Forged In Ice: Casper Steinfath
Steel is usually forged in a fiery furnace. But in Casper Steinfath's case, it is refined by ice. If you've paid any attention to the SUP world in the past week, you'll have seen the outcome – his third ISA World Championship title – but it's likely that you don't yet understand the process that preceded it.
While many paddlers are flocking to the warm waters of Hawaii to take advantage of the balmy conditions and winter swells (see Kai Lenny's breathtaking session at Peahi) after the SUP race season ends, one man chooses instead to immerse himself in the icy waters off the Danish coast.
You might think you've experienced cold water before, but this is something else entirely. Denmark's latitude is about the same as St. Petersburg, Russia, and the three bodies of water that surround it – the North Sea, Skaggerat Strait and Kattegat Bay – are beyond chilly. The majority of Danes avoid going out in them during the winter like we avoid restraining ourselves at the Thanksgiving table. But when you've got world championships to win, you go surfing in the thickest wetsuit you can get your hands on. "Really, I'm just trying to survive," Steinfath said.
His ice-beard inducing sessions not only improve the Dane's shortboarding and SUP surfing skills, but also hone a mental toughness that's unmatched. Plus, Steinfath feels that forcing himself to go out in the waves while others are taking time off makes him feel like he's earned his annual trip to Hawaii afterwards. "Once I get out in the water with Kai, Connor and the Spencer brothers, I feel more nimble and flexible because I'm not bound up in this thick wetsuit," he said. "And instead of being out in waves by myself, I'm suddenly in this amazing paddling community with some of my best friends, who also happen to be the world's top competitors."
Right from the start of the 2016 season, Steinfath showed that he belongs in such company. He won the first event of the Standup World Series in Japan, and followed it up with victory in the sprint at the World Cup of SUP in Germany. After a win in the sprint at the World Series Finals in Maui and third place overall, Steinfath was still top of the leaderboard. But the final event of the world tour, Red Bull Heavy Water, presented a unique challenge synonymous with its name. "The conditions were the toughest I've ever competed in," Steinfath said. In a frantic finish, Connor Baxter pulled out the win. Steinfath needed to finish third to claim the overall world title but came up just short in fourth, following an epic battle with Zane Schweitzer. "I was disappointed not to win but hats off to Connor," Steinfath said. "He's a fantastic competitor."
Some racers would've hung their heads in such circumstances, but Steinfath used the San Francisco result as fuel going into the technical race at the ISA World Championships in Fiji. And while the legendary Cloudbreak would be the undoing of many of his peers, it provided the lift the Dane needed at just the right moment.
"I've been working on my explosiveness and Slater Trout and I broke away early," Steinfath explained. "But the wind picked up on the second lap and drained me. So I made the tactical move to drop back and save myself for the final sprint. With just a few hundred meters to go, I saw a wave out of the corner of my eye and I was positioned deepest on it. It felt like I went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in half a second, and it swept me back into the lead. Then I dug in hard for the final 100 meters and got the win. I dreamt all year about winning my third world championship and to make it come true not just for me but for my teammates and my country, too, was really special."
Looking ahead to 2017, Steinfath has again adjusted his goals to make himself an even more complete waterman. "Now that I've improved in the technical races, I'm taking aim at the major downwind courses," he said. "With Kai, Travis, Connor and the other guys getting better and better I know it's going to be tough." But with another winter of ice-toughened work behind him, you can bet Casper Steinfath will be more than ready.