He heads up The Paddle Academy, a veritable stand up paddle institution in Dana Point, California, and no one is more invested in his kids’ performance than he is. Mike Eisert is at the very heart of fostering and developing young and promising new SUP talent, and his Paddle Academy waits practically all year for Dana Point to come alive once again to herald in this singular sporting event. For TotalSUP, Eisert lets us in on some of the up-and-coming young names to really watch out for at this year’s edition, tells us how The Paddle Academy has been evolving over the course of 2017 and gives us some insight into the buzz and atmosphere that builds in the Southern Californian town in the run-up to each Pacific Paddle Games.
Mike Eisert, you are the founder and director of The Paddle Academy in Dana Point. On the eve of the Pacific Paddle Games 2017, what is the atmosphere like there at the minute?
As always on the eve of this event, the atmosphere on the beach at Doheny is electric! As more and more athletes arrive each day, every passing hour becomes increasingly exciting, and for the athletes at The Paddle Academy, they just feed off of this positive energy and use it as motivation during their final strokes of preparation for the event.
Since we last interviewed you back in March of this year, how has the season been for you and your athletes? What have been some of the highlights in your opinion?
Since March, the amount of preparation and commitment from our athletes and their parents at The Paddle Academy has been incredible. All of which, I might add, would not have been possible without the coaching role that Greg Closier has assumed since he’s been living in San Clemente.
With Greg’s assistance on the beach and in the water, and with the help of personal one-on-one instruction, some of our Elite Athletes (not to mention those in the earlier stages) have made huge gains, and none of that would have been possible if not for him.
For The Paddle Academy, this season has been one of growth and maturity, with some of our original team members stepping aside to pursue other obligations as young adults and lots of new young faces eager to improve. For sure, the easiest highlight to focus on is the success enjoyed by so many of our athletes this year, including stand-out performances all year long by Tyler Bashor, who has become a true training machine.
In addition, Erika Benitez has had some amazing performances this year, not to mention her stellar international breakthrough at this year’s ISA World Championship, where she achieved a hard-fought 9h place in the distance race. Obviously, we can’t forget about Jade Howson either, who took home a bronze medal in the Sprint category, before securing herself a top 5 finish in the Technical event too.
In spite of such outstanding individual performances, The Paddle Academy’s ethos is still very much about the team! And this year more than ever before, with team trips to places like Maui for OluKai and Hood River, Oregon. These events have really tested our athletes and brought this group even closer together.
Such tests of their ability have encouraged and enabled them, as a team, to push each other day in and day out. It’s great!
The Pacific Paddle Games are considered as the high point of the season locally. Do you agree with this? Will The Paddle Academy be holding any special events or clinics as part of the Games?
For The Paddle Academy, “PPG week”, as we call it, is very special and our focus this year is to usher in another generation of paddlers by hosting our friends from Sayulita and their Junior SUP athletes, as well as Junior SUP athletes from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Japan and other parts of the US.
Yesterday at practice, we had approximately 50 groms and pro standup athletes on the water, and for us, that is what this week is all about. Every year, when we look back at this event I barely remember the results of our individual athletes, but more so our Monday and Wednesday afternoon practices with parents chatting on the beach.
Groms ripping in and out through the surf on their race boards and nothing but smiles everywhere. Those are the real takeaways!
The Paddle Academy has become well-known for fostering great young SUP talent, such as Erika Benitez, Shae Foudy and Jade Howson, among others? What is on the horizon for these young athletes?
For these young ladies the sky’s the limit. Shae will continue to be Shae and always charge hard with her new team, Infinity. Hopefully she’ll get a break and remain injury-free, giving us the chance to see her all the potential she has developed over the past 5 years.
As for Erika and Jade, it’s all about continued growth in competition, long-term athletic development and always remaining truly stoked to paddle. Erika is a warrior at practice as in races, and she will always be on the hunt. I firmly believe that she has only just scratched the surface of her potential, and Jade too is full of promise.
She is still so raw, with many strokes still needed to gain those consistent performances, but let me tell you, these 3 young ladies easily possess some of the most well-rounded skills out there. Don’t let their ages of 18, 17 and 15 fool you!
Among those who have trained at The Paddle Academy, who are some of the major riders to watch out for at this year’s Pacific Paddle Games?
At this year’s Pacific Paddle Games, I see a whole bunch of our age group groms being challenged like never before. For sure, the deepest field will be the ages 12-14 boys’ category, and within this group everyone on the water will have their hands full with Zeke Rose, who has – at the ripe old age of 13 – just hit his stride leading into Pacific Paddle Games. With his new SIC RS under his feet, he has now consolidated his credentials as one of our fastest athletes. And all this at just 13!
Other promising young contenders include the likes of Tyler Bashor, who will be fully committed to the Junior Pro event and who will be stepping up his game in a big way. Having just turned 15, there is no doubt in my mind that he is both willing and ready. Tyler has become our Team Leader at The Paddle Academy, and with his smoking fast new Infinity Race board, I can really see him doing great out there.
Of course, Jade and Erika will be battling it out with many others for the Junior Pro Girls’ top honours, and with other top girls in town from around the world, they will have their work cut out for them. They will also jump into the Elite Pro Women’s Technical Race, where Jade surprised everyone last year with an impressive hole shot to the first turn buoy alongside Shae, before continuing on to a top 5 finish.
Easily among the most watched races will be the young groms under 12’s category. We’ll be expecting some epic finishes and fun times all-round witnessing these energetic boys and girls giving it their all on the course. The conditions expected to be much flatter and with little swell this year, we expect a chance to really see how good these kids paddle and not just see how brave they are at charging through and making surf. It will be awesome to behold!