2011 Namotu World Paddle Challenge Event #1 – Recap by Connor Baxter

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Connor Wins the Overall Title in Fiji!!!

The 2011 Namotu World Paddle Challenge was a great event. The first day they started off big and ran the long distance race first. They said the race was going to be 19 miles, but it ended up being 23 miles. The race was from Natadola Beach on the main island to Namotu Island and there were about 15 of us at the starting line. We were all on 12′6″ race boards – which made the crossing that much more challenging. It was a beach start and once I heard go – it was on. Right from the get go all the young guns pulled out to the front of the group. Slater, Zane, Noa, Kai and I were in the front and headed out to the Navy Ship, which was our outside marker we had to round. I was the first to round it and turned down to start the fun. It was pretty light, but there were still some fun bumps to catch. I caught some really long ones in the beginning and then the race started to get worse and worse. It got littler and the current started to go against us. Around the half way mark, I had a good lead and still felt strong, but then it was getting flatter and flatter and there were no bumps to catch. By the time I got to Cloud Break, which is not too far off of Namotu, the wind stopped and it was a flat-water grind to the finish line. So I put my head down and I knew what I had to do. As I got closer I caught a wave at Swimming Pools and then I was on the home stretch. When I finally got to the beach and ran up to the finish line, I was so stoked to finish and to come in first place. The race took me about 3 1/2 hours. So, I rested up for the rest of the day and was getting ready for the next race of the event.

The next day we got to rest and surf it up, which was a lot of fun, but the next day was the race day. This race was run in heats – in and out of the surf around buoys. I was in the first heat. I waxed my board and headed for the beach. The top two made it to the next round, so my plan was just to go as hard as I needed to advance – and I did that and was second behind Zane. This put me into the next round, so I went into the shade and drank water. The next heat was a little harder, but I had the same strategy and I went hard in the beginning then took it easy to save my energy for the final. Once again I came in second, which put me into the finals.

As the day went on, the wind got stronger and the waves were getting bigger and the tide was dropping. Padding out for the finals I knew what I had to do and right when they said go I was gone. Kai, Zane and I jumped out in front and then I pulled away from those guys. I rounded the first buoy first and started heading in. Coming in I caught a big wave and it doubled up and I got pounded. I manage to get back up and still make it to the next buoy in first place, but on the way out the current was super strong, which allowed Kai to catch up. So Kai and I were battling it out to the last buoy and a freak set took us out but we got on our boards and kept going. I sprinted my brains off and got in front and rounded the buoy first, but Kai manage to catch a wave that I couldn’t get which put him in first and me in second. It is crazy when racing in waves anything can happen, you can be leading, but all of a sudden something happens and then you fall back a few places. Super stoked for Kai, but now we were tied for the Overall – both with a first and second place.

So, now we had to do a tiebreaker, which wasn’t going to be announced until the day of the race.

Once again we had a rest day – which was filled with surfing and playing. And then the next day was the moment of truth. We found out that the course was going to be around the island of Namotu, combined with a surf race. So I was super stoked and was getting everything together for a long day. Once I got down to the start it was blazing hot and I knew it was going to be a long one. So once I heard Tristan Boxford say “GO!!!!!!!” it was on. The race was super hot and long, but I lead the whole race and had the rest of the competitors draft me, so once we got to the waves I was drained. Slater and Jake passed me up, but my main goal was to stay ahead of Kai. We went in and out thought the surf a few times and then on the home stretch I got a good wave in and Kai did as well and was right on my tail. Coming in bashing boards with Kai until we got closer and I just gave it every last bit of energy I had, hit the beach and ran up ahead of Kai – Winning the Overall Event Title.

I was super stoked with the whole event and to top off the trip we got some great waves for surfing.

I want to thank my sponsors for all their support – Starboard, Rainbow Sandals, Rista Fins, Maui Jim Sunglasses, EFX Technology, Dakine, Nike 6.0, GoPro Cameras, On It Pro, Waterman’s Sunscreen, Sunrite Maui, and Hi-Tech Sports. Also, Scott Sanchez (MPG) for his wisdom on fitness and training!!

Also a big Mahalo to all the event organizers and volunteers. Scott and Mandy for all their hospitality on Namotu. Great Event!!

Aloha -
Connor Baxter

 
Connor in the lead around Namotu Island

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Connor & Kai battling it out

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Overall: Connor, Kai, Slater and Jake

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Connor: Last Day in Fiji scoring surf

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