Bigger. Better. And, again, quite the battle.
Yesterday’s elite event in the Gerry Lopez Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle again was a race within a race, with a new course resulting in a new winner.
Defending stand-up paddleboard champion Danny Ching of California and Australia’s Travis Grant, last year’s runner-up, traded leads over the 5-mile course off Fort DeRussy Beach for more than an hour before Grant opened up a commanding lead after the last outside buoy and cruised to a 53-second victory over Ching.
Grant finished the redesigned course in 1 hour, 21 minutes and 3 seconds. Following Ching (1:21:56) were two 16-year-olds from Maui: Connor Baxter (1:23:29) and Slater Trout (1:24:08).
Candice Appleby of California successfully defended her title, moving from fifth after the first lap to take the lead on the fourth. She finished in 1:34:54, while Jenny Kalmbach of Kailua-Kona was second (1:35:56) and early leader Rachel Bruntsch of Honolulu third (1:36:39).
The victory kicks off a couple of big months for Grant, who will finish up his Hawaii stay with today’s SUP race from Hawaii Kai to Waikiki, and be part of Ching’s team in next weekend’s PAA ‘Eono Hoe, a two-day OC6 race from Maui to Molokai then Molokai to Oahu. Next month includes the Hamilton Island Cup outrigger race in Australia and his wedding.
"Yes, it is a big year for me," the 28-year-old said. "Today was a good win but exhausting. (Ching) would let me lead, then I’d let him lead. We went back and forth before I got on a wave and pulled away.
"I’m really stoked."
Last year, Ching caught a wave on the final surf leg and passed Grant to win by 13 seconds.
"That last lap was really tough," said Ching, who turned 28 yesterday. "We battled the whole way, and they call it a battle for a reason."
It was the first time that Ching had lost a "Battle" in four contests. He also has won the past two of Lopez’s events in California. and will defend his titles in today’s Hawaii Kai run and SUP surf relay.
Appleby said she felt yesterday’s was tougher than last year only because of the pressure to "three-peat." She also won this event last year, as well as the one in California.
"A lot of it was the anticipation, the question of ‘can she three-peat?" Appleby said. "To do that is never easy. But my confidence is up. I’ll be doing the distance race and enjoy it."
Aaron Napoleon will do the distance race as well but is threatening to retire after it. The 44-year-old, who finished third last year, was happy with his top-10 finish — he was eighth in 1:25:29 — and "I’m just glad that I picked up some ground with the waves at the end," Napoleon. "I thought I was going to be 30th."
Napoleon’s son Riggs was the youngest competitor, finishing 50th. The 12-year-old also competed in yesterday morning’s 4-mile open race, finishing ninth (40:38).
The Napoleon family was well-represented yesterday, with 70-year-old patriarch Nappy 42nd in the open race, and his sons Aaron and Joey, and grandsons Riggs and Sepa in the elite race.
Winning the open race was Kawika Carvalho (45:10), who took the lead when Jeff Chang fell off his board on the final buoy turn; Chang placed second 15 seconds later.
The beach boy team relay went to Quiksilver Watermen, which finished the four-person event in 18:11. Rogue was second out of seven entries in 18:57.