ISA World Championships Distance Race
1st: Tahoe Nalu SUP Festival Distance Race
1st: Tahoe Nalu SUP Festival Survivor Race
1st: Surftech Jay Race
1st: Waikiki Paddle Festival Distance Race 14′ class (2nd overall)
2nd: ISA World Championships Course Race
2nd: Orange Bowl Paddle Champs
2nd: Gorge Paddle Challenge Course Race
2nd: 12 Towers Ocean SUP Race
2nd: H2O Overdrive Summer Series
3rd: Gorge Paddle Challenge Distance Race
6th: Battle of the Paddle Distance Race
7th: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
Australia (NSP/DC Paddleboards)
Travis Grant was our #1 ranked SUP racer for the first half of 2012. Then he got injured. Bad. A fractured elbow put Travis out of the water for months, costing him his chance to prove how good he is at the major races in the back half of the year.
But still, the performances the Gold Coaster put in during his few weeks in Hawaii back in May showed what he’s capable of: 1st at the Waikiki Survivor Race and 2nd at Olukai were the big highlights. Throw in a bag of medals at the ISA World Champs plus a victory at the very competitive “12 Towers” race back in January, and you can see why Travis Grant deserves his spot near the top of this list.
1st: Waikiki Paddle Festival Survivor Race
1st: 12 Towers Ocean SUP Race
1st: ISA World Championships Course Race
2nd: ISA World Championships Distance Race
3rd: Waikiki Paddle Festival Distance Race
Last year I had Connor Baxter at #2 on the Top 11 of 2011. The way he was paddling 12 months ago I just assumed he’d be #1 this year. But then two things happened: Firstly Danny Ching found his spark and refused to let the young brigade take over, and then Kai Lenny decided that SUP racing was just as much fun as SUP surfing. Those two guys combined to rob Connor of his assumed place at the top of the SUP racing world this year.
It wasn’t all bad: Connor Baxter still won a LOT of races in 2012, the highlight being his Molokai-2-Oahu title defence. But the big ones slipped through his grasp: 4th at Waikiki, 3rd at the Battle of the Paddle Elite Race and 2nd in the World Series.
Everyone who’s seen Connor race a stand up paddle board agrees: The kid is a freak. He’ll no doubt top our end of year list sooner rather than later. After all, the numbers are in his favour: He’s got 2 years on Kai Lenny and over decade on Danny Ching, so Connor Baxter still has plenty of time left to dominate the sport of SUP racing.
1st: Triple Crown
1st: The Doctor
1st: Punta Sayulita Distance Race
1st: Punta Sayulita Elite Race
2nd: Stand Up World Series
2nd: Gorge Paddle Challenge Distance Race
3rd: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
4th: Waikiki Paddle Festival Survivor Race
The kid who everyone assumed cared more about SUP surfing than SUP racing proved everyone wrong in 2012. Kai Lenny started off a little slowly; during the first half f the year he picked up a 4th in France and a couple of losses to Connor Baxter in Mexico, but in the back half of 2012, where most of the big races are, Kai Lenny took off like a rocket.
It all started on Maui in July, where a bunch of fine downwind performances culminated in a blistering paddle across the Ka’iwi Channel. Kai took out the Molokai-2-Oahu 14′ class and, after over four hours, was less than 10 minutes behind the unlimiteds of Kalama and Baxter. From that point on, Kai Lenny was almost unbeatable for the next three months: He racked up a string of victories in the SUP World Series (most of them directly against Connor Baxter) and surprised an exceptionally elite field in Oregon to dominate the Gorge Paddle Challenge.
By the time late September rolled round there was only one thing standing in between Kai Lenny and the title of “fastest stand up paddler of 2012″: The Battle of the Paddle.
If Kai could have won the BoP he would have easily been #1 in the Top 12 of 2012. But he didn’t: Danny Ching crushed the ambitions of the young brigade in 24 hours of pure SUP racing magic, resigning Kai Lenny to a pair of 2nd place finishes and a similar standing on our end of year ranking.
But Kai still displayed enough speed, talent and above all determination to show how much of a threat he’s going to be in 2013. The slightly older crowd (Ching, Grant, Mitchell) can’t stay on top forever, and Kai has taken over the baton from Connor Baxter in pushing for a quick generational change.
1st: Stand Up World Series (Overall Series, Cocoa Beach, Chicago, Finals @ Turtle Bay)
1st: Gorge Paddle Challenge Elite Race
1st: Gorge Paddle Challenge Distance Race
1st: Molokai-2-Oahu stock class (3rd overall)
1st: Olukai 14′ class (7th overall)
1st: Naish Paddle Championships 14′ class
2nd: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
2nd: Battle of the Paddle Distance Race
2nd: Punta Sayulita Elite Race
3rd: Punta Sayulita Distance Race
#1. Danny Ching
During one 24 hour stretch of absolutely freakish paddling, Danny Ching left no doubt that he’s the fastest paddler in the world.
At the 2012 Battle of the Paddle Ching took paddling to a new level. First he blitzed the opening qualifying heat, ignoring the unwritten law that says the elite guys should play it safe and conserve energy for the final. A few hours later he reclaimed the Elite Race title from the young guns, surviving the low-tide Doheny State Beach chaos to come out on top and repeating his 2010 victory. This performance alone would have been enough to give Ching our #1 ranking, but with his trademark green cap and big smile, Danny Ching saved his best for last.
The 2012 BoP Distance Race introduced the “Elite 14′ class” for the first time. Suddenly everyone was hopping off unlimiteds an onto production boards, and suddenly the race was a lot tighter. Instead of the field being spread across three different classes (12’6, 14′ and unlimited), this year almost all the top guys were on the same length boards, and therefore in the same race. Kai Lenny was keen to make up for his loss the previous day, Connor Baxter was in fine form and Jamie Mitchell found new strength. Throw in a couple of dozen other genuine contenders and you suddenly had one extremely stacked field.
Yet Danny Ching was in a league of his own. He dropped most of the field right from the start and shrugged off Jamie Mitchell before the halfway mark. From there Danny was paddling his own race (with apologies to Rob Rojas, who actually took line honours on his unlimited) and finished an amazing two and a half minutes ahead of the chase group, which by the end of the course had bunched up into a pack of 15 elite guys. All 15 of those guy were in a race for 2nd.
But Danny didn’t just dominate the Battle, he went through the entire year virtually unbeaten and was therefore a pretty easy choice to head up our Top 12 of 2012. In fact Danny was only beaten twice all year, and based on his current form and apparent motivation, he could very well make it a perfectly clean sweep in 2013.
1st: Battle of the Paddle Elite Race
1st: Battle of the Paddle Distance Race
1st: Paddle Royal
1st: Carolina Cup
1st: Orange Bowl Paddle Champs
1st: H2o Overdrive Summer Series
1st: Race The Lake Of The Sky
2nd: Waikiki Paddle Festival Survivor Race
So there you go. The 12 best Stand Up Paddlers of 2012, at least according to SUPracer.com. Four Aussies, four Hawaiians, a couple of guys from Florida, a Californian and a Frenchman.
#12: Chase Kosterlitz
#11: Ryan Helm
#10: Jake Jensen
#9: Slater Trout
#8: Dave Kalama
#7: Eric Terrien
#6: Kelly Margetts
#5: Jamie Mitchell
#4: Travis Grant
#3: Connor Baxter
#2: Kai Lenny
#1: Danny Ching
But what do you think? Did we get it right or wrong?
We’d love to hear your thoughts, so throw down a comment below and tell us if we suck or if we’re spot on.