SUP Women: Kristin Thomas

Photo: Billy Kho
Photo: Billy Kho

From competitive swimming throughout her younger years to windsurfing in the ’80s, and then surfing in the early 2000s, Kristin Thomas has always found herself on the water. Now, at age 50, Kristin juggles multiple roles as the mother of three, an educational consultant, executive director of Standup Paddle Industry Association (SUPIA), and a competitive standup paddler. Not to mention…she’s fast. —Rebecca Parsons

Tell us about your athletic background.
I’m one of the older racers, but that’s the beauty of the sport. You can enjoy it at any age. I’ve always been a water person. I swam competitively when I was younger, up through college. I windsurfed in the 80s, got into to surfing when I was about 40, and had a few kids along the way. I wasn’t competitive with windsurfing and surfing, but I’ve always enjoyed the water and have been lucky enough to live near it.

How did you first get into SUP?
In 2009 I first tried SUP. I had a friend in town who had a big, heavy Laird board that took two people to carry. I didn’t get a board for Christmas, but I found one on Craigslist in 2010, did my first race that month, and haven’t looked back. I love this community; it’s a great way to spend time with your friends and make new ones.

Photo: John Alvarez
Photo: John Alvarez

How’s your 2013 season been? Tell us about some of your recent accomplishments.
It’s going good! Turning 50, is that an accomplishment in itself? In terms of SUP, there are age groups in races a lot of times and that’s been fun to compete in. I’m always trying to get new people into the sport and help it grow. Because it’s new, the races aren’t that huge, so that’s kind of fun.

I went to the World Paddle Association Championships to try to beat the winner of my age group, and I ended up being the overall champ. I’m not a pro, but pros weren’t at that event. That’s part of the sport; it’s exploding, so stuff is going on all over.
I’m a prolific racer and I really enjoy every race. They’re not just social, and if it’s not a great race then it’s a great workout. I live in Laguna so there’s a race almost every other weekend. I just love to be doing stuff, so that’s partly why I like it.

Tell us about the Standup Paddle Industry Association (SUPIA).
Helping to launch SUPIA has been exciting. It wasn’t my idea, but I’m completely sold on the idea of it.
Almost two years ago, a couple of SUP business owners/friends decided I would be a good candidate to help get the Industry Association off the ground because I was such a strong proponent and knew so many people in the SUP world. I have also had my own businesses outside of our industry, as well as worked as a project director of a non-profit. As an educational consultant with my own practice, I was able to take a sabbatical leave (that I think we can now call retirement) to pursue launching the SUPIA. As executive director, I collected surveys, initiated a board of directors and started taking memberships to get the ball rolling at the end of 2012.
Here we are almost a year later, with a solid foundation, some good work under our belts and 148 business members. If you haven’t had a chance to find out about us and own an SUP company of any type, check us out.

Photo: Bob Lopes de Araujo
Photo: Bob Lopes de Araujo

What are your goals for the upcoming year?
In terms of racing, I’m always trying to go places. It can take you to places you’ve never been; Costa Rica, Canada, North Carolina— it’s just so fun that you can go to all of these places— if you have enough frequent flier miles. Just keeping in shape and enjoying the whole thing, you’ve got to have fun!
SUP is such an interesting sport; what makes it so wonderful is that so many people can enjoy it. It overlaps with so many sports. Here [in Southern California], we live by the ocean so it’s surfing. For people who live inland, it’s on a river, and for others it’s fitness and yoga, not even necessarily on the water. The board itself has such potential for adventure, whether it’s on the ocean, rivers, lakes, etc.

How do you balance working, training, and a family?
It’s tricky but balance has been the mantra of my whole life. I have three kids and I work part-time, but I like to be busy, so that’s good. I don’t believe in overtraining. In swim team, we would swim so many miles of freestyle, which I knew was unnecessary, but that’s part of being on a team. I really like interval training; you can get a lot of quality work in quickly. I usually only have an hour to an hour and a half to exercise, so I don’t have time to do the marathon training that some people do. It’s fun paddling in Dana Point; I almost always see someone I know, even if I didn’t paddle out with them.

What advice would you give to people first getting into SUP?
I’d say jump right in with two feet. It’s not hard and don’t be afraid to ask for help— it’s a super friendly community. It’s always good to start with a lesson so you don’t build bad habits, even though it seems easy. Just do it. Nike! Don’t be intimidated.


For more information about SUPIA, visit: SUPindustry.org
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