Zamami Island, Japan – The 2018 Kerama Blue Cup played host to the fourth stop of The Paddle League World Tour. This was one of the ‘Majors’ and carried a 100 weighting which means there were some big names on the starting line, however, the Kerama Blue Cup is not a Pro only event and includes a whole host of fun SUP events and activities allowing amateur racers to enjoy a weekend of SUP alongside the worlds best and even meet their heroes.
«Zamami Island has once again delivered dreamlike scenery, big smiles and amazing racing conditions.» ~ Daniel Hasulyo
It was clear and beautiful sunny skies until just an hour before the 10 am start of the main 18km event. The race started in classic beach start style with the elite women to set off first, 5 minutes ahead of the elite men. The horn sounds and racers charge off – it’s a fast start from Seychelle Hutting (Florida) leading out the women but Starboard Dream Team riders Sonni Hönscheid (Germany), Fiona Wylde (USA) and Yuka Sato (Japan) never let go and formed a 4 person lead pack early on.
Local Japanese heroin Yuka Sato made her move around the 4km mark to take up the lead of the front pack ~ and just started hammering. Just as it looked like the women had relaxed and got into a rhythm, Sonni broke off right from the pack looking for clean water – she had other ideas. Just like her previous 4 or 5 races, she went off on her own and very quickly pulled herself into the lead. Yuka, still leading the women’s train, with Seychelle and Fiona in tow, didn’t respond. At this point, the media boat had to break off as the shallow reef rounding Amuro Island prevented the boat from entering.
In the men’s elite race it was none other than Connor Baxter who rounded the golden buoy (first turn buoy) in the no. 1 position – as he so frequently does – ensuring him a comfortable position in the lead pack just ahead of Starboard teammates Ryan Funk (Hawaii) and Daniel Hasulyo (Hungary). The lead pack soon settled down to just 8 riders, with hometown hero Kenny Kaneko (Japan) deciding to take a deeper line on his own. Bruno Hasulyo soon took over the reigns leading the men’s elite race toward Amuro Island, just as the rain descended down off the mountain which meant the water lost it’s iconic clear turquoise blue colour and became more ominous – mirroring the changing conditions.
REPLAY: The Paddle League World Tour in Zamami, Japan (Part 1/2)
After a 30 minute Live Stream intermission the media boat catches up to the men, and it’s no surprise to see the Hungarian SUPBroz duo of brothers Daniel and Brno Hasulyo taking turns leading the front pack – and looking super strong. Connor raced smart, always staying in the 3rd or 4th positions, sitting on the wash and conserving energy ~ there was still a (light) downwind section to come… With about 45 minutes left in the race, the weather really started to turn with wind, rain and chop all intensify, minute by minute. As the racers enter the final stretch of the course it’s Dream Team rider Daniel Hasulyo leading the thinned out front pack of Lincoln Dews, Connor Baxter, Noïc Garioud, and Bruno Hasulyo around one of the final massive red ship anchors come-turn-buoys.
Nearing the final 15 mins the sun starts to come out again and things in the men’s race really start to heat up too, all the while the media boat crack open some Saki to soak it all in. The final few kilometres turns into a light downwind section and it’s here we see Connor making his move. Lincoln and Noïc do their best to respond but Connor surges bump after bump from seemingly from nothing on his Starboard 12’6 x 23 Sprint.
«I was already planning where to make my move and I was going to wait till the last buoy turn where we had about a 1k sprint to finish line. I pushed hard to get the inside line and everything was lining up. There were small bumps and I had my eyes glued to that finish line and left everything out on the water.» ~ Connor Baxter
REPLAY: The Paddle League World Tour in Zamami, Japan (Part 2/2)
In the end, it was Connor Baxter and Sonni Hönscheid from Team Starboard who crossed the finishing line back on the white sandy beaches of Zamami Island to take home the King and Queens title. Fellow Dream Team riders also put in impressive performances all finishing in the top 5 with SUPBroz Daniel & Bruno Hasulyo in 4th & 5th respectively and Fiona Wylde with a solid 5th position in a tough women’s race.
“I was really happy to come back to Japan, I heard a lot about the Island of Zamami, in how beautiful it is – but coming here, paddling through the crystal clear blue water – it completely blew my mind!! I’m super stoked to win the Kerama Blue Cup. I was paddling on the 12.6 x 23.5 Allstar and Lima paddle which proved the best choice for me as we had a little bit of everything – flatwater, sidewind, upwind» ~ Sonni Hönscheid
Congratulations to everyone that took place in the 2018 Kerama Blue Cup at Zamami Island, Japan – after all, racing in Japan is always great fun for everyone.
«Racing in a national park it’s always a great pleasure!» says Daniel Hasulyo, » Gama and Shigeki from Starboard Japan once again have been very good hosts and made sure everything was sorted for our weekend of racing.»
2018 Kerama Blue Cup Men’s Results:
1st: Connor Baxter (1:41:36) Starboard
2nd:Noïc Garioud (1:41:46)
3rd: Lincoln Dews (1:42:02)
4th: Daniel Hasulyo (1:42:11) Starboard
5th: Bruno Hasulyo (1:42:46) Starboard
6th: Kenny Kaneko (1:43:15)
7th: Martin Vitry (1:44:04)
8th: Kelly Margetts (1:46:29)
9th: Rai Taguchi (1:47:19)
10th: Kota Kayshima (1:47:26)
2018 Kerama Blue Cup Women’s Results:
1st: Sonni Hönscheid (1:50:44) Starboard
2nd: Yuka Sato (1:51:59) Starboard
3rd: Seychelle (1:54:50)
4th: Lina Augaitis (1:55:16)
5th: Fiona Wylde (1:57:35) Starboard
6th: Terrene Black (1:59:11)
7th: Takayo Yokoyama (2:01:20)
8th: Rika Okuaki (2:04:06)
9th: Miu Kogai (2:07:51)
10th: Kiyomi Sheppard (2:15:21)
Picture Credits: Georgia Schofield and Andrew Welker