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Photo: Lori Griffith,

SUP Women: Kim Barnes

Entering into her first SUP race after only paddling a few weeks, 38-year-old Kim Barnes of Florida took third place among elite racers, stirring a passion inside that would propel her to the ranks of top female SUP racers.

"After that first race, I knew I wanted this to be my new sport and would have to train hard to get to the top," Barnes says. But, with a husband who travels a lot, two small children and a full-time job, figuring it out would be my biggest challenge."

An elite gymnast in high school, Barnes' goal at that time was to attend college out of state on an athletic scholarship. However, after breaking her leg three times in the same spot from dismounts and pounding, that goal didn't seem attainable. Not one to ever say 'never,' Barnes left gymnastics and turned to springboard diving, "which is like gymnastics, only landing on my head," Barnes says. Quickly excelling in this new sport, Barnes received an athletic scholarship to University of Austin, competing all four years and receiving Honorable Mention at Nationals.

After college, while working on boats, Barnes met her husband Stephen, a boat captain. The couple worked and traveled together until the time of their son's birth, when Barnes returned to a teaching profession. One year later, the couple welcomed a daughter into the world.

Living near the water, the family spends their free time skateboarding, surfing and kitesurfing. It wasn't until a year ago that a friend introduced Barnes to standup paddling. "I thought geez I love this."

SUP women, kim barnes, florida, sup racer, stand up paddle, standup paddling, paddleboard racing, lori griffith, chasin a dream photography

Photo: Lori Griffith,

After the third place finish in her first race, Barnes entered into the Orange Bowl Paddle Championships—one of the biggest races of the winter season—but split her ribs training, which took three months to heal. Setting her sights on the next big race, the Key West Classic, she joined a local race league and began training earnestly. Enlisting the help of elite paddler Ryan Helm, Barnes worked to improve her technique.

"I needed to spend more time on the ocean, learning how to ride waves, connect waves, get a stroke rhythm on any type of water, and to learn how to strategically have my strokes be more efficient and less strenuous," Barnes says.

After training and focusing on improving technique, Barnes not only completed the grueling 12-mile course, which traverses the ocean, bay, channels and strong currents, but she also placed fourth among an impressive competitive field. Following that, Barnes has continued to make the podium in nearly every race she's entered.

As a busy mother of two, Barnes' training involves focusing on skills and technique during the week (which includes practicing buoy turns, starts, learning how to walk on the board) with a group of novice racers. When she can't get on the water, Barnes will run, although, she tries to paddle three times a week. The biggest challenge is finding the time:

"The only time I have to practice is right after work. Stephen and I corral a couple of neighbors to help out [with the kids] or I bring them with me and I just race," Barnes says. "The way I can handle it all is my desire to want to do this so bad. I'll train with the kids on the board; they love it and love being on the water with me. I work on technique and they look for manatees, dolphins and birds."

SUP women, kim barnes, florida, sup racer, stand up paddle, standup paddling, paddleboard racing, lori griffith, chasin a dream photography

Photo: Lori Griffith,

Barnes denies being competitive by nature, only wanting to beat her own times and do well for herself. "I set my own personal goals, so if I don't win I'm bummed, but I'm not totally mortified. I'm ok if someone beats me," she says. To prepare for races, she mentally visualizes the course and practices it repeatedly. "Inevitably, on race day, the conditions are different than what I practiced, but that's the beauty of SUP racing."

And, according to Barnes, SUP is, "the best workout of your life. It's better than being in an air-conditioned gym, pumping with the radio blaring and a hundred people around. It's a total body workout where you use all of your muscles. When I get fatigued and my arms are done, I channel a different muscle area, like my core."

As an almost 40-year-old working mother, Barnes is understandably proud of what she is accomplishing. "I had to realize I still had myself. I wasn't just 'Mom' or 'Stephen's wife'—I am me, and I wanted to be the best mentally and physically," Barnes says. "I want to train but I also have the perspective of my kids. I train, train, train, then come home, and one of the kids will have the flu. So, I take a deep breath, change modes, cradle and love them. I'll stay up all night and then go to work or stay home if needed.

"I'm exhausted a lot, but that's the way it goes. I spend many times alternating nights, but at 5:30 am, I get up and go to work, then train. I really look forward to when Steve is home, but we've got it down."

The key is finding balance among the chaos. —Lori Griffith

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