Sunday, February 6, 2011

Interview with Top SUP Athlete Annabel Anderson

Top Stand Up Paddle Athlete Annabel Anderson
Kiwi Stand Up Paddler
Annabel Anderson
Kiwi Annabel Anderson is one of the world's most accomplished female stand up paddle athletes. Her SUP feats include winning the SUP Across Paris in December of 2010, placing second in both the Pro Sprint and Pro Distance events at the Javer Hamburg SUP World Cup last year, and introducing the sport to a huge number of people (including New Zealand rugby league team, the Warriors). She currently holds the top spot in the British Stand Up Paddle Association’s rankings (in the 12’6” and under category) and is leading the charge in taking SUP mainstream in New Zealand.

Being a New Zealander myself, I felt compelled to contact Annabel to congratulate her for representing the sport and our country so well.  I also asked if she’d mind sharing her insights on stand up paddling with our readers – to which she generously said yes. 

So hear you have it – one of the top stand up paddlers in the world shares how she got to where she is, the effect SUP has on her life, the benefits of cross training, the dangers of over training, and more. Thanks, Belz!

I hear you have an impressive background as an athlete and water-woman. Tell me more about it…
I grew up being that kid that did everything - riding horses, tennis, ballet, athletics, netball, basketball, hockey, ski racing, swimming, cycling, triathlon, sailing, and most recently SUP.  I also think growing up in New Zealand and being surrounded by lakes, rivers, beaches and the ocean has contributed to my love of water – but the opportunities to explore and  develop this passion didn't really come to the fore until I found myself dropped in Auckland upon finishing university and feeling like a fish out of water.  It was a case of "there is water on my doorstep, now I must play on it".

I'm lucky enough to have been able to train with some incredible coaches and fellow athletes over the years. I learned a huge amount from all these experiences which I’m really appreciative of having now. A good proportion of them have all gone on to become world champions, Olympians and the like. I’m lucky to have had exposure to these types of high-performance environments.

What most people won’t know is that for the past seven years I’ve been in the corporate world - not by choice, but because my body was completely broken from years of training and competing. I had to let my body heal first. Patience, resilience, and tenacity come to mind, but I had to learn the hard way.

One article I read about you mentioned off-roading – does that mean you’re an off-road racer too?
I think that was in reference to off-road running! And yes, I came out of running retirement this winter to run a couple of cross-countries. It’d been at least ten years since I last laced up a pair of spikes. It keeps it interesting and it’s nice to know that I can still go and compete at a high level. The hard learnt benefits of cross-training!

How did you get into stand up paddling?
I got into stand up paddling not long before leaving New Zealand in 2009. I was introduced to it by some sailing friends who are also big wave surfers. My second time on a board was a big downwinder in the Hauraki Gulf [Auckland, NZ]. I got the bug and the rest is history. Saying that, I’m still very young in the sport and have really only had consistent time on the water since August last year [2010] once I got boards to London. 

Top Stand Up Paddle Athlete Annabel Anderson on the Benefits of Cross Training
Do you keep up your other sports and how does SUP affect them?

SUP has had a really positive effect on all the sports I love to do. Skiing will always be a huge part of my life. I have the scars to prove it. SUP is one of the most incredible dry land training techniques to prepare your body for time on snow. It's simply a case of making the time to be in the mountains. As I mentioned, running is something I love and while I've always been a strong runner - both on the track and on the road – for the past few years, it's been more for mental sanity than anything else. SUP helps to improve your balance, proprioception and core strength. Last time I checked these were all vitally important for almost every sport.

How do you manage to maintain your career in marketing?

When my body fell apart at the tender age of twenty-three, I had to start training the brain to the same degree. When I left university I was thrust into the hard and fast reality of a global corporation. It was a really difficult transition, but patience and perseverance paid off. The discipline and time management gained from years of having to balance sport and school or sport and university prepared me well. Saying that, there are times when there are large amounts of career pressure and for the past few years I chose to invest in my career as opposed to sport. 

How important is stand up paddling in your life?

Stand up paddling helps bring much needed tranquility and balance to my life. And everything aside, if I can get out on the water, I'm much happier for it. It’s also giving me the opportunity to explore the world, visit incredible places and meet the most amazing people. In this sense, it’s fast becoming an extremely important part of my life.

How many of your friends and family are into SUP?
SUP has not really hit my home town yet - it will! All my friends back in Auckland, New Zealand are fast becoming addicts of SUP and it is the thing that everyone wants to try this southern summer. There’s nothing better than going for a paddle with some friends to chew the fat and have a catch up.

Stand Up Paddle Fitness Class in Auckland, New Zealand - Led by Top SUP Athlete Annabel Anderson
Annabel leads a stand up paddle fitness class
in Auckland, New Zealand.
I heard you mention that SUP is very quickly becoming mainstream in New Zealand? Tell us more about that…

This summer is well and truly becoming the summer that SUP went mainstream in New Zealand. Some well-known brands have clicked onto this and are partnering with us for the summer which is hugely exciting. More and more events are now incorporating SUP as well. New Zealand is a nation surrounded by water – lakes, rivers, estuaries, and ocean. You're never far from a body of water, which makes SUP really accessible for people.

You live part of the year in Auckland and part in London? Which part of the year do you spend where?

The majority of the time I’m based in London. It can be a hard city, but it’s a great place to be based out of as it's an easy hub to travel from. I’m trying to spend at least one or two months a year back in Auckland at the height of the kiwi summer. This year it’s January and February. 

What do you like most about SUP?

The thing I like most about SUP is the variety it offers. From leisurely paddles on beautiful alpine lakes to ocean crossings, racing, surf, down-winders and exploration - SUP has so much to offer.

Tell us about your favorite SUP spots…

In New Zealand, my favorite spots are Auckland, Waiheke Island, the Bay of Islands, the Coromandel and Lake Wanaka. Overseas, I love the California coast and paddling through European cities is a really special and unique experience.

Any racing tips you'd like to share?

I’m still very green in the SUP racing scene. I'm learning every time I hit the start line. What I do know from competing in other sports is that training and preparation – both mental and physical - are incredibly important. There’s a saying: ‘Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance’. There’s an element of truth to this. The other thing is to take something from every race. Whether your performance was good or bad, take a few moments post-race to de-brief and look at what went well and what didn’t go so well. Break this down to pre-event, pre-race and during race. There is never the ‘perfect’ race, but getting the basics right at least gives you a fighting chance to perform to the level you're physically capable of.

Do you surf?
I'd love to surf more. The closest I get to this in London is the odd down-winder on the Thames. I do surf at every opportunity and it’s one of the things I will be focusing on this year. 

How many hours do you spend on the water each week?
I spend anywhere between five to ten hours on the water each week depending on my schedule and what I’m doing. 

What sort of cross training do you do?

Cross training is really important for me and it helps me remain free from injury. I incorporate kettle bell circuits/plyometrics, running, cycling and yoga into my weekly training schedule.

You won the Paris race in zero degree temps! Any tips for paddling in cold weather?

Paddling in cold weather is more mental than it is physical – as it is with any sort of training in cold weather climates. When it comes to clothing I’ve taken lots of experience from cycling, running and ski racing into figuring out what works best for cold water paddling. My suggestions are thermal tights, 5mm booties for the bottom half and thin layers on top - thermal longsleeve top, light wind breaker, and a gilet or vest. This keeps your torso warm but allows you to work your arms freely. And of course a hat or thermal headband. There’s debate about gloves. I generally choose not to use them as my carbon paddle shaft warms up once it’s being worked. If I was to use gloves, I prefer very fine merino as they maintain warmth but still allow the dexterity of your fingers.

Of the many SUP destinations you’ve visited, which one would you most like to go back to?

It’s a tie between two destinations - a high alpine mountain lake in Bavaria at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain and the Gulf of St Tropez in the Mediterranean.

You must have met stand up paddlers from all over the world. Any similarities between them?

From Americans, Australasians, Pacific Islanders and Europeans, there’s a sense of family and community spirit in all of them.

A Stand Up Paddle Race in Auckland, New Zealand
A stand up paddle race in Auckland, New Zealand.
What are the best SUP spots in NZ?
The Bay of Islands, anywhere around Auckland, all of the Coromandel Peninsula, the lakes of the South Island. New Zealand really is the perfect country for every kind of SUP you can imagine. From wild west coast surf beaches to pristine lakes with 2000 meter peaks towering above them. In New Zealand you can experience it all.

How many board and paddle brands are available in New Zealand?

Starboard is the main brand in New Zealand and is the most widely available. You can also get Jimmy Lewis, Hobie, and C4 Waterman. Paddles are somewhat limited to Quickblade and Starboard at present, but as the sport grows and demand for product increases, the market will naturally open up and support more brands and associated products.

Tell us more about your SUP clinics...
This is soooooooooo exciting. I'm so lucky to have the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge with other people, to help get more people out on the water enjoying the wonders of SUP. I’m running a number of clinics in New Zealand which range from ‘Rock Up and SUP’ sessions, to 'Have A Go' sessions, to race clinics, to women’s only clinics. And I'm designing and launching the paddle fitness program for Les Mills gyms while I’m out there. I’m also running some clinics in Sydney at the end of February which will be technique and race focused. And there’s lots in the plans for the northern summer both in Europe and further afield. While I’m in New Zealand, I also get to introduce many of the national sporting stars to SUP and showing them how they can incorporate it into their training. 

Tell us about your funnest stand up paddle session of 2010…

This would have to be playing around on the Serpentine in London after doing water safety for the London round of the World Triathlon Series in Hyde Park. Nothing beats a bit of fooling around on the water with great friends – especially when this is an iconic body of water that you'd never be allowed on otherwise.

What are your SUP plans for 2011?
2011 planning is taking shape and will see me visit many countries - training, racing and exploring. Europe, North America, the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. It’s aptly named my ‘Endless Summer of SUP Tour.'  I’ll get to see many incredible places and meet more wonderful people in the process.

Any plans to be in Oregon?

Give me an excuse and we might just be able to put it into the schedule!

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