Perfect technique, strong in the upwind despite his teenage stature, downwind control worthy of the best out there today. At just 13 years of age, Tahitian Starboard rider Keoni Sulpice is one of today’s most promising juniors. He has won every single race in which he has participated this year in the junior category and he intends to pull off yet another coup when he takes part in his first international competition of the season at the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge.
Keoni, can you tell us about your results this year?
This year I took part in quite a number of local races where I gained some really satisfying results. I won all the junior races I participated in and I regularly finish in the top 10, or even the top 5, in open races, alongside the likes of Georges Cronsteadt, Enzo Bennett or Rete Ebb.
You are 13 years old and you’re already one of the best Tahitian riders. What’s your secret for reaching this level?
My secret is mainly just to train hard. I’m out on the water several times a week and I mix up things in terms of training. Between sprint, long-distance, downwind and surf. I try to train the hardest possible with friends or with my father. Training with other people allows me to go beyond my initial expectations even more so.
Food and lifestyle are also important in order to make progress. I pay careful attention to my diet, especially my weekly racing routine. I try not to eat too many fatty foods and to eat just what is strictly necessary.
Another thing I think is crucial to succeed is respecting your peers, and above all, remaining humble.
You have a reputation for being an excellent downwinder. Where does this come from?
Indeed, downwind is truly my strong point. It’s also what I like most in stand-up paddle. In general, I think I have a good intuition for how good an incoming wave is and I manage to guide my board in the right direction to take advantage of it.
What’s it like to be the youngest in the majority of races in which you participate?
Being the youngest makes me quite proud in fact. Even if it can be very difficult to go up against adult riders, it really is a source of pride. I usually stand out for my age, my level, my ranking and my progress when it comes to SUP.
Which boards do you normally use?
As I am sponsored by Starboard Tahiti, I usually work with Starboard boards. During my trainings, I mainly use a 12’6 board by the company. At race time, I opt for a 14’. Depending on conditions, I use either the All Star, the Sprint or the Ace. I really am fond of Starboard boards as they are the best for me stature and they glide really fluidly on the water.
You’re going to take part in the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. What is your objective in relation to this race?
I’m heading to the USA with another rider from the Starboard Tahiti stable, Tuki Tissot and his father. It’s always nice to head off with another rider on the team.
My goal for the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge is to place in the top three in the pro junior category, in a bid to get noticed by Starboard International.
Is it more difficult to take part in international races when you live in Tahiti?
Yes, it can be quite challenging because we live on an island which is quite isolated, so simply getting to an international event can cost a pretty penny, between the cost of flights, accommodation and everything else that goes with it. In addition, we don’t get a great deal of support in that area for the time being. We hope that this will soon change so that we can represent Tahiti abroad.
Yes, it is indeed my second race over there. I took part in the PPG last year in California. I finished 7th in the distance race. Even if it was already a good result given my age and given that it was my first race in the USA, I am still just as excited to participate in the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge in order to get an idea of my level. I’m hoping to do more and more races abroad, and this in a bid to pursue an international career, quite right.