SUP Women: Diane Wenzel
Diane Wenzel spent her early years surfing competitively for her university and studying recreation. Fresh out of college, Wenzel opened Westwind Sailing in Dana Point, Calif. In 2007, with no background in paddling, Westwind added SUP to their program. The decision was a good one. Wenzel discovered that there was a sport she loved even more than surfing, and now regularly competes in SUP surf competitions around the globe. Despite being a fierce competitor, Wenzel is all about having fun, spreading good vibes, and riding killer waves. —Rebecca Parsons
Tell us about your athletic background.
I started surfing in college and surfed at Long Beach State. It was just so much fun being on the team and surfing competitively. After college, there wasn’t really an opportunity to keep surfing as much and I had to earn a living, so, I started my school, Westwind Sailing. I have a degree in recreation and was doing a project down in the harbor, which is how I met up with a [park] ranger. She was looking to start a program, so we collaborated. The program was really small at first, but it kept growing and growing to what it is today. It’s been 27 years.
How did you first get into SUP?
We started just experimenting with windsurf boards because we had them for our school. We’d paddle around on these windsurf boards with a kayak paddle, and I’d even take that down to San Onofre and go surfing. It was so funny because the board is so not designed for that, but we just had fun with it.
We incorporated standup paddling into the business about seven years ago and we kind of just did it as a supplemental thing for our sailors to do on no-wind days, and to maybe bring a few new people into the program. Then, of course, standup paddling just snowballed and it’s become maybe half of what we do now. It’s really great and it works really well with the sailing program; the two really complement each other and we just love it.
How do you think being an instructor affects your personal surfing and racing?
I do find that when you teach you actually become stronger and better at what you’re doing because you break the skills down. You start thinking, ‘oh am I doing that?’ It definitely has helped. I do teach some SUP fitness, and that, of course, helps with my training to keep me in shape and motivated for my races. I don’t teach a whole lot of surfing, but I do on occasion. With standup surfing you definitely need to be able to surf, but there are other things too—the balance is huge; anytime you can get on a board, it’s going to help you. So, it’s definitely helped my racing and my surfing.
What have been some big competitions for you this past year?
I’ve done a lot of surfing stuff, and that’s really where my focus is with standup right now. I’m actually Canadian-American so I got to represent the Canadian team at the International Surfing Association’s SUP and Paddleboard Championships in Peru last year. There was one surfer per country and there were 23 countries [represented]. I have to say that was the highlight of my whole standup career—just being there and representing the team. I ended up getting seventh and was so proud. That whole experience was insane.
I also did the Surftech Shootout in Santa Cruz and got second last year. The wave is just insane and to be sharing it with just three other girls was so fun. You couldn’t help smiling ear to ear.
What’s the women’s SUP scene like in Orange County?
Right now the women are kind of spread out. Typically, you just sort of bond with whoever is out there. It’s really neat to see other women out there and encourage them because it’s still a male dominated sport, so the women tend to stick together and encourage one another. There are girls that train together, but with surfing it seems to be more of an individual sport where people go on their own or maybe one or two go together.
How have you seen the sport grow for women over the years?
It’s really fun now that there are a lot more surfing opportunities with standup for women because some of the competitions only had men’s events for a while. The women have been getting together and saying, ‘hey, we’d like a division as well,’ so there’s been a lot more competitions for women, which is always neat. There’s been a lot of support and the girls are always really cool to each other out on the water. I really think there’s a great future for women’s surfing.
Any big plans for this year?
My whole family is from a little down just outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It’s landlocked. There is a wave pool at the West Edmonton Mall and it’s the world’s largest indoor wave pool. The owner of the Easy Rider puts on an annual standup surf contest and race in August, called the Easy Rider SUP Cup. I’ve done it now for two years in a row and it is the most insane, fun contest. I’m going again this year. One day is a distance race on the North Saskatchewan River, and it goes through the city of Edmonton and it’s just a beautiful river. The next day is the surf contest in the wave pool. It’s way different because the waves are manufactured, people line up on either side of where the break is and you take turns. It’s such a crazy atmosphere to be in.