This story was originally published on StandupJournal.com
Photos (in order): Jeremy Whitted, Blue Zone Surf, Toni Muendel, Georgia Shonfield, Harry Weiwel, and Seychelle Hattingh
Starting a journey into stand up paddleboarding can be a daunting experience, especially as a woman in a male-dominated sport. But I’m determined to become a master of this craft, and for inspiration look to strong women who commit, work hard, and go above and beyond—some even breaking barriers—to make waves in the stand up industry.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, I am writing to recognize some of these inspirational women because they are daring, completely undaunted, and totally bringing it, on and off the board. They are empowering women, like me, to face my fears and go for for the gold. There are many amazing women in the world of board sports, but these are five fearless females of sup who will truly inspire you.
April Zilg, The All-Around Waterwoman
Believe it or not, April Zilg didn’t grow up an athlete. In fact, she was quite the opposite. While in graduate school working on her master’s, she realized she was spending too much time behind a desk and decided it wasn’t where she wanted to end up for the rest of her life.
Thankfully, she discovered a sport that allowed her to be outdoors and on the water that she fell in love with at first try: standup paddleboarding. With time, her love for the sport grew, which led her to make healthier lifestyle choices and evolve into the elite and all-around waterwoman she is today.
Today, this North Carolina-native is an internationally-recognized standup paddle athlete, competing in both sup racing and sup surfing. A Hobie team rider, April has held the #10 spot in the world rankings for two years running. Her most recent victories include finishing in the Top 10 in the Carolina Cup and Pacific Paddle Games, and 4th in the 2016 Euro Tour.
When asked what keeps her inspired to continue to compete, April says, “The stoke and positive attitude of everyone I meet [at races].” In between competitions, April is a WPA-certified standup paddle instructor, an ACA-certified “L2 Essentials of standup paddle” instructor, and a sup yoga teacher. She passes along her knowledge and love for standup paddling through her teachings.
Alice Shih, The Pioneering Paddler
Alice Shih is the mastermind behind Paiwen, a board sports brand for women. She was first introduced to standup paddleboarding in 2007 using an old windsurfing board and a homemade wooden paddle, and although she didn’t have the proper equipment, Alice discovered the serenity that results from flat-water paddling and so she decided to persue the sport from that moment on.
Upon searching for a paddleboard of her own, however, Alice discovered that most boards available at the time were way too long, too heavy or too bulky. In other words, not “women-friendly”. She realized that she needed to take it upon herself to learn the magic behind designing, shaping and building a paddleboard based on what works for women. A few prototypes later, Paiwen’s all-around handcrafted and super lightweight bamboo paddleboard was born.
Living in Vancouver, Canada, surrounded by the best of what nature has to offer (the ocean, lakes and mountains), it was only a matter of time for an entrepreneurial-minded adventurer like Alice to start a business that encouraged the celebration of the outdoors. She chose standup paddling to “share the adventure and freedom [it] offers”, and has been committed to building the brand to continue to share this love with her fellow women.
When not busy attending to Paiwen, Alice can be found going on long walks with her thoughts, running, biking, skateboarding, paddling, surfing, cooking delicious Taiwanese-fusion dinners for family and friends, and most recently, being a mom.
She explains, “I enjoy showing the little man our active lifestyle. He’s turning into quite a little world traveler.”
Her biggest inspiration for Paiwen? She replies,“My husband, my adventure partner, my best friend, Toni. Without his help and support every step of t he way, I don’t think Paiwen would have happened.”
Olivia Piana, The Multi-talented Athlete
If you were to ask me to give an example of the quintessential multi-talented athlete, Olivia Piana is the name that comes to mind. Growing up in Digne, France, with access to the mountains, rivers and the Mediterranean Sea, Olivia quickly fell in love with nature and took refuge in outdoor arenas with gliding and endurance being her sports of choice. Due to a competitive streak, Olivia began training and competing in both sports, eventually earning her the title of Vice World Champ of Slalom (Windsurf Racing) and Xterra (Triathlon Nature) in 2010.
It was on a windsurfing session one day when the wind decided not to make an appearance that she decided to take up standup paddleboarding. Since then, this French powerhouse has added standup paddle racing into her training repertoire, ultimately joining the standup racing circuit because “ [It] is the perfect balance and mix for me. It also allows my mind to be in the moment. My energy is dedicated to this moment and it’s a precious experience to live.”
Today, she is ranked #8 best female SUP racer in the world.
Outside of sports, Olivia enjoys hanging out with her two dogs, Leo and Layka, and likeminded friends out in nature during the day. But at night? “We go party. I love dancing and [getting drunk] on ginger beers!”
So, what does the future hold for this standout standup racer? She replies, “I have no idea, [but] I do my best every day and seize every opportunity I get. I appreciate every single moment of my professional paddling career. What I [do] know is it’s because of my great sponsors that I get to live this dream. Thank you very much to Starboard, VMG, Mystic, Crosscall, Punch Power, Jeewin and Sanuk–all of whom have given me the best equipment that allows me to be among the top standup paddle elites. Thank you to my coach, CIPPSPORT, to my family and ALL the people who support me. And thank you, Standup Journal, for the ITV and the great articles!”
Judie Vivian, The Selfless Sup-er
Judie Vivian was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2010, and for a long time kept it under wraps from family and friends. After learning a haunting statistical fact—one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer—she finally opened up about it to a close friend, Shawneen Schweitzer, while on a paddling excursion off the island of Maui, Hawaii. Together, by the end of the paddle, they decided they weren’t going to sit idly by while many other women suffer from this disease.
That’s how Stand Up For The Cure began – with a simple mission based on Judie’s life philosophy: Have fun and Save lives. Since its inaugural event in May 2012 (when it set a Guinness World Record for hosting the largest standup paddleboarding lesson led by elite standup paddle athlete and Shawneen’s son, Zane Schweitzer), this volunteer-operated charitable organization has raised over $800,000, ALL OF WHICH has gone directly to funding the efforts of local affiliates of Susan G. Komen.
Today, Stand Up For The Cure continues to expand, with events happening all over the nation including Newport Beach, CA (May 6th, 2017), Muskegon, MI (July 8th) and Seattle, WA (August 26th). While Judie is no longer heavily involved in its day-to-day operation, this selfless SUPer remains a strong voice for the organization and its cause and continues to be an inspiration for other survivors and all women.
What inspires her? She says, “ She said, “People with big hearts like Shawneen, always giving back to the community in the ways that they can. And athletes like Annabel [Anderson] because she is just fearless!”
What is it about standup paddleboarding that keeps Judie getting back on the board?“It’s calming, it’s beautiful, it’s food for the soul, and it’s a great way for me to get my daily dose of vitamin sea.”
Seychelle Hattingh, The Rising Sup-erstar
Seychelle Hattingh is one of the most athletically talented waterwomen you will ever meet because her connection to the water is deep-rooted. Growing up in the Florida Keys and sailing around the world as a professional yachtswoman early in her career drew her to the ocean in such a way that she would eventually pick up standup paddleboarding.
With drive and a desire to be the best version of herself, Seychelle began to train hard to be able to compete in standup paddle racing with the best of the best. Ultimately, her hard work paid off and earns her a spot in the Top 10 World’s Best Female Standup Paddle racers. She is also recognized as the Guinness World Record holder for long distance paddling and holds the title of “2016 Fastest Paddler on Earth.” These are just a few of the many incredible feats this rising SUP-erstar has performed since her debut in 2015.
What inspires her to get on her board every day? “[My] desire to improve. To be faster, stronger, and to win. I am extremely competitive. My teaching and practicing SUP Yoga is a relaxing and joyful balance to my race training.”
When not training or racing, Seychelle is a Yoga Alliance E-RYT200 and Continuing Education provider and teaches SUP Yoga and lessons as well as providing paddle tours to share the beauty of her hometown. In between, she spends time with family, her fiancé and dog, slacklining, doing acro-yoga, or playing fetch in the park.
For many who know Seychelle, this is just the beginning. What else can you expect from this female force in the next year or so? She said, “This year, I will follow the major race circuit as much as I can. I will keep training, racing, and inspiring others, especially women, to join this fantastic sport. I will also continue to teach SUP yoga and offer standup paddle lessons in the Florida Keys where I live. For 2018, now that might be a different story..”