APP Title Fight Heats Up as 2019 Red Bull Heavy Water Looms Large

The 2019 Red Bull Heavy Water will look something like this.
The 2019 Red Bull Heavy Water will look something like this. APP World Tour

As summer fades into fall, the title fight for the APP World Tour is beginning to heat up. 

The world’s fastest standup paddlers recently took the championship contention to Japan for stop No. 4 on the eight-event tour. Without a surfing component, the Osaka SUP Open presented by Remax Japan constituted the third World Race Tour stop of 2019 (following stops in London, and New York). Both the sprint and distance races featured hard-fought battles, with both the men’s and women’s overall winners eventually decided by tiebreaker. 

Osaka_APP sprint
The sprint venue beneath the Osaka skyline invited spectators to soak in the action. Courtesy APP World Tour

Sprint Race Highlights

Elimination-style sprint racing was up first, featuring high-adrenaline battles and exciting finishes throughout each round. Casper Steinfath continued his domination in the sprints and handily took first place, followed by an impressive run from legendary paddler Danny Ching in second and Connor Baxter taking the third spot. But it was the young local talent, Rai Taguchi, who won over the crowd with an impressive effort that nearly landed him in the finals. 

In the women’s sprints, title contender April Zilg dropped the hammer and came away with a hard-fought victory. Hot on her heels was 18-year-old Maui phenom, Annie Reickert, who sprinted her way to an impressive runner-up finish. Meanwhile, Canadian super-mom and race stalwart Lina Augaitis put in a strong effort to claim third.

Distance Race Highlights

After a night’s rest, the paddlers got ready to do battle in the distance race, which also served as the points tiebreaker for the overall results.

Michael Booth grinding out a hard-fought distance race in Osaka.
Michael Booth grinding out a hard-fought distance race in Osaka. APP World Tour

After getting bounced from the sprint competition in the quarterfinals, Australian Michael Booth had some serious ground to make up in the overall points for Osaka. He would not shy from the challenge. 

Booth blasted out to an early lead and held off a furious charge from Titouan Puyo to claim the win. The Australian’s victory, combined with Steinfath’s ninth-place effort in the distance event, resulted in Booth eking out the overall event victory by virtue of the tiebreaker.

The effort also catapulted him to the top of APP overall tour standings, surpassing last year’s champion and third-place Osaka overall finisher, Arthur Arutkin, by a mere 250 points (38,500 to 38,250). But with Steinfath lurking in third with 32,500 points and the unpredictable Red Bull Heavy Water pro invitational looming next, this men’s title fight is wide-open. 

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I don’t even know what to say. This has been one of the most fun and exciting weekends of racing! The @appworldtour #OsakaSUPopen truly delivered. After an upset on Saturdays sprint race where I took a fall and a penalty in the semi finals and had to settle for 5th place, with @aprilzilg winning the sprints and just looking so strong, I wasn’t heading in to Sunday’s distance race with much hope for the overall, but knew I would give it my all anyway. It’s was a similar race to London. Fight for a position in the draft train and hold on tight till the opportunity comes to make a move. Powerhouse @linaaugaitis pulled the train nearly the entire race. Offers were made to change leads, but that’s right where Lina likes to be so I was happy to take a ride. About 1 mile from the finish, I made a surge to the front and didn’t slow down or look back till I crossed the finish line. I couldn’t have been more happy with my equipment for the distance race. I was on the @sicmaui #RS 14×21.5 with my @blackprojectsup #sonicfin I was literally thanking my sponsors in my mind the entire race for the amazing equipment I get to paddle. I knew and felt right from the washy start to the washy finish, I had the right combo under my feet. It still feels a bit surreal. I loved getting to wear the #1 jersey and I will continue to push hard and wear it proud heading in to the final event of the tour (not till Paris in December) Congrats to all the super strong ladies out there! Let’s keep charging and pushing each other to be the best we can be. Thank you to the local SUP community here in Japan for coming through with massive support for this event and all the pros here. Thank you to @appworldtour for all the hard work and the fantastic event! Thank you for the support and well wishes. Let’s keep this party going. Now for a week holiday in Japan with my love. @pdlmnstr #trainingworks @sicmaui #boundbywater @blackprojectsup #hydropaddle #sonicfin @the_good_inside #organicsuperprotein #supergreenjuice @kttape @croakies @kaenon #appworldtour #osaka #number1 #ontop #gratitude #proud #stoked #happygirl #thankyou!!!!!!

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The same parity rings true for the women’s championship battle after Seychelle Webster followed up her lackluster performance in the sprints to win the distance race. With her championship rival, April Zilg, notching a fifth place result, the two found themselves tied in overall event points, with Webster getting the benefit of the tiebreaker. Reickert continued her strong weekend with a fourth in the distance race, good enough for third overall. 

Annie Reickert came away third overall after a hard-fought weekend in Osaka.
Annie Reickert came away third overall after a hard-fought weekend in Osaka. APP World Tour

Webster and Zilg remained locked in a tight championship battle, with only 6,250 points separating the pair and the big wild-card race coming up next. However, Fiona Wylde and Reickert, currently ranked third and fourth, respectively, figure to have an advantage in the heavy surf, which could help them close the gap on the championship leaders.

Red Bull Heavy Water Up Next

APP World Tour competitors will now pack their board bags and head to San Francisco for the fifth tour event: the much-anticipated 2019 Red Bull Heavy Water. Big-wave charger Kai Lenny recently deemed the upcoming contest as, “without a doubt, the most gnarly standup race in the world.”

The Maui waterman was not simply using hyperbole. 

Red Bull Heavy Water 2019 – Overcome your Fears V2 from APP World Tour on Vimeo.

With the official waiting period open from Oct. 15 to Nov. 2, 34 of the world’s best male and female standup paddlers are slated to take on a 7.5-mile course that will test their talent, endurance and mental fortitude.

After starting from Aquatic Park, athletes will leave the safe confines of the bay and paddle beneath the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. At this point, the race will transform into a punishing battle of attrition. Paddlers will be challenged by turbulent seas as they round Fort Point and Land’s End, before finishing in punishing double-overhead surf at Ocean Beach.

While talent is an obvious prerequisite for even starting this race, it is often strategy and sheer luck that determines the winner. In 2017, Steinfath won the event in 20-foot surf by properly timing the sets and charging through at the exact right times.

Of course, that may not be so easy in 2019.

Inaugural Run of the “Reverse” RBHW Course

The big unknown is the course. This will be the first time it will be run in “reverse,” with the finishes, rather than starts, in the dangerous surf zone of Ocean Beach. While the 2016 and 2017 editions of RBHW began in OB’s monstrous surf before eventually ending in the bay, the plan for last year was to run the course in reverse. Unfortunately, Mother Nature never did provide the powerful swell required to hold the race, resulting in the 2018 RBHW being called off. 

Nevertheless, many paddlers have acknowledged that saving the most challenging (and scary) portion of the race for the end is going to be tough. 

“Usually [the race] has started in the waves so you’re fresh, you’re focused, you know what’s coming,” said Slater Trout, who finished sixth in the 2017 RBHW. “Paddling a six-mile distance race and finishing in the waves when you’re dehydrated, discombobulated, dizzy, hungry, tired, your legs are shaking, ‘Okay, now there’s a 20-foot set coming, I have to handle it.’”

Trout and the rest of the field won’t be the only paddlers forced to handle 20-foot sets on shaky legs.

Women to Compete in RBHW For First Time 

Adding to the anticipation of this year’s RBHW is the first-time inclusion of female paddlers in the race. While the ladies’ inaugural run at this race was supposed to happen in 2018, insufficient swell pushed the women’s Red Bull Heavy Water debut to 2019. With the likes of Izzi Gomez, Shae Foudy, Fiona Wylde and many others gearing up for the most challenging race of their lives, both excitement and nerves are high.

“The biggest fear is always getting pounded with a 12’6” race board,” said Izzi Gomez, a three-time Women’s SUP Surfing World Champion. “Those things can drag you so far.”

Waves of this size will drag anyone a long way.
Waves of this size will drag anyone a long way. APP World Tour

Needless to say, RBHW serves as the wild-card stop on the 2019 APP World Tour and how it will affect the rankings for both the men and women is anyone’s guess. 

You won’t want to miss this one. See the APP announcement of the select race roster of 24 invited men and 10 invited women. The full broadcast is scheduled for 2 p.m. (PST) on Friday, October 18 on www.appworldtour.com and @appworldtour, so stay tuned for the call and build up to one of the year’s most exciting races.

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The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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