Surf-to-Sound paddle board challenge returns to Wrightsville Beach

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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — An exciting rematch is shaping up this weekend for the 2016 men’s championship in North Carolina’s Surf to Sound Challenge.

Olympic gold medalist Larry Cain of Burlington, Ontario and Olympic sprint canoer Tamás Buday Jr. of Québec City, Québec, will be in the field of elite competitors when the annual event gets underway in the waters of Wrightsville Beach.

April Zilg, is a local favorite moving into the women's elite race. Photo courtesy- Jeremy Whitted.
April Zilg, is a local favorite moving into the women’s elite race. Photo courtesy- Jeremy Whitted.

Cain, known as the “paddle monster” in the sport of standup paddle board, captured the Surf to Sound Championship three times, while Buday has raised the trophy twice.

The top three 2015 women’s elite winners have signed up to compete again this year, including champion April Zilg of Wilmington, second-place finisher Stephanie Shideler of Long Beach, N.Y., and Tracey Finlay of Ontario, Canada.

Ranked 10th in the world on SUP Racer’s Top 50 Women, Zilg is favored to repeat the women’s elite championship.

“Race conditions are expected to be near perfect with a sunny sky, temps in the low 70s, light winds, and moderate water temperatures,” said Bill Baggett, owner of the host hotel, Blockade Runner Beach Resort.

Surf to Sound is a weekend of family activities, paddle clinics, vendor displays, and races designed to include all skill levels from beginner to professional. Events commence on Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with paddle clinics taught by professionals Larry Cain and April Zilg, followed by a Surfside Shrimp Boil at 5:30 p.m., with proceeds benefiting the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Larry Cain. Photo courtesy- Jon Clarke.
Larry Cain. Photo courtesy- Jon Clarke.

Saturday, Nov. 5, paddlers compete in the beginner to intermediate Intracoastal four-mile Harbor Island Loop or the elite division 6.5-mile Surf to Sound Challenge.

Races begin at 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. respectively, with a Kids Race on the sound side at 11:30 a.m.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, paddlers who want to test their speed on a longer flat-water course will compete for the 9-mile Blockade Runner Flatwater SUP Championship, now in its third year.

Also on Sunday, and new in 2016, ultra-distance paddlers can take on the monster 25-mile Kraken endurance race, circumnavigating Harbor Island at Wrightsville Beach, and nearby Masonboro Island.

“Originally, we wanted to set up a distance race that would appeal to OC-6 [six-man outrigger canoe] paddlers,” said race director Mark Schmidt. “But then we thought, ‘Why restrict the distance to one type of craft?’ So, we have solo paddlers registered as well as OC teams.”

More than 300 paddlers from Canada and the East Coast are expected to participate. Surf to Sound Challenge is one of the nation’s last major gatherings of the paddleboard season.