The Light Rider: From flat water to ocean wins, Donato Freens excels in SUP versatility

With nine National Titles to his name and top podiums, including the undisputed wins on both flat water and in the oceanic conditions this season, Donato Freens, the Light Board Corp Team Rider, continues to excel on his SUP journey which is backed by razor-sharp focus and staying “dedicated, disciplined and driven”. These objectives have clearly not changed since our last chat with the Dutch Champion. 

Photo credit: Georgia Schofield | ICF Worlds in Gdynia, Poland

There’s both maturity and humility in Donato’s approach to moving up as a pro athlete in our sport. “Conditioning your body and mind during training is by doing difficult things every day”, says 18-year old Donato who broke onto the SUP racing scene as a very young athlete opting out from the junior categories to compete in the elite men divisions.

Photo credit: Georgia Schofield | ICF Worlds in Gdynia, Poland

Hi Donato, welcome back to TotalSUP! Massive congratulations on the amazing SUP racing season to date! Could you share your top 3 moments so far?

Hey guys! Good to talk to you again! Since we last spoke I have indeed been able to create some long lasting memories. It’s been a great season so far and better yet, it is not over!

I started off the 2023 season by winning the maiden and first 5 star EuroTour event of the 2023 season in Ceuta back in April. To me this event was very special in three ways, first of all, it was my first ever win in the EuroTour after having been on the podium a few times in 2022 but never on the highest step, but secondly because it was a race in oceanic conditions and I was able to beat some guys who have an ocean as their backyard.

You might recall that I reside in a land locked province in the Netherlands, so it was pretty special to me to be able to show I am not just a flat water paddler. And thirdly, because I won it on a board that is perceived by many as a board which only works in the flats. Needless to say, I do not think it does but I am glad I could show my board works in the bumps.

Photo credit: The EuroTour

Following this, I would say that prolongating all my Dutch titles in June was a highlight for me. Because of prevailing racing rules in previous years I was never ever really able to get myself a junior title, and this year I did have a chance, actually my final chance as a junior. I decided to go all in and compete in all the elite men races (sprint, tech and long distance) but also the junior titles (sprint and tech). This meant I had to do a lot of races in both elite men and junior, so I was very pleased to have won all the 5 title races I entered.

Photo credit: Marloes Kaal Sportfotografie

Finally, I would say that winning my second EuroTour race in Namur very recently is special. I had raced there and podiumed before in previous years, but to win it this year, and to win a second EuroTour event after my first win in Ceuta is very fulfilling. The week before I was narrowly beaten by Boothy (Michael Booth) and Noic (Noic Garioud) in Nordhausen, so I knew I was in a great form and getting more confident in my ability to challenge the top guys in our sport. In Namur I had a strategy, the form and was able to take the win home.

Photo credit: The EuroTour

You’re one of the most “explosive” SUP athletes on the scene at the moment “shredding” events to bits – How do you prepare for competitions and could you share your hacks to staying injury free?

I keep myself busy by maintaining consistency of training every day and variety within my training programme. Train as hard as possible and rest as hard as possible to maximize the results. Conditioning your body and mind during training is by doing difficult things every day so when it’s race day your body is used to your labour and will perform better.

Eating healthy is very important. You can never outwork a bad diet. Everyone’s body reacts different to certain foods so it is more of a journey of discovering yourself and what works for you.

Photo credit: Marloes Kaal Sportfotografie

We caught up with you a year ago – What has changed on your local SUP scene and your thoughts on the current state of the sport based on your observations?

Since last time we spoke the SUP scene has become more popular among youth. I see more and more kids and juniors competing whereas a few years ago I was mostly racing 40+ guys. Needless to say, I am very pleased about seeing a younger crowd in our sport. Not too long ago I was in Santa Pola for the SUP World Festival and I was amazed by the number of youth training and competing! Whenever I can, I try to encourage more people to paddle. Such as giving clinics and tips to younger riders at races. The positive responses and vibes I get from this are very fulfilling and motivate me more to be someone people want to relate to.

What is your focus this season?

My focus for this season is to compete in every race that I can to garner as much experience as possible, train my weakest points until they are not and do my absolute best at the World Championships in France. In May I graduated from high school and since then I have been able to train a lot and compete all across Europe. Overall, I am very pleased of how I have grown this year not just in terms of results but also in terms of race maturity and I am eager to continue my progression.

From September onwards I will be starting with a major in Sports Marketing at the Johan Cruijff Academy which has been established to provide top level athletes the opportunity to be successful in sports while also pursuing academic goals. This means I will have lots of flexibility and will be eligible for athlete facilities which will help me chase after my SUP racing ambitions. It offers a wonderful opportunity to combine my pursuit of athletic goals with a career in a sports related field during my career and afterwards.

Photo credit: The EuroTour

Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Light Board Corp?

Light Board Corp have been supporting me since late 2019. My dad was doing the distribution for Blue Planet in Europe and I raced their boards until they stopped making race boards in 2019. My dad kept selling the brand for another year or so but he did not want to hold me back and thus gave me a free hand to make my own decision about what boards I wanted to race on.

This is the background of why my dad and I started the conversation with Gerd Weisner and it has been one of the best decisions we have taken. Interestingly, back in September 2019 I started off with a Signature v2 and as a matter of fact almost 4 years later I am still racing the very same board shape. Unchanged. This is a testament of the performance of this board. Light, fast and versatile.

You’ve already tested the new LIGHTBOARDCORP® PARADOXA. What do you think?

The PARADOXA has an amazing waterline the board is perfectly place above the water surface and the tail has practically zero drag. The board is fit for every consumer given that it is incredibly stable and has enough volume for sprinting and hefty riders. The Signature v2 is a very fast board, but it requires a certain skill level to get the most out of it.

The PARADOXA will be a more forgiving board without losing any of the high performance characteristics. This will make it accessible to a wider potential of riders. Furthermore, the board is made using a very novel technique and equipment making it even lighter, stiffer, more durable but also more sustainable. For now Gerd has developed a 23 inch PARADOXA and if all goes well, I will be getting my 22 inch version very soon. Like I said, I am quite fond of my Signature v2 and will not let go of it, but for flat water conditions I will be looking at the PARADOXA as my go to board.

Photo credit: Light Board Corp

Based on your experience, what is needed to encourage and support young SUP athletes to compete both nationally and internationally?

Youngsters need to have as much fun as there can possibly be, get them hooked to the sport and the training and advanced equipment will come. They would need a role model to which to look up to and relate. Coming to races and become familiar with the environment will definitely make them accustomed to start paddling in the racing scene.

I would also think that the junior races need to have meaning and recognition. Basically, it needs to be a race format which has some challenge and diversity such as tech racing, and if possible, attract a decent prize pool also and some media coverage. Young riders also want to be winners and for it to be noticed.

What’s in the pipeline?

In a few weeks I will be competing again on the EuroTour in Italy. This event is basically the last major event of the tour and although Noic Garioud has secured the overall win for the season, I want to defend my ranking (second now) and moreover get another decent result in for the event. After this race I will re-evaluate which races I plan on competing in the period towards the ISA World Championships in France.

Thank you for your time Donato and good luck with the rest of the season!

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About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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