Down Under Dominator: Jake Jensen
When Jake Jensen's uncle introduced him to SUP four years ago, the young Australian wasn't convinced. Thinking that the sport was "kooky" after his first SUP session, he decided to stick to surfing and kayaking, in which he competed at the national level all through high school. But that all changed when his mother bought him a present that was too big to fit under the Christmas tree: an SUP board.
"I started playing around on my SUP board, realized the potential of the sport, and joined a local training group," Jensen said. "Next thing I knew, I was in Hawaii for the BOP six weeks later."
And that was only the beginning. In addition to honing his SUP surfing at some of the Gold Coast's most challenging breaks, such as Snapper Rocks and Kirra, Jensen also made the most of his time in the water in his hometown of Currumbin. As well as fine-tuning his surfing skills, Jensen soon discovered a favorite downwind run that helped him build endurance:
"It's a straight shot from Snapper to Currumbin," he said. "With a southeast wind, it's a perfect 10 kilometer [7-mile] conveyor belt of bumps."
To be able to compete with the likes of countryman Jamie Mitchell and other top SUP stars, Jensen recognized that on-the-water work wasn't enough. So, he started following a strict training regimen of five gym workouts a week, "targeting all the major muscle groups," and five runs, "which vary from long flat sessions to short, intense hill intervals." Jensen also hit the SUP erg hard to test his work capacity, and shared the footage with fans via his popular Instagram account.
Behind this intensive program, which complements paddling at least five days a week during the off season, Jensen began to serve notice that he was a force to be reckoned with on the international race circuit. 2013 was Jensen's breakout season, securing big victories, including the Australian Long Distance Title and the Standup World Series Finals at Turtle Bay while on the way to a third place World Ranking in the Standup World Series, just behind this year's World Series Champion and Molokai master Connor Baxter.
This year, Jensen made even greater strides. After defending his title at the Noosa Festival of Surfing in Australia, he won the distance races at the 4th Annual DEEP SUP Race in Spain's Villa de Noja and the 2014 Happy Summer SUP in Belgium and finished in a close second behind Baxter at the Standup World Series' 2014 Huntington Beach Pro. There were more podium finishes in the 2014 Italia SURF EXPO SUP Challenge and the Bilbao World SUP Challenge, as well as a win in the Queensland SUP Titles in his hometown.
After a strong showing in events across the globe, Jensen finished the 2014 season ranked fourth overall in the increasingly competitive Standup World Series, just 750 points behind third place Mo Freitas. He was the only man in the top five World Rankings who's not from Hawaii. Looking back on his busy 2014 season, Jensen's favorite event was in Fehmarn, Germany, where the Gold Coast competitor finished second behind World Series champion Connor Baxter at the Camp David World Cup of SUP.
"The Fehmarn race had the biggest and most professional set up for any SUP event I have ever seen," Jensen said. "Throw in a celebrity charity event and catering for athletes, [and] it will be a long time before other races catch up."
In addition to dominating in European and Standup World Series events, Jensen made waves at this year's contentious Battle of the Paddle, which capped his longest race season to date. With Kai Lenny and Connor Baxter colliding in the Elite Race, Jensen held his nerve in the crowded lineup, finishing just nine seconds behind Lenny to take second ahead of a fast finishing Danny Ching. While there's been quite a bit of controversy since the contact-heavy race, Jensen's BOP experience was a positive one.
"There was a bit of talk about the venue and swell size being too dangerous and challenging for paddlers, but I believe it was the best way to cap off the year," Jensen said. "The BOP is an elite race and should be held in challenging conditions to showcase the skill of the paddlers. Salt Creek definitely didn't disappoint."
A couple of days after his BOP podium finish, Jensen took the daylong trip back to his homeland. But, while his paddling peers in the US were resting up, Jensen was straight back into action at the Australian National Titles. Fighting fatigue, he again ascended the leaderboard, finishing third in the technical race and going further with a second in the distance event. Having traveled more than 100,000 miles this season, we wondered what Jensen's secret is for overcoming jet lag and performing well in race after race around the world.
"Traveling back and forth between all these countries, the main thing you need to be efficient with is finding time to get a solid block of training in after every event and before the next big trip," Jensen said. "Nutrition and hydration are key to getting over jet lag fast, but I think the main reason I'm able to bounce back so quick is because I'm young and can recover quickly."
Many SUP racers would be happy with a second place finish at BOP, fourth in the Standup World Series, and podium finishes in Europe, Australia, the US and beyond. But, for the highly motivated Jensen, this taste of success has only fired up his appetite for the 2015 season.
"I really want to crack that World Title," he said. "That's what I have been aiming for the past two years and I definitely won't be letting up on that until I've secured the number one spot, no matter how long it takes."
And it's not just Jensen, training partner Paul Jackson, Beau O'Brian and Lincoln Dews are top Australian talents that the competition should keep an eye on (not to mention Angie Jackson on the women's side); while the competitive side of SUP hasn't become as big Down Under as it is in the US, Jensen says it's growing fast, thanks in part to the country's waterman culture, as well as the "pumping waves" in Queensland and around the country. Jensen may soon have his work cut out not only defending his spot as one of the top Aussie paddlers, but also being number one in his own family.
"My older brother Jayden hasn't been paddling for a year yet but like me he comes from a long background of ocean sports," Jensen said. "Making it into the top 10 at BOP this year was a big step and he's going to be taking down some of the top paddlers in the years to come."