Kauai’s Mariko Strickland had a big year in the standup world: She became the first to paddle the Peruvian Amazon, was a 2011 Teva Mountain Games Champion, North Shore Paddle Challenge Surf Sprint Champion and competed in the Molokai Channel crossing. If you haven’t heard of this talented 24-year-old consider yourself on notice as she takes her turn in our profile series on influential women in the sport. –Shari Coble

Tell us about your year.
Looking back, I realize that I've done quite a lot in my first year in the SUP scene. I started my SUP racing career here on Kauai and my confidence and support unexpectedly began to extend off-island to the outer islands, the Mainland, and even internationally. The first high-profile paddleboard race I competed in was [Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez] Battle of the Paddle (BOP) Hawaii, where I was humbled and impressed by so many physically and mentally strong female athletes. From then on, the ball just kept rolling.
Teva Mountain Games (TMG) was my first trip with my C4 ohana and we had a blast! I won both events at TMG, Kalani Vierra and I were featured tandem surfing the Glenwood Springs wave in the sports section of a local Colorado newspaper, and we made a 6-man IMAT run down the river! Since I was having so much fun on my SUP, I continued to compete in events such as Cline Man, Na Pali Challenge, Duke's OceanFest, North Shore Paddle Challenge, and unexpectedly, Molokai to Oahu.
After doing my first proper downwind run this past year on Kauai with Uncle Dave Parmenter, I was hooked! From then on, paddling from Molokai to Oahu became a tangible goal. I didn’t think I’d do it my first year of starting open-ocean standup paddling. What an experience. Being so fresh to the sport, every event I’ve done thus far has been a fun learning experience and it's been such an exciting year for me. I've been fortunate to do a lot of traveling for races, as well as fun adventures, including SUP surfing in Tahiti, and paddling throughout the lush Peruvian Amazon. I've met– and continue to meet– so many amazing water sport legends, industry people, fellow competitors, and genuinely nice people. I'm stoked and feel so blessed to be part of such a great sport and growing industry.

What’s your favorite experience been with SUP this year?
Teva Games was definitely a favorite, but I have a "top three list" and each experience is phenomenal for different reasons. My Peru trip was especially a unique favorite since it felt like we were pioneering SUP in the Amazon. We were the first people to SUP in the most remote area. We surfed standing waves, charged rapids and camped in the boonies. The trip was an amazing cultural experience as well as a true test of character.
My first Molokai to Oahu race was epic as well. I was fortunate enough to get invited to ride on Uncle Archie Kalepa's boat from Maui to Molokai with Uncle Dave Parmenter and skipper Terry Hee. Despite getting a little seasick, to view and take in the mana that the backside of Molokai exudes– and doing so with such legendary watermen and good-hearted men was an amazing experience for me. Thus, on a tactical side of things I definitely think the boat ride helped prepare myself mentally and physically for the paddle.
Lastly, paddling 17 miles for Evan Valiere's Na Pali Challenge was one of the best, most beautiful, and most challenging downwind runs I have yet to do. In the beginning I wasn't even paddling, I was just surfing for miles on epic coastal swells! The challenging part came when we hit a headwind and had to paddle another 3 or 4 miles in flat water 'til we hit land. That event was particularly special because my Dad also paddled this grueling race with me at age of 60. I was so proud of him and will definitely cherish that day for the rest of my life. The event and the power of SUP stoked out my Pops and because of that, I am grateful for this sport. It was such a great day that brought together families, friends and the community in a positive event that supported standup paddling.

What is your greatest accomplishment in SUP so far?
Surviving the Amazon! I'm kidding. I think my greatest accomplishment in SUP so far has been the Teva Mountain Games. When I heard about this event from C4 Waterman, I watched YouTube videos of people standup paddling down river rapids. I couldn’t pass it up. Right from the get-go I was having a blast, even when I was "superman-ing it" over the falls during practice runs. To enter the event as a major dark horse and paddle in river rapids for my first time, winning both events felt so rewarding. I was especially proud of my victories because I was competing in new territory and an entirely different body of water from what I am accustomed to. My results and presence at the event also allowed me to make a lot of connections with some really rad people, as well as great companies within the industry. TMG was definitely one of the most fun and craziest adventures I've done so far. I can't wait for next year!

What’s the SUP scene on Kauai like?
It’s primarily geared towards surfing. There are a lot of uncles as well as youngsters that rip on SUP. But that's not to say it's welcomed with open arms at all the surf spots. As far as races go, there aren't many "SUP only" races, so we usually have the option to jump in on the OC-1 races. When we do have [Rainbow Sandals Gerry Lopez] Battle of the Paddle formatted races it usually turns out to be a fun SUP community gathering with limited competitors. Nevertheless, we have a small, yet talented, paddle surf and SUP community here on Kauai to motivate and encourage one another. My paddling buddies and mentors here on Kauai consist of Uncle Parmenter, Kawika Carvalho, Kalani Vierra, Kainoa Lum, and my Dad. Mahalo for all the support and awesome downwind runs this past year. Hopefully more girls on Kauai will continue to get involved in SUP!

Do you have any plans for next year?
I definitely want to continue traveling inter-island, nationally and internationally to compete in races, as well as experience new cultures around the world. Australia for the Noosa Festival might be the next adventure! After finishing up my first year of SUP races I’m really excited for next year's racing season. A couple personal goals are to defend my title at the Teva Mountain Games, better my results in both Hawaii and California's Elite BOP race, paddle Molokai to Oahu solo, and enter SUP as well as OC-1 at the OluKai Ho'olaule'a event on Maui. And to get more high-profile racers to come over to Kauai for one of the greatest downwind races, the 17-mile Na Pali Challenge Race. I’m also going to do my best to get over to the outer-islands as much as possible for weekend races. I'm enjoying the journey and stoked to be part of such a great water sport involving so many good people. Aloha.

To read about Helga Goebel, click here.