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Ocean paddling and downwinding with SUNOVA SUP Champion Susanne Lier

SUP pioneer and promoter, pro athlete, World Champion, Coach, entrepreneur and now a mom… This list is by no means exhaustive and only illustrates some of the activity and projects Susanne Lier, a remarkable SUNOVA Team rider, is involved in. Nearly two hours spent talking with Susanne were a perceptive, razor-sharp insight into the SUP industry, its history and anticipated future, resonating with true passion for the sport and backed by deep knowledge about it. Navigating choppy waters turned into a recurring theme and a metaphor for the evolving sport of stand-up paddleboarding. It’s also a story reminding SUP riders about the sheer power of the ocean.

Photo by: Gwen Marche Fuerteluz

Hi Susanne, welcome to TotalSUP and congratulations on your amazing 2021 season! As an elite SUP athlete and World Champion, you’re also a SUP Coach, entrepreneur and an active sport promoter, combining an incredible amount of know-how about the industry but also on water experience. What was the idea behind developing your own brand and SUP coaching programmes?

It’s more like a mission to share my passion for SUP and to promote it as a “real” and healthy sport. I’m paddling since 2010 and I was part of the whole development and creation from the beginning of our sport in Europe. That’s pretty amazing.

I’m very proud to be since so many years part of the female world elite and that with my voice and position I can help other paddlers during my camps and workshops. The Watermen Performance Centre in Fuerteventura is a place which I created to connect people to the ocean and as a great training platform for the Winter. We have training camps with specific themes so that everyone can find its level. It’s the perfect spot for Winter training and we have a lot of ocean toys as SUP, OC, prone and the top SUNOVA quiver.

My certification program Paddlefit is a unique training and teaching tool for SUP instructors and for everyone who would like to create challenging sessions on the water.

What are your thoughts on the growth of the sport accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’m actually not very surprised that we had such a boom during this period as people could only do individual sports and outdoor activity. The amount of sold boards is also very impressive.

As for the racing scene it was at the beginning of the pandemic and a bit tough to keep the motivation for training as nearly all events got cancelled. We can be pretty grateful that organisations like the EuroTourSUP, ICF and local events did a lot of efforts with the COVID-19 restrictions to make events and races happen.

Many athletes, in all sports, suffered and training with a real calendar and plan was very difficult. As for me, I became a happy new mom in 2020 and enjoyed that time to take care of my little daughter and to think about my projects and goals for 2021.

Susanne and Vaimiti

With the growth of the sport, comes an overload of information. How do we navigate that noise?

Noise is the right word. We have so much information out there for materials, trainings, technique explanation… It’s sometimes very confusing, even for me as a professional athlete. Of course it’s totally logic that in the development of a new sport we have these phases where a lot things are being tested and created. That’s also the process.

I’ve experienced on many occasions during my coaching sessions, workshops or camps that people are really looking for simple explanations which they can use to find the right material and training. I always teach with simple words, visuals and the history of the sport.

Sometimes filtering the information is actually pretty helpful as is browsing for the input which is suitable for your skill level and goals. Being honest with ourselves helps a lot too.

Photo by: Gwen Marche Fuerteluz

There has been an increased interest in ocean paddling and downwinding… Where do we start?

Yes and I’m very happy about it. It means that a lot of paddlers would like to become more versatile and not only the fastest on flatwater. I’ve had so many people this year in my centre in Fuerteventura and I really enjoy the progress with them, getting out of the comfort zone and also the challenging your mind and body in more difficult conditions. After a week of ocean paddling you are not the same paddler on flat water anymore.

During my camps which are dedicated to ocean paddling and downwinding, I start with the simple things as mobility on the board, safety and also technical skills which are crucial in ocean conditions. I’ve also experienced on many occasions that simple things like falling and getting back on the board is tougher then you think in a deep blue ocean with wind and waves. We also challenge a lot our balance skills.

Could you tell us more about your focus when coaching ocean paddling and downwinding?

As already mentioned I start my coaching sessions with the basics and on more stable boards. Reading the ocean is a very difficult skill and that only comes with a lot of hours on the water. I focus specifically on balance training, footwork, safety and adaption of the technique due to ever changing conditions. A lot of people are not used to different stroke rates for example. I always strive for my customers to be successful so that they go home with a great experience and would like to continue. I can really relate to them as I also started as a flat water paddler. 

The ocean is the most beautiful place for me but its also dangerous and we need to be respectful and careful. Which means, and I strongly recommend, that everyone who would like to learn downwinding and ocean paddling, should do that only with the professionals who know what they’re doing.

Human overestimation…

Human overestimation… I know it’s a funny expression but during all my camps led on the ocean and during my coaching sessions,  I’ve experienced this particular behaviour with paddlers who totally underestimate the power and the challenges of the ocean. You cannot become a good ocean paddler or downwinder in a week with only flat water experience.

Downwinding in particular is a very technical and challenging discipline which demands a lot of skills and it’s tough to teach participants reading of the ocean. Paddlers with very good flat water skills and experience will have to face some challenges and hard time to adapt to the waves and unpredictable conditions that the ocean offers. Leaving the comfort zone may feel at times as failure which I see often. Don’t be too hard on yourself and enjoy the progress of becoming a much better and versatile paddler.

Could you tell us about your collaboration with SUNOVA?

It’s never easy to find the right partner and sponsor for all your projects and goals as an athlete… The SUNOVA  boards are fast, beautiful and suit my style of paddling perfectly.

I’m very proud to be part of the SUNOVA family. We are small team and we are all involved in growing the brand. I’m happy that all our guests and customers of the Watermen Performance Centre can test and enjoy a wide range of the SUNOVA collection.

Photo by: Gwen Marche Fuerteluz

What are your SUNOVA boards of choice?

The SUNOVA Allwater Faast Pro is my all-time favourite. This board is suitable for all conditions. I’m lucky to have almost all SUNOVA models at my centre and that I can choose the best toy for specific conditions.

The SUNOVA Torpedo is the board I choose for SUP race surf sessions. It was made for riding waves no matter the size but it’s also a great all-rounder for everyone who wants a stable board with low volume.

The SUNOVA Ocean Faast Pro is the board which helps me to ride endless bumps during downwind sessions. It feels like it is chasing bumps by itself.

 

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I won my gold medals with the new SUNOVA Flatwater Faast and I can’t wait to paddle this board again this season. It’s one of the fastest and most stable boards I have ever had under my feet.

What are your SUP racing plans for 2022?

The season 2022 will be less busy then the 2021 which was the most successful season of my career and I was happy to be back on the start line after my maternity leave. I’m very proud of the results as I have now less time for training as a mom and working person. I could have not reached my goals without the support of my family and my coach for which I’m very grateful.

I will take part in some of the EuroTour events and the ICF World Championships in Poland are also on my calendar. I will also dedicate a lot of my time to SUP workshops, clinics and certification during my tour in Germany this Summer. The dates will be soon published so watch this space!

Photo by: Gwen Marche Fuerteluz

Thank you very much for your time and insight Susanne and good luck with the 2022 Season!

To find out more about SUNOVA, visit sunovasurfboards.com 

Follow SUNOVA on Facebook and Instagram 

Connect with Susanne Lier on Instagram and visit Paddlefit Europe & www.susannelier.com 

*All images courtesy of Susanne Lier

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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