Jenny Kalmbach has been a dominant competitor in the SUP scene for the past four years. She’s paddled the nine open-ocean channels that link the Hawaiian Islands, was voted Female Paddler of the Year at the first annual SUP Awards and has dominated countless races while also raising awareness about plastic pollution. –-Shari Coble

Photo courtesy of Morgan Hoesterey

What was your most important accomplishment of 2011?
Getting 1st in Long Distance and 2nd in Elite at the Battle of the Paddle Hawaii in May. I fought hard during both races and left it all out there. After it was all said, I was stoked to finish where I did. Going into the Elite race, I was so unsure of where I would place, I wasn’t even sure I’d make the podium. As we lined up I was nervous, but once the horn blew I took off. I led the pack to the first buoy and that gave me the confidence I needed for the rest of the race. It was a super tough race and instead of 4 miles, it ended up being closer to 8 miles. I led for a while, but just ran out of juice toward the end. It was disappointing to have missed that top place, but it was also a positive way for me to start my race season.

Taking home the Female Paddler of the Year award at the SUP Awards was also special. I don’t feel like I can call it an accomplishment, but it was something meaningful for me, nonetheless. I wasn’t expecting to go home with an award that night, so being called up was a big surprise. I’m just really grateful to those who felt I deserved it and all my friends, family and sponsors who support me. Having been a part of the SUP community for so many years, it’s exciting to see it grow and watch all the new races and opportunities pop up. There are so many great paddlers out there now and I’m just really stoked to be a part of it.

Why do you SUP?
I paddle because it’s challenging– because it’s a great way of exploring. It’s fun and it’s diverse, but most of all, I paddle because it makes me happy. Whether I’m training, racing, surfing or just cruising with friends, I always leave the water feeling good.

Photo courtesy of 11 City Tour

What's the SUP scene like on Big Island?
It’s pretty mellow in comparison to the other islands. There are only a few of us that are into racing, the rest are mostly recreational or SUP surfers. Big Island has amazing coastlines and marine life, so paddling here is always special. Just the other day I paddled out and was surrounded by a huge pod of spinner dolphins; it never gets old. The wind and surf here isn’t as consistent, so you have to really take advantage when it’s around. There is one spot on the northern coast that we go to for downwind paddling and it’s one of the most intense downwinders I have ever been on. It’s not as groomed as Maliko or as perfect as the Pailolo channel, but if you’re into big, dark water and a wild ride… this is the place to go.

Tell us about your goals for 2012.
I’d love to travel some more this year, whether it’s for races, surf trips or just for fun. I also want to train smarter than I did last year. I felt like my racing last year wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so I’m hoping to change things up and get back to feeling like I did two years ago.
As far as races, the Molokai to Oahu race will always be on my list. It’s just such an amazing experience and as long as I’m paddling, I plan on being a part of the event. It’s one of the most intense and passionate races out there, and whether you cross the Ka’iwi channel as a team or solo, it’s an incredible experience. I feel really strongly about the race and in my honest opinion, if you call yourself a SUP racer and you don’t do Molokai at some point in your career, you’re really blowing it.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Switzer

Any environmental endeavors planned for this year?
I want to continue to spread awareness about plastic pollution and how it’s affecting our health, environment and marine life. I’m currently reading “Plastic Ocean” by Captain Charles Moore and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the issue. The oceans are at stake and we need to step up and protect them. We need to change our habits and our addiction to plastic before it’s too late.
I’m also part of Stand Film, which is a standup paddling trek through the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, the site of a proposed oil tanker route. The documentary will showcase the life of First Nations tribes in the area and the pristine environment that is at stake if– or really, when– an oil spill occurs.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Shutes-Villegas

To read about Gillian Gibree, click here.