The 2018 Japan Cup was amazing! Starboard Japan went above and beyond. Shige and Gama San are so kind and took such good care of all of us athletes.
The racing was really fun! We had an 18km, which was actually shortened to 10km on Saturday. It as a perfect distance, especially for being back on 12’6’’s. It was a tight battle between myself and Yuka Sato. I can’t believe how hard she was able to push considering she just finished 11 cities. She is so strong and I have so much respect for her flying straight home and competing in her hometown event.
We traded off and on during the 3.5 lap race. Each pulling different parts, and drafting others. We had some sprints around buoy turns, each of vying for the inside position trying to make a little gap. With about 1.5 laps to go, I pushed up hard, snuck in on the inside was sprinted out of the corner and put about a board length on Yuka. There was a bit off offshore wind and since the course was parallel to the beach this meant that we were mostly paddling in side wind. However, there was one little section that had a few bumps and I was able to use this to my advantage to make the gap slightly bigger.
For the next 20 minutes, I sprinted as hard as I could, just trying to keep a steady fast pace. I knew that Yuka could catch me, and would catch me if I let up even just the slightest. I crossed the finish line with about 30 meters to spare, but it definitely was not easy.
Rika Okuaki, a very talented strong paddler from the Island of Zamami finished in third! Rika has an amazing kids program on the island where about 60 kids paddle and train every day after school. When I was in Zamami in May, I was fortunate enough to paddle with the kids and never have I met a more determined, excited group of young paddlers. A few of the kids came to the Japan Cup as well and actually made it to the men’s final in the sprint racing! There’s a lot of young talent coming from Zamami, and for that we have to thank Rika!
On Sunday we woke up to head high waves peeling up and down the coast! A complete surprise, but one we welcomed with open arms! I was so excited knowing that we could have fun conditions for the Sprint Races.
We raced a survival style course. You’d start on the beach, run to the water, paddled in and out of the surf catching waves and going around an “m” shape course in the water and then run up the beach. The first finisher to cross the line would start the 3 minute countdown to the next start. You had to cross the finish line within 2 minutes and 50 seconds before the next start in order to qualify. There were a total of 5 rounds.
I was playing it safe, timing myself with the sets, catching as many waves as I could, but also not pushing it too hard or getting worked in the shore break. I managed to come to the finish line each time in first, meaning I had the most rest to get ready for the next heat. I was doing so well, that I was actually nervous. It didn’t matter how I was doing in the preliminary rounds, I just had to make it to the final, which meant that if I hadn’t made a mistake yet, there was a greater chance for me to make a mistake in the final.
Of course as soon as the horn blew a set came in and I tried to punch through it but the first wave knocked me off. A mistake! I jumped up real quick and from there I sprinted. I got a little gap before making a turn around the first buoy, but I had 6 women chasing me down! Angie Jackson was right on my heels. Unfortunately there wasn’t a wave to take me into the middle buoy, so I just had to paddle. Coming around the last buoy to the finish, once again there wasn’t a wave! I still had a 10 meter gap, but I knew if I didn’t push through I was going to be in the impact zone in-between sets, which is not a good place. I powered ahead and caught a tiny little pump to the finish and sprinted up the beach to win the sprints!
As I turned around to see Angie, Rika, and Yuka about to sprint up the beach, all of a sudden I see Angie on the ground not getting up. I ran back to her and she was just screaming, “my leg, my leg”. We picked her up and brought her over to a medical tent. Turns out Angie ended up pulling her Achilles and breaking her heel bone! What a terrible way to end a good day. Luckily Angie is back home now, with her family waiting to have surgery. I send her all of the best so she can have a quick recovery and we can enjoy downwinders together soon!
So overall, the weekend was an emotional, fun, tiring, but most of all, full of amazing experiences! I got to celebrate my overall win on Monday morning with an epic surf! A typhoon swell lit up the event site with perfect waves up and down the coast!
I really want to thank everyone involved for making this event so special. The Japanese culture extended the most gracious welcome, and I very much hope to return next year!
Picture Credits: Kure123