Battle of the Paddle with Fiona Wylde

Electric Pulp

Fiona Wydle was born to compete. With an already successful wind surfing career at age 16, Fiona Wylde adds yet another water sport to her roster: Stand Up Paddle boarding. This past weekend Fiona competed in one of the largest SUP races in the world, Battle of the Paddle. Experience the epic race though the eyes of this elite athlete!

To most, Battle of the Paddle is the race of the year. People flock to Dana Point, California to participate and watch the carnage of the elite race and to witness the top athletes of Stand Up Paddle boarding battle it out. The event itself is one of the largest SUP races in the world, with over 450 open competitors and close to 200 elite competitors.

This was my second time competing in the elite race. Battle of the Paddle is a unique race, because it divides the elite competitors in two and runs two preliminary heats. The top 50% (both men and women) from each heat advance to the final. Last year, I did not advance to the final, but this year, I competed in the first preliminary race.

Once the horn blew, myself and one hundred other people ran to the water, threw our boards down and sprinted as fast as we could away from the beach. The water was like a washing machine! The idea of “smooth water” was out of the question. People were bumping boards, falling off, and running into each other. It was mayhem!

Right at the start, one guy fell right in front of me and his board landed on top of mine. When his board hit, it pushed me in line to T-bone him directly in the hip. I apologized, he was fine and I kept paddling. Battle has so many cool things, but the biggest draw is the surf aspect. You had to complete two and a half laps, so every lap you had to paddle out through the surf, around a course, in through the surf, run through the chicane, then paddle back out again.

The most exciting buoy is called the Hammer Buoy, which is a 180 degree turn placed right in the impact zone of the pitchiest part of the wave. On my first lap rounding this buoy I was in between waves. I was too far out to catch the first one but two far in to catch the second.  So there I was, watching fifteen people try to turn twelve and a half foot race boards around the one buoy in front of me. Only two people made it around and the rest were strewn all over the place. Then I looked behind me to see a shoulder high wave just about to break with another fifteen or so people on it. There was nothing I could do. Right as the wave got to me, I sat down covered my head and watched race boards fly by my face. When the white water pushed me I dug my legs into the wave to try to slow my forward momentum. Now the racecourse in front of me looked like a battlefield. I quickly jumped up, did a fast backside buoy turn and sprinted out of there just as the third wave broke behind me.

 Most of the buoy turns at the Hammer Buoy were like that – pure carnage. I made it through the preliminary heat, third out of the Elite Women, so I advanced to the final. After having a terrible start in the final, I worked my way up from 20th to 11th by the finish. Every time I went around the Hammer Buoy in the final, I just got annihilated.  However, I am very happy to have finished 11th in the strongest field in the world.

Sunday was the distance race of Battle of the Paddle. A little cold had knocked me down the night before, so I wasn’t feeling so great. I was even considering not racing. But when push came to shove, I found myself warming up and preparing my board. I was uneasy of how I was going to hold up, but there’s only one way to find out, right?

I had an awesome start! I was the first woman to round the buoy outside the surf. From there it was a five mile leg down to the turn around buoy, then back. The top two women caught up to me and I jumped on their draft train.  About two miles into the race, I partnered up with another group and we worked together for the rest of the race. I was sitting in fifth place when all of a sudden a girl paddled up behind me about four hundred meters before the finish line. I wasn’t going to give up my top five finish so close to the end of a ten-mile race. We were sprinting it out, and she got a board length ahead of me. Unfortunately for us, there were no big sets that rolled through for us to gracefully surf in and sprint up the beach to determine the top five elite women. I kept paddling, and about fifteen yards before the beach a little bump rolled through that I sprinted to get on. I got on it and so did she. All that was left was to sprint 10 meters up the beach. As we hit the sand, I sprinted, not looking back. The girl beside me stumbled when hitting the sand making it so I would finish fifth by five seconds. I am beyond happy that I pushed my unsure feelings aside and did just the best I could. I had fun in this race and I am overjoyed to have finished in the top five and make the podium at Battle of the Paddle!

This race has been an eye opener for me. I now know what I need to train for and how to build up my endurance. I am really looking forward to next year, but in the mean time the racing season is over for me. Now it’s time to recover from this race and get ready for the winter!

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