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A Leg Up (How I started my career as a professional paddler)

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

When I started my paddling career, it was hard to make the transition from full time contributor of society, to part time “surf bum” as my parents liked to call it. Why would anyone be allowed time off the grid just to paddle?

I had recently committed “career suicide” according to my boss at the time, and was ten years ahead of “The Great Resignation.” I didn’t like the way life was looking for me.

I was too young to be that unhealthy and I felt too young to be that trapped. I didn’t like the way I looked. I didn’t like the way work-life balance looked either. I detested what climbing the ladder of achievement looked like, and I certainly didn’t like the way each and every day of my life looked…which if you haven’t guessed by now, was miserable.

I decided it was time to change the view, so I left my “budding career.” To be more clear, I stopped staring at a computer screen in a concrete room without windows so that I could go play outside. In case you’re wondering, yes, it was a huge pay cut, but it was totally worth it.

I wanted to paddle. I wanted to live simply. I wanted to have time to train and improve my health. I wanted to improve fitness in not just my body but also my mind. Mostly, I longed to feel peace.

Paddling checked all the boxes for me; so I decided to be a “professional paddler…” whatever that meant. I was passionate about my new goal and was ready to dive in head first.

Logically, however, it didn’t make much sense. I loved paddling, I loved the mental stimulation when learning about the human body, physiology, nutrition, and mindset. I loved the physical challenge of pushing myself and seeing improvement. I loved the social aspect of meeting new people that also liked paddling. I loved the quiet solitude when I took time daily to be on the water with nothing other than my thoughts. I had A LOT of passion.

But that’s all I had.

I didn’t have enough skill for someone to pay me for paddling. I certainly wasn’t what people would consider “a natural” in those early years.

How was I supposed to pursue a career in paddling when I had nothing to bring to the table but passion? Would my drive be enough? Was it possible to have enough passion that money and skill were no longer important?

Well, yes and no. Creativity is key. The good thing is that when you’re really passionate, you’re willing to get really creative.

I needed a job to pay bills and to afford traveling to paddling events. I needed a job in order to keep my equipment in good running order. I also needed experience to develop coaching skills and it needed to be at the top level of competition.

It was very difficult to find a regular job, however, that didn’t mind me absconding for large swaths of time. After all, I would need the freedom to travel to races so that I could gain the experience needed to become a top racer.

At last, I got a great job at the Blockade Runner’s sound-side kiosk. I took care of paddleboard rentals, lessons, and yoga. It was the summer that my career had just started taking off and my new job was incredibly understanding. They were flexible and very supportive of me launching my career and going to major races.

Because of their willingness to work with me and be flexible, I was able to attend key events where I caught the attention of Hobie SUP (back when they were one of the leading names in SUP racing). The end of that summer, I became a team rider for Hobie Stand Up Paddleboards, and I was their top female rider for the next three years. If the Blockade Runner hadn’t supported my training and traveling schedule, I never would have made that connection and my career may never have left the ground.

In the end, it was a win-win. I was able to offer specialized paddle lessons for those who needed them and I could still get up early to teach SUP Yoga classes. Then when my schedule was slow (for most of the work week), I was a body to sit at the kiosk and send out the paddleboard rentals. Some people might not see that as success, but as far as I was concerned, I was living the life!

Quitting my “mainstream” job was the best decision of my life. I learned the value of money, and how to budget better. I learned how to change tires & oil, as well as how to paint, drywall, build, sand, finish, plumb, solder, and grow my own food. Not to mention I learned how to thrive without television and constant distractions that I used to think I couldn’t live without! I cancelled most of my subscriptions to things like cable TV & netflix that year, and I've never resubscribed to this day. I'd rather be weeding the garden, finishing up my next project (like building my own furniture - because.. have you seen these prices?!?), practicing my footwork on my SUP, or floating around with my dog. I realized that I only needed the distractions I was subscribed to when I needed to "relax" and "escape" from a long day of work that didn't feed my soul.

I learned that I loved a minimalist lifestyle. I learned that a good pair of leggings from Salt Life can last 10 years.

I learned that local businesses will give you a leg up if you’re open and honest about your vision.

It’s not easy to find the sweet spot where you get paid to do something you’re good at that you also love, but it can be done! I learned that if you stick with anything long enough, set your intentions daily and give it your all, you’ll find success.

These days I run my own business from home while training daily so that I can travel and compete on the World Tour and at the World Championships. To help with the high costs of traveling to competitions, I have amazing sponsors, one of which is my old team at The Blockade Runner. After all these years, they’re still there for me. That sounds more like family than a sponsor, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

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