Appleby and Baxter defend titles at 2016 Pacific Paddle Games

"This is our biggest race in our sport since we trained all year for this. We put our blood sweat and tears into it."

Sunday marked the third and final day of the 2016 Pacific Paddle Games presented by Salt Life, where $60,000 and a year’s worth of bragging rights lay on the line at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California.

Those who made it past the first two days gave everything they had for the chance to win the sport’s biggest cash purse.

The race was for second place in the Pro Women’s Distance finals. Annabel Anderson started in the lead, maintaining a hammering sprint and breaking away from her competition early in the season.

She came into the event unsponsored, New Zealand’s free agent with something to prove over last year’s second place to Candice Appleby.

This year’s SUP the Mag’s Performance of the Year awardee’s smile was as big as her near 2-minute gap to second as she ran across the finish line with an unofficial time of 54 minutes 18 seconds.

“This year I’ve just been able to pull away in the races,” Anderson said. Despite uncertainty over it, her strategy to pull away had its advantage for the pro technical race.

“Those girls were hurting, did you see them tripping at the finish line?” Anderson said. Her mantra: Do yourself a favor and make today as easy as possible.

Appleby held her own in second the entire race but lost it to Shae Foudy in a neck-and-neck surf for the finish.

The third place finish put Appleby at a stout disadvantage for the overall. Fiona Wylde lost a top three placement upon falling off her board in the last break surf, finishing out in fourth place. Olivia Piana from Italy finished in fifth.

A strong downwind picked up in time for the men’s distance finals, and Michael Booth repeated Anderson’s performance with a wide gap between him and second place. Booth maintained a strong performance to win with a time of 48 minutes 25 seconds.

“I just wanted to get enough space to get on that wave and dig deep. I got lucky at the start broke away, and that was my strategy,” Booth said. “I’m just stoked to win the biggest endurance race in the world.”

Distance champion and Male Paddler of the Year in the SUP Awards, Connor Baxter maintained second place and pulled it at the end with an all-out sprint against Georges Cronsteadt.

Teammates Travis Grant and Titouan Puyo clasped hands in the final run to meet the finish line together, Grant coming in just a hair in front.

Danny Ching and Arthur Arutkin came head-to-head in a photo-finish for sixth and seventh places. Casper Steinfath, James Casey and Lincoln Dews took the last spots inside the top 10.

While the pro women distance event had a clear winner, the technical race was a roller coaster the whole way through.

The top three competitors in the distance race swapped first place over and over during the three-lap, and number one went to the person with the fewest mistakes.

Anderson and Appleby started weak, while the young guns Jadee Howsan and Foudy dominated fast. Then a wave break knocked Foudy followed by a second wave in the set. Appleby’s experience on the break gave her the chance to take the lead.

With a sharp inside turn, Anderson passed several contenders to jump from eighth to third, powering through the flat section as Appleby and Foudy’s boards caught into each other and the ropes of the buoy, forcing a fall and loss of first and second.

With another fall from the lead players, Foudy was able to take back her lead, only to lose it with a drop in the last buoy of the second lap.

Appleby, Anderson and Foudy continued pushing for first place into the last of the three laps. Anderson was finishing strong and set to win the technical race as well but appeared to lose count and began a fourth lap, opening the race up to Appleby to take the win.

“I thought, okay it’s going to be a run between Annabel and me, and then she started going the other way!” Appleby said. “I heard my name saying I was going the wrong way, but I knew I was going the right way.”

Terrene Black came up almost out of nowhere to take Foudy’s second place spot, and she came in third followed by Olivia Piana in fourth.

Anderson crossed the finish line in sixth, putting her in the third place overall. Foudy came up as the overall runner-up, and Appleby defended her champion title in the 2016 Pacific Paddle Games.

For the men, Mo Freitas, who had a weak finish during the distance race, exploded off the start, coasting with a substantial lead over his competition.

By lap two, it was a competition for second again as almost the entire pack remained close together. But by the conclusion of the second lap, a wave brought Connor Baxter past Freitas for first.

With a dead cockroach dance on a half-foot wave, Baxter surfed into the first place in the Pro Men’s Technical Race. Like Appleby, Baxter enjoyed defending his overall first place title.

“I just paced myself through the laps, lucky to catch a wave and catch up to Freitas and then had this feeling that I had the first place spot,” Baxter said. “That positive mindset landed me here.”

He will be taking home $10,250.

Kai Lenny also passed Freitas for second, with the latter coming in third. Michael Booth, who won the Distance Race, came in ninth.

“This is the Stanley Cup Finals, the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl, any of those major sporting events,” Slater Trout, U.S. pro-SUP racer and surfer, said. “This is our biggest race in our sport since we trained all year for this. We put our blood sweat and tears into it.”

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