In a weekend marking the return to stand up paddle racing in North America, the Carolina Cup delivers with outstanding performances by Americans Danny Ching and April Zilg both winning the SUP division of the Graveyard distance course riding for 404. What a day it was! Watch the video highlights below & keep reading for full results.

Surviving the Carolina Cup 2021: High Winds and Stormy Seas

Up until the last minute, racers wondered whether the Coast Guard might pull the plug on this year's Graveyard race, a renowned, grueling, endurance-based distance course that lives up to its name each year at the Carolina Cup in Wrightsville Beach, NC. With winds gusting upwards towards 35mph, cold rain and a king tide that made the intercoastal waterway's current in Wrightsville Beach run like a river, the Graveyard was given the green light. However, the stipulation was:  it couldn't be run on the ocean.  This year's Graveyard course was changed to become a 9-mile hard core upwind-current and downwind course that tested the mettle of every racer in the field.

Carolina Cup Graveyard APP World Tour

N'oreaster Type Conditions for APP Qualifier:  The Graveyard

With rains slashing down, temps hovering near 50 degrees, and a windchill around 43, the APP World Tour's 2022 qualifying event brought racers from all over the world to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina to vie for the $3,000 top prize money for this 9-mile course. Reigning APP World Tour 2019 World Champion, Casper Steinfath of Denmark opted to sit out the distance course and conserve his strength for the surf sprints the following day. However, on the start line and keyed up for action were world title racers including Titouan Puyo of New Calcedonia, Connor Baxter of Hawaii, Daniel Hasulyo of Hungary, Christian Anderson of Denmark and Danny Ching of California to name a few. Quite a lineup for a cold, typhoon-like day for the Carolina Cup and APP World Tour.

Daniel Hasulyo and Itzel Delgado battle it up the final stretch of the Graveyard at this year's Carolina Cup. Photo: Carolina Cup/Laura Glantz Photography

On the women's side, endurance queen Kim Shae Barnes of the U.S. lined up with North Carolina's own April Zilg, Juliette DuHaime from Argentina and Rika Okuaki of Japan. Nobody knew that what would unfold over the next several miles would test both their strength and mental mettle to claim the top prize.

April Zilg takes the lead Graveyard Carolina Cup In a pivotal move, April Zilg grabs the lead from Kim Barnes on the backstretch of the Graveyard's greuling final leg at this year's Carolina Cup. Photo by: Carolina Cup/ Laura Grantz Photography

A Showdown to the Finish: Men's Pro Offers Drama & Performance

With a stacked field, the Men's Pro Graveyard race had all the markings of an APP World Tour event at this year's Carolina Cup. In case you're just tuning in, this year the Carolina Cup and APP World Tour joined forces to host an APP Qualifying event for the 2022 World Tour in the Graveyard distance course and surf sprints at this year's Carolina Cup.

California's Danny Ching picked up his 4th Graveyard crown in the men's division after a string of victories in 2012, 2013 and 2014. This year, Ching won the race by more than two minutes when he took a radical inside line up the back stretch separating himself from the other racers. Ching's line proved to be right on target as he stroked past several of the men's pro racers who never saw him coming. Then, making his break to cross the intercoastal waterway on his approach to the finish, his strategy proved strong as he extended his lead and pulled ahead facing 30-40mph head winds on the final stretch.

Danny Ching Carolina Cup Graveyard win Danny Ching takes the lead in a dramatic finish for the 2021 Graveyard. Photo by: Carolina Cup/Laura Glantz Photography

The fight for the Graveyard Men's 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers was also action packed. The racers behind Danny Ching were three men battling for the finish. Titouan Puyo of New Calcedonia charged against the current with Canada's Tommy Buday and Japan's Shuri Araki. Down to the wire, the three men battled to the beach and finished with a blistering footrace to determine the final result. Buday gave serious chase to Puyo up the beach and Araki dove for the finish seconds too soon. Puyo was awarded 2nd place, Buday in 3rd and Araki closed the gap in 4th.  Quite a showdown!

Men's Graveyard 14' SUP:  Top 10

  1. Danny Ching, CA, USA
  2. Titouan Puyo, New Caledonia
  3. Tommy Buday, Canada
  4. Shuri Araki, Japan
  5. Connor Baxter, Maui, HI
  6. Itzel Delgado, Peru
  7. Daniel Hasulyo, Hungary
  8. Kaelan Lockhard, Australia
  9. Tyler Bashor, CA, USA
  10. Arthur Arutkin, France

Josh Riccio Christian Anderson Flying Fish Fanatic SUP Finish Josh Riccio of the U.S. and Christian Anderson of Denmark battle to the finish line Photo: Carolina Cup/ Laura Glantz Photography

Woman's Graveyard:  Battle on the Intercoastal Waterway

The Women's Graveyard Pro was no less action packed and full of great surprises. Kim Shae Barnes toed the start line as an exciting addition to the women's race. Barnes, a renowned endurance racer, fresh from the Tennesse River Gorge for the Chattajack racing event added an wild card element to this Graveyard course. Her experience and well seasoned talent made her a serious threat for the podium. Also racing was North Carolina's April Zilg, Juliette Duhaim from Argentina and Rika Okuaki of Japan along with Katie Carpenter of Missourri and Wendy Tillett of Quebec.

Kim Barnes Juliette Duhaime APP World Tour Carolina Cup Wrightsville Beach North Carolina Juliette Duhaime (on left) fought hard against Kim Barnes (right) throughout the Graveyard race. This was Duhaime's first Graveyard race and a perfect showcase for her talent. Photo: Carolina Cup/Laura Glantz Photography

Taking an early lead, Kim Barnes pulled out in front, but hot on her tail was a newcomer racer and fierce firecracker, Juliette Duhaime. Duhaime's performance on this formidable course kept Barnes driving hard and the two exchanged leads positions several times on the downwind portion of the course. Barnes created distance between the two women a few times, but Duhaime fought back tenaciously. This duel made for exciting action back and forth, highlighting the two racers as definite contenders for the top of the podium.

"This was my first Graveyard. I couldn't believe I was up in front, but I've been training with Candice (Appleby) at the Ocean Academy in California and it pays off! I may have spent too much energy on the downwind and didn't think about saving a little more energy for the end. Still, it was a great race. I can't wait to come back for more!"

- Juliette Duhaime

But Zilg and Okuaki had other plans. Tracking quietly in third place for most of the race, Rika Okuaki began to close the gap between herself and the leaders in the final upwind stretch bringing herself within 5-7 board lengths behind Duhaime who had dropped into second place behind Barnes. It looked like Barnes would pull away when, on the inside, April Zilg began the same climb as Danny Ching finding moving water along the shoreline on the far side of the intercoastal waterway.

April Zilg Carolina Cup APP World Tour April Zilg on a new 404 raceboard driving up the current to the finish. Photo by: Carolina Cup/ Laura Glantz Photography

April Zilg Wins Graveyard & Achieves 10-Year Goal

As April tells it, "No, it wasn't a strategy. There was so much debris in the water and I had picked up a lot of seaweed on my fin on the downwind. It slowed me down and put me in fourth place. But rather than fight it, I listened to my coach's voice in my head which said, 'long, steady strokes'. That's what I decided to do and I began to enjoy myself. I can see in retrospect how that allowed me to conserve energy. When I made the turn at the bottom of the Graveyard, the seaweed fell off and I found some faster moving water on the inside."

While the attention was on Barnes, Duhaime and Okuaki battling up current in the middle of the channel, Zilg moved swiftly up the outside sliding past Okuaki, then Duhaime. She  fought her way up to Barnes and finally tagged the nose of her 404 board to the tail of Barnes' Flying Fish. It was an unlikely and surprising moment. Barnes looked up in surprise when April Zilg, not Duhaime, slid past her and made a break for the opposite shore.

In the end, Zilg had all the space she needed as she rounded the corner to the finish line at the Blockade Runner resort. Her first Graveyard race was 10 years ago when she registered for the Money Island race and was unable to complete it. She says she decided then that her goal would be to someday win the Graveyard. After multiple attempts and several breathtaking near misses, on the 10th anniversary of this formidable race, April Zilg came home, crossed the finish line and claimed her Graveyard championship.

April Zilg Carolina Cup Graveyard stand up paddle race April Zilg claiming victory after 10 years at the Carolina Cup's 10th anniversary Graveyard race. Photo: Carolina Cup/ Laura Glantz Photography

Women's Graveyard Finishers

  1. April Zilg, NC, USA
  2. Kimberly Barnes, FL, USA
  3. Okuaki Rika, Japan
  4. Juliette DuHaime, Argentina
  5. Kattie Carpenter, Grand Rapids, MI
  6. Wendy Tillett, Quebec, Canada


Overall Winners:  Money Island 14' SUP

Male Overall Winners: 

  1. Steve Phillips, Wilmington, NC
  2. James Nickerson, Lender, TX
  3. Austin Winkler, Charleston, SC

Female Overall Winners: 

  1. Jenna Blackburn, Wilmington, NC
  2. Kristin Thomas, Laguna Beach, CA
  3. Stella Gan, Canada


Overall Winners:  Harbor Island SUP 14’

Men Overall Winners

  1.  Jeff Berry, Rochester, NY
  2. Steve Johnston, Wilmington, NC
  3. Don Finn, Walls, NJ

Female Overall Winners

  1. Rachel Cantore, Bluffton, SC
  2. Karin Helfmann, Atlanta, GA
  3. Brittany Carey, Annapolis, MD


Six-person Outrigger Canoe

Male OC-6 Team 

  1. Wrightsville Beach Outrigger Canoe Club
  2. National Capitol Area Outrigger Canoe Club, Washington, DC
  3. Charlotte Outrigger Canoe Club, NC
  4. National Capitol Area Outrigger Canoe Club, Washington, DC

Female/Male OC-6 Team  

  1. Kent Island Ocean Canoe Club, Chester, MD
  2. Wrightsville Beach Outrigger Canoe Club, Wrightsville Beach, NC
  3. Wrightsville Beach Outrigger Canoe Club, Wrightsville Beach, NC
  4. National Capitol Area Outrigger Canoe Club, Washington, DC



APP World Tour and Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club

The APP World Tour is recognized and sanctioned as the official world championship tour for standup paddling by the International Olympic Committee’s Federation for Surfing Sports and the International Surfing Association.

The 2021 Carolina Cup was organized by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club and presented by Kona Brewing Company.