Candice Appleby was considering retirement, hanging up her competitive paddle to focus on her growing career as a coach and trainer for the sport she loves.
The longtime San Clemente stand-up paddler is one of the most successful athletes in SUP’s short history, dominating countless events over the years.
With her new business, Ocean Academy, thriving, arthritis in her hip, and multiple gold medals, trophies and victories under her belt throughout her competitive career, she thought, “This is my next chapter is my end as an athlete.
“It’s such an honor to be called a coach,” she added. “I was very happy.”
But for a fierce competitor like Appleby, 37, content isn’t enough. The competition was on again – and the stand-up paddler responded by winning a gold medal among the best in the world.
Appleby is back home after a stellar performance at the International Surfing Association World SUP and Paddleboard Championship in San Juan, Puerto Rico last week, an event that sees the sport’s best compete not only for the pride and medals for the country, but a chance to qualify for the 2023 Pan American Games in Chile, the second biggest sporting event after the Olympics.
It was the first comeback for the ISA SUP and Paddleboard World Champions after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The San Clemente-based American team won bronze, with 10 individual medals, including teammates April Zilg and Conner Baxter who won gold in the SUP Sprint and Hunter Pflueger who took first place in the prone sprint and technical prone .
The French team won gold, Spain silver and Japan fourth with the cooper’s medal.
“It’s pretty amazing to be where I am and to win a gold medal again, it’s just a blessing,” Appleby said. “That baffles me a bit.”
Growing up, Appleby always wanted to be a competitive athlete, first seeing traditional surfing as her way to compete on the ocean. She was captain of the San Clemente High School surf team, helping to win four consecutive national titles.
She moved to Hawaii to attend college and hone her surfing skills, living on Oahu to train in bigger waves. But then, around 2006, stand-up paddleboards emerged. At first it was a new sport and no one was sure it would catch on.
At the time, there were still not enough women competing, so she was often the only woman at events.
In 2008 at Duke Kahanamoku Oceanfest, Appleby was the first and only woman to beat men in a professional SUP event, winning both the women’s and Open Pro divisions.
The paddle battle at Doheny State Beach grew during these early years, bringing more visibility to the sport. Appleby was still on the winners’ podium, winning six Battle of the Paddle titles, and three more when the event was renamed Pacific Paddle Games.
She has also dominated the biggest and most prestigious ISA SUP World Championships. She won gold in three technical races and two distance races, a silver in the sprint and a technical bronze.
One of his last events before the pandemic was the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. She was leading the pack and riding a wave on the beach on her stand-up paddle board during the distance race when suddenly the wave came up and hit her hard, a strong rip current sucking her in again and again as she she was trying to find safety on the shore.
“It was really boring. It was the worst beating of my life. The tearing was the kind someone could have drowned in,” Appleby said of the event. been retained.”
The runner behind her, Brazilian Lena Guimaraes, also crashed. But instead of sucking her in, the wave pushed her towards the shore and towards the gold medal.
It wasn’t how Appleby wanted to end her career, she said. But the competitions came to a halt when COVID-19 hit. Sponsorships have dried up. She had to turn.
Appleby started Ocean Academy, a SUP training program, using his knowledge gained over the years to teach the next generation of novice and serious competitors. And, with the SUP community growing during the pandemic as people wanted to get outside, businesses were booming.
On the water, training six hours a day, paddling 60 miles a week, there was no extra time to train for competition, she recalls thinking.
What she didn’t realize was that by training others, she was conditioning her body. She competed at the USA Surfing SUP Surf Championships in June in Oceanside, winning gold in the Women’s Open Division and securing her spot to go to Puerto Rico for the ISA World Championships.
She wanted to go to the Puerto Rico event in the best possible shape, mentally and physically. She prayed, she said, asking God for her motivation. She changed her diet and started bodybuilding at Strong Bodies SC.
“It was kind of miraculous, the way God was answering prayer in my life,” she said. “I went to Puerto Rico confident and grateful. I went there with so much gratitude in my heart, there was nothing that was going to phase me, no nerves. It kept me going.
The competition was also a chance to see old friends from overseas in the tight-knit SUP community – but during the three-year hiatus a new generation of fierce competitors had also emerged.
The course of the technical race, where she had to circle five buoys three times and navigate the waves, was difficult with strong winds and currents, she said.
She won her first heat and the semi-finals by a good margin. In the final she did the same, taking a lead and maintaining it throughout the race.
“That’s what I prayed for that morning – give me a wave early to set me apart,” she said.
The sport and the level of competition, skill and talent, especially among women, continues to grow exponentially, Appleby said.
“So to be able to reach the top and win a gold medal among so many athletes around the world is such a wonderful feeling and it’s really humbling that I can still do it,” she said. declared.
She was the oldest to win a gold medal at the event. The winner of the men’s technical race Shuri Arakiat, 16, is the youngest.
With Appleby’s gold in technical SUP and fifth place in surfing SUP, she became the only athlete to have double qualified for the Pan American Games in 2023, where some 6,000 athletes from around the world compete.
The International Surfing Association is working to bring stand-up paddleboarding into the Olympics by the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
By then Appleby will be 42 and wondering if she will still be at the top of her game.
On her mirror at home, she wrote “LA 2028” along with the Olympic rings with a dry-erase marker – a daily reminder that there’s even more in store.
“I’m in great shape, I feel like I’m the strongest and fastest I’ve ever been. If God has more work for me to do there, I will do it,” Appleby said. “I was taught that the things we want in this world are only worth the amount of work we are willing to put in to get them.
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