This last month, Hunter Pflueger and many more top paddle athletes raced for their countries at the 2018 ISA SUP and Paddleboards World Championship in Wanning, China. Australia took home the gold, the US won silver, and Hunter raced like he never raced before. Here’s what he had to say about his trip and his first, (and definitely not last) gold medal!
“This whole crazy adventure to China began one night while I was sitting in my dorm at the University of San Diego. My phone rang, and it was my dad. He asked if I had seen the message from him (I hadn't yet), he told me Steve Shlens called, USA needs a male prone paddler for 2018 ISA in China. Right when I heard those words so many thoughts started running through my mind. Right when I got off the phone with my dad I Immediately contacted Steve. He filled me in on what the logistics would be. Fast forward to November 22nd and I am boarding the plane to China. The forecast was looking good, almost a little too good to be true. We would have 20-30mph winds for the distance race, ideal for some mental downwind runs. Turns out the reason why the wind was so good was because there was a typhoon on the way. This flipped the script and now competition dates would be moved around. First, we would race the technical (3 miles) then we would race the distance (11 miles).
On the morning of the technical momentum was with Team USA. Before my race, our junior Sup racers, Ryan Funk and Jade Howson, both put on a show taking home the gold. I was pumped.
The tech race began with Lachie Lansdown (Australia), Daniel Hart (New Zealand), Jadon Wessels (South Africa) and I taking charge and breaking the pack. Last time I raced in the ISA tech race I had been dropped right off the start so just to be up there and to be able to hang with the top pack was super cool. As the race went on the positions between the four of us rotated constantly, but somehow, I was able to stick in there. When the final lap came all of us were still neck to neck. I was on the far left, closest to the buoy, but farthest from the waves that we had been catching to get to the buoy faster. I was about half way to that buoy when I looked back. I didn't see any waves, but I also knew that even a small bump could change everything. I decided to gamble and skip the waves and straight shot it to buoy. It paid off as my competition had to paddle farther to come back toward the buoy as I made a break for it. Lachie was hot on my heels though. I had maybe 10-15 yards on him. As I sprinted in toward the finish line, I thought I had it, my first gold medal. Mother nature had other plans though. A quick glance to my left and here comes Lachie on the smallest little swell possible. So small in fact that it does not reach me. We hit the beach, he was about half a board length in front and from there I watched him out sprint me, winning by three seconds. Exhausted from 30 minutes of racing I was too tired to be upset, I had just got my first ISA World Championship Podium! More importantly though, I had finally challenged Lachie, something I had been trying to do ever since I first raced him. That was the real victory for me that day.
After a couple days rest, we all lined up again for the distance race...and there were bumps. I knew I had to seize every opportunity to put pressure on the other guys. Three laps totaling 11 miles, it was going to be a grind, with flat, down and side wind all mixed together. The race played out similar to the tech race. The same pack of four separating, shooting off at the start. One lap down and we all stayed together. I was feeling fresh. As we finished the second lap, I knew I would have to make my move soon. I was not about to leave it to a sprint finish again. When the time came I executed my plan. Lachie stuck right next to me though as we made our way into the downwind section, where he excels. There I had to focus on every little detail to not give him any ground or opportunity to break away. Finishing the downwind and going into the upwind I had to put my head down and grind. I had a little gap and over the course of the final third lap, I was able to grow it slowly. I ran up the beach completely stunned at what had happened. I had won the 2018 ISA Paddleboard World Championships distance race. Not really sure what to feel, I was just content with how everything went.
All in all, China was amazing. It is always great to catch up with friends from other countries and to be a part of Team USA and take home an overall of 2nd out of 26 countries was the cherry on top. A huge thank you to Bark Boards for always looking after to me. Best boards and even better people.”
***All photos by ISA.