With the immense progress standup paddling has made in the past few years, it's easy to forget that our sport is still young. Unlike surfing, whitewater or outrigger paddling, there isn’t a generation of athletes that have known SUP since birth, or lived an entire life around our sport. But, as SUP continues to flourish, the first generation of groms to grow up with paddle and board are maturing and writing their own history- becoming the legends that future generations of paddlers will look up to and strive to emulate. In SUP magazine's new series, Grom Talk, we get to know the first generation of paddlers lucky enough to grow up with an SUP lifestyle.
Fifteen-year-old Vanina Walsh hails from Oahu. The tiny teen with the bright smile gives grown men a run for their money in both racing and paddlesurfing contests. – Shari Coble
Tell me about your background as a water athlete.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve liked to be around water. Swimming, rock running, longboarding shortboarding and bodyboarding were my passions. Basically, anything that involved the ocean.
How did you get into SUP?
About four years ago I noticed a couple of Waikiki beach boys on big standup paddleboards out at Queens. It looked really fun to me, so I grabbed my longboard and borrowed a [outrigger] canoe paddle from the beach boys and gave it a try. I was hooked!
The transition from surfing to SUP surfing took a little bit of getting used to, but after a few hours, I got the hang of it. When I started doing SUP there were not a lot of kids or women SUP surfing, so I competed mostly against men. Sometimes when I started beating some of the men, they didn't like to surf against me. Some felt bad beating a girl, I guess, but others weren’t happy losing.
As an SUP athlete, what expectations do you have for yourself and the sport?
Watching SUP change over these past four years has been really exciting. Boards have really changed and so have paddles. All my newest boards are carbon fiber and are super light and progressive. I’m sure the sport will continue to change fast in the next couple of years.
I have some personal goals for where I would like SUP surfing to take me in my life. I hope SUP surfing allows me to travel and see the world. I would like to share my love for SUP surfing and racing with people that only know about traditional surfing. I guess I would like a modern day "Endless Summer" with SUP!!!
Where do you hope to see SUP in the future?
The cool thing about SUP is that you don't have to live by the ocean to be into SUP. Recently, I paddled on the Mississippi River and surfed Lake Michigan. A few years ago, I never thought that would be possible. Everybody anywhere can enjoy the surf lifestyle. I hope SUP surfing and racing become Olympic sports. To be part of that would be unbelievable.
You had an impressive second place finish in the Women's Division at the Standup World Tour's Hawaii stop this year, any plans to compete in more SUPWT events?
My plans for next year are to compete in the Standup World Tour again, in as many locations as possible- that was really fun. If I have the opportunity, I would love to travel to France and Tahiti to compete there. I also want to visit and work more trade shows. I love meeting new people and learning about all the new products that are coming out.
Maui has a whole host of kids your age that are known for SUP. Tell us about the scene on Oahu.
Yeah, Maui has many of the best paddlers in the world. Kai, Connor, Zane and some of the other Maui paddlers are really good! We all get to know each other really well because of events and travel. It's really a close group here in Hawaii with all the SUP paddlers, whether you live on Maui or Oahu.
Oahu has some awesome young paddlers also. We really all get along so well that I don't think about what island or what side of the island they live on because we all show up at the same contests and surf the same spots when the waves are firing.
Most the time in contests, boys and girls end up surfing in heats together. We don't always have enough kids to fill separate heats, but we are all really close. Many of the kids I compete with have impressive wins at the local events and at the Battle of the Paddle.
I hear you design bikinis; can you tell me about that?
I kind of just fell into designing my own bikinis because I would get bikinis sent to me by my sponsor, Roxy. Sometimes the bottoms were too big for me, so my mom showed me how to make them smaller so they would fit me.
My friends liked what I did to my bikinis and started asking me to alter their bikinis. Now I buy fabric and sew my own. I don't use patterns- all my ideas are in my head. Once, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea, sketched it out and then made the bikini.
I've also been working on my own fabric designs. I have been sketching and painting fabric ideas on canvas. My long-term plan is to have a few fabric and bikini designs ready to present to companies within a year. I've had a lot of interest in my designs, but for now I am just keeping them locked away until the right time.