Red Bull Heavy Water held in extreme conditions under hot controversy

Red Bull Heavy Water
Red Bull Heavy Water controversy
Global Partner

The Red Bull Heavy Water event, final stop on the 2017 APP World Tour, culminated in the face of 20′ raging swells and an equal tumult from a tribe of outraged female athletes to close out the season.

*Video supplied by Clay Island

First, about the Red Bull Heavy Water competition

The event is held in San Francisco’s cold waters and – like the WSL Big Wave Surf Contest – is run on 48 hours notice within a certain waiting period when event organizers (APP World Tour/Red Bull) deem the conditions to be big enough to hold this extreme racing event.

The California coastline’s deep slumber woke up in time this week to raise several eyebrows and the swell forecasts called for 15′-20′ swells along the northern coast.  Red Bull, never one to not take advantage of such a confluence, rang the bell and called the racers to center stage for this Friday, Oct. 20th.

The controversy began when Red Bull and the APP World Tour neither asked nor invited any women to attend this Invitation Only exclusive event which offered $50,000 in prize money including $20,000 to the top overall winner.  This is the largest prize pocket in the sport of stand up paddle racing’s history.

According to the APP World Tour, ’30 of the World’s Top Athletes’ were on hand to take part in this year’s Red Bull Heavy Water.  However, on race day, due to the gigantic swell and extreme conditions, only 19 of them entered the water.

 A three-day last minute invite to women, is not notice, it is unprofessional...We deemed this unfair and very disrespectful to the deep field of women in our sport around the world. It is not hard to notice the lack of transparency in these actions, and the disregard for the female athletes as a whole. NEWS FLASH: We are not to be an after thought. We have been here all along, and we want an equal opportunity to participate
Racers pushing out through a tremendous swell and a mile of white water at the 2017 Red Bull Heavy Water event in San Francisco  Photo by:  APP World Tour

The Viking Casper Steinfath emerges victorious

“I’ve never felt so alive and focused in my life!” – Casper Steinfath

In a race that will surely go down as one of the most memorable in stand up paddle racing’s history, paddlers entered the through at Ocean Beach in San Francisco through a solid mile of whitewater, wove around the tumultuous waters of Land’s End, under the Golden Gate Bridge and through the heavily current-effected waters of San Francisco Bay.  Racers were expected to both enter and exit the waves 2X in order to complete the course.

Boards broken, serious hold downs, a lot of egos crushed.  That’s how it went. Of the 19 paddlers who braved the waters, only 14 finished.  That says a lot about how it went.  30 invited, 19 on the start line, 14 crossed the finish.

Casper Steinfath Red Bull Heavy Water
Naish team rider Casper Steinfath claims his victory after an hour and 15 minutes of punishing surf, wild seas and strong currents. Photo by: APP World Tour

In 1 hour and 15 minutes, Red Bull athlete Casper Steinfath emerged victorious from the surf that left other premiere athletes like Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter in 8th and 9th place.  Treating the race like a big wave surf competition, Steinfath used his tenacity and skill to bring himself out on top.

“I treated it more like the ultimate challenge against Mother Nature,”
– Casper Steinfath

Coming in on his heels, in a well-earned finish, was 17-year-old Starboard Team rider Ryan Funk with a time of 1 hour 16 minutes.  Travis Grant, who flew in from Australia and managed about 2 hours of sleep before the race start, came in a strong third in 1 hour and 18 minutes for the course.  These are three men who slept well Friday night.

Ryan Funk Red Bull Heavy Water Starboard
Ryan Funk, from Team Starboard, fought bravely through the conditions to beat the world’s top racers including Travis Grant who placed third behind him.  Photo by:  APP World Tour

“It was more of a challenge than a race…I can’t believe we got out through that surf once, let alone twice.”  – Travis Grant

Casper’s winnings include $20,000 in prize money and a lot of bragging rights in the year to come.  Young Ryan Funk takes home $7,500 and Travis Grant earned himself $5,000 for a day of racing.

Red Bull Heavy Water winners Casper Steinfath Ryan Funk Travis Grant
Prize Purse for this event included $20K for 1st place (Casper Steinfath), $7,500K for 2nd (Ryan Funk) and $5,000K for 3rd (Travis Grant). Photo by: APP World Tour

Women want opportunity to compete/earn equal prize money

While the men were battling it out in the wind, pounding surf (Michael Boothe proclaims he experienced his first two-wave hold down and his 14′ raceboard was actually tombstoning in those extreme conditions) and competition, the female top racers and athletes took to social media to make a strong statement about equality.

“The boys get to race for $50,000 this week. The girls didn’t get invited.  The real questions is, in 2017, are ‘we’ OK with that ???”  – Annabel Anderson

Annabel Anderson paddle for equality
Annabel’s fiery post kicked off a social media protest around the globe to bring equal opportunity to women in the realm of sports. Photo by: Glenn Dubock

Annabel Anderson kicks off a protest for gender equality in sup racing

Annabel wants a piece of that prize money.  She also wants the chance to be invited.  Last year’s Red Bull Heavy Water was also an Invite Only event and – indeed – only had male athletes invited.  Over the past year, Annabel has been in top form, winning several top level competitions often pulling passed lagging male racers on the courses in order to do so.

Her claim is that there are many top level female athletes who would be ready to handle an event like the Red Bull Heavy Water … if they were put on the start list and given time to prepare.  She is angry about not being asked to attend and shames the APP World Tour for promoting the ‘Top 30 stand up paddle athletes in the world’ and not including any women on that list.

“It is not a question of skill or performance, I have personally proven every year that a female is capable of delivering a performance equal to those of the top men and I commend the events and communities that have honoured equality and equality opportunity.

My goal is clear: to support equality, transparency and equal opportunity to set a path of success for the future of our sport and its athletes.”  – Annabel Anderson

Annabel Anderson
Annabel claims herself to be fit enough, strong enough and in the same caliber of racing as most men to compete in an event as extreme as the Red Bull Heavy Water.

Social Media storms the gates of APP World Tour

Annabel’s social media posts on Facebook and Instagram created a 20-foot wave of controversy as female paddlers from around the globe took up the charge and demanded to be recognized.  Paddlers held hand-made signs reading #ipaddleforequality and spread the message thoroughly across the internet.

Purportedly, Tristan Boxford – CEO/Director of the APP World Tour – did reach out to Annabel, Fiona & Candice earlier this week to ask them to attend the event; however, the invite was late in the preparations and did not give the women adequate time to mentally or physically prepare for the extreme measures the Red Bull Heavy Water demanded.

Candice Appleby paddle for equality
Candice Appleby has always been a proponent for equal pay for the women of sup. Her protest on this one was loud & clear.

Candice Appleby calls late-invites ‘unprofessional’

Candice Appleby found this late invite ‘unprofessional’ as she slammed the APP Tour by stating,

A three-day last minute invite to women, is not notice, it is unprofessional… It is not hard to notice the lack of transparency in these actions, and the disregard for the female athletes as a whole. NEWS FLASH: We are not to be an after thought. We have been here all along, and we want an equal opportunity to participate.”

paddle for equality annabel anderson
Female racers from all over the globe joined together to make a stand about being locked out of a major competition with real prize money.  They protest for the opportunity to race in the Red Bull Heavy Water.

Female Paddlers seek equal opportunity to participate

Other Top-Ranked females including Sonni Honscheid, April Zilg, Shae Foudy and Penelope Strickland all added their voices to the protest.  Social media during the event was awash with women demanding to be recognized as athletes who have earned their right to participate, or at least be on the invite list, for an event on the APP World Tour with such a large prize payout.

In the end, Tristan Boxford, the APP Tour and Red Bull have their work cut out for them.  Will there be women on the invite list for 2018?  I think it’s a safe bet to say so.

An exciting day of change and sup racing all in one!  Ride on, all!  Welcome to a shift in current.



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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.