SUP's Most Inspirational Paddler Takes On Sport's Biggest Races
In June 2015, many athletes competing at the Payette River Games were amazed that an adaptive paddler was overcoming his devastating injuries to compete in the open division. Then, when Jonas Letieri won his heat, they were astonished. While navigating the challenging features of Kelly's Whitewater Park, Letieiri–who lost his hands and forearms in an electrical accident–displayed a preternatural calm and balance that enabled him to keep standing when those around him were being forced to their knees or thrown from their boards.
Since then, Letieri has made it clear that his Payette performance was no fluke. He is not only a force to be reckoned with when racing against other adaptive athletes, but also against the sport's top competition. In his native Brazil, Jonas finished second at the Brazilian Triple Crown event and claimed fourth-place in the 2016 King and Queen of the Sea.
This summer, Letieri is staying with SoCal waterman extraordinaire, Anthony Vela, so that he can enter more US races. Letieri recently showed his stuff at the 2016 Salt Lake Tahoe race, claiming fourth place in the 12' 6'' division and winning the event's Most Awesome Award for the racer with the best attitude. All that despite still coming to grips with the effects of altitude change.
Next up was the Tommy Bahama Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival, where he braved cold and windy conditions to complete the PaddleCross course and 5.5-mile distance race. Now, Letieiri has his sights set on even bigger goals, including becoming the first adaptive athlete to compete in the men's SUP relay division of the Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships.
"Anthony and I had just spent a wonderful day surfing at San Onofre last summer and Molokai came up," said Letieiri. "I shared my respect for the race and how incredible it must feel to complete it, and he replied, 'Well why don't we do it and you can find out.'"
Since making the decision to go after the most prestigious channel crossing in SUP, Letieri has been working hard on and off the water to prepare himself physically and mentally for the 32-mile journey across the Channel of Bones.
"I'm lucky enough to have some great downwind runs close to my home in Brazil, so I've done a lot of these longer paddles to build up my endurance," Letieri said.
He has also worked hard on his land-based fitness back in Brazil this winter and more recently with Vela and his training group in SoCal. Letieri combines running and cycling with balance exercises so he'll be more stable while paddling amidst powerful currents and crosswinds between the Hawaiian islands. In addition to his exemplary work ethic and ever-improving conditioning, Jonas' emphasis on torso rotation also makes his technique very efficient. This should serve him well in the latter stages of his Hawaiian odyssey from Molokai 2 Oahu.
"Whenever I'm trying to teach a new paddler the proper mechanics and core activation, and they say it's impossible to paddle by not using your arms, I show them Jonas," said Dave Boehne, who has spent a lot of time paddling with Letieri in California the past two summers. "He does the unthinkable."
Once Letieri and Vela make history with their Molokai2Oahu performance, Letieri will turn his attention to the biggest remaining event on the competitive SUP calendar: The Pacific Paddle Games.
"I've been working with my coach in Brazil on a lot of SUP Cross and coming in and out of the surf," Letieri said. "Anthony is also helping me train hard for the different distances. All the best paddlers in the world will be at PPG and it will be an honor to be out there with them."
For many in the tightknit SUP community, the honor will be all theirs.
"Jonas is an awesome inspiration," Boehne said. "Not only is he breaking boundaries and doing things people can't fathom being possible, it's his personality and attitude that are constantly reminding me how to live life."
Learn more about Jonas' incredible life and paddling career.
One paddler's journey from the Special Olympics to the Carolina Cup.