As hundreds of paddlers from around the world coalesced at Doheny State Beach last weekend for the third annual Pacific Paddle Games, one of the topics foremost on everyone’s mind was the forecasted swell. Ground Zero for surf racing, competitors have historically been met with chest high surf or greater when visiting SUP racing’s hallowed ground each fall. This year was unmistakably different. The small waves rarely broke above the 1-2 ft range, making the famous surfing beach appear at times more like Florida than Southern California.
Even so, Doheny demonstrated it can still deliver. New for the 2017 Pacific Paddle Games was an expanded roster of kid’s races. The small waves created a picturesque playground for the junior paddlers who contributed many of the weekend’s standout performances.
Erika Benitez executed a clean sweep with her third straight victory in Sunday’s distance course. Known to favor distance racing, the 2017 Pacific Paddle Games were her final big event before the 17 year old Benitez follows in the footsteps of former The Paddle Academy teammate Shae Foudy and ascends to the ranks of Open Division competition.
Shuri Araki. Photo: Lorenzo Menendez / SUP the Mag
Young Shuri Araki delivered what was likely the most inspirational performance of the Games. At the very least, his exuberant delight upon crossing the finish line will go down as one of the most memorable images from the 2017 Pacific Paddle Games thanks to the timely work of SUP the Mag photographer Lorenzo Menendez.
I spoke to a number of open competitors after Saturday’s Technical Race and everyone was all smiles and stoked with the new course. The decision to allow the top finishers from the Open Technical Race to battle it out along the Pro’s Technical Course in an exhibition race later that day also seemed to be well received.
As a suggestion to spice things up even further, I wonder what it might be like if the top open competitors selected to race through the Pro’s Technical Course on Saturday evening could compete for a Wild Card spot in Sunday’s Pro race? Perhaps by beating the slowest Pro time from Saturday’s competition.
Speaking of the Pro races, Annabel Anderson and Connor Baxter’s wins in both the Pro Technical and Distance courses firmly secured their already solid positions as two of SUP racing’s greatest all-around competitors. Anderson’s board was decked out in an appropriately themed lightning motif and the competitive Kiwi left no doubt that she has what it takes to continue to dominate women’s SUP racing for the foreseeable future. The same holds true among the men as Baxter, still just in his early 20s, reminded us why he is a heavy favorite in any race he enters.
Last, but certainly not least, the 2017 Pacific Paddle Games saw an all-star performance by Race Director Anthony Vela, Andrea Mae Curl and scores of other race officials. These folks represent the A-Team of race organization and kept the competition flowing from sunrise to sunset.
Once again, Doheny delivered.