SUP Women | How SUP Saved The East Coast’s Fastest Female Paddler

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Fortuna

SUP Women | April Zilg

Interview by Rebecca Parsons

April Zilg's story is an inspiring one.

Unlike most paddlers, Zilg did not come from an athletic background. Instead, the North Carolina native indulged in junk food, packing on the pounds that all too often go hand-in-hand with a college education. After a cancer scare at age twenty, Zilg decided it was time to turn her life around.

She slowly began exercising, invested in healthy cookbooks and ultimately left her desk job in search of a healthier alternative. Now, nearly a decade later, Zilg is ranked among the top paddlers in the world and feels happy and healthy. We spoke with this inspiring athlete about her first experiences with SUP, her time abroad in India and how she's commited to a healthy lifestyle.

How did you first get into paddling?

After trying SUP for the first time while on vacation in Florida, I decided that I really loved it. After some life-altering doctors' appointments, I started trying to turn my life in a healthier direction by running and kayaking, but neither appealed to me the way that SUP did. So I ran home and bought the cheapest board I could find.

Can you recall your first race?

Vividly. My first race was the 6-mile Carolina Cup race. I paddled my “cheapest board I could find” with my paddle backwards and didn’t even finish the race. I vowed right then and there to figure it out, get a nice board, take a lesson and enter the same race again the next year. I did, and I got 2nd.

Photo courtesy of Nicki Bloomer.

What does a typical week of training look like for you?

Most of my days consist of two-a-day workouts, either two paddles or one gym session and one paddle. I completely take one day off each week to rest and recover. I always throw a little cross-training in there with my fat bike, jogging with my dog, or surfing.

You've become more focused on health in recent years. What inspired that transition?

I was 20 years old when they told me that the “lesions” they were keeping an eye on were extremely aggressive and had evolved into cancer cells. It was still early on so everything would be fine, but they needed to remove a good part of my cervix. I started googling everything about cancer and its causes, treatments, etc. I learned that my entire life had pretty much been a giant inflammatory cancer breeding ground from my diet choices to my lack of exercise.

I went out that day to start my exercise journey and I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping. In the following weeks, I bought healthy cookbooks, exercise clothes, and a puppy. I think sometimes when people see me now, at age 30, they assume that I’ve always been fit or healthy. If they had seen me in those first two years of my fitness journey, they wouldn’t recognize me.

It has taken every bit of this last decade to get where I am today, and sharing that with other people keeps me inspired. I want people to know that they can change their life, but it doesn’t happen overnight and you can’t change everything all at once.

Photo courtesy of Laura Glantz

Tell us about your time abroad in India.

It was after I had been paddling for about two years and I was getting healthier. I took the opportunity to leave my desk job and not look back. Once in India, I spent some time at the Mantra Surf Club with the “Surfing Swamis” and that's where I met Tanvi (Jagadish).

I was consistently amazed by the treatment of women and how they weren’t seen as equals. When I heard that Tanvi wanted to be a professional SUP athlete, going against popular opinion of what women should be when they grow up, I was ecstatic. I’m honored that she considers me an inspiration, but I don’t see it as that. I was just there with a paddleboard, she’s the inspiration to break social conventions and follow her dreams. She will have a huge impact on so many young girls in India and I’m proud to know her.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Whitted

What have been some highlights this past year for you?

Last year I did the Euro Tour which was a big highlight because I love to travel. I ranked 4th in that and had an absolute blast seeing Europe. At the Pacific Paddle Games, I was 3rd in my first heat alongside Candice, Shae, and Olivia and that was a real pivotal moment for me where I thought to myself, “Maybe I can do this.” I’ve always seen myself as an outsider not having an athletic background or a healthy lifestyle growing up, so I see everyone else as having this huge head-start on me. Sometimes I think that just maybe I can catch up!

What are some of your goals looking forward?

I like to keep my goals SUPER BIG! In my mind, there’s no harm in having the biggest goal possible, like being the #1 woman in the world of SUP, because I’ve already made it so much further than I would have on my old path. Setting a big goal keeps me chipping away day after day and becoming the best possible version of myself.

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