Core Commentary: Mitch Kahn – 50, San Clemente, California

Photo by Chris Bishow
Photo by Chris Bishow

How did you get into paddling? I competed in the lifeguard Ironman competitions swimming, paddleboarding and rowing or surfski paddling. I ended up winning the U.S. national championships and I got to compete in Australia, which was a pretty amazing experience because over there it’s a national sport and they compete in front of 25,000 spectators. Through that, one of the U.S. kayaking coaches saw me race the surfski and asked me to try kayaking. I’d never paddled a kayak before turning 29, but I ended up making the U.S. Olympic Team and was captain at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

How did you transition to standup paddling? Having a background as a surfer, I resisted standup for a while. I never got into the surfing aspect of it, but I did the Battle of the Paddle after trying the sport a week before, and it was so similar to everything I had done. I loved being able to look around and see so much more of the ocean below and around me.

What do you think about standup paddle culture as it is today? At first it had that old Hawaiian feel. Now standup has its own identity. You see people who are not even surfers becoming really good athletes on standup boards. It’s almost like you’re crossing surfers with that kayak mentality, and you’re getting a hybrid culture. In places like the Midwest, though, it’s still exploding because it makes people feel like they have the surfing culture even if they’re paddling in a lake in Minnesota. At races you’re seeing people get more serious, and people from canoeing and kayaking and surfski racing are bringing their backgrounds and techniques to the sport. The training is getting a lot more advanced. Even the equipment, from GPS to new board design, is making training more scientific and user-friendly.

What has standup done for you? It’s created a whole new vehicle for me in my later years to be more competitive athletically. I really enjoy the camaraderie of it. So many of my fiends have gotten into it. I was already sponsored by Hobie for lifeguard competition and they ended up coming on in a big way with standup so that led me in a whole new direction with them as well. Jimmy Terrell, who I was on the national team with, is a canoe paddler and owns Quickblade, another sponsor of mine. It’s funny how it all came full circle.

-As told to Shelby Stanger

This piece originally ran in the Summer Issue of SUP magazine