The promise of a competitive surfski field drew me to the Carolina Cup for the first time this year. Historically a huge SUP race, the 13 mile Graveyard race is quickly gaining a reputation as a fun ocean race that now had the attention of the surfski community. Surfski participation jumped from just 12 in 2016 to 40 racers the year and is only poised to continue to grow.

Lining up on the beach for a water start, you stood knee deep in water and jumped on your craft when the flag drops. I’d only ever practiced this on my local lake, so a conservative start was in order so as not to throw away valuable time. The flag dropped and Oscar Chalupsky (SAF / 12 x Ocean World Champion) was on his ski and 10 meters ahead before I knew it. He’d maintain his lead thru out the race with a dominant win. The lovely Teneale Hatton (NZ / Surfski World Champion) also got a great start to my right. A short sprint thru the surf to the turn buoy and we were belting downwind with a fantastically fun wind and swell on our backs. My new Epic V12 revelled in the conditions as I moved up several places after some good surfing.
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The downwind was over far too soon as we neared Mason Inlet. Protected by numerous sandbars, it was hard to spot the entrance and a group of us soon found we’d gone a little too far. This bought a significant surfski group back together as we entered the Inter-Coastal Waterway and felt the intensity of the headwind for the first time. The wind direction meant it was straight into our faces and there would be no hiding. You just had to suck it up and push on. The upwind effort started to take its toll on a few folks as they dropped off the group. I also decided to stick to my plan and that resulted in me dropping off the main group by 100 meters or so as I monitored my effort on my GPS. The group seemed to stay tantalizingly close, but too far to close in on.

Passing the back of the Blockade Runner, the head wind seemed to intensify. All I could think of was that if it was sucking for me, it was sucking for everyone else. At least I was on a low profile surfski. The poor SUP paddlers must have got destroyed in the head wind. Just ahead of me, Jessie Lishchuk had opened a small gap on Eric Mims and Eric Hay who were paddling hip to hip.
We finally made a left turn along the rock jetties as we headed out of Masonboro inlet and the final downwind to home. Behind me, the coast was clear and I relaxed into the swells to enjoy the ride home. Suddenly, Eric Hay was off his ski. I couldn’t figure out what was going on but soon saw that he had broken his paddle, so I changed course and surfed over to make sure he was okay, while picking up his floating paddle blade along the way. Eric indicated he was okay and didn’t need assistance as he limped to the finish line with just half a paddle. Such a great attitude and he got a great round of applause when he finally crossed the line.

Turns out that this was not the only drama close to the line. Jessie had taken a direct line from the jetty wall to the finish, not realizing he needed to turn around an off shore buoy before heading in to the beach. This small error allowed Eric Mims to move up another spot.
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The Carolina Cup is a great relaxed race and the surfski race was fantastic fun with really entertaining ocean conditions. The drama close to the finish and the monstrous head winds will be something we’ll be talking about for some time. As a result, I only see the surfskis participation continuing to grow, despite the ridiculous entry fees.

For results, click here.