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Ching captures first Battle of the Paddle

Cindy Luis
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Stand-up paddlers from around the world competed in the first Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle yesterday in Waikiki.
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Danny Ching, left, and Travis Grant congratulated each other after finishing first and second.
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Surfing legends / competitors, from left, Tom Stone, William (Wax) Reyes and Titus Kinimaka get together for the contest pre-party in Waikiki.

It was Waikiki at its best, with watersports lovers from various disciplines enjoying what was being touted as "Paddle Heaven."

It was grueling.

It was exhausting.

It was the best race in which some 100 stand-up paddlers had ever competed.

From winner Danny Ching of California to 12-year-old Riggs Napoleon of Hawaii, yesterday’s inaugural Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle was worth every second in the challenging conditions off Duke Kahanamoku Beach.

"This is definitely the wave of the future, the sport of the future," said seventh-place finisher Slater Trout of Maui who, at 15, is one of the rising stars of the sport. "It’s all happening with stand-up.

"Three years ago, you never would have thought there’d be thousands of people watching a stand-up paddling event. But they do and there’s big money."

Ching, last April’s Molokai-to-Oahu OC-1 champion, earned $5,000 of the $25,000 purse. The California native finished the three-lap, 5-mile course in 1 hour, 22 minutes and 42 seconds, catching Australian Travis Grant (1:22:55) after the final buoy.

"I had a little bit of luck at the end," Ching said. "The board was working great and I was lucky to line up a huge (surf) set around the outside buoy. That one board-length at the end made the difference.

"I had a rough second lap, but you just keep paddling, eventually, you’ll find the rhythm again. I knew it was going to be a long third lap and anything could happen."

And everything did, from Hawaii’s Aaron Napoleon’s surprise third-place showing (1:26:30) to Australian Jamie Mitchell, the most dominant paddleboader in the world, finishing fourth (1:27:00), his first defeat in a major competition in Hawaii.

"This was my first stand-up race," Mitchell said, "and it was brutal, one of the toughest races I’ve ever done. There was just no time to relax, no place to rest.

"I’m a paddleboarder first, but this was really good cross-training. It was all about having fun."

That was the whole idea behind bringing the event home for organizer Lopez, two-time Pipeline Masters champion, who has hosted two previous Battle of the Paddle races in California. The 61-year-old competed in the 4-mile all-comers race earlier yesterday; was out on a jetski to set the buoys for the elite race; then finished 82nd (1:48:39) in the elite event.

And today? He plans to do the SUP race from Maunalua Bay to Waikiki.

"It was all fun," Lopez said. "As the guys passed me, I asked if they liked it. They all said ‘Yeah!’

"Look at the turnout, look at all the (exhibitors) stuff. We’ve done this in California, but we had to do it in Hawaii. The sport was born here, so many people are doing it and we sure hope to bring it back next year."

Napoleon said he was ready to "pass the paddle" to the younger generation, including his 12-year-old, who finished 50th (1:38:38). The two are planning to compete in today’s long-distance race and "today was pretty hard for me," the 43-year-old said. "I didn’t train for this, but it was one of those races you had to do, all the guys love each other.

"I got lucky, caught a wave at the end, went from seventh to third. I’m stoked to still be doing what we do, but I look at my son and he’s not even tired. The good thing is it was all good fun."

Hawaii’s Candice Appleby was the top female finisher (1:35:25), 32nd overall, earning $2,500.


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