Groms | Mexico’s National Champion Erika Benitez
Interview by Rebecca Parsons
Erika Benitez has accomplished a lot in her sixteen years. She was born and raised in Long Beach, California but holds dual citizenship for both the United States and Mexico. She holds numerous national titles in Mexico, has been the Long Distance Junior Pro champ at Pacific Paddle Games two years running, and represented Mexico in the 2015 ISA Worlds. This year, she has her sights set on taking home the gold in Denmark. The youth are the future of the sport and Benitez is no exception.–RP
Tell us about your athletic background.
I have always been in sports like basketball, swimming and track since I was little. At the age of nine, my dad introduced me to standup paddling and taught me how to paddle for the first time at Mother's Beach. At the age of twelve, I decided to start competing and signed up for my first race in Dana Point.
I was excited and a little nervous, but I finished third in my division and it encouraged me to continue practicing and training. My dad contacted The Paddle Academy and since then I have been training with them. I have grown close to many of the paddlers on the team and we have become a big family.
Where do you do most of your training?
The majority of the time I train with The Paddle Academy doing downwinders, raceboard surfing, sprints, or long distance training. When I'm not with TPA, I surf, exercise or rest on my off days to recover.
When did you decide to start competing for Mexico?
When I was fourteen, I was invited by a good friend/professional SUP athlete, Fernando Stalla, to compete for the Mexican SUP Nationals. At first I was hesitant to join the team and compete in the ISAs, knowing that I would be facing off against the strongest athletes from around the world. Although I didn't feel prepared or ready to compete in such a prestigious race, my coach Mike Eisert and parents encouraged me to take the amazing opportunity and I never regretted it!
What have been some of your accomplishments competing for Mexico?
I have won several National titles in the past few years and am excited to be participating in this year's ISA competition. This year I won all the events in the Mexican Nationals for SUP including the long distance race, the technical race, and sprints.
Any plans to compete on the World Tour?
I would love to compete in the World Tour very soon, but unfortunately it would be difficult to balance school and travel. Hopefully, next year when I'm in college or on break, I'll be able to do most of the World Tour races.
What are some of your goals looking forward?
One of my biggest goals would be winning gold in the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships. The ISAs are such a prestigious race and winning a gold medal would mean everything to me, but I would need to work and train harder to earn that medal.
Are you involved with any other sports outside of SUP?
Just this past year, I decided to join an outrigger canoe club called Lanakila in Redondo Beach. The club is mainly directed by Danny Ching, whom I admire very much as well as my coach Brian Munce. I decided to join the junior racing team for experience and as cross-training for SUP. After my first practice with the junior team, I fell in love with the sport.