SUP Women: Jenny Lee
Whether it’s waking up at the crack of dawn, taking an eight-mile paddle with her daughter perched on the front of her board, or charging the waves on her lunch break, Jenny Lee will do whatever it takes to feel saltwater against her skin. At age 31, Lee comes to us with a rich history in competitive longboarding, with a transition into SUP surfing six years ago. If she’s not keeping watch in her lifeguard tower, this Waikiki local can be found spending time with her family or in the water searching for the perfect wave. —Rebecca Parsons
Tell us about your athletic background.
I’m originally a longboarder; I started longboarding competitively when I was eight. I did that until I started standup five or six years ago. I also did a lot of lay-down paddleboarding. My dad was really heavy into canoe paddling, lay-down paddleboarding, and surfing, so he taught me.
How did you first get into SUP?
My dad brought home a standup board and he asked me to try it. He said it was the new thing and really fun, so, I tried it out, and I really didn’t like it the first couple of times. I was thinking, ‘I want my longboard back!’ I put it off for a few months, then I tried my girlfriend’s board—it was a smaller one that fit me better, and I fell in love with it. I was like, ‘I love standup, I don’t want to longboard anymore!’
Brian Keaulana, Dave Parmenter, and Archie Kalepa are the guys that really encouraged me and helped me grow in the sport. I traveled with them and learned so much from them, not only about standup surfing, but also about being a waterwoman. I was really lucky to have great watermen like that in my life.
What events did you compete in this year?
I did a lot of local contests this year, like the China Uemura Classic for standup and longboarding, Duke’s Fest for standup and longboard, and I longboarded in the Roxy Pro. In the China’s I got second in both for standup. [At] the Duke’s Fest they run us with the guys, so we don’t ever really place, but actually, I made it to the semis for surfing.
Tell us about your training.
I’m a city and county lifeguard on the beach over here, so I work four or five days a week and I do a lot of swimming, running, weight training, and cross fit. Other than that, I just surf a lot and try to mix it up with canoe paddling and distance runs on my standup.
For distance runs, we usually paddle from Hawaii Kai to Waikiki; that’s about eight miles. If not, I do flat water sprints. Luckily I have two one-hour training breaks for work, so my daily routine is dropping my daughter off and getting to work an hour early so I can run the beach in the morning. Then, I’ll use one of my breaks to weight train or do some other exercise, and then I’ll use my other break to surf.
What’s your favorite break to surf on Oahu?
I think it would definitely be Queens. It’s been my favorite since I was a little kid; I think it’s the perfect wave for longboarding and standup.
What’s the vibe among the female athletes that you compete with?
I haven’t done many competitions on the mainland this past year. But when I did compete with the girls, there’s a lot of camaraderie in the surfing aspect of it. But, the racing is pretty competitive, and there are certain girls that are always at each other’s throats—that’s kind of why I don’t like to do it.
As a competitive athlete, how do you define success?
That’s hard to say for me because, although I’m competitive, I think for me, standup and surfing are a lifestyle. My goal, ultimately, is to be able share my love for the ocean, surfing, and standup as a sport, not so much trying to beat the next girl. With competitions there’s always going to be somebody better and faster. That’s not the way I want to live my life, constantly trying to be better than the next competitor. I’m a mother, I work, and I have a life.
Is it hard to balance your time being a mother, an athlete, and having a job?
At one point it was. When my daughter was younger it was really hard training with her. When she was two and three I used to have to take her on training runs with me. I’d just put her floaties, hat, and sunscreen on, and do an eight-mile paddle with her on the front of my board. Now that she’s older and I have a lot of family around, it’s not that hard. We all do it together.
What’s the best SUP trip you’ve been on?
The British Virgin Islands. I went with SUP mag, actually. We didn’t get super lucky with waves, but it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was on a catamaran with a writer and a photographer, and we just went from island to island and met different people. We got to see the different culture that they have there and just live their lifestyle, which was really cool. It’s something I think I’ll probably never be able to do again.
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