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Baxter Wins SUP World Championships

In the lead-up to this summer's Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, Outside predicted that the SUP solo event would be a battle of youth versus experience, a showdown between the sport's new poster boy, Kai Lenny, and tenacious veteran Dave Kalama.

Well, we were wrong. In the end, it was their fellow Hawaiian Connor Baxter who took home the title. His time of 4:08:08 was a course record.

Lenny looked strong early on and surged ahead of his competitors. However, around the 24-mile mark of the 32-mile race, he suddenly felt like he "hit a wall," according to That opened the door for two-time champion Baxter and Australian Travis Grant, who duked it out for miles before Baxter broke free and claimed an unprecented third title.

Dave Kalama finished in a very respectable sixth place, reaching the finish at the Maunalua Bay Beach Park bath house in 4:24:44.

On the women's side, Germany's Sonni Hönscheid claimed the championship title, proving that you don't need to hail from an island to be the best SUPer in the world.

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Trees Are Urban Superheroes

The next time you read Outside in the shade of a leafy tree, recognize that you're in the presence of greatness. The USDA Forest Service recently discovered that trees are responsible for saving more than 850 human lives and staving off 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory systems annually.

Trees are valuable not only for what they give us—wood, oxygen, fruit—but also for what they take away. The air is full of major pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide, but through a process called deposition, pollutants that come in contact with tree leaves get "deposited" onto them or absorbed into the stomata. The more particulates that end up on or in leaves, the less concentrated they are in the air, and fewer end up in our lungs. Even with trees, about 130,000 Americans die in part because of air pollution every year.

Forest Service researchers set up computer simulations with county-level environmental data from 2010 to understand just how effective trees are at hoovering particulates across the United States. Researchers looked at the amount of tree cover in an area, plus the hourly exchange of pollutants between leaves and air and its effects on pollution removal on the atmosphere, and compared that data to the health impacts and monetary value gained from the decrease in ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and other pollutants.

The researchers concluded that the lives and lungs saved by tree-reduced air pollution—which, at 17.4 million tons, accounts for less than 1 percent of total annual air-quality improvement—equates to nearly $7 billion each year, particularly in urban areas. While deposition is greater in lusher rural areas, trees save more lives through this process in urban areas, which the researchers say underscores the importance of urban forests. 

Curious about just how many times trees kept you from missing a day of work or dying? Check out the tables in the report.

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Surfing Isn't Fun Anymore

Surf’s up, but the hang loose attitude is down.

The 2014 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, which began on Saturday in the surf hub of Huntington Beach, California, has had plenty of winners already. Cam Richards took top seed in the Men’s Junior Pro category with a 2.39 scoring lead, while local Kanoa Igarashi took the best combined score. On Sunday, California native Meah Collins jumped to the top of the Women’s Junior Pro competition with a heat score of 16.23 in Round 1. For the Men’s Trial, Cory Arrambide, Bino Lopes, Kai Barger, and Santiago Muniz advanced to Monday’s all-day main event. Legend Kelly Slater is scheduled to ride the waves of Heat 12.

But the sport itself has been losing out, thanks to gun threats, riots, and amped-up security detail tainting the event. The 2013 Open saw more than 20 arrests during riots that broke out on the event's last day. To avoid lawlessness this year, organizers implemented some new, not-so-carefree rules to keep beachgoers in check, such as no alcohol, no music, mandatory bag searches, and a shrunken version of the “vendor’s village.” 

Despite the precautions, there were still scares during opening events. A 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of threatening acts of violence after police received reports of “disturbing” social media posts. Authorities obtained a search warrant and found a shotgun and handgun in the teen’s residence, where he was arrested.

Extra precautions have been taken, but the teen told police that he was “just messing around.” “We don’t necessarily know that for sure,” Huntington Beach Police chief Robert Handy told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. “His comment or statement to the officers last night was that he didn’t mean it.”

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The Joy of Cycling: Now Available for Everyone

In 2007, Boston was ranked the worst biking city in the U.S. by Bicycling magazine—for the third time. There were plenty of reasons: lack of lanes, poor road conditions, boorish drivers. Today, Boston is on its way to becoming one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, and it’s the first to create a public bike program targeting low-income communities. The main reason for the one-eighty: former Olympian Nicole Freedman.

Freedman grew up in the Boston suburbs, rode professionally for 12 years (she won the national road-racing trial in 2000), and holds a degree in urban planning from Stanford University. In 2007, when Freedman was tasked with heading up the city’s newly launched Boston Bikes program, the city had zero bike lanes and a dismal safety record. In 2006, there were 36 bike accidents in one intersection alone.

Freedman, 42, was undaunted. She created 14 miles of bike lanes in her first two years on the job and hasn’t slowed down since. The city is now rated 16th by Bicycling. And Freedman recently secured a $15 million grant to build protected lanes, including a four-mile ring around downtown. “Cities need plans,” says Martha Roskowski, VP of the national advocacy group People for Bikes. “But they really need people like Nicole who can turn them into action.”

As Americans have finally begun to embrace the idea of bikes as transportation, other cities have made turnarounds of their own. Washington, D.C., now has six miles of protected lanes, and Chicago’s bike-share program is on pace to have 475 stations by the end of the year. What sets Boston apart is the progressive bent of its efforts. “It was really important to make sure that we reached residents with low incomes,” says Freedman. “They’re the ones most impacted by transportation costs.” Hubway, the city’s bike-share system, recently began subsidizing memberships for those making less than $20,000 a year. In March, Freedman launched Prescribe-A-Bike, which offers low-income residents a reduced $5 annual Hubway membership if a doctor recommends riding for health reasons. (Nearly 2,500 people have since signed up.) And, finally, Boston Bikes has donated more than 1,000 bicycles to in-need locals. “Cycling is universally appealing,” says Freedman. “We just have to make it accessible.”

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The Triple Threat Who Can't Be Stopped

When 21-year-old Lukas Verzbicas turned pro as a triathlete, he got death threats. As a teenager, he’d been billed as the next great hope in American running, becoming only the fifth high school star to break the four-minute barrier in the mile. As some runners saw it, he’d betrayed their sport. But according to Verzbicas, triathlon, something he’d pursued since he was 11 years old, was always his true passion. In 2011, he graduated early from high school and set his sights on competing in the sport at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

THE CRASH: Verzbicas had already picked up two Olympic-distance wins on the World Cup circuit when, during a workout in July 2012, he lost control of his bike and slammed into a guardrail. He punctured a lung, broke two vertebrae, and partially severed his spinal cord.

THE DAMAGE: Doctors screwed his clavicle back together and implanted 
a titanium rod along his spine. But there was nothing they could do for his paralyzed right leg other than hope it would regain movement as his spinal cord mended. “I had to become a new person after that,” he says, “new tissue, new muscle, and new nerves.”

THE REBIRTH: Three months later, when he started relearning how to walk, his muscles had atrophied. Instead of giving up, Verzbicas used it as an opportunity to remake himself. Now he lifts weights four or five times a week, and he’s stronger than ever. “I can’t be the same as I once was,” he says, “but I can be better.”

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Miraculously, two years after the accident, he’s again near the top of the pro ranks. In races this spring, he scored two top-ten finishes.

UP NEXT: In August, he’ll test himself at the under-23 world championships in Edmonton, Alberta. The race will be one more step along what he has come to call his long road to Rio. “It’s been my dream since I was a kid,” says Verzbicas, “and it’s stronger than ever.”

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