Flavio Costa--Racer Profile

Costa Slinging Carbon With Bad Intentions

Costa Slinging Carbon With Bad Intentions

The Sunshine State arguably boasts the deepest roster of high-level paddlers in the nation. To stand out among these fast watermen and women, you’ve got to have a pretty solid “A” game. Flavio Costa is one of those select few that places at or near the top of every race in the region.  We spoke with Flavio to get the lowdown on his backstory.  

SN: Age?  

FC: 36

SN: Age when you started kayaking

FC: Cant remember exactly, I think I was 12.

SN: Occupation?

FC: Home improvements and renovations.

On The Run

On The Run

SN: Where do you live?

FC: Palm Coast, Florida

SN:  Where else have you lived and where are you from originally?

FC:  Newark, New Jersey. Originally from Aveiro, Portugal.

SN: How old were you when you came to America?

FC: I just turned 21 when I first came to the USA.

Game To Try Other Disciplines--On The Podium For Mixed OC-2 At Chattajack--with Hildren Francis

Game To Try Other Disciplines--On The Podium For Mixed OC-2 At Chattajack--with Hildren Francis

SN: Any differences between America and Portugal in terms of paddlesports?  What style of racing is more popular?  

FC: Yes much more competitive with more young people involved.  It was a while back but it didn't feel like a business, more of a sport.  Marathon and sprints are both very popular.  I never heard about surfski until a few years ago, now it is starting to pick up very fast and a lot of people are doing it.

SN:  Team(s)?

FC: North Florida Watermen and Elite Ocean Sports.

SN: What are the North Florida Watermen?

FC: We are just a group of paddlers:  Surfski, Spec Ski, OC1 and SUP that don't like to paddle by ourselves.  We eventually decided to name it.   Unfortunately, I live an hour away from all the guys/girls. I try to meet up with them at least once a week if I can. Some of us get a training schedule from Lee Mcgregor but with my busy schedule, I can’t train all 6 days.



SN:  Boat(s)?:

FC: Nelo 560

SN: What do you like about the 560?

FC: I always liked the brand Nelo. The 560m, reminds me of the K1 I used to paddle. It is comfortable, shorter than most and turns a bit quicker.

SN: Paddle and settings you favor (length and feather angle)?

FC: Jantex. Depending on the conditions, I vary length from 210 cm to 212 cm at 65 degrees.

It is the Gamma Rio medium flexi-soft shaft.

SN: Background in paddlesports?  

FC: All my teenage years I raced flatwater sprints and marathons.

SN: Preference or discipline you enjoyed the most?

FC:  I enjoyed doing marathon the most, it was more challenging and tactical.

SN: How did you start on the surfski?  

FC:  Started paddling Surfski in 2011.  I like to race, but for flatwater racing, there were only a few races per year (in America) so

I borrowed a surfski from a friend (Jan Lupinski), and did my first surfski race in Connecticut and loved it.

SN: Lighthouse to Lighthouse?

FC: Yes.


SN: What was it about the surfski that you enjoyed?

FC: Wasn't limited to paddling on flat water. On a surfski, I could catch waves or go through waves and the boat wouldn’t sink.  You could keep on paddling. You could go anywhere you wanted.

SN: Do you have a background in other sports or other water sports?

FC:  No, when I started paddling I didn't even know how to swim.

SN: Most Notable Results?

FC: I’ve got a few first places but the most memorable were when I got 3rd place in Portugal in the National Marathon.  It was pretty good because the competition there is fierce.  I qualified to be part of a team to race against the best of Portugal.

Going Back.  Flavio Third From Right

Going Back.  Flavio Third From Right


SN: What year did this occur?

FC:  The 3rd place in the marathon was in 1998, I qualified to be part of a team when I was 14, 15 and 16, I believe.

SN: K1 marathon is rarely seen in the states, would you like to see the growth to reflect the European scene?

FC: I would like to see more serious kayak races in general.  In K1 marathon, I would give it a shot again.

SN: Best experience on the ski?

FC: On my first surfski race at the Lighthouse To Lighthouse race in Connecticut, I came in 3rd right behind Joe Glickman, one of the nicest guys I ever met. He asked who I was and congratulated me on my 3rd place, it felt very special.

SN: What are your future plans on the boat?

FC: I'm going to keep on paddling. I like challenges and the rush of a race but I'm also trying to get my son involved; other kids might see it and decide to try it as well.

SN: Thank you Flavio.



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?


- 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

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?



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.  



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


Mackenzie Hynard / Kenny Rice- The Kids are Alright

2015 U-23 Worlds

2015 U-23 Worlds

Australian Mackenzie Hynard and South African Kenny Rice are currently the top two under-23 ski paddlers racing the World Series. To make things more interesting, the two race on the same squad and happen to be mates as well.

They recently took the time to answer some questions and and shed light on future plans.


SN: You are the U-23 one and two guys in the world right now and happen to be on the same team. How does this affect your mindset when you line up together at a race?


KR: I think being on the same team is a massive asset to both of us. Macca has just come onto the scene and set the new boundary for us to hit each race, this really encourages us to give it our all and then have a laugh about it after the race.



MH: I love it! Nothing changes. We both want to win and each other knows that but we are still great mates before, during, and after no matter the result. I think being on the same team only enhances that friendship and competitiveness.




SN: Any rivalry?

KR:  Apart from our huge unsettled buffet rivalry in Reno we do obviously experience the same sense of rivalry once the race starts. In the end it is loads of fun pushing each other in races (if I am close enough to Macca!).

MH:  Massively, but in a good way. We have a little tally going, 4 -2 isn’t it Ken?




SN: So you push each other?

KR: Yeah whenever we are near each other we always give a chirp to keep the spirits up and keep the other motivated. Not many people enjoy losing so I guess from that sense we give it everything when out on the course racing each other!

MH:  100%, every race Kenny is the first person I look for out on the water. As of recent we talk and agree on a line we will take for the race, that way its even Steven. However Kenny is dangerous, very dangerous especially in the big stuff and for someone of his age he certainly knows how to use the ocean to his advantage. He proved this back at the Doctor in 2014. I disregarded his age; everyone did. He didn’t. He knew exactly what he was doing, when to surge, when to rest and what line to take. The bloke got 2nd in one of the best fields seen in the history of the event. Even knocking his brother Sean off.




SN: You guys were dueling through the entire worlds race.  Can you describe how the race played out for each?  


KR:  Well Macca always has a great start and then somewhere after that I pass him and have a killer middle section of the race. Then we hit the last third of the race where Macca yet again ups the pace and comes flying past.

That sums up the race from my perspective! Macca had an incredible last few kms which I was completely under cooked for. He really deserved it!

MH:  Yes we were (dueling). We both got off to a rather good start. Mine a little better then Kenneth’s. We turned the hot spot mark at exactly the same time and it was on from there. Kenny linked a few straight off the mark and I was behind the eight ball. Kenny took an outside line, dodging all the boat wash. I followed him as we winged it outside. I followed Ken's line till about the half way point when he cut in a little sooner than I. I made some meters on him at that point and it started to become quite a tight race between us. I didn’t pass Ken until just before the reef pass and the flat 2.5km to the finish line. I knew I had to get some distance before the flat even if it was a few boat lengths given all Kenny’s past knowledge in marathon kayak racing. I was able to do that, and hold Ken off until the finish. That’s without saying I was paddling scared the whole 2.5km always looking back to see where he was.



SN: Both of you are currently knocking at the door for top step of the podium in the highest level of open age racing. What will it take to break through?


MH:  Experience and lots of it. Racing at a high level teaches you many things. Just recently I screwed up massively, missing the start at this years doctor. The best guys don’t do that S*#h. It's fair to say I wont be doing that again. I also think post race reflection is something everyone overlooks. It doesn’t have to be in a spiritual way. Mine certainly isn’t. I just like to go over the wrongs and rights I did in the race. Put them all in the memory bank, continue to do the right things and remember to not make the mistakes again.

A good saying I have learnt to live by is “you should never regret a decision or action until you make it twice”.  I’m always learning and always will be.

KR: Every race is a new experience where we both gain knowledge. Sometimes this knowledge is stuff that the older guys have already forgotten. Gaining this knowledge sometimes comes at a cost but in the end it only makes us better racers!

Seeing the workload Sean does is really eye opening and to achieve the things he has takes a lot more than just his talent. I think it will take time in the saddle and the use of our new knowledge and competitive drive to reach that level.

SN:  Kenny, how are you splitting your time now between the ski and marathon?

KR: I took the last 2 years off marathons, but I'm planning on giving it a go again in the new year. In South Africa our seasons can change very quick and you need to take advantage of the marathon and river racing to get the time and quality in to be ready for the summer surfski season. In Cape Town our surfski season is literally only October to December, so training during the other months is really important.



SN: Do you have a preference and why?

KR: No doubt that a downwind knocks the socks off of a marathon race but saying that, racing a marathon race when you are fit and have a flawless race is awesome!

SN: Mackenzie, you’ve been involved with a several other sports; does your worlds victory alter your approach to training and competition?  Will you be focusing more intently on the ski or will you continue to mix it up with other disciplines?

Macca discovering that being above the water is faster than being on the water.

Macca discovering that being above the water is faster than being on the water.


MH:  It does a little. I will continue to replicate the sessions I believed worked leading into Worlds. Although I have become the U/23 World Champion I don’t feel the job is done. I want to be able to match it on the Open stage.

I have been quite heavily involved in Surf Life Saving from such a young age. Looking up to the best guys running around in the professional series. It has always been my dream to make this series and even though I have become a World Champion in the Surf Ski world. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to give up on the ironman dream yet. It is also great cross training for me and keeps my interests levels high all the time.

Brady Bunch? 

Brady Bunch? 

SN: The Think team has put up some impressive wins and high placings in the past year. What’s the dynamic like between members?  

KR:  Well the THINK team is a complex organisation. We have Sean who is the dad, he looks after us and keeps us in line. Emily is the mom, she agrees with Sean and keeps him in line. Teneale is like the older sister, she is lots of fun but we all know our place cause there is still that chance that she may beat us in a race ha ha! Myself, Daryl and Macca are the kids, apart from running amok we are on the team to carry bags, move/load boats, move trailers and eat the food!

But to be serious, we are all on the team to race our hearts out, have fun and represent the brand as best as possible, it is the least we could do for such a fantastic brand.


MH: We basically travel together, stay together and race together. The Surf Ski community in general is an awesome one to be apart of and I am so grateful for that.

In terms of our team, we have all really only met this year. Apart from Kenny who I had met back at worlds in 2013 where he was still U/18’s and absolutely obliterated that age group along with me. We all came together for the North American leg of the Surf Ski champs. We got to learn a lot about each other, what made us all tick and what riled one another. It is one of the best trips I have to date. In short, Daryl is the foreman who makes everything possible with Sean and Teneale being the professionals keeping Kenny and I in line.




SN: What has been your best experience of 2015 (ski or otherwise)?.

KR:  The 'merica trip was the highlight of my year. The guys are all super amped and it was fantastic to spend some extra time there experiencing a different surfski season and scene to what we have at home. I made a lot of good friends who share the stoke of surfski with me!

MH:  For me being crowned World Champ was pretty special especially in a place like Tahiti with some of my best mates there to celebrate. I don’t think it gets much better then that.


SN:  Can you comment on your favorite races of 2015 and what it was about it that you enjoyed?

 KR:  Race of the year so far was World's. It was a bit far but the downwind was incredible!

MH:  Can I pick two? Stuff it, I’m doing it anyway. My picks are the Gorge Downwind Paddling Festival in Hood River, Oregon and the Maraamu Surf ski Bora Ocean Paddle. Both events had the most picturesque scenery as well as a cool upbeat vibe. Having said this they have both been the most grueling races I have partaken in to date, but at the same time the most rewarding. I also don’t think it is just the race that makes an event stand out. It is the pre and post race stuff. Something both events have nailed to a tee, and are definitely a must do for all paddlers around the world. The more I think about it the more they have in common. They also have two of the most energetic, out of their mind legends running them. Carter Johnson and Mosole Sebastian.

A true water man doesn't need air.

A true water man doesn't need air.


SN:  You both paddle the Think Uno Max; what about paddle setup? What brand and feather angle do you favor and why?  


KR:  I am currently using the ORKA Super Flex, on 60 degrees. This angle is what we get taught on so I know no better!

I race on 212cm shortest for rough water and as it flattens out I make them longer to about 215cm max in the ski on completely flat water. The shorter paddle helps keep the stroke rate up when you can't put in the power in the rough water and on the flat stuff the longer setting helps lengthen out your stroke and put maximum power into each stroke.


MH:  My weapon of choice is Volt Paddles, made and sold out of Byron Bay, Australia by ex-pro paddler Kurt Tutt.

I use a gamma shape similar to that of the Van Dusen design.

212 is my length and 61 degrees is my angle. I have done some playing around with lengths and angles over the years and it is what works best for me.

Kenny on the rivet

Kenny on the rivet


SN:  What is your strongest asset in a race?

KR: I wouldn't be able to pin point anything in particular but I'd say I do better in races with runs because I back myself a bit more on the runs as opposed to flat water! Although, I don't back myself much on a flat water race, ha ha.  

MH: The last 3kms or so. As a junior it was an area where I wasn’t so strong, where I would fade and lose vital positions. I have worked on this aspect of my race changing it from my weakness and into my strength. 

SN: Can you point to any one aspect that has made the most drastic difference in your paddling game?

MH:  I started out paddling in Wollongong on the south Coast of NSW and it was the best. I cannot thank the guys and girls down there enough. They taught me how to paddle and brought me through the ranks. Without them I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. I have recently relocated home from Wollongong to the Gold Coast, to join BMD Northcliffe SLSC and to train along side Cory (Molokai) Hill and Michael (Lifestyle) Booth. Chasing these two around at training has allowed me to jump to the next level. I would go as far as putting my worlds win down to training with these two.

 KR:  Having fun. One thing that has become clear to me is that I need to enjoy it to perform. You never excel in anything you don't like so best make a plan to enjoy it!


SN:  Mackenzie, can you tell us what happened to you at the start of the Doctor?

 MH:  Ahhh yes, I guess I can laugh about it now, well sort of. It was a rookie error on my behalf. Even though the race did start some 5 minutes early. I’m not blaming anyone but myself. I should have been up with the top guys on the line and not off warming up. I will not be making the same mistake in the future that is for certain.


SN: What are your goals for 2016?


MH: To crack that top 3 spot at an International World Series event.

KR:  2016... Well it is all up to the boss ha ha!

On a serious note I'd like to bridge the gap, consistently be on the podium and be seen as a threat in all the races I do would be the main focus. However, winning a World Series race would also be fantastic as a side goal!

I am going to do the Dusi Canoe Marathon with a mate in Feb and hopefully that sets me up with some solid base for a exciting new year!


SN: University and area of study?

KR: I am currently studying Sport Development and Management at Varsity College in Cape Town. They are also one of my sponsor.


MH:  Griffith University studying a Bachelor of Business and Exercise Science. (Double Degree)


SN: Other interests?

KR: Any sort of water sport.

MH:  Surfing, skating, coffee sipping, alcoholic beverages, travelling all with good company


SN: Favorite Sports team?


MH: Redbull Formula 1 Racing Team. What they do is out of this world. Everything is so sophisticated and precise. There is no margin for error they are absolute technicians in there line of work, I find it amazing to watch.

KR:  The underdog in any game!


SN: Lifesaving Club?

KR:  Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club.

MH: Northcliffe SLSC

SN: How does surfski in America compare with Australia and RSA? What are your thoughts on surfski in America?


KR:  Surfski in America is growing fast. It is a completely new side of surfski where people are doing it to participate rather than only race, which is what we want because that encourages growth as a lifestyle/leisure sport!


In Aus and RSA once you learn you are kind of pushed into the racing and before you realise you are full on racing and on a training program but in America I see a whole different side where people are participating more leisurely and enjoying the thrill of riding waves, runs and exploring the coast apart from the odd social race they do. This is awesome to see because it encourages absolutely everyone to get involved and try the sport out!

MH:  America is a booming market and surf ski community. I cannot wait to see where it goes in the near future. Our American trip was a whole heap of fun, with some awesome races and some even better people. There are many things that both South Africa and Australia can take from the American Surf Ski scene. I really like the social side of America's paddling scene. In Australia and South Africa a lot of people are pushed right into the racing side and can burn people out at quite a young age. America seems to be taking quite a different approach, focusing more on the leisure and adventure side with the racing taking second priority. This is a great way to get people involved within the sport and I believe there approach is working





SN:  Where do you see surfski going in the next 5-10 years?


MH: I see it continuing to grow into the future and beyond especially with the events that are starting up all over the world. These are exciting times. I believe this positivity, enthusiasm and momentum is exactly what the surf ski world needs at this point in time and will directly relate to the rise of surf ski over the globe in the next 5-10 years.


KR: I would like to see surfski take the same direction as SUP paddling. The brands and names in the business deserve the recognition for all their dedication and hard work at getting this sport going.

A full on surfski World tour, like the surfing tour, would be great and I feel it is somewhere within reach in the coming years provided we all share the stoke!



SN: Thanks guys and good luck in future endeavors!


MH: Cheers. Time for a coffee