Harriet Brown, from “nipper” to Ironwoman and Molokai champion

For my first article on prone paddling, I am interviewing a huge Australian champion who is not only a specialist of the sport within the realm of surf lifesaving with the title of Surf Ironwowan but also a long-distance athlete being a 3-time winner and current record holder of the Molokai to Oahu prone paddleboard race. Please let me introduce you to Harriet Brown!

Hello Harriet, can you introduce yourself and your sports background to our waterman community?

Hi Pierre, I am a Surf Ironwoman and paddle board athlete. I compete in the Surf Ironwoman Series in Australia, Surf Life Saving events, paddleboard races and have raced for Australia whilst captaining the Australian Lifesaving Team. I have won the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard race three times and am the current record holder. I also work as an Exercise Physiologist.

What is the place of prone paddling within surf lifesaving in Australia?

In Australia thousands of young kids start surf lifesaving as a ‘nipper’. Many join a surf lifesaving club to learn surf safety skills because the beaches in Australia are some of the most dangerous in the world. As a nipper, you learn surf skills which include swimming and board paddling in the ocean. Many nippers fall in love with surf lifesaving and continue to train and race as they get older. A nipper board is small and then at 13 years old nippers progress to paddling a bigger board (10ft6 prone board) and become a senior.

Can you explain why it is so popular in your country?

Australians grow up paddling nipper boards and learn paddling skills from such a young age, that contributes to Australians strength in paddle board events across the world. Paddling is so popular in Australia because Aussies love beach culture; so much of what we do is centered around the ocean. Aussies are also a very competitive bunch. Events like Molokai to Oahu provide a platform to challenge ourselves in the ocean and compete against the best in the world.


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When did you start paddling?

I started board paddling when I was nine years old. This was actually quite late compared to many of the others I trained with who started at six years old. I started at Ocean Grove Surf Lifesaving Club in Victoria where it’s much colder than where I live now on the Gold Coast.

Why are you still paddling today?

I love paddling, I love the feeling of catching a wave or a runner and just feeling the ocean push me along. I also love competing and training. I enjoy the challenge of pushing my body to the limit and becoming as fit and as strong as I possibly can. The opportunities that paddling has given me are incredible – I have been lucky enough to travel the world for my sport; South Africa, Tahiti, Hawaii, Europe and Japan just to name a few. I enjoy meeting people from all around the world who also share a passion for paddling.

What is your best memory on a prone paddleboard?

Probably my best prone paddleboard memory is my first Molokai To Oahu paddle. I was extremely nervous leading into the crossing and my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t make the distance. Everything about that race was memorable; the people I met, the unique experience of flying over to Molokai in the small plane the day before, the many things that went wrong in the lead up to the race and then the satisfaction of finishing the crossing and winning my first M2O. It’s a feeling I will never forget.

What is your best advice for someone who starts prone paddling?

Start paddling on flat water so you can get used to the board and find your balance. Then slowly progress to paddling in the open ocean. Find a squad or buddy to paddle with if you can. I find it much easier to paddle with friends than always paddling alone. Choose a paddle event to compete in and train consistently leading up to that event. Use the time paddling to switch off and enjoy the ocean.

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About the Author

Pierre Lopez

A nurse student as well as an Oxbow ambassador, Pierre Lopez has put prone paddleboarding at the heart of his life. From surf lifesaving to long-distance ocean paddling, Pierre is eager to show all the different aspects of the sport by sharing the stories of some of the most emblematic characters of lying-down paddling.

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