There is less than a month to go for the 2022 Carolina Cup, in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, the biggest stand up paddle competitive event in North America. Check out this recent interview with Danny Ching on winning last year’s event and his scope of vision for 2022. Paddlers, start your engines!
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA, USA – Born into a family of water paddlers, Danny Ching learned the sport of paddling early and amassed an amazing series of triumphs over the years. Highlights include SUP World Champion, OC-1 World Champion, Dragon Boat World Champion, countless stand up paddle race titles, a tiptoe into Olympic kayaks, and yes, four victories in the grueling Carolina Cup Graveyard Race. At age “38 going on 39,” Ching confirmed he is going for number five.
“The Carolina Cup Graveyard Race is one of the toughest races in stand up paddling,” said Ching of Redondo Beach, California. “I’m pretty fired up this year and put the Graveyard as my number one race, pre-May.”
One of the world’s largest and most prominent paddle sporting events, the 11th Annual Carolina Cup returns to Wrightsville Beach, April 27-May 01, 2022. The Cup is a five-day festival of clinics, product displays, demonstrations, and competition – including six rousing races featuring amateur and professional athletes using paddleboard, kayak, surfski, and outrigger canoe. Organized by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club, all activities are based at Blockade Runner Beach Resort.
This year the Carolina Cup sprint and distance SUP races will also double as pre-qualifiers for the 2022 International Canoe Federation World Series!
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In a recent interview, Danny Ching shared critical factors contributing to his career. He discusses the impact of COVID and offers a blow-by-blow description of the Carolina Cup course. He says there is “the exact part of the race every year” where the Carolina Cup “is decided”. He highlights key competitors he expects to see vying for the men’s title in 2022, and discusses whether or not he will compete on the APP World Tour. Also, in the mix is the high cost of global competition for athletes, Danny’s thoughts about having an east and west coast location in North America each year on the World Tour, and, updates on Ching’s growing family, his business ventures, as well as what he thinks about Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Interviewer: Robert B Butler, North Carolina Press Release
ROBERT: How did COVID impact you and the professional community in paddle sports over the past couple of years?
DANNY: It’s been interesting. Personally, for me, it’s been a blessing in disguise to have a break. I’ve been professionally racing, whether stand paddle boards, dragon boats, outrigger canoes, or Olympic kayaks for 15 years. Every time you add another discipline race to the schedule, it’s just more and more and more. On top of that, in these last five years I’ve started a family. So, although having all the races go away was a big disappointment, I had to be flexible and find a new way to make a living. But taking off the table having a major race every weekend was actually a big relief for me. I was finally able to take a break and just paddle for the enjoyment of paddling.
Now that it is starting back up again, it’s interesting. I want to do it all as it comes back. I want to pick and choose some of the bigger, more prestigious and fun races that I want to support, as opposed to paddling against the same 15 to 20 people that I’ve been racing against every weekend for the past five years.
ROBERT: I’ve followed you for the past 10 years since your first Carolina Cup title, and you have an amazing series of accomplishments in water sports, including OC-1 World Champion, SUP World Champion, and Dragon Boat World Champion. You’ve been ranked by the APP in both the distance and sprint competitions. You’ve won dozens of races in your career. You bagged the championship four times at the punishing Graveyard Race at the Carolina Cup. And now it looks like 2022 is off to a great start in San Diego. I believe you won first place in SUP, and first or second OC-1?
DANNY: Yeah, that was the San Diego Hanohano race. I won the SUP. One of the kids I’ve been training for 10, 12 years now, Ryland Hart, flew in for the race and was second right behind me in the stand up division. Then, he beat me in the OC-1! So, that was a new one. The last time we raced together was before COVID, and I was still a little bit faster than him. But I notice as things get a little more difficult, you start adding up the races, and those 21-year-olds are quick to recover. Itzel Delgado came up from Peru and finished third in SUP. He’s super fast.
ROBERT: How did you outperform in paddle sports? How did you get started, and how do you keep it going?
DANNY: I was fortunate enough to be born into a family of paddling. My dad, Al Ching, started a canoe club in Redondo Beach in 1970. When I was a little kid, one of the rules was you got to do junior guards so you can go to the beach by yourself. In course of every summer, you paddle because that’s what the family does. So, my mom paddled, my dad paddled and all of my cousins, and uncles. It was just one of the things we did together. I enjoyed it a lot as a kid. When I got into high school and college, I really started to love the training aspect and began racing. And my uncle, Josh Creighton, got me involved in Olympic kayaks for a little while.
So, I got to train on a world class level with a bunch of great paddlers out of LA growing up. It wasn’t until five or 10 years later, where I look back and go, “Wow, one of my coaches was an Olympic kayaker who carried the flag for the US team in 2000: Cliff Meidl.”
And it was just… That’s Cliff. You go paddle with him at five in the morning because that’s when he goes. So, I grew up in the sport. I loved it. I loved the addition of all the different ways to paddle. I also started in the Hawaiian six men canoes and graduated into the Olympic kayaks. That took me onto the surf ski scene. I did that for a few years and then transferred over to the Hawaiian outrigger OC-1 which is great.
When you get good at that sport, you get to go places like Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii and all the beautiful tropical destinations which are just cool places to visit. New Zealand. Then, once I was really good and established in that, stand up paddleboarding came along. I was lucky. I had a 10-year head start on being prepared for the sport. So, when SUP showed up, it was interesting for me. All the guys that were very good were the guys I already raced against in other sports, like Travis Grant, George Cronstead and the outrigger crew.
Then, just in the last five or six years, there’s this whole new crop of kids that grew up paddling, just on stand up paddleboards. They are now transferring to the other paddle sports. It’s just been a fun transition. I was born into the family, ended up loving it, got all these opportunities to travel the world and try different things. Fortunately for me, I was at the forefront of the entire time. I had good positioning, good opportunity, and then I made sure I took advantage of those opportunities and didn’t waste them.
ROBERT: As mentioned earlier, you’re a 4X champion of one of the more difficult races in the world: the 13.1-mile Graveyard Race. Half the race is in the ocean, the other half in flat water. There is an ocean start and an ocean finish, plus two inlets, changing tides, wind, and waves. How would you describe the Graveyard Race to an amateur or another professional paddler?
DANNY: The Graveyard course is pretty intense. At the very beginning, Carolina Cup did a great job having a three-mile race, a more advanced six-mile race, and then the 13.1-mile Graveyard, to give professional paddlers who want to be a world champion a challenge and for those amateur paddlers who simply want to survive the Graveyard.
Getting through the surf is difficult. Then, you’ve got to handle the ocean conditions just to get to the first inlet. After the inlet, you have a little bit of time on the inside where you’re usually fighting the current, but at least the conditions aren’t gnarly.
Next, you get a big chunk of time in the middle of the race where it’s paddling the way most of us know flatwater stand up paddling. There are always winds, sometimes some current, but nothing super out of control. But, in terms of racing, everybody’s right on you. So, the racing conditions mellow out when you hit the inside, but then the strategy, the conditioning, and the training all kick in. Then, when you’re the most tired, you must go through another inlet. Sometimes there are waves in the inlet and that’s a battle. Next, you hit the ocean again and that’s a huge challenge – equally difficult for amateur and professional paddlers. At this point, you’re positioning yourself to be in the first group for a chance to win the race.
Once you exit the inlet, it’s a completely different race. It’s different in the sense of, if you have something left, if your legs are still there, if your training is right and if your nutrition was on point, then you’re allowed to make an attack for the win. Even if everything is perfect, you have no idea if it’s going to work until you go. I found the Graveyard is decided in this exact part of the race every year – the hardest, most difficult part, when it’s time to be tough. That’s when we see who’s got the training, who’s got the mentality and experience. If you look at everyone that’s ever won this race, there are five athletes on the male side in eleven years.
So, if you look at Titouan, Travis, Michael Booth and all those guys, there’s always a good learning curve. And I equate it to – it’s kind of like stand up paddling racing is like poker – everyone can do it on Day one, but if you want to be the Master, it takes years of experience and sometimes a little bit of disappointment and regrouping. But the Graveyard course at Carolina Cup is, I think, one of the toughest races in stand up paddling. It also offers a great experience to first time paddlers, semi experience, multi-years of experience. And if you’ve been not racing for three years during COVID, it is a great opportunity to come back and put yourself in the mindset of “I’m going to finish the Graveyard”, or, “I’m going to attack it, I’m ready. I’ve had three years to prepare.”
ROBERT: Now, the big question. Will you be coming back to North Carolina in 2022 to defend your title and go for number five?
DANNY: Absolutely. I’m pretty fired up this year. Again, COVID gave me a break to stop trying to do all the races all the time. Every time you take on a race, like the Graveyard or some of these bigger outriggers,or stand up paddle races, it takes a toll on you. There’s a certain amount of training you got to do, a certain amount of recovery afterwards, and in between. So, I put the Graveyard as my #1 race for this year, in the early season, pre-May. Fortunately for me, I’m starting to come into good form. I’ve had some good outrigger and stand up races this year including being in Hawaii. Now, it’s 100% stand up focus on the Graveyard. I’m ready to go back and try and defend the title.
There’s a lot of people that were excited that I did well in the Carolina Cup last year. There are also a few people I raced against that were very disappointed that I beat them. I feel like they’re coming for me now. So, as much as I was prepared for last year’s Graveyard and I’m a little more excited for this one. Because the only one last year who thought I was going to win was me, and now I’m pretty sure everyone is going to be looking for where I am at the entire time.
ROBERT: Who will be your key competitors this year?
DANNY: That is tough. I mean, if you look, the season just came back on in the last six months. Stand up paddling competitions came back and there’s a bunch of really good paddlers that are already established. The guys like Titouan Puyo and a bunch of those New Caledonia guys like Noic Garioud are strong. I know he’s done really well. Connor Baxter in Hawaii has been training and enjoying it. And then there’s a bunch of names that were on the radar before everything shut down. They were given an opportunity to grow and learn and come back stronger. So, I’m expecting a whole range of paddlers.
I know Michael Booth wants to come back and get another title. I don’t know if Travis Grant will. However, as much as he always tells us he’s not training, he’s always fast. So, I wouldn’t be shocked if he showed up and wanted to race everybody. I’m hoping everyone shows up. I’m hoping for great North Carolina weather. I’m not really afraid of anyone, because if I can’t beat one of them, I’m not going to win. So, ten of them show up it’ll beat me too. The competition is that close. If you make a mistake, you don’t go from first to second. You go from like first to 10th.
ROBERT: Do you plan to compete to on the APP World Tour this year?
DANNY: No. There’s a lot of races going on. That’s a lot of traveling, time, and financial commitment. I am going to do a handful of the races. I know there’s one, locally here in Santa Monica, just right up the road from where I live. So, I’m definitely doing that one. And then on the other ones, I’m going to get through the Carolina Cup and then I’m going to regroup and make sure the body’s intact. I need to make sure I have the ability to properly get ready for these races. But, I’ll definitely, the Santa Monica event. Then, I’m looking at the schedule and will try to do as many as I can.
But realistically, I’m 38 going on 39 now. In order to put forward the intensities and the effort level to compete on the highest level now, it does take time to recover. It’s not like going for a surf today and then going for a surf next weekend. I usually spend two to three months to prepare for a single race. And then it takes me a month or so to just recover from that. Then, I restart the training program.
ROBERT: Putting you on the spot, do you think the Carolina Cup, a west coast location, and a Hawaiian race should permanently be on the APP tour?
DANNY: I personally love that idea. I know there’s a couple of established races that would make that work very easily. It’s a little bias for me being in LA, because those are the easiest places to get to. I think if you wanted to do Carolina Cup, something on the west coast and then potentially something in Europe or in Hawaii. But I would say try to keep them around 3000 miles from each other. That would be nice. It would be a great idea to try and put together a very small, ‘these three races count towards a bigger thing.’ Kind of like a Vans Triple Crown of Surfing or something like that. When you start throwing in 8, 10, 12 races it starts turning into a participation championship. So, whoever has the most money can go to all of them and will eventually win.
ROBERT: Let’s talk about money for a minute. Competing on the pro circuit is very expensive. Sponsorships do not cover your costs. You’ve established a product line and a sports training program that helps to offset costs and hopefully makes some money. Take a moment and give us the elevator pitch on 404, Hippostick, and Paddle Ninja.
DANNY: Awesome. Yeah. So, I started the stand up paddle board company 404. I own the company, I design the boards and do the whole thing. Having that really helps me. Since we’ve been established for over 10 years, it’s been convenient because – over time – I’ve been able to get product to different parts of the world so I’m not having to figure out how to ship a board every single time. Our new board, the Jump, is incredible. I got the first prototype, right as COVID shut everything down. The board is amazing. Feedback has been great. So, I’m very thankful for that. I also own the paddle company, Hippostick that I ride for.
My dad had a paddle company when I was younger, so the natural evolution was to start my own company. The stand up paddleboard side progressed into outriggers and now into dragon boats, so that’s been wonderful.
A good friend of mine and one of our team writers, April Zilg, hosts Paddle Ninja training programs. People ask all the time, “Hey, what can I do to get better?” So, being able to just take the information we’ve learned over years, and along with Paolo and Johnny Puakea, we’ve been just pooling all that information and trying to make it accessible to others. Paddle Ninja is a monthly subscription with hundreds of workouts that you can do.There are different programs, but the big one is being able to put in a target race date, a distance, and a discipline, and then getting a program that helps you peak for that.
For example, getting prepped for a 10K race or a lot of 500-meter dragon boat sprints. For me, I always love the distance preparation, like for the Carolina Cup or a bigger race. I found training so much easier when you can flip the page and find out, “What’s today’s workout? All right, I’m going to get it done.” Because life gets in the way. Things get hard, and if you’re making up your own workout every, single day, then it gets tough. It’s less motivating to get out and go train if you don’t know what the workout is.
ROBERT: Will your product be on display, and will you have product demos at the Carolina Cup?
DANNY: At the Carolina Cup, the plan is to bring one of each of the boards to test. So, we have the Jump in three sizes. I call it small, medium, large. There’s a narrow-22, a medium-23 and-a-half, and a large 25-wide. So, I’ll bring all those out. We’ll have a bunch of the adjustable paddles and all the different blade shapes to demo. And then as far as the program goes, we can chat about it and answer any questions you may have.
But April and I are going to be there. We’re going to be hanging out and, as far as the product goes, I can always tell you – of course – my products are always the best. But really, this is paddling. I want to see you try it. I want to see you paddle around with the equipment, or try the training programs, and then come back with a big smile. Because if you’re not happy at the end, then you need to get anything else that makes you smile and get back on the water.
ROBERT: Will you offer in-person training at the Carolina Cup? And if so, how do people sign up?
DANNY: Yes. So, if you go to the Carolina Cup website, there are a bunch of clinics from several, several top paddlers. I will be on there as well.
The clinic I offer is a small group training. It’s a race strategy clinic, because as much as I want to teach you all the techniques, all the different ways of the paddle and all the wonderful things, we are a couple days out from a big race you’ve been prepping for. So, I’m going to give you some things to look for when you’re racing, some race strategy tips for the start line, tips for turning for when things get sloppy and what to do when you get way too tired to do everything perfect.
You can sign up on the website. Carolina Cup registration is on PaddleGuru. In addition to the races, there will be different places to sign up for clinics. So, if you have any issues, you’re always welcome to contact them or contact me directly and we’ll help you out.
ROBERT: Probably the most important question of this interview, what is it like being a dad?
DANNY: It’s the greatest thing in the world! Absolutely love it. I have two daughters, ages five and two. Every morning they wake up, come over, wake me up in bed, and drag me out. It is the greatest thing. Now they’re big enough where one knows how to swim,and the other thinks she knows how to swim. So, we get to spend a lot of time on the beach, playing outside. It’s just their excitement, and passion is unreal. Gets me fired up just thinking about it. But I love every minute of it. It’s the greatest thing in the world. Can’t believe I waited this long.
ROBERT: I understand that your children are already on their own paddle boards?
DANNY: Yes. We did a race yesterday in Redondo, our hometown, with our local Lana Kila Classic race. And we were able to include the girls – one with me, one with my wife, Leah. We each did a one-mile race with them. As soon as the starter yelled “Go!” for the race, you could just see the look in their eyes. I was like, “Uh-oh, they’re into it.”
ROBERT: What do you think of Wrightsville Beach?
DANNY: I love Wrightsville. I mean, I think my first Carolina Cup was maybe 10 years ago. And I’ve been trying to get there every single year since. It’s unbelievable. I love the east coast. I’ve traveled the world and done a bunch of things but that’s one of the places where I love to go. I live where I live because I can do everything I want, and all of the people that I love and know are here. But if I had to pick up and move somewhere, Wrightsville Beach is on the list.
ROBERT: You’re always welcome in North Carolina. Thank you for your time, Danny
2022 Carolina Cup Races:
The Graveyard Elite Race – A challenging 13.1-mile ocean and flatwater race for the elite and professional paddleboard racer. The Graveyard Race begins in the ocean surf, circumvents Wrightsville Beach, passes through two inlets, and tests the skills and fitness of each athlete with every surf, ocean, flatwater, wind, tide, and competitive condition of the day – including the best paddlers in the world.
The Graveyard Surfski, Outrigger, and Kayak Race – A 13.1-mile elite race on the Graveyard course, starting and finishing on the sound side and circumventing Wrightsville Beach. Kayak; surfski (single and double), outrigger canoe (OC-1 and OC-2).
The Technical Sprint – A dynamic short course of fast-paced SUP sprints, into and out of the surf with buoy turns testing the skills and speed of participants. Structured with elimination and repechage formats, sprints provide dramatic action for the athletes and spectators while allowing the best to rise to the top.
The Money Island Open Race – A 10-kilometer inland islands and waterway race with currents and winds, but no ocean swells. Designed to challenge the intermediate to advanced paddler on paddleboard (standup and prone), kayak, surfski, and outrigger canoe (OC-1 and OC-2).
The Harbor Island Recreational Race – A 5-kilometer flatwater race in the inland waterways for first-time to intermediate paddleboarders (stand up and prone). There are currents and wind, some boat traffic, no ocean swells, and mostly no-wake zones. A great opportunity to get on a board and enjoy the water.
The Kids Race – A fun event for children 6 to 14, one and two-loop course races on the sound. Everyone is recognized!
“The Cup was canceled in spring of 2020 due to the pandemic but served as host of the APP’s sprint and distance world competition in November 2021,” said race director Mark Schmidt. “We’re excited to get the Carolina Cup back on our normal springtime schedule.” The 2022 Carolina Cup is presented by Kona Brewing Company.
The weekend prior to Carolina Cup, April 22-24, Wrightsville Beach will host the 2022 Carolina Pro-Am SUP Surf, a three-day paddleboard-surfing event drawing the world’s best professional and amateur athletes in the sport.
See you in Wrightsville Beach!