She may be a racing champion, but Sonni Hönscheid knows how to hammer a lip, too. Photo: Jürgen Hönscheid

SUP Women | A Conversation with Race Phenom Sonni Hönscheid

International Race Champion, Artist

For members of the international SUP racing community, elite racing veteran Sonni Hönscheid needs no introduction. For most among them, they’ve seen her plenty of times the front of the pack in just about every race on the standup paddler’s agenda. But for the aspiring paddler or common athletics enthusiast, here’s a little rundown: Hönscheid’s won the women’s division of the Molokai 2 Oahu World Championships for three years running, setting a record for the legendary crossing race and cementing herself in the history books as one of the greatest female paddlers to grace the planet. Beyond that, she’s also an artist and a model citizen of her adopted home island of Maui. We caught up with her for a quick chat about what it takes to get so far in a realm with no shortage of worthy competition. –MM

How has growing up in the water opened your eyes to the possibilities in life?
I was always close to the water but found surfing quite late. I did bodyboarding before and then I got into tennis. When I was 14, I tried surfing and the first time I stood up on the board, that's all I wanted to do. I stopped doing tennis and focused on surfing and windsurfing. Growing up on the Canary Islands (Spain) gave me the chance to be on the water everyday.

Your dad was a windsurfer, did he push you into it? A lot of people aren't given opportunities like that.
My dad was a professional windsurfer but he never pushed my sisters and I to do things. He would give us a chance to do it and that's what made it really attractive to us. He would come back from surfing and we would see he was super stoked. I wanted to do it for myself. That's kind of rare in sports.

How are you so comfortable in those conditions where some people struggle?
I like the changes and dealing with different conditions. In the Canaries it can be stormy or wavy but I go out everyday.

How do you keep the competitive fire alive as you're doing all these things?
For sure getting support from my family, friends and sponsors. Then it is the passion of what we're doing. If you see that you're getting better, then you get better more. I'm slowly reaching my goals and it's a good feeling. I'm just really enjoying what I'm doing.

How does the scene for professional standup paddlers in Europe compare to America's?
I think for Europeans it's a little more difficult because in America there are a lot more big races. This summer there were more international races and they got more attention. That's a good step for people in Europe. For racers who don't have the chance to travel that much it gives them a chance to be in the spotlight more.

What changes do you think we are going to see in the next five years for female standup paddlers?
The level is increasing greatly now and its going to get even higher. I think the sport will be in the Olympics. But I hope we always have races in the waves and that it's not just about going straight.

This is the fifth installment of our series highlighting seven inspiring ladies who have made a lasting impact in our sport. This is part of our feature, Real Talk, which originally ran in our 2016 Women's Issue. 

More SUP Women.