A Teenager’s Rise to Fastest Paddler On Earth
When you take a close look at podium finishers at standup paddling's banner events, you'll find that most racers "grew up" in the ocean. This is particularly true of Travis Grant, Jake Jensen, Kelly Margetts and the rest of the uber-talented Australians who have made their mark on the upper echelon of the sport in the past few years. And yet despite this strong correlation between experience and results there are outliers, few of whom have burst onto the paddling scene as fiercely as South African Trevor Tunnington.
Throughout his boyhood, Tunnington was strictly a softball and hockey player until his family relocated to Australia, where he tried surfing and got hooked. "I got a little 7-foot board and went out with my new mates almost every morning," he said. A year later, in summer 2010, Tunnington attended a free SUP demo and paddled out standing up for the first time. Shortly thereafter, he bought his own board and started spending every spare moment at Maroochydore Beach and Noosa Beach, honing his skills in the surf while also mixing in downwinders and shorter flatwater paddles.
While he quickly progressed in all areas, Tunnington soon realized that he was a born sprinter, and started developing his speed with max effort intervals. After competing in Australian races for a couple of years, Tunnington made his first foray into international racing in 2014 and his best finish came at Lost Mills in Germany. He cracked the top-20 in the distance race, but his real breakthrough came in the 200-meter sprint. In a field packed with talent, Tunnington finished fourth, just three tenths of a second behind third-place finisher Beau O'Brian.
After the 2014 season, Australia's warm off-season weather (when it's winter in America, it's summer half-way across the world) gave Tunnington the chance to build on his precocious performance at Lost Mills. When the high school senior wasn't studying, he was paddling, SUP surfing and shortboarding. He also started strength-training in the gym and high-intensity bodyweight workouts on the sand. Just before heading to Germany in June 2015, Tunnington and his training partners did a time trial and he smashed his personal best. So while all eyes would be on the sport's biggest names going into Lost Mills, Tunnington felt confident that he could compete on their level.
This confidence proved founded. Though his trip to Bavaria was a whirlwind – just two days in Germany in the middle of four travel days – Tunnington overcame his jet lag to claim the Lost Mills sprint title. His time of 52.02 wasn't as fast as winning marks in previous years but the conditions were choppy. The real tale of the tape is in Tunnington's margin of victory – 2.65 faster than second place Casper Steinfath, an eternity in such as short sprint. The following day, Tunnington proved that he'd also become a formidable distance paddler, placing third after a sprint finish with Arthur Aratkin (4th), Titouan Puyo (2nd) and winner Conner Baxter.
"I was just hoping to match my fourth place in the sprints from 2014, so to win was incredible," Tunnington said. "In the distance race I had no idea how I'd do among all those great, established paddlers, so it was a nice surprise to make the podium."
Surely it didn't hurt that the race he championed happened to earn him the title, "Fastest Paddler on Earth."
Look out for this young gun to be a serious force this season at the Carolina Cup and a handful of Euro Tour stops, as well as the Columbia River Gorge Challenge.
Full recap of the 2015 Lost Mills Germany Fastest Paddler On Earth event.
The inspirational story from another teenage race phenom, Travis Baptiste.