A Conversation With Champion Hayley Nixon

Hayley Nixon at Euro Steel

Hayley Nixon at Euro Steel

Myrlene Marsa with Surfski News recently caught up with the Women’s World Surfski Series Champion for 2016, Hayley Nixon.

SN:  Thank you, Hayley, for agreeing to talk with us. You’re coming off a successful 2016 season where you won the World Surfski Series Championship.  What did that accomplishment mean to you?

HN:  Winning the World Surfski Series was not something I had set my sights on for 2016  so when the stakes were so close for the last two races (The Hong Kong Dragon Run and the Perth Doctor) I was really quite shocked and obviously incredibly excited at the prospect of winning. I knew that having had the opportunity to race 3 Title races already was something not many of the other international women had done but consistently finishing top 3 in those races contributed to why I was high up in the rankings leading into the last two Titles races. I felt that in order to really deserve to win the Series I needed to have at least one Title race win under my belt so after coming second in the Hong Kong Dragon Run I was thrilled to win the Perth Doctor, that was the highlight of my series racing!

SN:  How long have you been competing on the World Surfski circuit?

HN:  2016 was my first year competing in the World Surfski Series. Before 2016 my only other international surfski race was at the Ocean Paddling World Champs in Tahiti in October of 2015.

Hayley with Husband, Paul & Coach Linton after winning the 2016 Cape Point Challenge

Hayley with Husband, Paul & Coach Linton after winning the 2016 Cape Point Challenge

SN:  For what team do you race and who are some of your team mates?

HN:  I race for Kingfisher Canoe Club (KCC) which is a Durban based club located on the Umgeni River. KCC boasts some great international canoe and surfski paddlers such as Jenna Ward and Hank McGregor as well as the recent junior canoe marathon star Kyeta Purchase and SA Surfski champ Nicole Russell. But although not everyone has an international medal hanging on their wall the depth and caliber of the paddlers based at KCC is just incredible and if I had to list all my teammates we would be here all day ;-) I owe a huge thanks to the squads I've trained with in Durban: the Wild Dog Wilson Squad and the MacSquad. Training at KCC has allowed me to be pushed, challenged, and motivated daily by these squads and all the Durban paddlers.

SN:  How did you get your start on surfski?  When?

HN:  I first jumped in a surfski in about March of 2013. At the time I was trying to raise money to join an 8 man crew to row across the Atlantic Ocean for an organisation called The Ubunye Challenge. I figured if I was going to row across the ocean I better find a way to get some ocean paddling experience and surfski was the next best option. I did a few lessons with Barry Lewin's surfski school, joined Marine Surf Lifesaving Club and there began my paddling career. I moved quite quickly to flat water canoe paddling after that, teamed up with Lee McGregor's MacSquad and actually focused on canoe marathon and tried some sprinting with surfski just featuring in the background as cross training. I would have loved to be a sprinter but I spent too much time falling out of sprint boats in that first year of paddling (haha).

SN:  Do you come from a paddling family?  K1 background?

HN:  Haha no not at all... I am the first paddler in the Arthur family! I come from a competitive swimming background in my school days. My dad was an Old Ed's Water Polo player in his day and my older brother Wayne is a very accomplished long distance swimmer. I was lucky enough to be on the seconding boat while he swam the English Channel in 2012. After school I went to Varsity and started rowing at Rhodes University. That's when the bug bit and I fell in love with the sport and had big dreams of one day rowing for South Africa at the Olympics.

We are definitely a competitive family and most family holidays were spent with Wayne and I trying to race each other at every possible opportunity. In fact we had one very special holiday in particular, Christmas of 2011, where Wayne was training to swim solo across the English Channel and I was training to make the 2012 Olympic rowing team... needless to say my poor mom and sister have had to endure a lot of training equipment on family holidays ;-)

Hayley

Hayley

SN:  So in three years on the ski you are winning the World Surfski Championship?  How did you do that?

HN:  I have to give a lot of the credit (and remind people) that I rowed competitively for many years before starting surfski so it's taken me 3 years to work on paddling skills (and lots of time specifically spent in the sea) whilst continuing to train the engine, but I had a huge base from rowing for so many years.

SN:  What was your favorite race in the 2016 season?  Why?

HN:  The Hong Kong Dragon Race was my favourite... There are so many reasons: going to Hong Kong for the first time - it has such a vastly different culture, religion and pace to Durban. And the place itself - the extremes from high-rise buildings and skyscrapers of the city and Midlevels; the shoulder-to-shoulder buzz of Kowloon; and then the beauty of Clearwater Bay and the quieter beach areas. The race itself presented quite a tricky course and there was nothing straight forward about the course or the challenge ahead for us paddlers. The course kicks off with about 7 km of head / cross wind as you head out to a clump of islands you can see in the distance, you then paddle through a tight pass between two islands, take a hard right and find yourself with a 12km stretch of downwind ahead of you as you paddle towards Stanley's mainland and specifically two islands called Kissing Whales.  After the downwind stretch the mental and physical battle starts as you endure the relatively flat 5km of racing to the finish line. It makes for an interesting race. I came second to Teneale Hatton in that race and while I didn't have the perfect race I wouldn't change anything because it taught me so much!

Hayley Nixon at the Hong Kong Dragon Race

Haley Nixon (2nd) with Teneale Hatton (1st) at Hong Kong Dragon Race

SN:  Where do you regularly paddle for training?

HN:  Nowadays I paddle mostly from the Durban beaches in front of Marine Surf Lifesaving Club or the Durban Underwater Club. For flat water training we paddle at KCC on the Umgeni River. I'm also in gym at least twice per week doing functional strength training with my colleague Lynne Mackey, we base our gym training at the Kings Park Sports Medical Centre in Durban.

SN:  Are you coached?  By whom?

HN:  Yes I am coached by Linton Hope who oversees a few paddlers. Linton is part of a squad called the Wild Dog Wilson Squad and they were predominantly surfski paddling,  so about 6 months ago I asked if I could join them for a few sessions per week to get more time in the sea. A few sessions led to more and more sessions and before long I asked Linton if I could join him full time and thankfully he said yes :-) It's been an amazing few months with this squad and it really proved to be the final tweaks in the right direction that I needed so I am very grateful for Linton and the squad's guidance and training!

Before the Wild Dog Squad I paddled with the Mac Squad under the guidance of Lee McGregor. I spent the better part of 3 years with this squad and those years nurtured and developed my paddling ability and skills. The Mac Squad is an extremely competitive squad with almost all of Durban's top women paddlers in the squad so we had daily battles on the water as teammates and grueling races on the weekend! Training with those girls and in that squad really taught me so much and definitely made me fit and strong!

Winning the Perth Doctor, with Andy Ross

Winning the Perth Doctor, with Andy Ross

SN:  And what type of training regime do you follow?

HN:  My programme is predominantly paddling with at least 6 paddles per week, 2 gym strength sessions per week and a couple of running sessions. I would love to train more but I work full time so I have to get the balance right. I am lucky that I work for myself which gives me the freedom to fit work around training but if I don't work then I don't earn any money so it's a double edged sword.

SN:  What is your day job?

HN:  I am a Biokineticist so I work in a medical centre doing exercise rehabilitation for orthopeadic injuries. As a bio we do strength and conditioning and rehabilitation of patients covering a huge range of injuries but very common ones would be injuries such as rotator cuff or shoulder injuries, torn ligaments in the knee, hip or knee replacements and so on. I have a special interest in sport specific athlete training so I work with lots of athletes as their strength and conditioning coach. I have spent the last 3 years working very closely with Jenna Ward and it has been hugely rewarding to see her strength gains from the gym complement all the hard work she is doing on the water.

SN:  Do you have a training partner?

HN:  I have an entire squad of good friends and training partners! I have spent many years training alongside Nikki Russell, Jenna Ward, Donna Tutton and Kyeta Purchase but over the last few months I've had to fight for my space on the water against Bailey De Fondaumiere, Gene Prato and Linton Hope. It's been a wild ride!! :-)

SN:  What are your goals in 2017?

HN:  2016 was extremely challenging, extremely rewarding and one of the happiest times in my life. If I can feel the same about 2017 then I will be extremely happy... and hopefully my husband can come to an overseas race with me, it's no fun flying solo without your wingman!

SN:  Have you had help from sponsors along the way?

HN:  Yes there have been individuals and companies who have helped me over the last few years. I am extremely grateful to Hein van Rooyen of Carbonology Sport who has supported me since my very early days in paddling but in 2016 Carbonology took me on as a sponsored athlete supplying me with boats and paddles and support for races whenever they could. Without Carbonology, and their incredible boat the Pulse, I wouldn't have achieved the results of 2016! A special mention to Andy Ross of Carbonology Sport Australia who organised boats and race entry and ferry rides for me for the Perth Doctor and provided so much support for me in Australia. The Perth trip was a last minute decision but it gave me the opportunity to team up with an Aussie born company called Skyfii who helped fund my trip to Australia making the Perth Doctor race a possibility for me so thank you to Skyfii too. In October of 2016 I  teamed up with Euro Steel in the lead up to and for the Hong Kong Dragon Run and although it's been a short relationship it has been awesome to be part of the Euro Steel Team and I look forward to the year ahead representing both Carbonology Sport and Euro Steel. We really couldn't do what we do without the help and support of sponsors so it's great to have an opportunity to recognise and thank them!

Hayley and husband, Paul enjoying some down time fishing

Hayley and husband, Paul enjoying some down time fishing

SN:  When you are off the ski, what other things do you enjoy doing?

HN:  My husband is a phenomenal fisherman and there's nothing better than sitting down to a gorgeous fresh fish meal cooked by Paul, with a glass of wine, surrounded by our friends and family! And taking my mom's Jack Russells for a swim at the beach... we love those crazy hounds :-)


Surfski News wishes Hayley all the best in 2017.

Sean Rice---Reloaded

Former ICF World Surfski Champion Sean Rice has been a man on the move for the past two years. The 27-year-old South African has been traveling the world, preaching the gospel of surfski to all.  

Rice and fiancee Emily Mcgrath have taken on the daunting task of bringing the PaddleLife show to you; wherever you are. PaddleLife is Sean's coaching model and includes seminars and one-on-one coaching options.

 Along with all the traveling, logistics, coaching and seminars, he has had to find the time to keep an elite level of training to be prepared to race at the highest level.

We caught up with Sean as he get's ready to bring 2.0 to the streets in 2017.  

 

SN: Catch us up with what is currently happening in your world; where are you now and what are you currently involved in?

 

Sean: Currently based in London with my Queen. Emily and I have made Richmond our home and really loving it. After so much time on the go, it has been a real treat to unpack, unwind and catch up with friends and family. I’ve just finished my first week of being back in the boat after nearly 6 weeks off. To start again is never easy but Richmond Canoe Club has a great bunch of really friendly and good paddlers who I can train with. The paddlers here are hard, training all the way through winter. I even managed to crack the nod to paddle a K2 with local paddler Tom Sharpe. 20km with 3 portages down some locks on the river Thames. So much fun! We ended 4th after Toms great racing skill outweighed my lack of fitness haha..

No Holds Barred racing in the UK

SN: How long will you be in London, or is this a permanent move?

Sean:  We plan to be here for the foreseeable future. London is very central for travel and is an incredible city for culture, food and business.

SN:  What’s your take on the paddling scene in London?

Rice and Sharpe in red

Sean:  There is an active paddling or rowing club every 3-5km along the river. The water quality is great and attracts a huge amount of water sport activity all through the year. I have been so impressed with the UK and how sport aware every member of the public is. There is a great patriotism to the sporting success of the Brits in all sports. Olympic success though makes you nothing less than a hero! You don’t get that in SA as much, not on this level.

SN  Are you spending most of your time on a K1 boat now?

Sean:  Back where it all started yes, in the K1! I love it. Kayak paddling keeps you very humble and honest in your efforts. I do still paddle my ski but through the winter it’s much more comfortable to be under a spray deck!
 

Rice and Sharpe working the slipstream

SN:  You’ve been traveling and teaching around the world for the past two years now with your PaddleLife, can you tell us a bit about what’s next for you?

 

Sean:  That’s correct Emily and I have been on the road with PaddleLife for 2 years now and I’ve been traveling for races around the world for 8. We have visited nearly 40 countries so far. We have been fortunate enough to visit many beautiful places, build friendships and coach literally thousands of paddlers. Traveling, racing and coaching are all big passions of mine. I hope to continue for as long as my arms can!

Gotta love what you do

SN: Will you continue along the same path with PaddleLife, or will you be making any adjustments/additions?

 

Sean:  PaddleLife 2017 is full steam ahead, but not completely the same way. We have some exciting news to follow soon. I would tell you right now but then I’d have to……

More to follow in the coming weeks!

SN:  What have you taken away from your experiences over the past two years with PaddleLife?

Sean:

- Travel light

- If you look hard enough you should be able to find a Surfski just about anywhere coastal around the world, except for maybe central Africa, Russia and parts of South America (Lots of Surfski in Brazil).

- a plan only lasts until first contact with your enemy (Airlines and visa applications)

- Airlines ALWAYS win!!!

- the world is small and full of good people. Honestly the hospitality we are offered around the world is just incredible. We have made so many good relationships with what were complete strangers to begin with.

- Paddlers drink A LOT!

 

SN: On the issue of drinking---
What’s your personal favorite?

Sean: I’ll have red wine by choice. I try my best not to drink in excess too often. There is no question that alcohol has serious implications on performance, recovery and overall wellbeing. Ironically, the sugar in my chocolate bar is probably just as bad or worse for me. For that reason I don’t need to be giving life advice!
 

 

SN: Looking back, what did you see as the one area most of the paddlers you worked with needed improvement in---what mistake were most of us making?

Sean:  Bad equipment selection leading to being unstable and in the end not enjoying paddling as much as they could/should. Paddling with your mouth closed (clenched jaw)and forgetting to breath is also common. It’s the smaller things that make a big difference sometimes.
 

 

SN: How would you describe your past year racing?  Did you meet your goals, run into obstacles etc?

 

Sean: Unsatisfactory! I achieved some great results but for the most part 2016 was not what I expect of my performance. I knew I was always behind my competitors with preparation and that’s not a good way to start a race. I have changed a few things around for 2017!!! Watch this space.

 

SN: So, did extensive traveling derail your performance or enhance, and if so, how?

Sean: I don’t blame it completely but it was tough to keep structure in our lives. Then again I get to visit 20+ beautiful countries annually while chasing the summer sun. Some sacrifices are justified and I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity.
 

 

SN:  What was your best race experience from the past year and why?

Sean: I was really happy with my 2nd at Molokai considering my build up being a crazy 6 week roadshow around the USA! I didn’t paddle on the same piece of water more than twice for 6 weeks! Doing all that has taught me how to be a more dynamic paddler that’s for sure!

 

SN: Think Kayaks unveiled several modifications throughout their line in 2016, to what extent do you contribute to the design process?

Sean: THINK have included me and all their paddlers in the design process from day one! Listening to top paddlers give critical analysis of each boat often helps towards understanding other paddlers wants and needs. The THINK range is very good and to improve on them often requires just small adjustments. 5 x 1% improvements combine to make something noticeable but not too different. I’ve never been a fan for radical design changes to products unless completely justified. THINK take extreme pride in the fact that every boat is completely perfect before launch!

 

SN: For your specific race whip, the Uno Max, how have you found the changes?
 

Design trials

Sean: Home sweet home for me. I’ve been testing and even sometimes racing the new boat for many months before launch. This is necessary to make sure the boat is perfect!
 

SN: You and your Fiancee/Marketing Director/Business Partner Emily were engaged this past year, have you settled on a date?  Will she continue to travel with you to the same extent?

Sean and Emily

 

Sean:  Yes, Emily and I got engaged in Tahiti after World Champs in 2015. We haven’t settled on a date for the wedding yet unfortunately, but hope to have it back in South Africa. We have no pressure so just enjoying the time as it is. Emily has started her career in London which will limit her travels for 2017 but she is sure to still come to the big ones!

 

SN: Hank Mcgregor put up excellent results this past year.  What will it take to get by him next year?

 

Sean: Just hope he has some more babies! Well thinking about it, maybe that’s the secret to success? Dawid, Jasper, Hank, and Bouman is keen as mustard!

Matt Bouman


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greg Lesher---Off the Front

Long-time Massachusetts Paddler Greg Lesher has been putting up strong results in the hotly contested waters off the Northeast coast.

His exploits from race day are always followed with highly entertaining blog posts from his website, Full Tilt--- where Lesher brings his unique brand of humor to light in his race reports. 

Top northeast female paddler (and Greg's wife) Mary Beth Gangloff interrogates Greg Lesher for Surfski News with thanks to Richard Carter for arrangements.

Mary Beth

 

The 19+ mile Blackburn Challenge can be a grueling race, and you've competed how many times?  Are you a glutton for punishment or do you simply have a short memory?

 

This was my 12th Blackburn – 7 years in sea kayaks (not sure what I was thinking there) and 5 years in a surfski.  Of those dozen races, I've renounced paddling 9 times immediately after finishing.  The other 3 times I was too delirious to make such a rational decision.   I return because it'll be better this year.  I'll be more fit.  The tide and wind will be at our backs.  Conditions outside the Dog Bar won't be a barking mess.  In addition to my misplaced optimism, there are additional factors that keep me coming back – the history, the beautiful course, the fascinating variety of boats and people, the momentum.  If you live around here and you paddle, you can't miss a Blackburn.

Lesher staying close to Mims at the 2016 Blackburn

This year was your fifth Blackburn in a Surfski, and you finished second – not bad for someone of your advanced age. How was your race, and how did it compare to previous years?

I appreciate all compliments, back-handed or not.  I was pretty happy with my race.  After a mile or so, Ben Pigott and I took turns at the lead until Eric Mims took over for good at mile 7.  Spurred on by the sudden reappearance of Mike Dostal at mile 12, I was able to reestablish contact with Eric as we entered Gloucester Harbor.  Unfortunately, it was only a brief meeting – once he got wind of me, Eric wrinkled his nose and took off again.  I definitely got an assist from the conditions – just enough texture to slow down the flatwater guys but not nearly enough to give the rough water specialists an edge.

Having put in more training miles than in the past, the Blackburn seemed a lot shorter this year.  The mild conditions played into that as well, I'm sure.  This was a particular exciting race because there wasn't an overwhelming favorite – nobody capable of breaking 2.5 hours like Borys Markin, Sean Brennan, or Dorian Wolter.  Although it was my best finish in an HPK, I can't say it was my favorite Blackburn.  The 2015 boat-breaker had seas bigger than we'll ever be allowed to race in again – that was a blast.  It probably wouldn't have been a big deal for most of the world's surfskiers, but it gave us New Englanders a thrill.

To what do you attribute your success this year?

It's mostly due to putting more time on the water.  I'm lucky enough to have a very flexible work schedule and easy lake and ocean access, which eliminates any excuses.  I'm putting in about 30% more miles than I did last year.  Other important factors in my success – Jesse Lishchuk being busy in college, Mike Dostal living too far from the ocean, Jan Lupinski having shoulder surgery, …

 

In 2014 you competed in the U.S. Surfski Championships in San Francisco. Tell us a little about the experience and if you would recommend the race to other New England paddlers.

 

The US Championship is a must for all paddlers.  The Wednesday warm-up race before the Championships was the best downwind I've experienced.  And to paddle under the main span of the Golden Gate Bridge and to see San Francisco and Alcatraz in front of you – that's just awesome.  The conditions are so much bigger than what you're used to that it can be a little intimidating, but you're never very far from a container ship or multi-hull sailboat… so you'll quickly realize that the waves are the least of your concerns.  But when you get on a runner and pass Dawid Mocke and Sean Rice like they weren't even moving – that's not something you'll soon forget.  Did I mention you were being transported to the nearest trauma center via rescue boat at the time?  I may be exaggerating.  I have modest rough water skills, but was able to stay mostly upright in a V10 Sport and had no significant problems with boat traffic.  It's a phenomenal experience.  Make sure to stay at the official hotel so that you can watch Cory Hill eat an omelet.

At the U.S. Surfski hampionships

 

What is your training philosophy and regimen?

To the extent that I have a philosophy, I'd say it's "the other guys are out there training right now."  In the early season, I follow a structured regimen of 2 interval sessions, 2 long paddles, and 1 or 2 pace sessions a week.  Because we have so many races in the heart of the season (including our Tuesday night Salem League), I drop most of the pace sessions by July.  After the Blackburn, I'll cut some distance off the long paddles, maybe throw in an extra interval session, and ease back on the juice.

I have heard that some of your Garmin Connect buddies contend that your training is crazy. How do you respond?

I contend that they're trying to cover for their own craziness.

Crazy training methods?

 

You suffered an oblique injury in 2014, causing you to miss the Blackburn that year.  What did you do to recover and how has that injury affected your training now?

I initially tried to pretend it wasn't a big deal, limping through the rest of the 2014 season instead of shutting it down.  Eventually, I saw a physical therapist, started the exercises he recommended, and took a few months off from paddling.   In 2015 I gradually eased back into training (helped by the fact that my training lake was ice-bound until mid-April), keeping away from anything too intense for a few months.  The primary effect on my current training is that I'm more conscientious about warming up properly and I'm much more willing to ease back or take a break if something doesn't feel right.

 

I am a long-time fan of your blog, Full Tilt, in which you talk a little about your training and a lot about your races. How did you get into blogging?

 

As my mirthless (and merciless) editor, I feel like you may be mocking me with that "fan" comment.  In any event, when I first started racing skis I would devour the articles that appeared on SurfskiRacing.com – race reports and reviews written by Wesley Echols, Mark Ceconi, and (of course) Joe Glickman.  These pieces really got me enthused about surfskis.  In 2011, Wesley invited me to write an article about transitioning from a kayak to a ski, after which I just kept writing.  It's really satisfying when someone (non-sarcastically) tells me they're a fan or threatens legal action if I don't stop mentioning them in my posts.

Racing in the Northeast

 

Some readers may have missed some early posts and may not know how you started.  How did you get into surfski racing?

 

The Essex River Race takes place just a few miles from our house.  That's how I first heard of ocean racing.  I hauled my kayak (a Current Designs Gulfstream) around the Essex and the Blackburn courses for a few years before moving to an FSK (a QCC 700X).  Once Wesley sensed that I had the urge to go even faster, my fate was sealed.  I bought a Huki S1-R from him in 2010 and started falling off during races almost immediately – a proud tradition that I still honor.

 

What was the biggest challenge in transitioning from kayaks to surfskis?

 

I suppose the most significant hurdle was to stop thinking of a capsize as something to be avoided at all costs.  Getting comfortable with little failures – that's part of the learning process.  I regret my awkward FSK phase.  I should have moved directly from a sea kayak to a beginner ski.  Since you're going to go through an unstable phase regardless, better to rip off the Band-Aid.

Falling in and and still winning

 

Some questions for demographic categorization purposes:

What color is your dream ski?

I have a soft spot in my heart for my lime green-over-white Huki scheme.

What is your favorite post-race food?

I seldom feel really downright hungry after racing, but I enjoy chocolate milk.  And milkshakes.  And ice cream.

What song do you most often hum or sing as you paddle?

I have a terrible memory for lyrics (which pretty much torpedoed my hip hop career), so the only songs I know all the words to are the Star Spangled Banner and the Addams Family theme.  Since I don't have my hands free to do justice to those, I stick to humming.  Mostly Abba tunes.

What is your paddling animal totem?

I read somewhere that in Europe a wolverine is called a glutton.  Since that ties in nicely with your first question, I'll go with a wolverine.  Neither of us is known for our elegance or hygiene, but when there's carrion to be eaten, we get the job done.  I also like squid, so that'll be my back-up totem.

Finally, what is it like living with the New England women's surfski champion?

I'll admit it was a bit awkward when Beata Cseke was the champ, but it's gotten a lot easier now that it's Mary Beth.  Our books are all mixed together, so let's hope she can hold onto the crown.

You can read more from Greg Lesher here:   http://greglesher.blogspot.com/

 

Eric Mims ---LowCountry Surfski

Richard Carter takes the mic in order to interrogate  the otherwise laid-back Eric Mims.

Richard Carter Takes the mic

Richard Carter Takes the mic

Eric Mims has become one of the top ocean paddlers on the Eastern Seaboard.  He lives on Isle of Palms near Charleston, SC, with his beautiful wife and their sweet daughter, while working for Epic Kayaks, Inc.  So, if you were not already jealous, there are three more reasons. Once you meet him, you discover he is both affable and pleasant company. In fact, his low-key disposition seems that of a Southern gentleman, unless you are in front of him on race day. He continues to improve and recently won the 2016 Blackburn Challenge. We had the chance to ask him a few questions and he graciously agreed.

 

 

Surfski News (SN) :   As a native of Tennessee, how did you become interested in the surfski?

 

Eric Mims (EM):   I was paddling an OC1 in the Memphis race back in 2004, a year that saw Herman, Oscar, Greg, Mike Herbert and others show up. On the water, I saw Herman sitting relaxed (possibly cross legged, sipping coffee) in this incredibly sleek kayak at the starting line, and said 'well, that looks pretty easy, I need one of those!'  So, I did what any normal, sane person would do and went out and bought a Fenn Millennium.

 

SN:   We are told that, after moving to Charleston, one of your first paddle trips on the ocean ended at night, while some anxious women waited by the phone and almost initiated a SAR with the Coast Guard.  Have you learned to make better choices since then?

 

EM:   One bit of sage advice I can offer is: If it is nighttime and you are several hours late in from a paddle, call your wife immediately upon coming to shore. Do not go get a hamburger to eat and then stroll into the house around 10pm, no matter how good of an idea that seems. Actually, for the first time ever, we had an officer visit us last week a mile offshore, but he was very friendly and seemed pleased that he was getting paid to ride a Waverunner. A member of the public had thought we were in distress after seeing our lumo orange shirts and paddles offshore.

 

SN:   Any interest in triathlons?

 

EM:    Not traditional triathlons. Paddling biathlons are more interesting to me, as cycling is just something I have never gotten into. However, I once did a beach triathlon and had a healthy lead coming out of the paddling leg and then hopped on a rusty, borrowed steel frame bike for the cycling portion. The large basket on the handlebars made a whooshing sound as the bike gods passed me on their carbon cyclocross bikes, dressed like they just stepped off the set of the movie Tron.

 

SN:    Can you share your thoughts on winning gold at your first Blackburn Challenge?

 

EM :  I sent it to the lab for a full assay, and preliminary results show 0% gold in the medal. That aside, Blackburn was a fantastic experience and I was well pleased to come in first. Everyone should have this race on their calendar. Pro tip: regardless of how good it might be and how much you want to race like a true Massachusettsan, do not race with clam chowder in your drink bladder.

 

SN :  What is the best advice you could offer to those who aspire to paddle the ocean?

 

EM:  Either be taking a stroke or be lightly bracing at all times. Your stability comes in your next stroke. You must be in a boat that is stable enough that you can take a stroke at the one moment you need it most. Any hesitation in the ocean, any decision that takes longer than a split second, can spell disaster, or at least keep you from having fun. Do not hold your paddle at your chest when surfing a wave. When you lightly drag a blade while surfing, it gives you an instant brace when needed, as well as takes the decision time out of which side to take an immediate stroke.  

 

SN:  We know that you often paddle with old people who make you look fast by comparison.  These people will soon die.  Do you have an alternative plan once this happens?

 

EM:  Advance to the tandem class, then onto the ultra-rare 4-person surfski class, but always make sure I am in the front seat so I still finish first.

 

SN:  Tell us about the paddle you use and how it is set up.

 

EM:  I use an Epic Mid Wing at 214 cm and 74.2 degrees right hand feather. This paddle has been left outside in the sun every day in my back yard for 5 years for stress testing. It now has lumo orange tips and I use a few swipes of surf wax on the shaft before each paddle.

 

SN: Why 74.2 when 74.8 is widely regarded as being faster. Are you some kind of Rebel?

 

EM:  It allows me to throw just a bit more water on every exit, to act as a sort of smoke screen on competitors.

Mims and Glickman

 

SN:  In 2011 you won Phatwater in a tandem with Joe Glickman, covering 42 miles on the Mississippi River in three hours, forty-two minutes.  We heard Rick Carter was also there.  That had to be exciting. Were you lucky enough to meet him?

 

EM:  Phatwater was one of the best races in the US and I am sad to see it gone. The time Glicker and I won is a very special memory - having never paddled together, jumping in a boat and syncing up perfectly for almost 4 hours! Last I heard, Rick Carter was still on the race course and pretty close to finishing the race. Way to go, Rick!

 

SN:  In preparation for a race, what fashion ensemble and color combinations produce the fastest times?

 

EM:  I like to wear a blue trucker hat, as it stays on my big head in all conditions. I then usually try to find a slightly different colored blue shirt to aggravate people like my wife.

 

SN:  You once lived in Hawaii and returned in 2013 to compete in the Molokai World Championship.  Did you win?

 

EM:  I beat my escort boat by a few boat lengths, really embarrassing for him. We had a long, flat year in 2013. I think only one paddler finished under 4 hours! Brutal year which had me sitting still for a few minutes at China Wall waiting for a set to pass (big south swell meant full, close out waves that were breaking across the channel leading into Hawaii Kai).

 

SN:  What took you to Hawaii?

 

EM: I moved there on a whim after college.  A coworker continually pestered me to come paddle, so I started paddling at Kahana Canoe Club on 6 man outriggers and loved every minute.

 

SN:  Hmmmm.  You must regret spending all that time in school when you could have been paddling.  If you could only do one more race anywhere in the world, which one would that be?

 

EM: Maui to Molokai. I used to live a few miles from where it starts, but the race didn't exist then.

 

SN:  Marine forecasts, Magic Seaweed, Sailflow, etc., can be daunting for the novice ocean paddler.  Can you offer any general guidelines regarding swell height/period ratios, tide stage and wind speed?

 

EM: Too many variables for every location. Marine forecasts are great, as are the surf forecasts, but you really have to be familiar with a location in real, day to day, practical terms to really know what it means. One thing for sure, inland paddlers will almost always measure ocean waves vertically from the deepest bottom to the highest crest they saw that day. Always try to ask a local paddler or surfer for advice on how to really interpret forecasts. For instance, the swell forecast here this morning was 2' at 10 seconds. At mid tide and rising, I could easily fit my V14 on the face of the swell. Seeing the forecast and thinking the height of the waves would be 2' vertically from trough to crest might put you in a dangerous situation.


SN: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.  We appreciate your efforts to promote this wonderful sport in the USA.  The generous nature of folks who paddle make this form of recreation second to none. See ya on the water soon!





 

Rich Sprout---Chasing Giants

Just another day at the Wedge.

 

Once you get by the hilariously cliched surfer's gibbering narration, the appreciation of the size of the wave and the very real possibility of some serious carnage begins to set in.  If you   couldn't figure out if the paddler just got lucky or was dialed in and in total command of an otherwise absolute smackdown, you're not alone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Surfski News:   Where are you from---originally and now?                                                                

Rich Sprout::  I am from a town called George, it is on the southern coast of South Africa. Cape Town is the closest big city.  I now live in Newport Beach California.

SN:  Age and Occupation

 

RS: I am 35 and have been paddling since 2008. I am a Fireman in Anaheim. 

SN: What boats and paddles do you use?

RSI use a Fenn Elite S surf ski and a Fenn LS lifeguard ski. I use a Meek A series medium paddle.

SN:  Can you tell us a little about your background?  How long have you been paddling and when and how were you introduced to the surfski?

RS:  I was first exposed to Surfskis while I was a teenager lifeguarding in South Africa. I was impressed at how fast they could get in and out of the surf.

I didn't have enough money to buy one or a car to put it on either. At that point I had no idea what a downwind was.
A few years later I moved to Newport Beach California and became a lifeguard. I would sit in the lifeguard tower at the wedge and watch these massive swells run hundreds of yards along the breakwater in and outside of the harbor. I wanted to ride them.
You can't surf inside the harbor and the swells on the wedge side were too fat to catch on a surfboard because the water is so deep until it reaches the shore. That got me thinking, there was no law that said you can't kayak inside the harbor mouth and you can catch just about any wave on a Surfski.
The problem was I didn't know how to paddle.

I kicked the idea around for years until one day I googled Surfski for sale. Up came Ocean Paddle Sports, a Surfski business ran by Pat and Deanne Hemens. They were based in Costa Mesa, down the street from where I lived. Pat is also South African. We had been rubbing elbows for years and somehow missed each other. Pat and Deanne set me up with a beginner ski. I took it down to the harbor and took it for a spin. I spent a lot of time climbing back into it but when I was upright, it felt amazing. So smooth so fast and so difficult. I was hooked. I took the ski back to Ocean Paddle Sports and upgraded to a faster one.

I spent the whole winter falling in and chasing Deanne (former Olympic K1 paddler) around the harbor at the Newport Aquatic Center.
Deanne and her group were training to do Molokai so through her I got to meet several other very accomplished K1 paddlers. Cliff Meidl, Phillipe Boccara and Rami Zur to name a few.

My plan was to learn to paddle fast and then catch waves. Well, that was the plan until I did my first proper downwind. I loved it!  

What a great feeling it was to surf waves a mile out to sea.
Shortly after I started racing on the local circuit in Southern California.

Surfski News:  What about your competitive history?  Do you still compete and if so, how much?                                                                      

RS:  I did races from San Diego up to San Francisco but anytime there was a solid south swell, I would head out to the harbor mouth and the wedge.

I raced pretty successfully on the southern and Northern California circuit and then got into K1 paddling. After 2 years and thousands of flat water miles, I was selected to represent USA at the world championships in the K1 1000m.
I made the semifinals and was happy with that result. I was having problems with my forearm and hand going numb and then hurting.
I was diagnosed with compartment syndrome and told to rest a few months or have surgery.
I decided to cool it for a while and went back to ski paddling, but this time, it was going to be lifeguard spec ski racing. I bought a surf spec ski and started training in the surf.  I have represented USA and California several times in international lifeguard  contests as well.

I did races from San Diego up to San Francisco but anytime there was a solid south swell, I would head out to the harbor mouth and the wedge.

Readying the next generation of wave chaser.

 

I don't race as much anymore. I spend most of my time working and teaching my son (6) about the ocean and how to surf. I have done very little mileage these last few months. My last race was the Gorge Downwind Championship. I finished 10th. It was an amazing event- thank you Carter Johnson!

SN: What were some of your personal highlights?

RS: As far as racing goes, I try to rate my success by my performance rather than my result. I love winning, but if I won because I got lucky or because there weren't many fast paddlers in the race, then it doesn't feel that good. I would rather give it everything I have from start to finish and come second than have an easy or lucky win.
You learn a lot about yourself in a tough race.
I always enjoy racing against Phillipe Boccara and Carter Johnson. They are both very tough competitors and they don't give up. If I can beat either of them, I know I have raced well.

SN:  The surfski seems to be going strong on the right coast---How is the scene in Southern California?     

RS:  Surfski seems to be growing steadily here in SoCal.
There has been a boom on the lifeguard Surfski scene, especially with the girls. In lifeguard races we use a spec Surfski. They all have to weigh 40lbs and be 19' long. You race from the beach, out through the surf, around a few buoys and then back to the beach. The waves play a huge factor and there are some pretty spectacular wipeouts. The fastest person doesn't always win. There is loads of strategy and skill involved.
I have spent the last few years coaching the California State Surf Racing Team. We had some really good performances at USA lifesaving nationals this year in Hermosa . Beach.

Surf Lifesaving

Most paddlers from South Africa and Australia get their start on Lifeguard Spec Surfskis. Paddling has given me so much and taken me all over the world. I am extremely thankful for this. Coaching and promoting Surfski to these young athletes is my way of giving back. I would love to see Surfski become as popular in the USA as it is in South Africa.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         SN:  Can you describe your experience on "the wave"?  Your timing looked like you didn't have a second to spare.  Were you in complete control or did you just hit the gas and hope for the best?                                                  


RS:  I had just got back from the world sprint kayak championship in Hungary so I was in pretty good shape at the time.  I paddled out of the harbor with a friend so we could do a workout. I could see the waves breaking over the jetty on the way out the harbor so I convinced my friend Shaun to come take a look. What I really wanted to do was ride some of them but I knew he wouldn't go there if I told him.
I caught a few waves way far out and rode them, but I was pulling out very early. I was getting speeds of 24 -27kph on my gps. Waves at the wedge get very steep very quickly. I spent years life guarding there so I have studied the break pretty well. I caught a longer wave and rode it to the inside before I pulled out. When I looked over my shoulder I saw the wave in question rolling along the harbor jetty like a freight train. At first I was pissed because it was definitely the wave of the day and I could have had it if I didn't catch the one before. But I was on the inside now so I weighed my options. Sprint to the shore or paddle across in front of the peak.
I opted to paddle across as I was already headed that way and I also wanted to get closer and possibly get a bit of a ride on the shoulder. I was confident that I could make it so I only paddled as hard as I needed to. I looked at my gps later that day and my speed was 14.6kph. A good ski paddler can get a ski up to about 20kph in a sprint.  If you watch the video, you will see that I stop paddling when I am in the wave.

Long way down

The wave was beautiful. The color, the shape, the sound. It was perfect. The feeling of flying up the face of the wave and then down the back of it was unforgettable. There was a lot going through my head. Excitement, fear, disappointment, relief, respect. I would say that I was 100% in control of myself. And 100% confident in my skills and ability. I wouldn't have been there if I wasn't. I have spent a lifetime in the ocean, I have learned that you can understand her but you can not control her. When I saw the wave I had a good idea of where it was going to break and I knew I could get past there.

SN:  What height would you estimate the wave to have reached?
 

RS: The ski I was in was 21' long. The peak of the wave dwarfs my ski. I would guess that the wave was about 30' high. The size of the wave isn't what makes the wedge dangerous, it is the intensity and the volume. There is a lot of water moving at the wedge and it breaks in very shallow water.  But I never really caught that wave. I was on it, but I wasn't riding it.

 

SN: Do you routinely paddle out through similar surf?   Is this the largest wave you've ever paddled?

RS: I have a good friend that lives in Kauai, he runs Surfski Kauai and has plenty of skis. I travel there a few times a year to surf and paddle. If there is a good swell the waves can get about 20' They break on a reef and there is a very deep channel next to it so you have less chance of getting closed out on or getting caught inside.
The rides are really long - a few hundred yards.

I have had several amazing experiences in my ski. Other than that day at the wedge, I would say that paddling into massive waves on a double ski with my best friend Dylan Thomas in Kauai and paddling downwind in huge conditions in Hood River with my friend Carter Johnson have been really memorable.

I'm not that much into racing anymore. Rather I prefer to push myself and paddle in really big wind and waves.

Extreme conditions make for extreme fun.

Craig Impens --- The Lesher Interview

Greg Lesher:  2008 you crashed the Blackburn Challenge party and notched your first of seven top-ten finishes – including a win in 2010.  How did you find your way into a surfski? Onto a surfski? I never know which to use.

Craig Impens:  Like many other Northeast paddlers, I transitioned from a West Side Boat Shop Thunderbolt onto a surfski. I had the pleasure of working at Jersey Paddler, which gave me access to many different types of boats. My first surfski was a Current Designs Speedster, which isn't the most user-friendly ski. But I loved the challenge of it and have been paddling surfskis ever since.

GL:  Can you tell us about your third place finish at this year's Blackburn?

CI:  This year's race went well for me but didn't start out as planned. My preparation and training leading up to the event felt good and I was focused on doing well. Getting into the water and doing my warm up, I turned on my trusty Garmin GPS and my eyes focused on a frozen screen! This has happened once or twice before but never on race day or a 20 mile event. After pushing every button on the damn thing so hard my thumbs were starting to get sore, I finally gave up after 10 minutes or so and raced the course by feel. Luckily, this year for the first time I had music on an iPod for the race and that definitely helped ease my mind from the malfuncIioning GPS In and focus on the task at hand.
 

I had a solid start and was in the mix of the front runners for a while but couldn't hold the pace they were setting. Finding myself in 8th place I knew it was a long race and paddled at a pace I was comfortable at. Matt Drayer and I battled back and forth for about 9 or 10 miles and still had sight of the leaders and racers in between, who were all out on a wider line of the course. We stayed closer to shore and were gaining! Finally knowing exactly what mile I was at approaching the halfway check in, I was feeling great. I started picking up the pace, feeling smooth, and my playlist was rockin'!

This is where I believe I excel. The second half! I began passing racers and found myself in the top 5 - which is great - but I could see that a podium spot was attainable. Keeping my pace fast and steady, I ground my way up to third while focusing on hydrating and popping Gu Gels whenever needed. I could see the leaders, but they were too far ahead as we approached the final stretch inside the break wall. I maintained my position and was pretty stoked to make the podium in one of my favorite races.

GL:  In the 2015 Blackburn, a third of the skis DNF'ed and 5 of the top 7 finishers got some rough water remount practice. I went over twice, blowing several remounts on the first. What was that race like for you?

CI:  That Blackburn was a rough one! The sea was angry that day and the wind not so friendly either. I went over on a pretty good sized wave at about mile 12. I was flying down the face at an estimated 10 mph but had  a smaller weedless rudder on and my tail end slid out. Trying to save it by using bracing strokes failed and I was in the drink.  It was in a very rough spot on the course. Panicked and pissed off, I tried unsuccessfully several times to remount in the waves but the ski kept rolling out from under me. A safety boat was near watching me and started heading my way to help out. I calmed down, pointed the ski into the wind and remounted successfully. My race went well after that, but the damage was done. No podium spots when you spend 5 minutes of the race swimming!
 

GL:  I'll let you get out of the Blackburn question cycle on a high point – how was the 2010 race?
 

CI:  The 2010 Blackburn Challenge was a fantastic race for me. That was the year I joined Epic Kayaks as a sponsored U.S. Paddler and I guess I I guess I felt I should justify the support I was given by doing well at a big event. To notch a win at this event is a tough task. I am grateful to be on that list of Blackburn winners.


GL:  You do a lot of flat-water races on a ski. And do quite well. Do you prefer flat to ocean paddling?

CI:  Unfortunately, there are not too many ocean races in my area. There are a few races on the bay, but most are on flat water. I like racing against K1's while I'm using the surfski and it helps me gauge my training leading up to the bigger races. I actually prefer the rough stuff, but it's over 5 hours of driving each way for me to get to the races in New England that offer bigger conditions. Hopefully, we will see more ocean races in our area in the near future.

GL:  For many of us, Photoshopping our heads onto your body is a favorite down-time hobby.  What's your gym regimen? To what extent do you concentrate on kayak-specific strength exercises?

CL:  Hahaha. My gym regimen isn't anything too complicated. I do biceps and triceps one day, back and chest another, shoulders and a mix of anything I feel needs work on another. I do mix in abdominal work every third exercise daily (for example, 4 sets of bi's followed by 4 sets of tri's followed by 3-4 sets of abs, then repeat) and usually, finish a gym session with 20-30 minutes of fat-burning cardio.

GL:  In a bar fight, you or Elite Oceansports' Mark Smith? You've got the reach, but he seems pretty tenacious.

CI:  I usually let my 11-year-old Samantha handle all of my light work, but if Mark and I were to find ourselves in a brawl I am not sure what the outcome would be. In any sport, you cannot underestimate your opponent and you have to be ready for anything. Maybe if we stayed on our feet I would have the advantage but if it went to the ground Mark may have the advantage. For now we will just fight it out on the water!

Light work?

GL:  What kind of cross-training do you do during the season? Do you have a particular off-season sport?

CI:  My cross-training during the season is mountain biking and swimming. I have a bum knee, so have to stick with low impact exercises. As far as an off-season sport, I tend to stick with snow shoveling and 12-ounce curls of Stone IPA.

GL:  You've been pretty open about sharing at least some of your training sessions on Facebook. And perhaps a little frustrated that other paddlers aren't more forthcoming? Wanna be my Garmin Connect buddy?

CI:  Sure, I will be your Garmin Connect buddy. But I may have to purchase a new Garmin before we go any further with this relationship!
 

GL:  You missed the entire 2011 and 2012 seasons due to a back injury that required surgical intervention. Can you tell us about the injury and the rehabilitation process that got you back to paddling?

CI:  Back surgery at 35 years old was a big decision, but a necessary one. I had sciatic nerve issues with my left side that eventually got so bad I couldn't even sit in a boat for 15 minutes. After many doctor visits, I decided to go with the surgery - a fusion of L5 S1 discs. After the surgery, the doctor said when he went in there the disc pretty much crumbled apart. I never thought that I wouldn't be able to compete at a top level again and was motivated to get back out there, but took the necessary time to recovery properly even though my mind just wanted to get out and race as quickly as possible. I always kept a positive attitude and knew I would be back to racing soon. Currently, my back feels good and I am happy with the decision, but there are good days and bad days. I just listen to my body and back off on the training when needed.

GL:  You've cultivated a certain… streamlined look. Any grooming tips for those of us heading your direction?

CI:  My streamlined look isn't by choice! I wish I had the flowing locks of a Reid Hyle or Eric Mims, but having a full head of hair is rare in my family. If you find yourself in my predicament just shave it off. Low maintenance and aerodynamic.

GL:  You are a Terminator-like presence in longer races. You set a solid pace at the start and just keep it there, methodically grinding down paddlers who went out too fast.  If I happen to get ahead of you at the start, I'm always wondering when I'll look back to see your glowing red eyes.  Is that a conscious race strategy?

CI:  My motto is "Start Strong and Finish Stronger". So yes, this is a conscious race strategy. Not sure how you see my glowing red eyes with my Reflekt Polarized shades on though! ; ) I train very similar to this technique which is a great breakdown of "How to train" by Jimmy Walker
(https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=A00DaYRMmq0).

GL:  Perhaps your most impressive paddling achievement is corralling Stone Brewing as a sponsor. How does a New Jersey native end up partnering with a premier West Coast brewery? What's your favorite Stone beer?

CI:  Stone Brewing makes a great selection of beer. During my recovery time from back surgery, I spent a lot of time on the couch and iPad and sent out an email to the company to see if they would be interested in sponsorship. They asked for more information about the sport and a list of results from past seasons, which started the ball rolling. At the time they were - and still are - expanding quite rapidly and wanted to market the brand more on the East Coast. We agreed on terms and the rest fell into place. Some people may think that a brewery may not be the ideal sponsor to promote in athletics but let's face it, most of us enjoy a cold one after a tough session or hard fought race. Stone Ruination would have to be my favorite if I had to choose one!

GL:  Some quick questions to finish…

What's your favorite interval work-out?

CI:  I don't do nearly as many interval sessions as I should. In fact, I may have only done a handful of them this season. When I do them it's usually the length of the lagoons near my house. I will sprint the first lagoon then paddle easy to the top of the next lagoon then sprint back down and so on. It's pretty fun in the summer when people are out barbequing and see you ripping past them at a good clip!

GL:  What are your paddle specs?

CI:  Epic Mid Wing Full Carbon 2 piece at 212 cm and 60 degree feather.

GL:  In a dystopian future world, you're allowed one boat for all races.  What is it?

CI:  Dystopian - is that like an Avatar world? I would easily pick the Epic V10GT. The comfort and speed of this boat in all conditions is hard to beat. The weight of it is remarkable coming in at 20 pounds, which is just under a pound per foot!
 

Austin Kieffer---American Muscle

He makes an immediate impression when you meet him; extremely friendly and effusive, Austin Kiefer strikes you as the kind of guy that's just happy to be wherever he is---infectiously bringing the party along with him.  

Then he gets on a ski---where the transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde occurs---the smiling, easygoing young professional quickly becomes an 800 lb Gorilla with an attitude.

Having trained alongside some of the world's best, he's considered by many to currently be America's top male surfski paddler.  

So if you haven't yet had the opportunity to meet Austin, read on to find out more about him and why he ranks among the best. 

Alter Ego

 

SN: Where are you from and where do you live now?

AK: I am from Asheville, North Carolina and I am currently living in Bellingham, WA. I just moved about 4 weeks ago and I am happier every day I am here.

SN: How have you found the state of surfski to be in Bellingham?

Bellingham 

 

AK:  Surfskiing in Bellingham is amazing! It really is the largest and most enthusiastic community of surfski paddlers in the country. The community here has been so supportive of my moving here and they have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome.

Not only is the town littered with paddlers, but the paddling environment is incredible. Surrounded by three gorgeous lakes and the Bellingham Bay, you can find almost any conditions you are looking for. Aside from group paddles and a very active yahoo group, there is a Wednesday Night lake time trial every week. On any given Wednesday, anywhere from 20 to 80 people will show up to race the 5km course and talk enough good-natured smack to last the whole week. Not to mention any time there is a breath of wind, the town pretty much shuts down to go surfing (that of course is an egregious exaggeration, but the last time it was blowing I went down to my favorite bay launch site and there were already 20 paddlers on the water catching runs).

The community really is remarkable! I am so glad to be a part of it and help it continue to grow!

SN:  How did you come to paddling in general?

AK:  I started paddling when I was 11. My paddling started in whitewater kayaking and when I was in middle school I joined a local whitewater slalom racing club. The club offered free rolling clinics in the YMCA pool and after years of being pestered by a family friend to come give it a try, I spent my first two hours in a kayak on a Tuesday night. My love for the sport and the water was immediate. I loved it and have been kayaking in some form ever since.

 

SN: When and how were you introduced to the surfski?                

 

AK:  I raced whitewater slalom for over a decade after joining the local racing club and didn't actually pick up a surfski until 2011. I was visiting my friend and mentor from my early whitewater days, DJ Jacobson, in Bellingham, WA. It was the end of my whitewater racing season and he threw me in an old glass XT and I loved it! Two weeks later he took me to San Fran and in my first race I managed to somehow place top 20 at US Champs in the XT! I was in love with the sport instantly. Unfortunately, I was pretty bull headed and set on trying out for the Olympics in whitewater. As a result, after those two weeks I didn't touch a surfski again for about a year. However, when my season ended and I fell short of attaining the Olympic birth, I gave up whitewater entirely and threw myself into paddling surfski. So I would say my surfski paddling started in the summer of 2012.

 

Olympic attempt

SN: How close were you to making the Olympics?

AK:  Haha, close, but didn't make it. I was on the Olympic development team for 4 years.

SN:  Who have been the most pivotal figure(s) for you since being involved in paddle sports?

AK:  Obviously, DJ Jacobson, who introduced me to the sport and helped introduce me to my first sponsor. He is an animal on the water and an all round incredible guy. If it were not for him, I definitely would never have discovered the sport. After DJ, I would definitely say the Mocke brothers. Dawid Mocke won the first two races I ever attended and watching him fly across the water and absorb even the most hectic ocean conditions, like they were flat water, made it an easy choice to pick Dawid as my first surfski hero. And then I met Jasper Mocke, who is every ounce the surfski animal his brother is. I was able to train a great deal with Jasper and we became very close during my time in South Africa. Sometimes your hero's lose their luster when you get to know them up close, but that is far from the case with the Mocke brothers. I still have the highest respect and admiration for them as athletes and even more as remarkable people. Their mentorship and friendship have definitely been instrumental in my paddling success and I think the world of them both. I also was able to spend time with Sean Rice and Tom Schilperoort in Cape Town. Both of whom have been so kind and helpful to me, as well as being athletes I really admire.

In good company

 

SN:  Can you discuss what you found about the Mocke’s that made them remarkable?  

AK: They are phenomenal athletes and exceptional watermen. They are two of the best surfski athletes and downwind surfers in the world and yet they are friendly, down to earth, compassionate, and extremely good-natured. I now consider them both my heroes in the sport and dear friends. I actually spoke with Jasper at length about my return to competitive racing and he was extremely supportive and helpful during the whole process. I am so excited to see them both this summer. That's actually one of the things I like most about the World Series Races in North America: it brings the best athletes around the world (and many of my friends) to us!

SN:  What have you found to be your most valuable learning experience?

AK:  I would say my most valuable learning experience was during the summer of 2012 when I was trying to figure out downwind surfing in the Columbia River Gorge. I had spent a few days getting thoroughly embarrassed on the waves by West Coast guys and then one day I just went too hard and bonked. I totally ran out of energy, I could hardly take 10 strokes in a row and I just watched everyone drifter farther away. And it was just when I gave up that I started really "surfing". I started letting the water do work for me and feeling when the waves wanted to pick me up and shoot me forward. I fell into an almost trance like state where I paddled very little and just felt like I was part of the energy of the water, moving with the waves instead of at my own pace. The result was astounding. I managed to make some serious ground on all my paddling friends, even after bonking. And just like that my surfing started to improve by leaps and bounds. I know consider it easily my strength in surfski racing and I can pinpoint the start of my progress to that one moment.

Working with the waves

 

SN:  You are one of the highest regarded Americans in a sport mostly dominated by athletes from the southern hemisphere.  Do you see yourself travelling to more World Series races to continue competing against top tier athletes?

 

AK: The answer to that question is an emphatic, YES!  After 2014, I stopped training for a third of the year, only paddling enough to enjoy the summer and fall of racing and then stopped again. I had this idea, that paddling was childish and I needed to grow up and find a "career". It took me about two years to realize it, but surfskiing is what I love and I was a fool to give it up (well maybe not a fool, because I am now grateful for every day I am on the water). Now, however, I really want to race on the circuit. I know I am not as fit as I was in 2014 and nowhere near the fitness of the top guys on the circuit, but I am excited to give it my all and see how fast I can go! I am trying to take it a step at a time and my first race, though I wish I had more time, will be the Gorge Downwind Champs.

Big Water In South Africa

 

SN:  What went into your decision to spend time in South Africa?

 

AK:  My sponsor Ocean Paddlesports recommended strongly that if I wanted to get fast, the best way was to train in South Africa. Train in the best ocean conditions with the best in the world. They were definitely right. The Mocke's were also instrumental in helping me make the trip a reality and encouraging me to come.

 

SN: Will you be returning to train there in the future? Will it be a regular part of your training year?

 

AK: In an ideal world, yes. I think if possible that is the best training out there. However, with holding down an job, the cost of getting there, and other logistics, I just don't think it will be possible for me in the foreseeable future. Hopefully, racing will take me back, but I won't be able to go for an extended training trip.  

When in Rome---Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon

 

SN: Word has it that the South African women chased you around like the Beatles; care to comment?

 

AK: Hahaha, well if they were I think I was a bit oblivious. I was doing a lot of chasing waves. If I wasn't paddling more Miller's Run downwinds than entirely advisable, I was probably napping or talking shop with Dawid or Japs. (Next time, I hope someone will help cue me in if that was truly happening.)

 

SN: How do you find your experience in S.A. on the surfski differing culturally from the states or other locations?

 

AK:  The culture is definitely bigger in S.A. There are faster athletes, better conditions, and more races. Not to mention the sport has an incredible culture of ocean sports for young people, which is the perfect feeder into distance surfski racing, which is the only way the sport will grow: injecting it with youth and new talent. That being said, the sport is really taking off in the US and I am definitely hoping it will keep growing.

South African Posse

 

The most significant comparison I have made between surfski cultures across the world, is how spectacular the people are no matter where you find them. Surfski paddlers, for whatever reason, are some of the nicest, most enthusiastic, and selfless people I have ever met. They are always bending over backwards to be hospitable to traveling paddlers and will jump at any opportunity to talk about the sport ad nauseam.  I am so happy to be in a sport of such wonderful people and I try to do whatever I can to give back to the community that has given me so much!

 

SN: What will it take for Americans to make the jump up against the best Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans?

 

AK:  That is a good question. I am trying to figure that out myself. I think it is going to take athletes who are willing to travel and race as much as possible against the best in the world. The only way to get better is to constantly test yourself against the best. In the long run, I think the US needs a few athletes, all trying to break through to the top tier of competition. Athletes who can test and push each other at home and elevate the training level all year long. Nothing is better than having a training partner who will push you.

 

SN:  What boat, paddles and gear do you use?

AK:  I use Fenn Surfskis. The boats are incredible, beautiful, and shockingly well made. FENN boats are made to surf and you can feel it every time you get in the waves. The reason I love the sport is because of the ocean and surfing and nothing surfs like a FENN. I recently made the switch to the FENN Elite S and I love it! I can't wait to race it during this summer, fall, and winter racing season! I use a Jantex Gamma Rio Medium Minus, soft shaft, 45 degree offset, 211cm. They never break.  And I wear Vaikobi paddling gear. The clothing really is remarkable and if you haven't tried on a pair of their V Cold paddling pants, you are missing out. I recommend every piece of gear they sell at the highest level and their line of clothing really allow me to paddle all year long.  

You can learn all kinds of new tricks in South Africa

 

SN: It seems that the paddle offset used by most is around the 60 degrees.  What motivated you to drop down to 45 degrees?

 

AK:  Good question. I paddle with a 45 degree offset, because that is what I used in whitewater. I spent 12 years committing 45 degrees to muscle memory and didn't feel like changing things when I picked up surfski. I am a big believer in listening to your body. If you are comfortable with a paddle angel and it is working well, I don't see any reason to change to adhere to the standard (that is of course if you are a complete outlier paddling at 0 degrees or 90 degrees, then you might need to change something).

 

SN: After seeing your Fenn at the North Shore Cup this past year, I was inspired. It’s refreshing to see a ski that isn’t gleaming with wax and without a blemish.  I am now fully embracing my boat’s scuffs and marks here and there as signs of speed worthiness.  Does your boat have a back story?

 

AK:  Haha, that Elite was the first boat I ever bought. I was able to get it at a steal because the previous owner had messed up the gel coat. For a young kid with no money it was perfect. And then I took it out to South Carolina during Hurricane Sandy. Lets just say we both had our world rocked in those conditions. And even after 5 patches and an poorly executed spray paint, she has never been the same (though it is a testament to the Durability of the FENN design that she could still win the North Shore Cup).

Sean Rice has described Kieffer as a paddler "who paddlers with his heart".  On the old Fenn at the Northshore Cup---Photo Vadim LIshchuk

 

SN:  What is coming down the road for you; what are your future plans?

 

AK:  I want to race the World Series and see how fast I can go at Worlds in 2017. Right now I have landed in Bellingham and I am trying to figure out how to balance training and work. I am very lucky to have such a large paddling community here and I am doing a lot of coaching and I am training the Bellingham Canoe and Kayak Sprint Team, which has been a lot of fun!

 

 

SN: College?

 

AK: I graduated from Davidson College in 2012.

 

SN: Employment?

 

AK: I am a freelance surfski coach and I am the head coach for the local youth Sprint Kayak program, I just left my sales job in NYC and couldn't be happier.

 

SN: Most important wins?

 

AK: It wasn't technically a win, but taking 5th place and top American in the US Surfski Champs was definitely my biggest moment. To surf past people like Michael Booth, Kenny Rice, and Mark Anderson and finish just behind Dawid Mocke, claiming both the US National Title and my first top 5 World Series result was a spectacular feeling.

 

 

SN: Harrowing moments?

 

AK:  Hurricane Sandy by myself. Crazy, eye opening, and stupid.

 

SN:  Best moment on a ski?

 

AK:  Any moment on a downwind. There is nothing like it. It somehow combines the exhilaration of an extreme sport, the fitness of an aerobic workout, the competition of a race, and the tranquility of entering into a trance-like state of focus and concentration. It simply is the best.  

 

 

Jasper Mocke---For the Love of the Game

Photo---Matt Moon

South African Jasper Mocke has been consistently placing at the top at the highest level of the sport, most notably winning the World Surfski Series title in 2014.  We caught up with Jasper after his recent run through the states, which included his third place finish at the Molokai Surfski Championship.  

SN:  What age did you begin paddling and how did you get started?

JM:  I First started paddling ski's and canoes at about 12 yrs old. But I did nippers (junior lifeguards) from 9 years old, so I have been in the ocean since I can remember.

SN:   You had some pretty significant wins in 2014 and have been at the top of the game since. Did you alter anything about your training or approach that gave you an edge or otherwise pushed your paddling to the next level?

JM:  No real changes. I would say it was a constant improvement and maybe a mental realization that I belonged there. I never feel like I've "reached it". I want to keep getting stronger.

Photo-Matt Moon

SN:  How has your transition been to Epic boats and with the team in general?

JM:  As good as I could have imagined. My values and goals as an athlete match theirs as a company. Also we have a very competitive team which keeps us on our toes.

SN:  You doubled with Hank Mcgregor for the Dusi and the 50 miler marathon, taking a win and second respectively; how do you enjoy river marathons in comparison with the surfski?

JM:  I love the obstacles of river racing and the unpredictability. River racing has a huge following in South Africa so to be a professional you have to do well in it.

SN: You've spent a good deal of time in America so far this year, what is your opinion of the scene here in the states?

JM:  The U.S. is so big it's hard to sum it up as one. Rather, I love the way it is developing in small pockets; Bellingham being a great example. Everyone should just keep going and share the stoke of paddling! That's what it's about. 100's of miles of unpaddled downwind routes that are waiting to be explored!

SN:  In general, do you see the surfski gaining popularity internationally?

JM: Oh yes for sure. But you know what? Who cares about that. It's not a numbers game. We should do what we love and use that to enhance the quality of our lives and of those around us. If people see the fruits they'll want to get in a boat too. For more growth I think we need more mainstream media to start telling our story.

SN:  What will it take for Americans to begin getting on the podiums in International races?

JM:  Well if you look at guys like Austin Kieffer and Pat Dolan, they are already there. I would say they just need a little extra support and freedom to race often enough. So yes, support and constant racing. That's in the open division. In the age group divisions, the US is extremely competitive.

Photo---Alan Van Gysen

SN:  Do you foresee returning for more trips to the States in the future?

JM: Yes certainly. It's a big priority for myself and my sponsors Epic Kayaks, Mocke Paddling and Euro Steel. We want to do everything we can to grow the sport and build working relationships.

SN:  You pulled off a solid third in Molokai this year, can you break down how the race played out for you?

JM:  From early on it was clear that it would be an individual effort for everyone. So I got into my rhythm and kept a steady pace all the way through. I could only really see Clint for most of the race. I tried to paddle the shortest distance of which I think we did a fairly good job.

SN  If you had the opportunity to have another go at it, what, if anything would you do differently?

JM:  Well I will, next year! I think I'll just get to the front and try to stay there as long as I can. If it's flat again I'll do more juice changes to reduce weight and possibly travel to Molokai a day before to avoid the early morning scramble on the day of the race. Other than that I'll just follow Cory and Hank as they seem to be the guys who know the channel pretty well. I'm still learning my way around there.

32 Miles later...

SN:  What are your goals for the remainder of 2016?

JM: I would like to win the World Surfski Series (www.worldsurfskiseries.com) and arrange awesome downwind camps on the Miller's Run (http://mockepaddling.com/downwind-camps/) like last year.

SN:  Most personally satisfying win?

JM: The Cape Town Downwind 2013 really stands out as it was on my home beach against a world class field. Also SA champs in Durban in 2014.

 

SN: Most difficult? 


JM: The second time I won The Doctor in Perth, Australia. The last 5km's against my brother was of the hardest I've ever paddled.

SN: Any harrowing moments?

JM:  Many, but most recently quite a few as I was doing long and lonely routes for Molokai. One moment stands out as I was 40km offshore in the middle of False Bay in huge seas and my vulnerability dawned on me. I prayed.

SN: Paddle?

JM: Epic

SN: Paddle Length and offset?

JM: 60 deg ranging lengths in different conditions.

SN:  Thanks for your time and best of luck to you.

 

Photo---Matt Moon

 

Michele Eray --- Bold New Direction

Eray Moving Forward

At the end of 2015, the former World Surfski Champion Michelle Eray, left her role as Sprint High-Performance Director at USA Canoe Kayak.

A culmination of reasons led to this change of career path for her. Primarily, wanting to focus her full attention on coaching Maggie Hogan towards a potential Olympic Qualification, she felt that with a full-time job (at that point she was the only staff member on the sprint side of USACK) there was very little time and energy left in the day to coach effectively-"I would hate to look back on it and realize that she had a shot, and we messed it up by not focusing 100% on the goal".

Eray started working with Hogan in the middle of 2014. Hogan began to make excellent progress, winning the 500m K1 event at the US National Sprint Trials in 2015, and going on to be the first US citizen to win a medal at a World Championship in 2 decades at the 2015 Canoe Sprint World Championships in August in Milan.

Hogan and Eray

It was a difficult decision for Eray to leave her job and pursue this new endeavor, and both she and Hogan have made huge sacrifices to give this qualification a shot. Unfunded by the National Governing Body, they have been very fortunate to have the great people at the Newport Aquatic Center provide them with a training base and a fundraiser. Based in Newport/Costa Mesa area, they enjoy the privilege of being  on the water with many Olympic paddlers on a daily basis.

Eray has embarked on other exciting projects as well, including MultiCoach, which offers Paddling Workshops, Training Plans and Coaching Education. She has also begun working with the recent analytics technology start up---Motionize.

"I felt that, within my role at the NGB, I could not make as positive an impact as I could with a more hands on approach. Working with Maggie directly and through MultiCoach, I can grow the sport of paddling, from surf ski to kayaking to marathons and sprints. We want to spread the stoke of this awesome sport to as many people as possible!"

Putting in the Work

If you are interested in getting world class coaching from Eray, you can register here:   https://www.facebook.com/MultiCoach1?__mref=message_bubble

Note: Hogan has since qualified to represent America in the Olympics and has recently won Silver at the World Cup.

You can help fund Hogan on her Olympic berth here:   https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/3228

Hogan

USA Paddler Profile --- Tim Hornsby

Event/Discipline: Canoe Sprint, K1 200m
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia
Current Residence: San Diego, California
Birthdate: 7/20/1986
Height: 6’3”
College: UC-San Diego, aerospace engineering
Team: Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club

 

2016 U.S. Senior National Team and Pan American Championships Team Member

Recent Results:

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships: 9th in K1 200m Final B (18th overall)
  • 2015 Pan American Games: 6th in K1 200m
  • 2015 World Cup No. 2: 7th in K1 200m semifinal 
  • 2015 World Cup No. 1: 7th in K1 200m
  • 2014 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships: 11th in K1 200m
  • 2013 World Cup No. 2: 6th in K1 200m
  • 2013 World Cup No. 2: 24th in K1 200m
  • 2013 World Cup No. 1: 15th in K1 200m
  • 2013 U.S. National Team Trials: 1st in K1 200m
  • 2012 World Cup No. 2: 14th in K1 200m
  • 2012 World Cup No. 1: 25th in K1 200m
  • 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials: 1st in K1 200m
  • 2011 Pan American Games: 5th in K2 200m with Ryan Dolan
  • 2011 World Championships: 25th in K2 200m
  • 2011 World Cup No. 3: 14th in K2 200m
  • 2011 World Cup No. 2: 23rd in K2 200m
  • 2011 National Championships: K1 200m

Career Highlights:

  • 2014 World Championships: 11th in K1 200M
  • 2008 Olympic training partner
  • 2010 Vichy World Cup: 11th in K1 200m
  • 2008 Szeged World Cup: 4th in K1 200m, 8th in K2 500m, 8th in K2 1000m
  • 2006 Pan American Championships: 3rd in K1 200m

Olympic Experience:

How he qualified for London 2012: Hornsby, 26, took the long way to Olympic qualification. He won the Men’s K1 200m event at the 2011 Sprint National Championships in Gainesville, Ga. on Aug. 6. But it was teammate Ryan Dolan who qualified the Olympic boat quota slot for the U.S. at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico on October 28. Hornsby pulled even with Dolan in the Olympic selection process by winning the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Oklahoma City on April 20, forcing a race-off between the two at the first two 2012 World Cups. Hornsby clinched the spot for himself with a 14th place finish at the 2012 World Cup No. 2 in Duisburg, Germany on May 27.

Four Years Wiser: Hornsby, attended the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games as a training partner for U.S. Olympian Rami Zur. Hornsby returns to the Olympic stage - this time as an Olympian - after outlasted teammates Zur and Ryan Dolan in the long 2012 selection process.  Hornsby is the first Olympian produced by the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, which has won 10 National Championships. Lake Lanier hosted the canoe/kayak and rowing events at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.

GirlfriendUna Lounde
Nickname: "immay"
Job: tutor
Hobbies: Kitesurf, surf, biking, and travel

Son of Roger and Patti Hornsby, Tim was born on July 20, 1986 in Atlanta, Georgia. He Attended Lakeside High School in Atlanta and graduated in 2004. Tim has been on the water since age 11 when he learned to paddle at spring break camp. After high school, Tim was accepted to the University of California San Diego, Jacob's School of Engineering. 

He was first coached by Tony Hall in 1997 at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. Tim’s Breakout year was in 2003, when he went to the World Junior Championships and placed 10th in the K2 1000-meter race at the age of 17. While still competing with the Junior National Team, Tim was in the K4 boat that placed 4th at Olympic Trials in 2004.

In 2006 at the Pan American Championships he placed 3rd in the K1 200-meter race. Then in 2007, Tim placed 2nd in the 4x100 meter relay at the World Cup in Szeged, Hungary. Tim has really begun to grow into a world class competitor. He started out 2008 by placing 1st at Olympic Trials in K2 500-meter race, as well as the K4 1000-meter race. He went on to compete in the World Cup circuit and placed 8th in the K2 500-meter race, and 8th in the K2 1000-meter race in Szeged, Hungary.

Source:   http://www.teamusa.org/usa-canoe-kayak/athletes/tim-hornsby

Surviving the Surf -- Carolina Cup 2016 by Ted Burnell

I’m standing on a beach, holding my OC-1 and listening to a countdown with other outrigger, surfski, and prone board racers.  I’m staring at crashing walls of water that threaten to humiliate and crush my boat and my soul.  The count ends “3, 2, 1, GO!” and there is a slight let up in the surf that will only last seconds.  I run in, tossing the outrigger and jumping on.   I paddle before I even have my legs in the boat and dig like crazy.   I punch through some manageable surf and make it through the break just as a massive swell rolls under me to annihilate those behind me that were just a hair slower.  I just survived the scariest start in my 25 year racing career.   This is my welcome to the Carolina Cup.  

The Carolina Cup is one of the largest paddleboard races in the country, bringing paddleboard  superstars like Danny Ching, Travis Grant, and Annabel Anderson just to name a few.  A handful of skis and outrigger canoes do the race as well, and it appears those categories are growing every year.  This year’s Graveyard course field included 12 surfskis and 17 outriggers, but that paled in comparison to the 176 paddleboards.  There were also few dozen prone boards.   The course is a 13 mile loop around Wrightsville Beach, NC, a barrier island community just off Wilmington.  The event  also offered 3 and 6 mile races on flat water for those not wanting to challenge Neptune on the open ocean.

This race is a carnival of beach party, equipment vendors, demos, and mega stoke with beautiful Wrightsville Beach as the backdrop.  Most of the athletes look like they are pulled from the cover of a surfing magazine, but that’s probably because they are.  

So let’s get back to the race.  After that chaotic start, I made the turn around the first buoy to head north with a nice SSE swell pushing us along.  It was a rear quartering swell that didn’t give a big push due to its angle, but it was enough to counteract the NNW 10mph headwind.  The swell was also really fun for this inland paddler used to lakes and rivers, and was very manageable.  As I headed north, faster OC paddlers on faster boats started to overtake me, but I didn’t care.  I was having a ball and had survived that launch intact.  

But there was one more major obstacle, the inlet into the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW).    These inlets are where swell, wind, current and reverb waves create a maelstrom.  This one was no exception.   The previously gentle 3 foot swells stack into steep faces launching you into a fun but scary fast surf glide. But then a reverb wave would knock you sideways killing the speed you were building. I did more hard bracing and sever rudder changes than I thought my gear would stand but managed to stay upright through it.  I may have had a bad line as well, as I went far right, and a local OC-1 paddler went by me on the far left.   Eventually I made it through to the flat water of the ICW for a nice 6 mile jaunt going with both the wind and current.  I traded draft positions with that local paddler for the entire ICW portion.    

Eventually we reached the end of the calm ICW section and had to head back out through another inlet.  I hung back and let the local paddler lead me through, as the course or best line wasn’t entirely clear to me.  This inlet had some big swells, but they weren’t stacked and there wasn’t any reverb, so while still fun, it lacked the clenched fear of the previous inlet.  

Once back out in the ocean, we turned back north to the start finish line about 1 1/2 miles from the inlet.  The initial turn buoy at the start also served as the final finish turn buoy, for a surf in to the beach and a run across the sand to the finish line.   By this time my left leg and hip were completely numb from over-leaning to my ama side for stability.  I knew I had raced a fun, clean race and had no delusions of outsprinting the 30 year old local paddler up the hill in the sand with a leg that was completely asleep.  Also, when we got to the turn buoys, the top 4 pro paddle boarders had caught us and made the tight turn with us. They had started 8 minutes behind our wave, and yes, they are THAT fast!  Not wanting to mess up pros competing for the podium, I veered wide and caught a wave to surf it in to the finish.  I looked over and the paddle boarder on my left was none other than Danny Ching.   Surfing in on an OC-1 next to Danny Ching on a wave was one of the single biggest highlights of my paddling career.  I went extra wide to give him room so as to not accidentally take him out.   I did manage to make it to shore without carnage, even intentionally side surfing the last few feet for a fast approach that wouldn’t damage my boat.  The run up the beach to the finish line was as predicted; a numb leg limping stumble that was sad and pathetic.  But I didn’t care, I’d just completed the race clean and way faster than I expected and had a head full of fun memories.  

In the end I managed a 4th place finish and was really happy how the whole race went.  Eric Mims was the fastest overall of the day in surfski at 1:50.03, and the top paddle boarder was Puyo Titouan of New Caledonia at 2:04:49.     The fastest OC-1 was Barry Blackburn, schooling me by a full 10 minutes with a time of 2:03:49.  

Speaking of fast, the fastest prone board was Jack Bark (son of legendary board shaper Joe Bark) won the prone division with a time of 2:20:03!   This guy led me on the ocean and through the first nasty inlet, and it took miles of flat water for me to be able to reel him in.  It blows my mind someone can be that fast laying on their stomach just paddling with their hands.

One of the great things about the Carolina Cup is that they route the course either clockwise or counterclockwise to give the best downwind conditions on the ocean.  So, if you like some heart stopping excitement, a great beach party, and paddling with the swells, then I highly recommend you find yourself at Wrightsville Beach for the 2017 Carolina Cup!

Photo Credits:  Onit.pro,  Jenny Yarborough, and Aerial Images ILM

USA Paddler Profile --- Gavin Ross

Event/Discipline: Canoe Sprint, C1 and C2

Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

Current Residence: Bethesda, Maryland

Birthdate: 10/9/1995

Club: Washington Canoe Club

 

2015 U.S. Senior National Team & U23 World Championships Team Member

 

Recent Results:

 

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships: 22nd overall in C2 Men 1000m with Ian Ross
  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint Junior and U23 World Championships: 9th in C2 U23 Men 1000m semifinal with Ian Ross
  • 2015 World Cup No. 2: 9th in C2 200m final, 9th in C2 Men 1000m semifinal with Ian Ross
  • 2015 World Cup No. 1: 5th in C2 200m final, 9th in C2 Men 1000m semifinal with Ian Ross
  • 2013 National Championships: 2nd in C2 Men 1000m with with David Podloch, 1st in C1 Jr. Men 200m, 1st in C1 Jr. Men 1000m
  • 2013 Junior Team Trials: 1st in C1 200m, C2 1000m
  • 2013 Canada Day Regatta: 3rd in C2 Open
  • 2013 Lake Placid International: (Junior) 2nd in C1 1000m, C1 200m, C2 1000m, C2 200m

Career Highlights:

  • 2012 National Championships: 1st in C1 1000m, 500m, 5000m
  • 2012 U.S. Olympic Hopes Team Member
  • Pappy Havens Award, Washington Canoe Club, C1 Junior 500m

 

About:

  • Hobbies: Break dancing
  • Job: None
  • How’d you get started? Both of my parents paddled competitively so I had the opportunity to get in lots of boats growing up. Racing sprint is just a natural outgrowth of that early exposure.
  • Role Model: Ray Lewis

Source: http://www.teamusa.org/usa-canoe-kayak/athletes/gavin-ross

USA Paddler Profile --- Alex Mclain

Event/Discipline: Canoe Sprint, Kayak
Hometown: Stockton Springs, Maine
Date of birth: February  6, 1989
Height: 5’5” 
Education: Bowdoin College, 2011 and The Governor’s Academy, 2007
Club: Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club


2015 U.S. Senior National Team Member


Top Results:

  • 2014 Pan American Champion in the K1W 1000m


Recent Results

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships - 32nd overall in K1 Women 500m
  • 2015 U.S. Sprint National Team Trials
    • 3rd in K1W 200m
    • 3rd in K1W 500m
    • 3rd in K2W 500m with Karenna Jacklyn Paul



About:

  • How you got into the sport: I was born into a big paddling family; both my parents did a bunch of sprint racing back in the 80s. Growing up on the coast, I did water sports from birth, and my parents lured me into a surfski with ease in high school. After I graduated college, I decided I had to try out this sprint, flatwater game. I’ve been hooked on sprint racing ever since! 
  • Hobbies: Surfski, painting, pottery, travel, reading
  • Role Model: My parents. They’re the whole reason I’ve gotten to where I am today.  

Source: http://www.teamusa.org/usa-canoe-kayak/athletes/Alex-McLain

USA Paddler Profile ---Nik Miller

Event/Discipline: Paracaone, KL 3

Birthdate: 05/18/1978

Hometown: Hamilton

Height: 69”     

Club: Washington Canoe Club

 

2015 Paracanoe World Championships Team Member

 

Recent Results:

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships - 6th in Final C of KL3 Men 200m

Top Results:

  • 2013 Endeavor Games - 1st Place K1-200M 
  • 2013 Lake Placid International - 1st place in K1-200m
  • 2013 US Team Trials - US Team Men’s Para K1 LTA 
  • 2013 US National Championships - 1st place K1-200M and 5000M
  • 2013 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships - 8th place “B” Finals Paracanoe
  • 2014 Lake Placid International -  1st place in K1-200m Paracanoe 
  • 2014 US Team Trials - US Team Men’s Para K1 LTA
  • 2014 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships
  • 2015 Ted Houk Regatta - 1st Place K1-200M Paracanoe
  • 2015 Lake Lanier Summer Regatta - 1st Place K1-200M Masters Able Body
  • 2015 Lake Lanier Summer Regatta - 1st Place K1-200M Paracanoe
  • 2015 US Team trials, US Team Men’s Para K1 LTA/KL3

 

Personal:

  • Nickname: "The Nik"
  • Job: Security and Weapons Manager
  • Hobbies: Paddling and training dogs
  • Role Model: Father
  • Favorite Quote: "Change is inevitable, growth is optional."
  • How he started: One thing led to the next and I went from paddling for exercise to racing to competing on the US Team.
  • Sponsors: Stellar Kayaks and Surf Skis

 

About:

Nik was born and raised in Montana, where he joined the Marine Corps when he turned 18. He has excelled in local surf ski races as well as being the US Paracanoe representative at the 2013 World Championships.  Nik is an above the knee amputee, crushed hip, and ruptured aorta, due to mechanical injuries sustained from a careless driver running a stop sign.

Nik is a force to be reckoned with in the paddling scene, able bodied or para-canoeist and we are fortunate to have Nik racing on Team USA!  The drive to excel is readily apparent and we are glad to help in any way we can.

Source:  http://www.teamusa.org/usa-canoe-kayak/athletes/Nikiha-Miller

USA Paddler Profile --- Chris Miller

Discipline/Events: Canoe Sprint, K1 & K2
Height: 6’3”
Birth date: 12/30/91
Hometown: Gainesville, Georgia
Current residence: Gainesville, Georgia
College/school: University of North Georgia
Club/team: Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club


2015 U.S. Senior National Team and Pan American Games Team Member


Recent results: 

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships - 4th in K2M 1000m Final B with Stanton Collins and 33rd overall in K1M 1000m

  • 2015 Pan American Games - 7th in K2 1000m with Stanton Collins

  • 2015 World Cup 2 - 9th in K1M 500m Final B (18th overall), 9th in K2M 1000m semifinal

  • 2015 World Cup 1 - 6th in K1M 1000m Final B (15th overall), 9th in K2M 200m and 1000m semifinal with Stanton Collins

  • 2014 U.S. National Sprint Team Trials: 

  • 2014 Pan American Championships: Gold in K2M 500m

  • 2014 National Champion in K1M 1000m

  • 2013 U23 World Championships: 4th K2M 1000m & 200m B Final 

  • 2013 National Championships: 1st in K1 1000m, 2nd in K1 200m, 1st in K2 200m with Stanton Collins

  • 2013 Junior World Championships: 14th in U-23 K2 200m, 14th in U-23 K2 1000m
  • 2013 National Team Trials: 1st in K1 & K2 1000m
  • 2013 Lake Placid International: 1st in K2 1000m & 200m

 

Personal:

  • Nickname: Miller
  • Job: Dragon Boat Coach
  • Hobbies: 4-Wheeling
  • How’d you get started? Middle school racing league at the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club
  • Favorite quote: "Motivation gets you going; discipline, commitment, strong habits is what gets things done."

USA Paddler Profile ---Stanton Collins

Events/Disciplines: Canoe Sprint – K1, K2 & K4; Marathon – K1 & K2
Hometown: Gainesville, Georgia
Birthdate: 6/23/1994
School: North Hall High School, Gainesville, Georgia
Club: Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club

2015 U.S. National Team, Pan American Games Team, and U23 World Championships Team Member

Recent Results

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships: 4th in K2 Men 1000m Final B with Chris Miller
  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint Junior and U23 World Championships: 9th in K1 U23 Men 200m heat (Did not advance)
  • 2015 Pan American Games: 7th in K2 1000m with Chris Miller
  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Cup 2: 7th in K1 200m heat, 9th in K2 1000m with Chris Miller
  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1: 9th in K2 200m and 1000m with Chris Miller
  • 2015 U.S. National Sprint Team Trials:
  • 2014 Pan American Championships: Gold in K2M 500m
  • 2013 National Championships: 1st in K2 200m with Chris Miller
  • 2013 Junior World Championships: 14th in U-23 K2 200m, 14th in U-23 K2 1000m

 

Career Highlights                 

  • 2009, 2010 & 2011 US Junior Marathon Team Member
  • 2010 & 2011 US Junior National Team Member
  • 2011 Sprint World Championship in Brandenburg, Germany
  • 1st Jr. K1 1000m – 2011 National Championships
  • 1st Jr. K2 1000m – 2011 National Championships
  • 1st Jr. K1 5000m – 2011 National Championships
  • 1st Jr. K2 200m – 2011 National Championships
  • 2nd Jr. K2 500m – 2011 National Championships
  • 3rd Jr. K1 200m – 2011 National Championships
  • 3rd Jr. K4 1000m – 2011 National Championships
  • 4th Jr. K1 500m – 2011 National Championships
  • 2011 USACK Greg Barton Award – K1 1000
  • 1st in 2010K2 Marathon Trials – Austin Texas
  • 1st in 2011 K1 Marathon Trials – Raleigh NC

 

Personal:

In addition to Stanton’s accomplishments in Kayaking, he is also an accomplished Boy Scout becoming an Eagle Scout in 2010.    Stanton started paddling when he was about 10 years old and has competed in 3 World Championships and 6 National Championships and has held a number of National Titles.  Stanton has had the opportunity to compete and medal in a number of international sprint events in France, Romania, Germany, New York and Nova Scotia.

Stanton is a High School Senior at North Hall High School.   He was named to the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Hall County 2012 Class and is also an Honor student participant in the 2012 Honors Mentorship Program.  Stanton has an older sister, Elizabeth, and three dogs Cleo, Boo and Penny.

  • Hobbies: Climbing and car restoration 

  •  

    Role Model: Muhammad Ali 

  •  

    Favorite Quote: "If you even Dream about beating me you should wake up and apologize." ‐ Muhammad Ali 

USA Paddler Profile ---Aaron Mullican

Event/Discipline: Canoe Sprint; K2

Hometown: Gainesville, Georgia

Birthdate: September 10, 1994

Height: 6'1"

Club: LCKC

 

2015 U.S. U23 World Championships Team Member

 

Recent Results:

  • 2014 U.S. National Team Trials: 4th in K2M 200m with Kalei Kaho'okele

You can support Aaron at his Go Fund Me page here: https://www.gofundme.com/2acn9gmk

I am a Sprint Kayaker on the U.S. National Team competing for a spot to represent the United States in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. I have been able to compete all over the world representing the United States and I need your help raising the money to continue on my journey.   I began paddling 8 years ago with the ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics. The time has now arrived and your support will help me to continue on towards this goal.   Each year my expenses are around $10-15K and I am estimating these costs for training and racing expenses this year to be around $15,000.  Every amount, large or small will take me closer to my goal and will be greatly appreciated.  I am grateful for all of the prayers and support from everyone over the years.  Thank you for being an integral part of this journey with me.

Source:  http://www.teamusa.org/usa-canoe-kayak/athletes/Aaron-Mullican

USA Paddler Profile ---Ben Hefner

Event/Discipline: Canoe Sprint, C1 and C2
Birthdate: 7/2/1992
Height: 6'5"
Hometown: Gainesville, Georgia
College: University of North Georgia - Bachelors of Science in Physics
Club: Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club (LCKC)


 

2015 U.S. Senior National Team and U23 World Championships Team Member


Recent Results:

  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships: 31st overall in C1 200m 
  • 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint Junior and U23 World Championships: 9th in C1 U23 1000m semifinal, 7th in C1 U23 200m heats
  • 2015 World Cup No. 2: 9th in C1 200m semifinal, 8th in C1 500m heats
  • 2015 World Cup No. 1: 7th in C1 200m semifinal, 8th in C1 1000m heats
  • 2013 Junior World Championships: 17th in U-23 C1 200m
  • 2013 Lake Placid International: 3rd in C1 200m, 1st in C2 1000m with Ian Ross
  • 2013 U.S. National Team Trials in Oklahoma City, Okla.: 1st in C2 1000m, 2nd in C1 200m, 3rd in C1 1000m
  • 2012 U.S. National Championships in Seattle, Wash.: 1st in C2 500m, C2 1000m, C4 1000m
  • 2012 Bochum U23 International Regatta in Germany: 1 Gold in C2 200m (with Ian Ross) and 2 Silver in C2 500m & 1000m
  • 2012 World Cup No. 2 in Duisburg, Germany: 18th in C2 1000m reached semifinals in 200m and 500m
  • 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Oklahoma City, Okla.: 2nd in C1 200m
  • 2011 World Championships in Szeged, Hungary: 8th in C4 1000m A Final, 7th in C1 200m B Final, 9th in C1 1000m semifinals, 8th in C2 500m heats
  • 2011 World Cup No. 3 in Duisburg, Germany: reached semifinal in C-1 200m (9th in semi) and 500m (8th in semi), knocked out in heats for C-1 1000m (9th in heat)
  • 2011 World Cup No. 2 in Racice, Czech Republic: reached semifinal in C-1 500m (9th in semi), knocked out in heats for C-1 200m (8th in heat)
  • 2011 US Sprint Team Trials: 1st in C1 1000m, 2nd in C1 200m
  • 2X 2011 National Champion: C-2 500m; C-4 1000m

Career Highlights:

  • 2010 U.S. National Championships - 7 gold medals
  • 4-time Member of US Junior National Sprint Team: 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010
  • competed in C2/C1 at the 2009 ICF Junior Canoe Sprint World Championship in Moscow
  • competed in Senior and Junior races at 2010 Pan American Championships in Mexico City


Honors:
• 2010 LCKC Male Paddler of the Year
• 3-time LCKC Junior Paddler of the Year: 2007-2009
• 2009 LCKC Sportsmanship Award
• Eagle Scout
• Georgia Merit Scholar

Personal:
Job: After school engineering teacher
Hobbies: Camping, hunting, reading, and recreational sports
Quote: “There are two types of things you get, those you are given and those you take.  And people do not easily give that which they work hard to get.” 
Role Model: Claudiu Ciur, Buzz Aldrin
that, academically, I was in the top 5% of all seniors in Georgia who graduated in 2010.

At what age did you start paddling and how did you become involved in the sport?  I started out kayaking in 2005 at the age of 13, in the middle school program, at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.  In 2006 my coaches, Dave and Devri Robertson, encouraged me to try canoeing.  It was definitely the right decision.    

Where and when was your first competition, and how did you do?  My first competition was the Sprint Canoe/Kayak National championships in 2006 in Georgia. I won the Bantam 1000m and 500m.        

What has inspired you to train and compete at an International level?   My love of the sport and my commitment to excellence fuels my desire to compete internationally. In this sport, in order to be competitive at the World Championships and to make the Olympic team, I have to compete internationally.

What is your preference - individual or team boats, and why?  I enjoy both. I enjoy C1 because of the self-satisfaction and individual accomplishment you experience in a single boat. I enjoy C2 with my current partner, Ian Ross, because of the brotherhood and camaraderie that comes from working and winning in a team boat. Ian and I are both committed to winning and work well together.

What race distance do you prefer, and why? I prefer the 1000m because it is more tactical and my height has given me an advantage in this race.

What has been your biggest accomplishment(s) in the sport? At the Bochum U23 Regatta in the summer of 2012, Ian and I won gold in the 200m C2 and silver in both the 500m and 1000m C2 races.

What is the best advice you have been given and who offered it to you? I have been given a lot of great advice over the years.  However, I think the best advice has come from my coach Claudiu Cuir. I have always had a hard time learning to recover from a tough loss. After a particularly tough race day, he told me that I can’t always get upset every time I don’t come in first. I have to learn to move on and focus on the next race. 

Tell us about your current training schedule? Describe an average day for you? On a typical Monday, I get up for a 7 am paddle followed by a one hour weight circuit. I have another intense training session on the water at 10 am. After lunch and a short break, I have another training session on the water from 4 to 6 pm.  This is followed by a running workout. 

What do you do for fun and relaxation? I enjoy reading, watching movies, cooking, playing intramural sports, playing video games and hanging out with my girlfriend.

What would you like to do after your Canoe/Kayak career is over? I plan to continue my studies in physics/engineering. My ultimate dream is to one day become an astronaut. 

 

What is your favorite thing about the sport of Canoe/Kayak?  Do you have any special memory that you would like to share? My favorite thing about the sport is the international traveling and the variety of people that I have had the pleasure of meeting. I will always treasure the friends I have made and the experiences I have had abroad. One special memory was at the Junior World Championships in Moscow in 2009. We made friends with some Japanese paddlers and they took a picture of Ian and me with a couple of their athletes. Two years later, at the next Junior Worlds in Germany, the Japanese coach gave the picture to the USA coach to bring back to us. It really meant a lot to have them think enough of us to save that picture for two years and make sure we got it.   

What is your dream goal? To one day go to the Olympics and represent the United States with the utmost honor, integrity, and excellence in the sport.

Source:  http://www.teamusa.org/athletes/he/ben-hefner

Fennel Blythe - Whither the Fates

Quo Fata Ferunt-Whither the fates may carry us

The title aptly describes Fennel Blythe's trajectory through life.  Floating with the tides and creating opportunity as it reveals itself.

If you've paddled in the southeast at all over the past few years, at some point, chances are you've come across Fennel or her work.  

A Stand Up Paddler and consummate competitor, Fennel can often be seen at races throughout the region.  Always affable and advocating for the paddling life, she's quick to engage newcomers and veterans alike.  

In addition to competing, she also builds, repairs and adds art to boards and surfskis; blending all her passions into one. 

But stepping aside from the norms and having a go at your dreams comes with inherent risks, and it takes a special person to be willing to tackle a full-time endeavor as risky as she has.

Her path to get where she is today has been interesting; revealing a willingness to fearlessly move forward in search of life experience over a conventional career. Perhaps striking a chord for many of us toiling away and wondering...what if?  

The 46 year old, uber fit Alabama native earned her Masters Degree in Marine Biology with a Bachelors in Fine Arts and Biology.   Working at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab,  Fennel studied among other topics, the delicate sea grass beds in the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico. 

During her time at the Sea Lab, she purchased a wooden kayak kit and took on the challenge of building it step by step from the ground up.  As the formless planks of wood began to coalesce into the shape of a sea worthy vessel, she began to feel  the seeds of change take root.  She found working with her hands to create something utilitarian not only fulfilling, but empowering.  The kayak project served as a catalyst in her life.  She began to see possibilities and felt drawn to using her new-found abilities to create something tangible.

Where it all began

Where it all began

Afterwards, she began a period of travelling the world and working a series of jobs that ultimately maintained a connection to her field of Biology. But in the end, all roads lead back to the water--- 

She found her way back to the south-land, settling in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2011.  Ready to get back on the water, she liberated her wooden kayak from her families Northern Alabama barn- perhaps as a nod towards providence,  two days later, the barn was destroyed by a tornado.

Her love of paddlesports however,  truly took shape after discovering Stand Up Paddling through a local shop. Upon renting a board on a whim and paddling the scenic riverfront area surrounding Chattanooga, she knew she had found her landing.

She entered her first race shortly after, and has been hooked ever since.  Travelling throughout the region, looking for the next competitive challenge.  

But fate would intervene again as a damaged board took the form of a challenge. Empowered by the the knowledge that she had hand built a kayak, she opted to take on the task of repairing the damaged board on her own.

Buoyed by her successful repair, she embarked on a personal quest to learn the craft of repairing paddleboards, kayaks and surfskis. Not content to ply her trade in an average manner, she would seek the highest pedigrees by venturing out to apprentice under such notable names as: Drew Brophy, Ron House and Patrick Broemmel. 

With surf artist Drew Brophy

With surf artist Drew Brophy

Through this process of apprenticeship she would simultaneously learn how to create her own paddleboards from some of the best in the business with the final addition being the integration of her  love of art applied to the boards.

Her business now coming full circle, she has now realized her dream come to fruition by incorporating what she loves most: paddling, creating, repairing, art and spreading the love of the blue life to others, all merged into one endeavor.

Currently, you can find her working at her shop and squeezing in time on the water in between projects.  She also sets aside some time each week during warmer months to lead a social paddle for those with an interest in getting out on the water.  Acting as a local hostess of sorts for those wanting to give paddling a try.

So if your surfski is in need of some love or you just want to add a creative design to set it apart, look her  up-and keep an eye out on the water for her.

From this to that