SUP Women: Haley Mills
Five years ago, Haley Mills stood up out of her kayak and entered the SUP scene full force. A rookie to the sport, but not to the water, the 28-year-old began a dominant streak in whitewater SUP. The self-proclaimed nomad and Kentucky native lives out of her truck, traveling to contests and races across the county. When she’s not on her board, Mills is back in her boat, competing as one of the world’s top freestyle kayakers. Here, we get the inside scoop to a life centered around one word: adventure. —Rebecca Parsons
Tells us about your athletic background.
I started kayaking when I was 14 and competed in freestyle kayaking. When I was living in Colorado and touring around I saw the Badfish guys on paddleboards in Salida, and I always saw Zach Hughes with his crazy designs on the rivers. It just made sense to me ’cause I know how water works so it was a nice transition with a paddleboard to see and navigate the river in a different way. It’s nice to be able to go back and forth between standup and kayaking; I feel like they build upon each other. Ever since then, I’ve just been hooked on anything that keeps me on the water.
What’s it like living out of your truck?
Living in a truck you have nowhere to hide, you’re completely exposed, so you get to meet so many more people. I just sleep in the truck and drive it. So, I end up hanging out with a lot of people and meeting tons of people, new friends and old friends all across the country. It’s awesome.
What is it like balancing your training between kayaking and SUP?
My training is just whatever I feel like doing that day. I’m not a super regimented athlete; it’s like, “Oh I’m in this part of the country and there’s a sick standup wave, I’m just going to do that all day.” I struggle with trying to find a good training routine, so I just don’t. I do whatever I want and take it all as fun.
You kind of came into SUP and immediately dominated. What was the reaction like from the other women?
Within any sport, there are always some people that are more competitive than others. It’s still evolving so much. This year Mariko (Strickland) came for the GoPro Games. She doesn’t really know much about whitewater, so it was really cool to talk to her a little bit about that and also try to gain some of her ocean knowledge. It’s a pretty open community right now. We’re still developing the river SUP scene, so everyone’s thirst for knowledge is off the charts.
I think I already know the answer to this, but do you prefer whitewater or flatwater races?
Whitewater. My physique is short and stout, I’m made for taking hits. I’m five-foot and kind of a muscular build, so I definitely belong on the river. I really like standup surfing in the ocean and I’ll do flatwater races just to punish myself sometimes, but I enjoy all of it.
Tell us about your year. Which races are the most memorable for you?
The GoPro Games was a big weekend for me— just getting to compete in everything that I love to do in three days. I got first in the downriver standup sprint, first in SUP cross, second in freestyle kayaking and fourth in the creek race. I really like the events that push me to showcase everything that I love to do. River Rocks is super fun and I also competed at Worlds and Team Trials for kayaking.
Are you interested in getting into the surfing side of SUP? Competing on the World Tour?
I don’t know, it’s so different I wouldn’t even know how the scoring or anything works, but I should try — it would be fun. I could go out there and get pummeled! I like putting myself in uncomfortable situations and seeing how I can handle it.
What does 2014 look like for you?
I’ll definitely continue on the whitewater tour for kayaking and paddleboarding, which is in May and June. Been thinking of going back to Africa and taking a paddleboard with me to surf on the Nile — I did that this year with a kayak. Or, I was thinking a surf trip, but I haven’t decided a location yet. I’d like to do Carolina Cup, which is a huge goal for me. I’d like to just finish the race because it seems so burly. I’m still developing everything that I want to do and now you mentioned the World Tour and got me distracted! I’m all over the place. I like paddleboarding and kayaking equally. I can’t choose between the two, so I’ll just do it all.