a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction
Ex: American paddler specializing in big conditions
The top three women finishers from this year’s edition of the Gorge Downwind Championships revealed an unfamiliar name. Australian Olympian and Ironwoman series champion Naomi Flood claimed the top spot. World Surfski Champion, 1000 meter world-record-holder and gold medalist in the 5000 and 1000 meter at the K1 ICF Worlds, Teneale Hatton garnered second place. But there nestled directly behind Hatton and in front of such notable heroines as Michele Eray, Maggie Hogan and Rachel Clarke was relative unknown Ana Swetish. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that she was a high-level multisport athlete from Australia or an South African ringer imported in to mow down any up and comers from the new world.
So when it filtered back that she was a 15-year-old American schoolgirl, many were incredulous--even more so given the big conditions on race day. Americans are not generally known for their big surf heroics, but a High School sophomore?
We spoke with Ana to find out more about our own homegrown power paddler.
SN: Congratulations on your impressive result at the Gorge Downwind Championships. Can you describe how the race played out for you?
A.S: Thank you! I was really excited on race day because of the huge conditions. I wasn’t really worried about how I placed. I was just looking forward to going downwind in such awesome conditions. Off the line I learned a very quick lesson. At the horn, I just jumped on the first wave I saw and started surfing. Turns out everyone else put in a pretty strong effort at the start and I quickly found myself quite a ways back. But I found my groove and was sharing waves with Rachel and Teneale by the narrows section of the river. At this point, I was just so excited to even be able to see some of the top women. I was able to keep up with Rachel and Teneale through the narrows and to Viento where I went more on the Oregon side and they more to the middle of the river. I got some incredible waves off Mitchell point, I didn’t even feel like I was racing! I was just having such a great time surfing. I met back up with them around Wells Island and Teneale was ahead of me and Rachel was just behind me, which is how we finished the race.
SN: What boat and paddle do you use?
A.S: I have been paddling a Fenn Spark for the last three years now and I have loved it! It fits me perfectly so I have not needed to add any pads or anything, which is nice. Recently, Fenn has hooked me up with their new Surge. I have been having a blast in it so far! It is shorter than the spark, so it accelerates really nicely and is super playful in the waves. In flatwater time trials, I’m finding it to be about 3 seconds per Km faster. I believe I will be racing a Spark in Australia, but honestly I”ll be stoked with either one! For a paddle I use a Jantex Gamma Rio small minus. I also have a Gara Odin S which I use occasionally and really enjoy!
SN: Was this your first major race?
A.S: Officially my second - I also raced the gorge last year - 6th place.
SN: Significant improvement since last year. What did you do to up your game during this time?
A.S: Over the last year I have been paddling a lot more. It was really the first year my dad felt comfortable bringing me out in all conditions to train, so I had the chance to get out in much bigger water. The conditions at the race were a lot bigger than last year which I think helped me as well. I also got to go down to the gorge two times earlier in the year to train, so I felt very comfortable and familiar this year. Finally, I think just growing up had a lot to do with it - both physically and mentally. My approach to training intensity was way different this year and I think it had a big effect.
SN: Were you at all intimidated by some of the more experienced paddlers you had to compete against.?
A.S: I wasn’t really concerned with how I placed and I definitely didn’t expect to do as well as I did, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. I was just gonna go out and try my hardest and have fun surfing. But I can’t lie - it was pretty humbling sharing a podium with those athletes - I think I’m the only one who doesn’t have a wikipedia page! The other thing is that literally everyone in the surfski community has always been so friendly and supportive. Pulling into Canadian Champs this year, Dawid Mocke pulled his car over and helped me unload my boat - how cool is that!?!
SN: Conditions on race day were generally considered formidable, is this an advantage for you?
A.S: Race day was incredible! Huge shoutout to Carter Johnson for running the race when others may have delayed it. I really love paddling in big and challenging conditions, and it seems to be a strength for me. The week before at a very flat Canadian Downwind Champs, Rachel and Teneale beat me by over six minutes, so the big bump seems to help me significantly.
SN: What have you done to advance your surf and big water skills?
A.S: We get some good size conditions pretty regularly here in Bellingham bay and I have been getting out in them since I was 11. The paddling community in Bellingham has always been willing to help me learn how to paddle in waves and push me to get faster. I have also spent a lot of time in the gorge. The first time I surfed there was when I was 13 and I have been back many times since. I was lucky enough to do a training run with Austin Kieffer in conditions similar to those on race day, so I felt very comfortable.
SN: Austin Kiefer worked with you as well?
A.S: A few years ago we were lucky enough to have Austin come and coach our sprint team for a year. While he was here he worked with the team 3-4 times a week and he also would come out on the bay with me and help me learn to surf. Even after he moved to Sausalito, we have stayed in touch regularly. He has helped me plan my training and we meet up a few times a year at the gorge or in Southern California. He has always been very supportive and willing to do a session or two with me. And his enthusiasm for paddling is so contagious! Not only do I get to work with Austin though, I work with DJ Jacobson weekly who was Austin’s whitewater slalom coach. He has helped me achieve big gains in funky water and has also been a huge help with the mental side of training.
SN: Tell us a little about your background? Where are you from now and/or originally? What do you do as a pastime? Do you have other interests?
A.S: I grew up and live in Bellingham. The bay is a 5 minute drive from my house and there is a flatwater lake less that half a mile from my house so I have always spent a lot of time in and around the water. I am a junior in high school, so I have to go to school and do homework, but other than that I enjoy swimming and hanging out with friends.
SN: How did you come to the surfski? Do you have a history in other paddlesports or other sports in general?
A.S: My dad paddled surfski, so when the sprint team was started in 2013 at Lake Padden which is right by our house, my parents signed me up and soon after that my dad started getting me out in waves as well. I found I really enjoyed paddling in waves so that has been my focus, but I still train and race plenty of sprint.
SN: Have you had success racing sprint K1? Which events do you favor? How has sprint racing/training helped you with the surfski?
A.S: I have gone to sprint nationals three times now and every time I have gotten second in all my k1 events (to my k2 partner and best friend Elena Wolgamot) and first in all my teamboats. This year I was better at the 1000m because my starts are not super great, but my endurance is good, so it gives me enough time to catch up. The explosiveness of sprint has helped me in the surfski a lot because the short sprints are like catching waves. Also it just gives me more time on the water in a boat which is important. My sprint coach Steve, has also helped me a lot. He pushes really hard to be our best and encourages me to do both sprint and ski. A lot of the workouts we do are beneficial for both my teammates, who focus on sprint, and me, focusing on surf ski.
SN: What are your future goals with paddling and racing?
A.S: I am going to the Doctor in Perth next month and am looking forward to getting some more open ocean experience there. I have spent a bit of time in swell, but I know I have a long way to go before I’m as comfortable as I am in wind waves. I absolutely want to go to more international races in the next few years. I also have to think about college, so we will see how that affects things, but I will definitely keep paddling through and after college. My dad tells me that I have to turn my seat around and try to get a rowing scholarship, but I’m still holding out for a surfski scholarship!
If it’s ok I’d like to give a shout to my sponsors: Vaikobi, Ocean Paddlesports, Fenn and Superclamp! Also if anyone is interested, my instagram is @ana_swetish.