Starboard Dream Team Riders made an impressive showing at the ISA World Championship in Fiji by winning 4 Gold Medals and 3 Silver Medals.
First up was Penelope (Pea) Strickland from New Zealand in the Women’s Technical Race at Cloudbreak. Pea was an alternate who stepped in when Annabel Anderson took a leave of absence from the competition. Riding on her 2014 ACE, Pea was able to hold off team mate and Silver medalist Olivia Piana from France who also took Silver in the women’s long distance competion.
The second Gold Medal awarded in Fiji went to Starboard team rider Michael Booth from Australia in the men’s long distance race. Michael has been dominating the distance racing scene all year and it is only fitting that he takes home the Gold.
The next Gold medal was earned by Shakira (Shak) Westdorp from Australia in the women’s SUP surf division. Shak had been surfing great all week and was able to narrowly defeat team mate and defending 2015 World Champion Izzi Gomez who took home the Silver medal this year.
And last but not least, Zane Schweitzer (Maui), who won in 2016 was DM Master of the Ocean, NZ Ultimate Waterman and now Gold Medalist in the men’s SUP surf division. Zane with his energetic and passionate attitude was able to narrowly defeat his Maui teammate Mo Freitas on the last second of the last wave of the competition.
Zane provides us with his Fiji recap below which is divided into 2 parts since he also filled in and competed in the men’s technical race as alternate for defending World Champion Connor Baxter.
ISA World Games Fiji Pro World Championships
Coming to Cloud Break for a competition, let alone a world championship is a dream come true!! Something so rad about this event in particular with the ISA is that we get to learn and grow with each other as a team of United Nations; it’s the one time that we get to call our sport a, “Team Sport”.. I’ve been looking forward to this event all year and training primarily for the SUP Surfing division with hopes to become world champion and being home a gold medal back to Hawai’i and my ohana and community on Maui!
We had a little bit of a crazy change of plans before leaving, as 2 of our top riders pulled a last minute drop out; Connor Baxter and Kai Bartlett. This was a huge bummer for us, especially with such short notice to try and replace them, just 3 weeks before the day we were supposed to leave! In Kai’s case, we were proud of him, because we had an awesome opportunity with his job as a Hawaiian Lifeguard, but in Connor’s case, he was simply tired and worn out and made the last minute decision to not follow through with his commitment to our team.. It’s understandable as he has worked so hard for the World Championship title he earned this year in the Waterman League for SUP Racing, but was a bummer because of the late notice.. Luckily, we found Kurt Lager to replace Kai Bartlett’s spot, but unfortunately for me, I had to take the weight that was ok Connor’s shoulders and handle the racing for Distance, Technical and the Sprint! I didn’t realize I’d be taking this responsibility for the team so I didn’t nearly have the training I would have liked to have coming into one of the most highly competitive racing competitions of the year! I’ve been spilt focussing on SUP Surfing and striving for excellence in the surf..
We got to fly together, stay together, prepare meals together, compete together and more importantly learn from one another all as a team. It was so refreshing to truly get to know our team more and connect with everyone so much.. Trips like this where groups are in tight quarters and doing everything together it’s easy to get bothered or annoyed, but there wasn’t a moment where any of us felt uncomfortable around each other, and that was a blessing!
The opening ceremony of the ISA is always a great moment of pride for the teams in the nations’ apparel and to introduce themselves to everyone else. Seeing all the nations and countries flying their flag proud and hearing all the cheers of the various teams in many languages is something special.. The community and team Conradery that is present at this event is insane, and it makes me feel so grateful to be apart of this and represent Hawai’i as a nation with our team!! On our team for the women we have Talia Decoit paddling the 17Km Distance SUP Race, Annie Reickert paddling the Technical SUP, Team Relay SUP and 200 meter Sprint, Lara Claydon for SUP Surf, Leane Darling for Prone Distance race, Prone Technical and Team Relay. For the Men we have Kurt Lager paddling the Prone Technical race and Prone Distance race, Hunter Pflueger paddling the Prone Distance, Technical and team relay race, Mo Freitas for SUP Surf, Kai Lenny for Technical SUP race, Distance SUP, and Team relay SUP, and I myself competing in the SUP Surf, Distance SUP, Technical SUP and 200 meter Sprint! We have a solid team and we are hoping to bring another medal home overall as a team!
First competition to take place was the SUP Surf, and the condition were tiny, unlike the characteristics of what we were all imagining for the event at Cloud Break; one of the worlds most perfect, Mechanical, Hollow and long lefts! We were able to get through round one and some of two in both the men and women in the small surf and team Hawaii was looking strong. Lara Claydon was putting on a great performance and display of her skills and was impressing all of us including the judges! With the conditions being so minimal and they’re being a swell in the forecast before the end of the holding period, teammate and friend, Mo Freitas, and I came up with the idea to rally together athletes and the team managers from all the nations to file a protest against running the event with hopes that they would hold the rest of competition on the new swell at the end of the week after all the races. Fortunately, they took it into consideration and after two hours where they finished off some of the women heats, they decided to run the rest of the Sup surfing events on the new swell on the last day of the holding period! It was an awesome decision for Mo and I to rally the athletes together all on the same page and present this idea. In the end, we all signed up for a competition at Cloudbreak, and we were all eager to be in more solid conditions!!
ISA World Games Fiji Pro
Next up was the Technical Course racing for men and women taking place at Cloudbreak. The conditions were beautiful but choppy-flat, our team knew we would have to work a bit harder in conditions like this as opposed to surf race style or bump-and-glide conditions. The race was coordinated by Barrett Tessler and had a qualification format, meaning there were 1 or more rounds of heats that you had to finish top 4 in out of 8 to advance on to the final.. Annie finished in 12th place and we were all impressed with her abilities keeping up with some of the top women in the world and making it all the way into the final, at just 15 years old! Hunter, Kurt, Leane, Kai and I also made the finals of our divisions so we were able to rack some points off to a good start, although Kai’s performance of a silver medal finish was most definitely where we earned our point most!
In the Distance race we started from Cloudbreak and paddle 17 kilometers down to a nearby island named Malolo finishing at Musket Cove Island Resort! Unfortunately for the racers on our team, including myself, we had unfavorable conditions for us to excel more than others; it was flat, glassy, without a breath of wind and just to make it even tougher, it was up current and baking hot!! Kai ended up finishing in 6th, Talia in 12th, Hunter and Kurt somewhere in the top 10 and as well Leane with a great fight finishing in 8th I believe. It was a brutal race for all of us, especially in the flat water, but I personally was stoked because I beat the two guys I knew I needed to beat so I was proud!
By this time after the distance races and the night before the sup surfing events, Matty, my brother and our team captain, got a call from Barrett Tessler with some bad news.. apparently I was disqualified for missing a buoy turn outside of Namotu Island! I took a right turn around the buoy when I was supposed to pass it on the left, this only gave me a disadvantage as it was more distance traveled then the other competitors, although in the rule book athletes are responsible for following the course and if not they are disqualified.. It didn’t state with or without an advantage to the other competitors, so we thought it might be over for me in that race.. Until Leane Darling motivated us to fight for this and protest as it was no advantage gained by me taking this turn by mistake, and if anything a disadvantage. We heard no news from the race committee that night so we thought there were low chances for this to be changed.. I was so disappointed, not just for my own mistake and result, but more so for feeling like I let down the team.. One of our team captains, Allen Pflueger, helped to lift my spirits and cheer me up though, and make sure to keep looking forward with my head in the game for the following day, the SUP Surfing event! After all, this is what I really came here for and what I’ve been working and training so hard for most the year!
We woke up early at 4:30am to howling winds rolling through our beach villa at Musket Cove Island Resort and with an expected solid swell to be present. The wind to me was only comfortable and a sign of a good omen as we get plenty of practice in the wind on Maui and with my wind knowledge from Windsurfing. On our way out on the boat to the outer island reefs of Tavaru, Mo spotted yet another good omen, two dolphins drafting our wake off the bow of our trimaran sailboat, we watched together in amazement and once again said confirmed to each other that today is our day to bring home a gold and a silver. I stretched and meditated with some mindful tapping the remainder of the boat ride and felt prepared, excited and grateful to meet this opportunity to potentially have yet another dream come true by the end of the day..
My first heat of the day set off the rhythm right, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a single heat! Barrel after barrel I couldn’t help but find myself screaming out of the top of my lungs coming out the exit of a few and feeling blessed for a great start of the day; to me it was yet another good omen, he ho’ailona paha!.. I won that heat and advanced on through but leaned quite a bit from the scores I received and from
studying how the judges were scoring the other competitors; they were rewarding variety and turns more than deep, clean barrel rides..
My next two heats I actually tried to change my approach a bit and even my equipment in the semifinal as the waves were on the rise.. I barely squeaked by in these following two heats and decided I need to go back to my original choice of equipment and game plan; having fun and feeling the rhythm, and going back to riding my Starboard 2017 7’2″ Pro model which is what I am most used to, and as well which was allowing me to get more critical with my turns and have more explosive maneuvers, regardless of the increasing swell!
In the Final I had some fun waves to start with but it wasn’t the scores I needed.. Throughout the majority of my final I was sitting in 3rd place and even in a combination situation by my teammate and competitor in the final, Mo Freitas.. A combo situation for yourself to take the lead is not what you want to hear with less than 8 minutes remaining in your heat, this means that you need not only one near excellent score but 2 near excellent scores to take the lead.. In the dying minutes of the heat I remember kicking out of a good wave and looking at my brother and team Manager, Matty and Kai Lenny in the channel, they were worried it was over for me, I looked back at them and shouted, “I can still do this!”..
That Wave took me out of a combo position, but I still needed a close to excellent scoring wave of 8.7 or greater to take the lead…. In a fierce paddle battle with my teammate and heat leader, Mo Freitas, as he was trying to defend his position, I was able to get straight back out to the line up and was determined and confident to get a perfect scoring wave… In the final seconds of the heat I fought for a wave that looked like it had the potential for a perfect score and was rewarded with a high 9 point ride!!! I remember riding my board onto the dry reef after ripping as many turns as I could after nice barrel off the takeoff, and sitting on the dry reef praying to god that this wave was enough!!!! If I would have had a second of doubt in myself, even with a combo situation in the last minutes, this wave which made the win happen would not have been possible!! – Be relentless in what you believe in!!!
As a team the competition was not over yet! We still had the team relay races and the 200 meter Sprint. These were the last two divisions before the closing ceremony of the ISA World Games and before the team overall scores were added up!
The team relay and Sprints took place at Denerau harbor and yacht club and we were all mentally and physically drained, not to mention completely fried from so many full days in the sun and off course the other competitions!! Although, I think we all knew we were actually less drained than all the other competitors; being in the sun and ocean all day everyday is our lifestyle and we were prepared for another day of action back to back!
Our relay consisted of Hawaiian hammers Hunter Pflueger for men Prone, Annie Reickert for women SUP, Leane Darling for women Prone and Kai Lenny anchoring for men SUP! Our team was solid and everyone gave it their hearts and every last ounce of energy hey had. Little Annie really impressed us all with her speed and endurance staying in the top 5 just behind Candice Appleby. Although history was broken with by far the most exciting flat water SUP race all of us have ever witnessed during the last leg of the relay races when Kai Lenny went from 4th way back in the pack far behind top 3 to 1st, gaining an incredible amount of ground in such a short distance and time, smoking past the top three paddlers just 50 meters from the finish!! It was outstanding and gave us a all a huge confidence boost for our overall position and a chance to bring home a medal for the whole teams’ result!!
At the closing ceremony we Mo Freitas and I stood proudly on the podium for results of one of the most exciting SUP Surf events in history; Mo receiving a Silver medal and myself receiving my first ISA World Games Gold Medal and World Championship Title! We flew the flag and sang Hawai’i pono i proudly and had so much love and support from all athletes and crowd there for putting on an exciting show!
The overall team results were clear for 1st with the Australians getting a well deserved win with many medals earned between their team, with France behind them in 2nd, New Zealand in 3rd and us, Team Hawai’i, in 4th taking home a copper medal!!
Mahalo nui loa to all of our supporters and sponsors who made it possibly for us as a team to be here!!
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Aloha and Mahalo,
See you on the water!!
Zane Kekoa Schweitzer
Innovate And Inspire
Aloha and Mahalo,
Zane Kekoa Schweitzer