Women’s Elite and the Back of the Pack at the Graveyard

2017 Carolina Cup Top 10 Women
Top 10 chargers from the 2017 Carolina Cup. Women Elite athletes
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This year’s Graveyard Race held some challenges.  That’s like the understatement.  Let’s say it like this:  UNLESS you weren’t FULLY prepared for a GOOD a*s whooping, the 2017 Carolina Cup’s Graveyard Race was the great humbler.  Men and women struggled in those 20-25 knot winds, fighting their way up the inter coastal waterway and then through the south inlet.  It had strengths and challenges.  And some didn’t get the chance to finish.

2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard Race finish
Good vibes at the end of the Graveyard Race is what it’s all about. Everyone gets respect for finishing those punishing 13-Miles. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Men vs. Women in the Graveyard

We all know the guys are going to do great.  They always do great.  They’re the guys.  But when wind and weather begin to have an affect on the Graveyard Course, in my mind, the women are the true heroes.  After all, we are genetically less strength oriented, lighter of weight and our boards are shorter.  In this year’s Graveyard at the Carolina Cup, Standup Journal online wants to give a HUGE shout out to the ladies both on the podium, and off!

2017 Carolina Cup Top 10 Women Graveyard
The 2017 Carolina Cup Top 10 Women’s winners are a dynamic force on the racing circuit. These ladies have both grit and heart to spare.

If you read our article on the Men’s elite 14′ Graveyard Race, then you know the conditions were heinous.  The wind was stronger than predicted and when racers were on the back stretch – with the wind in their faces – it was gusting up around 25 knots or more.  The longer you were on the race course, the worse it became.  In the end, over 5 racers were denied the right to finish due to the Coast Guard’s decision that conditions were unsafe.

But more on that later …

Women’s Graveyard Course and the Heroines that Champion it

In the Women’s Graveyard Course, the gals are traditionally on 12’6 race boards.  That’s a foot and a half shorter than the men’s and therefore has THAT MUCH LESS glide.  In effect, we work harder.  We’re also built differently.  So when the winds begin to howl and swells are pushing you backwards, gals need to fineness their stroke and dig deep to make it happen.

In the 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard Race, the women deserve a big round of applause.  Shorter boards, possessing less genetic strength AND starting two minutes after the men, their race course was daunting.  And yet, we got around.  The gals made it happen, worked their magic, muscled through some gnarly conditions and finished the course.  It was SUP-er impressive to watch.

2017 Carolina Cup women's Graveyard Race
Unlike the men, the women’s draft trains are often only 2-3 women deep. In this year’s Carolina Cup, nearly ALL the gals made it around the Graveyard on their own. Different from the guys who packed up to make it happen. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Annabel wins, Fiona at her heels

In the end, the results were astounding.  Kiwi Annabel Anderson had Starboard team rider Fiona Wylde close on her heels for most of the race.  Fiona is a fierce competitor and steadily rising on the leader boards in a marked effort to be a hurricane of challenge at every event.  Annabel, being Annabel, managed to shake Fiona off in the final miles on the course and took home her fifth straight Carolina Cup title.  Fiona, fierce contender for that title, came in second.  Starboard’s Olivia Piana came through the finish in 3rd place just three minutes off of the leader.

Annabelle Anderson Fiona Wylde 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard
Fiona Wylde hung tight on Annabel’s heels for much of the race. However, when Annabel had enough, she shook Fiona off and finished the course with room to spare. Photo by:  West Marine Carolina Cup

The winds at this point are gusting up around 25 knots on the course.  The hardest part coming at the end where, as racers struggled up the south inlet, faced side shore gusts which challenged them from being pushed onto the rocks.  Once around the top of the jetty, it was a straight shot home to the finish, but conditions were beginning to deteriorate.

April Zilg 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard
April Zilg makes her way up the windy inter coastal stroke by stroke. April’s hard work and tenacity are an inspiration to any female racer. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

April Zilg completes Phase 1 of the dream: Finishes in Top 5

In a hometown moment that was loudly celebrated on the beach, local gal April Zilg finally achieved her Top 5 wish by placing 4th overall for the women.  It’s worth noting too that April had a FULL week of activity leading up to the race.  She was a central figure in coordinating the effort to bring India’s Tanvi Jagadish to the Carolina Cup this year by jump starting a fundraiser to pay for her plane ticket.  Then, April hosted multiple clinics to help racers plan and prepare for the formidable Mason’s Inlet.  She also runs an online training program and can be found on any given day at Carolina Paddleboards holding down the shop.

April’s finish was dramatic as she was clearly in pain when she dropped her board in the surf and upon crossing the line, dropped to her knees in a full body cramp.  The winds were brutal.

Seychelle Hattingh Lena Ribiero 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard
SIC team rider Seychelle followed closely by Lena Rebiero in this photo are just a board length behind a fierce prone battle for 2nd and 3rd between Abby Brown and Dan Michulak.  Photo by Evelyn O’Doherty

An international cast in the Women’s Top 10

SIC’s new team rider Seychelle Hattingh came smiling up the beach in 5th place, followed by Mistral’s Lena Rebiero in 6th.   Penelope Strickland of Starboard crossed in 7th, Susan Moleniero 8th, Hannah Hill finished 9th and Lexi Alston put on an all-star performance to round out the Top 10 by finishing the course in just over three hours and come in 10th.

Everyone agreed the conditions were brutal.

April Zilg 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard
April Zilg jumps out in front hits the leading buoy first. We knew it was going to be a great race.

Back of the Pack:  the real stories

So then, if it gets worse the longer you are out there, what happens to the people at the back of the pack?

They suffer.  They struggle.  They knuckle under in the face of gathering winds and developing swell.  They press on behind the leaders knowing their day may not be on the podium, but  in the honor that comes from merely completing the course.  These people, in my book, are the truest heroes.

At the end of this year’s 2017 Graveyard race, if you were standing on the beach, you could see spray flying as the wind ripped the top off of the swell and threw it down the coast.  The entire ocean was blowing sideways.  As the stragglers on the Graveyard course came in, their faces told the stories.  Endurance, mental stamina, inner solidity gave them the strength they needed to complete this 13-mile iconic race that lives up to its name.

My friend Michelle was one of them.

Michelle Currier 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard
Michelle completed all of the preparations a racer is supposed to in order to put herself to the test of the 13-mi Graveyard Race. Prepared and ready, she works her ways up the inter coastal waterway. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Michelle is an inspiration.  She arrived at this year’s Carolina Cup with the challenge foremost in her heart and a determination to complete the Graveyard Course.  Last year, she signed up and went home with a broken ankle.  In that preceding year, the shore break at the start of the race was brutal.  Sets were often 4-5 feet high and the officials sounded the horn just as a big set came through.  Michelle charged, but got caught up in the whitewater, took a shot to her head with her board and by the time she got out there, was too shaken and addled to finish.

So this year, she returned.

She returned to face the heart of the beast again, that struggle that the Graveyard Course represents to all racers.  She had trained all year, worked her ins and outs until she felt comfortable, learned to sup surf to keep herself steady and was ready to race.  And yet her story is one told from the back of the pack.  Out on the water for almost four hours, Michelle fought her way to the south inlet where, rather than concealing them from the full force of the wind, the inlet was nuking.  The side shore blasts made it difficult for racers to proceed more than one inch at a time.

And yet, Michelle pressed on.  Into the inlet, up into the cross wind and chop, she and paddling partner Josie Latta leaned, pulled and pressed their way towards the top of the rock wall, 11+ miles into the course, to round the corner where the wind would carry them, finally, to the Blockade Runner and the beach where we were all waiting.

But that was not to happen.

Somewhere in that inlet, someone made the call to pull the remaining racers out of the water.  Conditions had become so windy and insane that the Coast Guard decreed it was time to quit.  Within sight of the Blockade Runner, with little more than a mile left to go in the course, these final racers told to pull up and head in.  Michelle was one of them.

I can’t even imagine what that does to you.  I know, and she knows, she could have finished that course.  Michelle is a cross-fitter, a water woman, had just spent a week with me and Chuck Patterson in Puerto Rico race training for the Rincon Beach Boy.  She wasn’t ready to quit, but the call was made for her.

I understand the Coast Guard’s concern.  I get it, but I still think these ladies should have been given the option to complete the Graveyard.  The Coast Guard boats had personally escorted the last two packs of racers from the inlet to the finish line, but then with only a handful left, decided to call it quits.  It just stinks.

Michelle, I have more respect for you today than you can imagine.  The tenacity and determination you showed by creating your dream out there, inch by inch, is incredible.  What’s even more so is knowledge that you could have finished but didn’t due to forces outside your control.  Bravo!  At the end of the day, it’s the stories like this that make the Graveyard a myth and a legend.

Next year is gonna be great.  We’re all coming back one more time to face the (sometimes) brutal conditions, to test out our willingness to suffer, to lean into the wind and chop and heaving seas in order to find out what we’re made of.  Michelle Currier, you’re made of the right stuff.  Can’t wait to see that smile happen when the dream is complete and you’re safely across the finish in 2018.

unknown pronoe 2017 Carolina Cup Graveyard
Alice Henley, Women’s Prone division. It’s these stories, the faces and names we don’t always see, that make the challenge of the Graveyard course great. Photo by: Evelyn O’Doherty

Aloha Carolina Cup!  Thanks for the Memories.

Aloha to ALL the racers out there on the Graveyard Course, the Money Island and the Harbor Island in the 2017 West Marine Carolina Cup event!  This was definitely a great day to be remembered.

To check out the final results/times, you can go to the Carolina Cup website.  You can also review the LIVE ACTION from the event on Standup Journal’s Facebook Page to hear the cheers of the crowd and catch the energy from one of the greatest races of the year.

Mahalo, everyone!  Til next year!


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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.