In this installment of SUP Women, we get to know former professional soccer player, Suzy Strazzulla. After spending the majority of her life kickin’ it on the pitch, Suzy dove headfirst into SUP. She competed in only a couple races before competing in the Catalina Crossing, despite her fear of sharks— and with only 3 months of paddling experience under her belt. She makes another fine addition to SUP Women on SUPthemag.com. —Shari Coble
Tell us about your athletic background.
I played soccer at Cal State Fullerton for two years, then played professional soccer for New York Power in the Women’s United Soccer Association and coached at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. When I played at Fullerton I played for the men’s team as the goalkeeper. I’d practiced with the men all the time and the NCAA granted me special permission to compete with them. I got kicked in the face pretty hard (during a game). My face shattered in four places, so I had to have a steel plate put in, but the season after that was my best season.
How’d you get into SUP?
I was at Lake Mission Viejo one day while Brent Pascoe (of Infinity) was renting out SUPs. I tried it and thought it was great. The next day I met up with my good friend, Terri Plunkett at Dana Point Harbor and was really scared going out. I’m not a water person and I grew up in the era of “Jaws,” so sharks are my worst fear- I always hear the “Jaws” music on the water, but I love being challenged. I’d been depressed and really needed a new focus since I wasn’t playing soccer anymore, and standup paddling gave that to me. SUP gave me the desire to push myself in a new way- it’s not like soccer where people are relying on each other and the goalkeeper.
After 3 months paddling I’d done maybe two races and Russell Coble (of Ohana) asked me if I would do the Catalina Crossing- I owe a lot to him for that. At that point I was hooked on SUP, so I did the crossing with Julie Wolfe and Krisztina Zur and it was great to be on a team again, but I was really freaked out by the open ocean.
What do you focus on while training?
Since I’m not a water person I’m constantly working on my stroke and figuring out new approaches to different water conditions. Brian Dempsey really helped me- he spent the time to teach me more about getting the most out of my stroke. I don’t care about qualifying for anything- I’m not results-oriented in that aspect. That adds pressure and I just like competing with myself, challenging and pushing myself to be better. I love having that focus and desire– something inside me that needs the challenge.
What’s your favorite discipline of SUP?
I really love to paddlesurf. Ron House has taught me so much about the philosophy of surfing and now I have a greater sense of the mind-body connection. I feel like it’s the closest I’ve been to God and there’s a euphoric feeling that can’t be replicated except on a wave.
I also love challenging races- this last race, the Hovie SUP Festival, there was a downwind and a headwind, which made it really tough, but I loved it.
What’s it like living in SoCal, the so-called ‘mecca’ of SUP?
There’s always something new and it’s great to see the evolution of the sport. The community is great too. It wasn’t so welcoming when I first started, but it’s great making connections with so many people. When I first began paddling I met Ron House and Mark Stavron (of O’Fish’l Fins) and things kind of fell into place. I met Mark at Dana Point Harbor and from that point on I always had a paddling buddy- there’s just a lot of good people around.
What would you tell someone that has never paddled?
After being involved in soccer for 25 years and realizing I wasn’t in line with it anymore, SUP gave me a new focus and completely changed my life. Standup paddling is a life-changer in so many ways and I’d tell non-paddlers to be prepared.
To read about SUP Woman Heather Baus, click here.