SUP Women: Karen Jacobson
Karen Jacobson is a standout paddle surfer and racer from Sayulita, Mexico. After competing as a professional gymnast in childhood and constantly nursing all the injuries that come along with the sport, Jacobson decided to follow her passion for surfing and the ocean. Now, the pro paddle surfer is making a name for herself, rising through the ranks of the Standup World Tour and US SUP Tour. —SC
Tell us about your athletic background.
I have been a professional gymnast and started it since I was four years old. I got hurt a lot in that sport, so I let it go. I still love it, always have, always will. I started surfing when I was like 12 to 13 [years old]. I learned quite fast. Now, it’s my life. I travel all over the world to achieve my goals and train hard everyday. I do yoga, Crossfit and pilates. I do enjoy going to the gym as well. SUP and surf are my killer goodies though.
How did competing as a professional gymnast prepare you to compete as a professional paddler?
I think mostly with the discipline, and experience with competition—as in facing some of the best in the world and being one of them.
Why'd you start standup paddling?
I was just doing it because I have always loved the ocean and lived near it. Nobody in my family ever surfed. My mom is a marine biologist, so she has always taken me out in the ocean since I was little. I was just doing it for fun and learned fast. I did my few first local competitions for fun, and did good in them. I started doing more, surfing more, competing more, training more. Next thing I know, I am doing it professionally, training professionally, and competing on it professionally. I love it now and it is my life, work, and passion.
Sayulita has some impressive paddlers. Tell us about the scene there.
Yes, there’s a couple of girls in town I can go paddle with…I’m the only one taking it real serious though.
There are a lot of impressive paddlers in town, SUP Surfers and SUP Racers. Fernando Stalla, as we all know, is one of the best you could say. He’s a good surfer, and a good racer. I guess it all comes out for his hard training.
Bicho Jimenez, he is originally a great longboarder, and I’ve known him for a while. When he first started paddling he was just doing it for fun as well. He started training hard and doing local competitions, his improvement was noticeable super fast. He started training with Fernando, and now, next thing you know, he is one of the best paddlers in the world. He is a hard trainer and great person—he deserves the best.
Ryan Helm, my part time coach when he’s in town. He is originally a shortboard surfer, and used to be sponsored. He is radical. Everybody knows about Ryan—he’s great at what he does.
There are more talented ones in town, like Felipe Hernandez, a good SUP Surfer, and Antonio Valdez, an SUP Racer. There are too many names to name them all…Just know, in Sayulita, we got some of the best.
You compete in paddle surfing and racing. What kind of training regimen are you on? And do you have training partners?
I love surfing with my SUP and racing as well. My original coach is Ryan Helm. We have training routines we switch up depending on the day. When he’s not in town, I do Crossfit, yoga and pilates. I also have my second coach, her name is Susan. We also have training routines we switch up depending on the day. I train hard, daily and twice a day, surf all day if there’s waves, and I try to go out and paddle at least six times a week.
What's your take on female competitors, like yourself, competing for smaller cash prizes than the males?
I think it’s unfair and fair at the same time. For example, it’s not fair at one tournament guys will get $2,000 USD and girls will get $1,000. But, honestly, there's twice as many guys. But, at the same time, it comes out to four finalists or top 10, or those kinds of rankings, so it’s the same at the end. They should up it, or be equal with both genders.
There’s a lot I think about [with] that. I mean, if there’s a competition in Costa Rica, a girl is going to spend the same amount of money going to it as a guy—maybe even more because we are more needy than guys. So, going there, spending money out of our pocket or budget, and receiving a prize two times less than the guys' prize. It’s kind of disappointing and not motivating to go on to the next one. It does not help economically. We spend more doing it, even if we win. You don’t even get your travel expenses covered with a win or two.
You're kind of known for showing more skin than other female competitors. How do you respond to fellow competitors saying it's inappropriate to compete in skimpier style suits?
I really don’t care what people say. If I did, I would have stopped long ago because they always talk. Good or bad, don’t care; [they're] always criticizing, but I like what I wear and that’s why I wear it. I feel comfortable with myself and with my body, and I’m sure I won’t be wearing these bikinis once I turn 50. So I want to wear them now. I love having my small bikinis. I feel super good about my body and what I wear, but of course I know when and where and what to use.
What do you think about all these 'world tours' that are running?
I think they are legit as well. I think all tours, world cups, world championships and those competitions are all important. I try to go to everything I am able to go to. I think it all counts and makes a good curriculum, but of course my main tournaments are the stops of the US SUP Tour, the stops of the Standup World Tour, the ISA World Championships and Battle of the Paddle.
Tell us about your plans for this year.
I'm doing the whole Standup World Tour, the whole US SUP Tour, Battle of the Paddle, and I will be doing local competitions too. I will be going to Hawaii for two to three months this summer, and will be doing the race and surf competitions that season, which consists of around 12 or 13 tournaments over there. I can’t wait!
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