Candice Appleby is a So Cal surfer girl through and through. Paddling and endurance sports were never part of the plan, at least not until seven years ago.
Not until Appleby saw a group of guys on Oahu’s west shore using a paddle to execute some stand-up surfing maneuvers.
Flash forward to Appleby today. She is a four-time Battle of the Paddle Champion, a competition that is widely considered the World Championships of stand-up paddling. She was the first female to ever beat a field of men in a professional SUP surfing contest, and she is the winngest stand-up paddler in the world.
Her list of first-place finishes is long, but the three to take note of this weekend are her Race the Lake of the Sky titles.
Appleby took first in the women’s five-miler, 14-miler and SUP cross at last year’s Race the Lake of the Sky, Lake Tahoe’s largest stand-up paddle event. This weekend she returns to defend those titles at Lakeview Commons.
It was surf titles, however, not paddling that Appleby dreamed of when she was younger. She started competing at age 10 and by 17 had helped the San Clemente High School surf team land four national titles. The University of Hawaii at Manoa was a natural next step. She headed west to pursue a pro surfing career.
In 2006, Appleby was on the west side of Oahu when she noticed a few guys who were stand-up surfing. They were using paddles to navigate and cut through waves. Appleby, who is a fan of any ocean sport, was sold.
She returned home to Wakiki and started scrounging together pieces of equipment to try the new sport. There was a hand-me-down paddle and a free rental board that Appleby would hustle every morning from the boys renting boards on the beach. There was no such thing as stand-up paddleboards back then so a 10 or 11-foot surfboard would have to do.
“And I kind of just practiced and practiced,” Appleby said. “I practiced what I’d seen on the west side of Oahu, and I really excelled at it quickly. It was so much fun.”
Appleby started competing in SUP surfing and two years later found her way to SUP racing.
“I was never an endurance athlete, but I really liked how I felt after accomplishing the distance,” Appleby said. “That was kind of the start.”
It started as a new way to ride waves, but stand-up paddling has carried Appleby over miles of open water and past endless amounts of heartbreakingly beautiful coastline.
“It’s been great to be able to explore the places I never would have gone to ride waves and really appreciate the beauty that is out there,” Appleby said. “You lose yourself and find yourself sometimes.”
Appleby has found herself paddling over manatee, stingray and blue whales. She’s found herself paddling around the city of Manhattan and crossing one of the roughest ocean channels in the world from one Hawaiian island to another.
“Stand-up has allowed me to challenge myself in areas I never thought I would. I didn’t ever think I would be a long-distance racer,” Appleby said. “You have to stay fit. You have to stay race ready. Otherwise, you’re going to lose.”
Despite a recent hand surgery, Appleby is race ready. In July, Appleby will cover 32 miles of open ocean on a traditional paddleboard in the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships. On Sunday, the 14-mile round trip race from Lakeview Commons to Emerald Bay will serve as training for the 32-mile odyssey.
“There’s a different kind of reward a long-distance racing,” Appleby said. “In Moleki, you’re crossing a channel that really not that many watermen have crossed before you. It’s a select bunch.”
When it comes to stand-up paddling, Appleby is the select bunch.