Shaping Young Paddler’s Lives in Mexico With The Sayulita Jr. SUP Team
By Rebecca Parsons
Shelby Taylor hails from the landlocked state of Kentucky and yet, hers is a life on the water. Taylor participated in competitive sports her entire life, but it wasn't until she faced illness and injury that she discovered standup paddling. She'd been to Sayulita on family vacations growing up and fell in love, deciding it would make a good home base for her education and training. She trained solo for a few months and then joined the Sayulita SUP training team with Fernando Stalla, Ryan Helm, and her now-fiancé, Javier Bicho Jimenez.
"We started as training partners and travel companions, and over the seasons grew to be a force to be reckoned with on and off the water," Taylor says of Jimenez. "A 'dream team' of training and fell in love."
Intermixed with training and competing, the young couple had the opportunity to work with some international youth teams—The Paddle Academy, Performance Paddle Team, and the MarBelear SUP Team in Mallorca, Spain.
"We saw the incredible strength and fire in these tiny kids, the camaraderie they had formed as a team," Taylor recalls. "We knew then and there that the kids in Sayulita needed a program like that."
In Sayulita, it isn't uncommon that good, talented children lose their way due to drugs and crime. Taylor and Jimenez felt that they could save these kids and so set out to start the Sayulita Jr. Team.
The duo based their team off of other successful youth programs they'd been involved with, adding a touch of their own flair. They designed youth boards and with a combination of financial support from the community, families, and a personal loan on their end, they were able to front the cost of the boards. They set a B- GPA requirement for team members, holding them accountable for paddling as well as their academics. Additionally, they added a monthly community service requirement in order to keep the team involved in the community.
The team began with just 13 members and now has grown to 72, with many names on a waiting list. There are five groups of 10 to 15 kids, each meeting two days a week to train on the water, one day a week for a dry land workout, and bi-monthly for club competitions. Taylor and Jimenez encourage compassion and camaraderie among the kids; their goal is for the team to feel like a tight nit family.
Team members come from all walks of life and range from seven-year olds to teens. The kids train in the open ocean, often in waves, winds and currents. They challenge themselves daily, overcoming fears and pushing themselves harder than they ever thought possible.
"Not only do they realize they all have an athlete in their soul, but they learn they can endure physical pain and mental agony and survive!" Taylor says. "All these life skills they learn through team sports play out in many aspects of their lives—be it hard schoolwork, long and hard work hours in future jobs, hard relationships, and so on and so forth."
Funding has proven to be an ongoing challenge, but Taylor and Jiminez work hard and hope to someday take their teen group abroad to compete at PPG or the Carolina Cup. Competitive paddlers themselves, the couple acknowledges the life-changing experiences traveling and competing against the world's best can create.
With their wedding approaching, the couple is excited to continue giving dedicated effort and energy to the club. They hope to get more kids involved, empower their participants to be the best they can be and continue changing lives.
"It's our life, our passion and our future we nurtured together," Taylor says. "I have never had anything more meaningful in my life and to be able to share it with the love of my life—no words."