Elite athletes return to paddle their way around Wrightsville Beach

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Stand up paddlers get ready near the Blockade Runner Resort. Photo courtesy of Peter Newman and Aerial Images ILM.
Stand up paddlers get ready near the Blockade Runner Resort. Photo courtesy of Peter Newman and Aerial Images ILM.

The 6th Annual West Marine Carolina Cup, the largest stand up paddle board race in the country, has returned to Wrightsville Beach.

“I look forward to the Carolina Cup paddleboard race each year,” Australian Travis Grant, the 2015 male champion in the cup’s elite competition, said in a release. “It’s the first big race of the season, and I think it’s great that the biggest paddle race in America is held on the East Coast.”

Grant, who is currently the No. 2 male paddleboard racer in the world according to supracer.com, will be back this year to defend his title in the 13.2-mile Graveyard race. The course is a combination of both ocean and flatwater, taking paddlers from the Atlantic side of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, through inlets and the Intracoastal Waterway and back to the resort. The direction of the course will be weather and swell-dependent.

“The Graveyard race is a very fitting name. It is just that – a tough one,” said Grant. “Anyone can potentially win. There are a lot of different elements to get right – surf, flatwater, inlet currents, wind – and there’s always a slight bit of luck involved.”

The top-ranked female paddleboard racer in the world, Annabel Anderson of New Zealand, will also be back this year to defend her 2015 Carolina Cup elite title.

“The Graveyard race is just plain tough,” Anderson said in a release. “It throws a bit of everything at you and you never really know which way you’re going until just before the gun goes. I’ll approach it as I always have – take it as it comes and look forward to making it to the finish line.”

Grant and Anderson are two of several globally ranked international paddlers coming to Wrightsville Beach from about 20 different countries. A total of around 800 competitors are expected to participate in the three race courses scheduled for the weekend.

Though the festivities started Tuesday, all three paddle board races will be on Saturday. The 3.5-mile Harbor Island Recreational Race starts first, at 9 a.m. Paddlers will navigate a flatwater course in the Intracoastal Waterway around Harbor Island. A good race for all levels of experience, the course is expected to take about an hour and a half to complete.

The intermediate competition, the 6.5-mile Money Island Open Race, begins at 9:30 a.m. and is also completely flatwater. The course takes paddlers around Harbor Island and the other Intracoastal Waterway islands between Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island. The race is expected to take around two hours to complete. Both the recreational race and the open race will start and end on the sound side of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort property.

At 10 a.m., the elite competitors paddle off on the Atlantic side for their race, which has a five-hour time limit and a requirement that all paddlers hit the halfway point of the course by the two-hour mark. Competitors will be divided into different categories: juniors (16 and under), men’s, women’s, over-50 men’s and over-50 women’s.

Sunday’s schedule has two more races. The first is the family-friendly kids race, which is for young paddlers aged 7 to 14.

A six-man Hawaiian outrigger canoe race is a new addition to the Carolina Cup this year. Photo courtesy of Peter Newman, WILM Aerial Images.
A six-man Hawaiian outrigger canoe race is a new addition to the Carolina Cup this year. Photo courtesy of Peter Newman, WILM Aerial Images.

The second is a new event on the Carolina Cup itinerary: the six-man Hawaiian outrigger canoe (OC-6) race, which starts at noon on April 24.

“We believe this is the first ever OC-6 race in Wrightsville Beach,” said Carolina Cup Race Director Mark Schmidt in a release. “One of the things we try to do with the race each year is make it more inclusive to all of the different watercraft.”

The race, which is limited to eight teams, will follow the 3.5-mile Harbor Island course. According to Schmidt, it’s an opportunity for East Coast folks to experience a water sport that’s more popular on the West Coast.

“This will be a chance for spectators to watch some of the biggest names in Hawaiian outrigger paddling,” said Schmidt. “To see an event like this would typically require traveling to California or Hawaii. It will be a great show.”

Participants will be using Bradley Lightning outrigger canoes, which were commissioned by Reggie Barnes of Wilmington’s Eastern Surf and Skate Supply.

Spectators will be able to watch all the races from the Blockade Runner and the causeway bridges in Wrightsville Beach.

The West Marine Carolina Cup presented by Surftech is a World Paddle Association-sanctioned event organized by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club. A portion of proceeds from this week’s events will go to Ocean of Hope, a non-profit paddling team dedicated to raising awareness and funds for the Sarcoma Alliance cancer network.

For more information on the weekend’s events, visit the Carolina Cup website.