The World’s Best Stand Up Paddlers: The ‘Top 14 Of 2014’

 
Carolina Cup Stand Up Paddle Board Race

The Carolina Cup drew an all star field this year (photo: Chris McQuiston for SUPracer.com)

The first real post I ever did on SUPracer.com was the Top 11 of 2011. It was three years ago last week that I first tried to rank the world’s best paddlers in order – not an easy task in a sport as fragmented as stand up paddle racing.

I probably got things a little more accurate with the Top 12 of 2012 and again with the Top 13 of 2013. However those “power rankings” were always based as much on my gut feeling as any real stats, so 18 months ago I set about building a far more accurate and reliable ranking system.

That of course became the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS, which I released on the eve of this year’s Battle of the Paddle. For the first time in the sport’s history, we got to look at the world’s best paddlers ranked side by side, based on their performances at all of the major races over the past 12 months.

So finally, with an accurate, unbiased and all-encompassing world ranking system based on a complex mathematical formula, I figured that the Top xx of 20xx would be retired this year.

But then I had a change of heart.

Even though the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS are always there for anyone to inspect and analyse, I still wanted to do a separate feature to recognise the great performances of the exceptionally talented athletes that make this humble little sport of ours so much fun to be part of.

Carolina Cup (8)

Slater Trout leading out a big field during the Carolina Cup (photo: Chris McQuiston for SUPracer.com)

I also figured that if I was doing another year of these best of lists, I might as well go all in…

So first came the Top 14 “Most Popular” Races, then the Top 14 Videos, Top 14 News Stories and the Top 14 “Most Competitive” Races of 2014. But now it’s time for the fifth and final list. This is the headline act: The Top 14 Paddlers of 2014.

These are the best guys and girls in the world of SUP racing right now. Or at least these are the paddlers that performed the strongest at the biggest races over the past 12 months.

This Top 14 list is based entirely on the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS Top 100 Men / Top 50 Women. That means if you’re a fan of the site, this “best of” power rankings won’t be a surprise like it usually is. Instead, this Top 14 of 2014 is simply a way to honour the 14 guys and 14 girls that paddled hard and got the results they needed to finish the year ranked at the top of the World Rankings leaderboard.

Congratulations to Connor Baxter and Annabel Anderson for finishing 2014 ranked #1 in the world on the respective men’s and women’s leaderboards. Check out the full Top 14 Paddlers of 2014 below, including their season-ending World Ranking Points, then scroll down for the full analysis and highlights.


MEN’S TOP 14 OF 2014

RankNamePoints
1Connor Baxter236.60
2Kai Lenny235.38
3Danny Ching214.80
4Jake Jensen164.04
5Travis Grant153.15
6Mo Freitas129.13
7Georges Cronsteadt126.91
8Casper Steinfath105.70
9Beau O'Brian104.50
10Eric Terrien103.40
11Zane Schweitzer100.80
12Lincoln Dews94.38
13Chase Kosterlitz80.73
14Titouan Puyo79.38

WOMEN’S TOP 14 OF 2014

RankNamePoints
1Annabel Anderson226.70
2Candice Appleby188.38
3Lina Augaitis172.53
4Fiona Wylde131.58
5Jenny Kalmbach120.48
6Angela Jackson117.76
7Sonni Hönscheid102.14
8Shae Foudy70.47
9Shakira Westdorp61.13
10Talia Decoite53.90
11Halie Harrison50.12
12Shannon Bell44.93
13Morgan Hoesterey44.87
14Kelsa Gabehart44.16
Top 14 of 2014

Connor Baxter had another insanely impressive year, with highlights including reclaiming his Molokai-2-Oahu crown from Travis Grant, a repeat victory at the Ultimate SUP Showdown (the 2nd most competitive race of the year), and that all-conquering display at the Gorge Paddle Challenge, where Connor bested an elite field in what was 2014’s 3rd most competitive event.

Connor Baxter Ultimate SUP Showdown

Connor Baxter and his signature dive-across-the-line at this year’s Showdown (photo: SUPracer.com)

When the inaugural SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS were released in early October, on the eve of the BOP, Connor had such a massive lead that I figured he’d safely finish 2014 ranked #1 in the world. But then Kai Lenny came along and did what Kai Lenny does best.

After an up-and-down year, which included poor showings at big events such as the Gorge, Kai silenced the critics with a memorable, come-from-behind victory at Salt Creek. And because the Battle of the Paddle Elite Race was far and away the most competitive event of 2014, Kai bagged a giant stack of points that *almost* landed him the World #1 ranking.

With less than 2 points separating the Maui superstars heading into 2015, it’s going to be another interesting year as these rivals battle it out.

Kai Lenny Connor Baxter Battle of the Paddle incident

Things were just as close between Kai and Connor on the water as they are in the World Rankings (photo: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

If Danny Ching hadn’t dropped his paddle on the run to the line and Kai hadn’t somehow come back and caught he and Jake on the final lap, the 404 front man would be ranked #1 in the world right now. If he’d won the BOP, instead of finishing 3rd, Danny would have overtaken both Kai and Connor on the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS, and he would have held it until the end of the year.

But it wasn’t to be.

Danny did have some stellar performances elsewhere though, highlighted by his commanding performance at the Carolina Cup, one of the biggest races of the year in terms of participation numbers, level of competition and prestige.

Danny Ching Battle of the Paddle

Unfortunately for Danny, his BOP jersey matches his year-end World Ranking… (photo: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

I know Danny Ching well enough to assume he really doesn’t like being ranked all the way down at #3 in the world, so I’d expect this list will give him just that little bit of added motivation to kick ass in the new year.

Finishing the year ranked as the 4th best male paddler in the world is Jake Jensen. The Aussie young gun scored a bag of points with his runner-up performance at the BOP Elite Race, though he also backed it up with consistent finishes in a stack of big races across the globe (this kid covered some miles in 2014).

Jake’s fellow Aussie Travis Grant rounds out the Top 5. Trav almost went back-to-back at Molokai this year, narrowly losing his crown to Connor in a see-saw battle over the final few miles that saw both of them smash the previous race record. The Queenslander-turned-Oahu-local didn’t have any major wins but enjoyed a string of other podiums at the majors, including 2nd (Course Race) and 3rd (Double Downwinder) at the Gorge Paddle Challenge, 3rd at Carolina and a pair of runner-up finishes at Aussie Downwind Week (The Doctor and King of the Cut).

Carolina Cup stand up paddle race

Travis Grant doing his best train driver impression at the Carolina Cup (photo: Chris McQuiston for SUPracer.com)

Finishing the year ranked #6 in the world is Mo Freitas. That’s rather coincidental, because Mo finished 6th at this year’s biggest event, the BOP Elite Race in California (where he was just 1 second behind 5th-placed Connor and only 4 seconds behind 4th place). Though Mo went on to win a different BOP, the Battle of the Paddle Brazil, just six weeks later, where he took out both the Elite and Distance events. Considering this kid is a few years younger than the rest of the “Young Guns” (Kai/Connor/Zane/Jake/Casper/etc), I daresay we’ll be seeing his name on many, many podiums in the future.

Ending the year ranked world #7 is one of the unluckier guys on this list,  Georges Cronsteadt from Tahiti. I’ve always rated Georges as a Top 5 contender and he would have almost certainly been higher if it wasn’t for some unfortunate incidents: At OluKai, Georges hedged his bets against the wind and lost, taking the completely wrong board for the conditions. The following month in Germany, the Tahitian raging bull was on track for a good result at the highly-competitive Lost Mills before being DQ’d for not carrying his paddle over the line.

Carolina Cup (54)

Georges Cronsteadt breaks away from Travis Grant in the closing stages of the Carolina Cup (photo: Chris McQuiston for SUPracer.com)

Georges did enjoy some good finishes in 2014 though, particularly at two of the biggest and best events of the year. At the Carolina Cup, the former outrigger champ almost out-paddled Danny Ching, before settling for the runner-up spot in an incredibly competitive field. Four months later in Oregon, Georges put the hammer down to defeat Travis, Jake and Danny in the Double Downwinder race (though he couldn’t catch Connor and again had to settle for 2nd).

Next up is the guy from the least likely stand up paddling nation you could imagine. Denmark’s Casper Steinfath, who feels just as comfortable in a 6mm wetsuit as he does in boardies, finishes the 2014 season ranked #8 in the world. Casper was ranked as high as #6 (on the eve of the BOP) but lost his yellow jersey at Salt Creek when he finished 13th (though not before catching the set of the day, see below…). Strong results in Europe made up for his Battle disappointment, including a last minute jump from 10th to 8th after winning the overall Paris Crossing earlier this month.

Casper Steinfath Battle of the Paddle

Casper Steinfath attempts to out-run a Salt Creek tsunami (photo: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

Speaking of late movers, the world’s 9th best paddler, Beau O’Brian, moved into the Top 10 on the back of some very strong downwind performances a month ago. After moving up the rankings with a 3rd place in the BOP Elite Distance Race, Beau put on a masterclass to clinch the Aussie Downwind Week double header in Western Australia, where he defeated bump-riding master Travis Grant (and several other world class paddlers) at both The Doctor and King of the Cut.

Rounding out the Top 10 is the only guy ranked outside the Top 3 to have won one of the Top 14 Most Competitive Races of 2014. I’m speaking of France’s long-time flag-bearer Eric Terrien, who took out the Lost Mills Distance Race in rather spectacular fashion.

This work horse carried the hopes of Europe’s stand up paddling community on his shoulders for many years, having seemingly been around the sport since day one. These days there’s plenty of fresh talent in Europe to keep him company (and on his toes), but Eric is still one of the best. A last minute drop from 8th to 10th saw him lose the title of Europe’s #1 to Casper, but I think there’s still a lot of racing left in this unassuming giant killer.

Ultimate SUP Showdown CBS - Zane Schweitzer

Zane getting some air time on CBS Sports Network’s broadcast of the Showdown

Unlucky to very narrowly miss the Top 10 is one of the most recognisable faces on the scene, Zane Schweitzer. This year Zane once again made it clear that he’s definitely not “just a surfer” and that he can match it with the world’s best in any discipline of SUP. It was a bit of a rollercoaster year as far as results go – Zane looked in super strong form at the Showdown before fading at the very end, which was a similar story to his Salt Creek campaign (where he carried an injury into the final it should be noted). Though the Maui boy did have some great World Series results and won a string of events in Europe, finishing season 2014 within reach of the three guys above him.

With his trademark enthusiasm and stoke, I’m sure we’ll be seeing Zane on a lot more podiums in 2015. And I think the sport is a lot richer and more exciting for having him.

Next up is another one of the youth brigade, though this guy totally flies under the radar compared to the Maui boys. Australia’s Lincoln Dews takes home the #12 end-of-year world ranking, thanks largely to a super impressive performance at Salt Creek. Up against the most-stacked lineup of talent ever seen at a SUP race, Lincoln charged home to finish 4th behind only Kai, Jake and Danny. So despite a very limited race schedule, this result gave Linc a spot inside the Top 14 of 2014. Oh and he also picked up a pair of silver medals at the ISA Worlds, where he was by far the most consistent performer in the men’s SUP racing events.

2014 ISA Worlds Nicaragua Final Day (20)

A rather fit-looking Lincoln Dews at the ISA Worlds in Nicaragua (photo: ISA)

Chase Kosterlitz snags the penultimate spot on this year’s Best Of list. The Floridian-turned-SoCal-native is a constant fixture in these Top xx rankings, thanks largely to his awesome strength in long, grueling races. This was highlighted very well in what I’d say was Chase’s best performance of the year: 4th place at the Carolina Cup. After a horror start, where he was back in around 30th or 40th place at the first turning buoy, Chase single-handedly reeled in the leading quintet of Danny, Georges, Travis, Connor and Jamie on the flats. He also dragged a train of half a dozen guys with him, which would have no doubt thrilled the early breakaway group.

Finally we’ve got the #14 ranked paddler in the world. And this guy deserves as much credit as anyone else on the list, becuase Titouan Puyo came out of absolutely nowhere to enjoy a massive, breakthrough year in 2014. Officially known as the World’s #1 Dark Horse (though I guess we can’t really call him that any longer…), Titou won races on three different continents, the highlight of which was his ISA Worlds Distance Race gold medal.

ISA Worlds Men's Distance (11 c)

Titouan Puyo (front left) and Eric Terrien dominated the ISA Worlds Distance Race for Team France (photo: ISA)

The New Caledonian finished the year with another big statement, defeating the likes of Kai, Casper and Eric to claim the single biggest race of the year (in terms of participation), the 400-strong Paris Crossing distance race. That last victory was particularly significant, as it was performed on flat water, not the usual ocean bumps where Titou excels.

So those were the Top 14 guys of 2014. But what about the women?

Battle of the Paddle Women's Elite Race

The chicks were charging at Salt Creek (photo: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

The Women’s World Rankings were a lot tougher to produce than the Men’s, due largely to the fact that the world’s best female paddlers race each other even less frequently than the men. Only the BOP Elite Race attracted a significant portion of the world’s top ranked women, with the Gorge Paddle Challenge, Carolina Cup and the Showdown playing a supporting role.

So it’s no surprise to see that Annabel Anderson takes out the year-end world #1 ranking, considering the Kiwi dominated three of those four majors.

The newly-signed Lahui Kai team rider powered through Carolina, overcame a small but very elite Showdown field and then blew everyone away at Hood River. Annabel couldn’t make it three-in-a-row at the Battle of the Paddle, however her dominant season still translates into a big lead on the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS, where she’s almost 40 points ahead of the 2nd ranked woman.

2014 Battle of the Paddle - Starboard - 64

Candice and Annabel led the BOP Elite Race in much the same way they lead the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS (photo: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

And right now the #2 ranked paddler in the world is Candice Appleby, who made something of a comeback this year in winning the big one, the BOP Elite Race at Salt Creek. Candice was the former Queen of the BOP, until Annabel took the crown in 2012/13, so it was with great relief and joy that Candice charged across the line to claim this year’s title and jump up into 2nd spot on the World Rankings.

Another one of the strong performers at Salt Creek was Lina Augaitis, who finishes a whirlwind season ranked #3 in the world. Lina took out the Elite Distance Race at the BOP to go along with trophies from virtually every other corner of the globe. This girl is frighteningly fast on flat water but showed us in October that she’s learned a thing or two in the surf as well.

ISA Worlds 2014 Women's Distance Race (25)

Lina Augaitis (right) on her way to gold in the ISA Worlds distance event (photo: ISA)

Speaking of girls who can surf, the #4 world ranking goes to Fiona Wylde, the windsurfing, kitesurfing, downwinding prodigy from Hood River. Fiona, who probably has the most infectious smile in the sport of paddleboarding, had some major results this year. She held her own against world class opposition at home in the Gorge, before traveling to Salt Creek and recording two incredibly impressive finishes: 4th in the Elite Race and 3rd in the Elite Distance Race.

Those results catapulted Fiona up into #4 on the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS. Given her age and enthusiasm, there’s no reason she’ll stop there.

Annabel Anderson and Fiona Wylde

Fiona (right) going head to head with Annabel at the Gorge (photo: SUPracer.com)

Rounding out season 2014 in 5th place on the World Rankings leaderboard is Jenny Kalmbach. The stalwart of women’s racing, who has won both Molokai and the Battle of the Paddle in the past, was unlucky this year to miss one of the most competitive (and points rich) races of the year, the Gorge Paddle Challenge, through illness. One of the most experienced campaigners in the sport, if Jenny wants to focus on racing next year then I’m quite certain the women above her will have to look over their shoulders.

Another athlete that could definitely move up a few spots in 2015 is Angie Jackson, who finishes the year ranked #6 in the world. The hard-training, hard-paddling Aussie had some excellent results this year, taking out several wins on the World Series before showing her downwind potential with a runner-up finish in the Gorge’s unique Double Downwinder. Unlucky not to finish higher at the all-important BOP Elite Race, Angie has plenty of room to improve her points tally in season 2015. The Gold Coaster also smashed it during Aussie Downwind Week, matching Beau O’Brian in taking the Doctor/King of the Cut double.

Bilbao World SUP Challenge

World #6 Angie Jackson (in the yellow jersey) on her way to victory in Bilbao, with World #7 Sonni Hönscheid right beside her (photo: B Waters)

Sitting behind Angie on the World Rankings is Sonni Hönscheid, who had a strong year punctuated by victory in the prestigious Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Champs. Sonni is not only one of the strongest women on the circuit, she’s also one of the nicest and most down to earth, so I sincerely hope to see the German powerhouse at the big races in 2015.

Outside the Top 7 ranked women there’s a bit of a gap in the World Rankings Points, with the second half of the list filled with a mix of up-and-coming youth and experienced veterans.

Taking home the #8 World Ranking is one of the revelations at this year’s ISA Worlds, California’s Shae Foudy. The enthusiastic youngster literally pushed herself until she passed out, though she was rewarded with a pair of medals and hundreds of important points for her proud Team USA. Given her youthful energy and bright personality, I’d say Shae has a very positive future in this sport if she wants it.

2014 ISA Worlds Nicaragua Final Day (40)

Shae Foudy (second from left) was one of the surprise packets for Team USA at the Worlds (photo: ISA)

Speaking of the ISA Worlds, another one of the top women from that event – actually the top woman – finishes 2014 ranked #9 in the world. Australia’s Shakira Westdorp was the all-round athlete of the event in Nicaragua, where she medaled in the SUP surfing and SUP distance race before claiming gold in the course race (and gold in the team relay just for good measure).

The fact that Shak – the 2009 BOP champion let’s not forget – only has 3x results counting towards her World Rankings Points means she’ll shoot up the leaderboard in 2015 with a few appearances at the majors. Each athlete’s total points in the SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS are based on their five best results from the past 12 months, so anyone with less than five appearances is essentially carrying zero-point results in their total.

2014 ISA Worlds Nicaragua Final Day (6)

Shak gets her game face on as she goes for gold in Nicaragua (photo: ISA)

The next two places in the World Rankings go to a pair of bright young things, with Talia Decoite (née Gangini) ranked #10 and Halie Harrison, who scored a horde of points with her win at Turtle Bay, finishing the season in #11.

You could throw a blanket over the final three places on the women’s Top 14 of 2014. Actually you could throw a napkin over these three women, that’s how close their respective point tallies are.

Canada’s Shannon Bell finishes 2014 ranked #12 in the world with a total points tally of 44.93. Morgan Hoesterey is virtually dead even on 44.87, while Kelsa Gabehart is the year-end world #14 with a ridiculously close 44.16 points.

So there you go. That’s the Top 14 of 2014.

But those weren’t the only amazing performances of the year, so if you want to see who else was in form in season 2014, check out the full World Rankings leaderboard…

SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS: TOP 100 MEN

SUP RACER WORLD RANKINGS: TOP 50 WOMEN