Paddleboarding: Our latest world champ stands up to make it count

By Tony Ng

World champion stand up paddleboarder Annabel Anderson loves the water. Picture / Sarah Ivey
World champion stand up paddleboarder Annabel Anderson loves the water. Picture / Sarah Ivey

Annabel Anderson loves the water. So the title of women's world champion stand up paddleboarder sits comfortably with her.

Auckland's Anderson, originally from Wanaka and New Zealand's only professional stand up paddleboarder, was recently crowned the stand up world series champion in Ohau, Hawaii.

The world series consists of events that usually last two days with long distance (races up to 40km) and round-robin paddle cross [sprint] races.

She participated in six different events on the circuit this year across Europe and the US and had a perfect season, finishing first in every event.

Anderson is by far the most dominant woman - and arguably the best athlete - in the sport.

She doesn't just obliterate her female counterparts but males too. She achieved that feat earlier this year in Oleron, France where she beat the top male by six minutes in the 30km challenge.

This achievement sent shockwaves throughout the sport, the men in particular were caught off guard.

"The men in France didn't take it well," she says with a smile.

SUP is an emerging sport and is now one of the fastest growing in the world.

New Zealand has also been caught up in the wave as there are now various competitions held throughout the country.

The boards are similar to surfboards, three to four metres long and propelled by a paddle 1.70m to 2.18m in length.

She started in her late 20s and now at 31 is on top of the world.

Unlike regular surfing, SUP is relatively easier to learn and isn't confined to wave conditions because it can be raced in the sea, lakes or even white water.

The elements play a huge part in races and she has experienced them all.

"You go out in every condition mother nature throws at us, from a tornado in Chicago to a hurricane in Florida. You can also get the same sensation without the wave, there are even white water courses now too."

Growing up in the South Island, outdoor sport was always part of Anderson's life as she was a competitive skier, often sliding down the slopes of Wanaka until injuries cut that short.

She had tried SUP in New Zealand just before she went on her "Big OE" a few years ago.

It was only when she was in London working as a business consultant where she started to take the sport seriously, spending time training to become the best.

Anderson was determined to conquer her new sport.

"The thrill of the challenge, 'let's go master something completely new because it's easy to learn but hard to master'," she says.

One of the first international events in which she took part was in Paris, and after that she realised SUP was her ticket to the world.

"I love to be on water, it's something strangely addictive, it's a serene thing to go and explore the best lakes and beaches in the world, it reconnects me with nature."

She is now a full-time professional SUP'er and is "based" in New Zealand but travels the world for competition.

Whenever she is back home Anderson holds coaching sessions for anyone keen to learn.

Team New Zealand, and the Warriors have been some of her past students.

Skiers have also asked her to coach them in the sport. As a former skier herself, she says SUP is the closest thing to skiing and is great for rehabilitating from injuries.

Anderson has noticed more people are picking up SUP in New Zealand and believes it is the best training ground for it. "New Zealand is nature's playground, we have some of the hardest conditions to deal with, and I used it to my advantage."

Anderson is leaving New Zealand again next week to compete in a multi-sport adventure race in Rio, representing a New Zealand invitation team.

- NZ Herald

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