11x National German SUP Champion, Ultra-Endurance Paddler, Coach, Photographer, Entrepreneur… The list does not exhausts but definitely translates onto Tanja Ecker‘s multi-faceted approach to our sport and the possibilities that lie within it. And to top it all up, Tanja is the exclusive dealer for Europe of 404 and Hippostick, high-performance Californian SUP and paddle brands founded by the SUP legend Danny Ching.
Photo by Edwin Westra / SUP11 City Tour 2022
In the run up to the SUP11 City Tour 2023, TotalSUP caught up with Tanja to chat about the grind: building her brand, 404 & Hippostick quiver available in Europe and her 6th time racing at the iconic ultra-marathon SUP event. Buckle up!
Photo by Mayola Dijksman / SUP11 City Tour 2022
Hi Tanja, welcome to TotalSUP! Can you please share a bit about your background in sports and your journey in the world of SUP racing? How did you get started and what drew you to this sport?
Thanks Mathieu for the opportunity to share a bit more about me and my SUP journey! I have always been very close to nature and sports since I was born in 1992 and raised in the southern Black Forest in Germany. As a kid sitting still was never my thing, so I spent most of the time outdoors. I was introduced to athletics at a young age by my dad. Later I switched to handball that I played for 10 years at a quite high level. I wanted to learn more about all aspects of sports, so I decided to study sport science. During my Bachelor studies in Munich, I tried stand-up paddleboarding for the first time in 2013. SUP was the love at first sight, so to speak.
After I moved back to the Black Forest area I joined a club in Basel, Switzerland and started to paddle a bit more seriously but still on my inflatable. One of my first races was the Glagla race back in 2017. That year I started to participate regularly in the SUP Tour Schweiz which I won in 2018. Later that year I also participated in my first EuroTour Race and the SUP 11-City Tour.
In 2019, I participated at the German Championship for the first time and was then able to travel to China for the first ICF World SUP Championship, where I had 2 Top 10 finishes. From then on everything became more professional. With my background in Sport Science I wrote my own training programs.
Photo by Marloes Kaal / SUP11 City Tour 2022
I would say that 2020 was kind of my breakthrough year. I won my first two German National Titles and improved a lot. Fast forward to now, I train with April Zilg as my Coach (every Coach needs a Coach, haha), run a business and I’m finishing my Master Thesis in Sports Management. I have reached some podium spots at the EuroTour, won the SUP 11-City Tour in 2022 and just became triple German Champion (so 11 titles in total now).
I love the versatility of SUP: The connection with nature, being outside, meeting people and the perfect full body workout. You can do it on any type of water in any weather, from flat water to surfing, nothing is impossible. The sport creates a community with athletes from all over the world which I love to explore 😉
Photo by Michael Karst
Among your numerous achievements in SUP racing, both domestically and internationally, which ones do you consider to be your top accomplishments? Could you describe the races or moments that stand out the most to you?
I would say winning my first German National Title in Technical Race in 2020 on Fehmarn, because it was kind of a surprise. Of course, the following ones were also special, but the first always has something exceptional. Moments that stand out for me are also SUP 11-Ctiy Tour 2021 were I came 2nd and my friends, Ella Oesterholt was 1st and Wietske Kuipers finished 3rd. That was a fun year with a lot of good memories. Furthermore, the win in 2022 which will always stay in my mind. The whole five days were challenging with terrible weather and lots of headwind. It was a super tight competition with Petronella van Malsen. On the last day only ten seconds separated us after 180 km. It was an emotional rollercoaster realizing that I won. The finish with my friends swimming towards me – unforgettable.
You have also been organizing SUP Camps as a Coach. Can you give us more information on this?
With my company “Tanja Outdoors”I offer Online Training Programs and video analysis, Personal Training and Training Camps for all paddlers who want to improve their skills no matter if they are racing or just paddling recreationally. Today it’s easier than ever to connect online and work together from any place in the world. This works really well, and I have clients from all over the globe. Besides that, together with my friend Tina Funke, we organize women-only Training Camps. The next one will be held in October in Germany and then in February 2024 on Gran Canaria. I also work with SUP schools and clubs who invite me to deliver SUP workshops or I organize them myself. As I’m able to combine it with my own competitions or travelling for my other business (I also work as photographer), it’s a great way to do that everywhere. Additionally, I really enjoy meeting so many different paddlers.
Photo source: Tanja Outdoors
Transitioning from being a competitive athlete to starting the distribution of the California brand 404 in Europe is quite a shift. What motivated you to take on this new role and expand the brand’s presence in a new market?
404 and Hippostick started sponsoring me almost from the beginning of my SUP racing career in 2017. Back then I first got my boards and paddles with some discount from the distributor in Switzerland. When they stopped in 2019 I became a sponsored member of the international 404 Team.
I met Danny Ching personally for the first time in 2018 at the Nautic Paris and then again in 2019 together with April Zilg where they invited me to train with them in California. I went there in March 2020, lived and trained with Danny and his family. I also wanted to take part in some races and meeting April, but unfortunately COVID hit and I had to take one of the last flights back to Germany. At that time, they were already interested in increasing the sales of boards and paddles in Europe again. This led to my idea of helping to expand the presence of the brand in Europe as I love the boards and paddles, but also the close personal contact with the Team.
Photo by Yahnny Adolfo San Louis
I picked up the distribution for Europe with a colleague. Since the beginning of this year I decided to group all my activities under my own company: Sole distributor for 404 and Hippostick in Europe, training and coaching activities and my work as a photographer. All this is now under “Tanja Outdoors”.
The 404 brand is known for its innovative board designs and performance. Could you tell us more about the range of SUP boards offered by 404? What sets them apart from other brands in the market?
404 is dedicated to deliver the highest quality SUP boards with the uncompromising goal of performance. At the Battle of the Paddle in 2009, Greg Jensen, a former pro surfer and shaper, and Danny met and decided to join forces. The two believe that the addition of an experienced shaper and someone who pushes the boundaries of board design would only result in the best available SUP products on the market.
Danny is still one of the world’s best paddlers and long held the world record for the 200-meter sprint distance. All of his knowledge is translated into the 404 boards. Although 404 has its roots in racing, the brand has quickly recognized the diversity of SUP and lives by the belief that paddlers, regardless of their skill or activity, deserve the highest quality of boards that will help them achieve their best possible performance.
Photo by Edwin Westra / SUP11 City Tour 2022
The 404 Jump
The bestselling board at the moment is the 404 Jumpwhich is available in 14’ x 22”, 23.5” and 25” and also as a 12’6 x 22” Jump Pro Grom, designed for kids or lighter paddlers. The Jump was actually developed as a pure flat water board but it works great in choppy, wavy and windy conditions. Especially with headwinds or crosswinds the board plays out its class. It got its name for the ease at which it changes speed and “jumps” into and over small wind and boat waves without any effort or loss of stability. It is ideal for mid to long-distance paddling as it has a high average speed which is easy to maintain. The newest model weighs just 9,5 kg (22”) and is extremely durable because of an extra PVC layer. This makes the board also more sustainable and effortless to paddle.
The 404 LTD
Compared to the Jump, the original 404 LTD has a flat deck. The LTD design has the greatest acceleration and control of all the 404 boards. The proven design has the lowest volume of the board range to help increase its glide through rough conditions. The LTD is ideal for rougher conditions, surf and bigger waves but also for sprints or shorter distances. It is available in 23” and 26”width.
Photo by Maja Ecker
The 404 LTD II
The newest model in the 404 quiver is the LTD ll which combines the features of the Jump and the original LTD. It has the shallow dugout of the LTD and an adaption of the bottom design of the Jump with the concave in the back and a sharper entry nose. The new LTD II, is a great all-round SUP race board. In flat water, the LTD II accelerates easier and faster than before. The new hull design helps the paddler carry speed and momentum from one stroke to the next with ease. The LTD ll is ideal for Surf racing, Technical Racing, and a variety of windy and bumpy ocean conditions. The versatile board is so user-friendly it can be paddled by professional racers, as well as entry-level racers. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it will be available in 14’ by 22”, 23.5”, 25” and 27”.
Danny Ching also designs the Hippostick paddles and runs the company together with Scott Shanon. There are also different types of paddles for all kind of paddlers and conditions, as well as outrigger paddles.
Building a strong brand ambassador strategy can be crucial for brand awareness and growth. Do you have plans to establish and cultivate a brand ambassador network for 404 in Europe? If so, what qualities are you looking for in potential ambassadors?
As I’ve just started, I first need to build up the company and make it financially secure. So right now, my sponsoring budget is limited and I’m responsible for potential new team riders in Europe with my company. At the moment I’m the only athlete on the International 404 Team in Europe. I have founded the 404 Eurosquad who are happy 404 owners who I provide with 404 clothes and I can signpost paddlers interested in the brand to them to test the boards.
I love our little team and I want to pass on the love for the sport, the brand and the friendship as I’ve experienced it. Most of them are currently based in Germany, Netherlands and the UK , but I want to build up the team across Europe. My plan is to strengthen the brand awareness and community around it, also with ambassadors. That might take some years to build up. Future ambassadors should love what they do, be open to sharing their experiences, and should be passionate about paddling and the brand.
Is there already an existing distribution network for 404 in Europe, or are you starting from scratch? What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in establishing and expanding this distribution network?
I’m starting from scratch. Like I said the goal is to expand the brand in Europe and maybe in the future it would be possible to work also with shops in different countries. I first need to build a good financial base and a bigger network. I see lots of opportunities, such as working with SUP schools or clubs providing test boards to rent out, as well as providing boards at events like I’m doing this year at the SUP 11-City Tour. I’m one of the event sponsors. Furthermore, the close network within Europe is certainly an advantage for the further development of the brand. Challenges definitely come with the risk of the financial investments I have to make. But I’m already looking forward to what the future brings.
Photo by Michael Karst
What is the best way to order a board? Do you have boards available at all times? What are the usual delivery delays for boards that are not available?
Like I mentioned before, in Europe it is currently only possible to order and buy directly from my company. I still have boards and paddles in stock which are the 404 Jump 14’ x 22”, 23.5” and 25”, 12’6 x 22” and the original LTD in 23” and 26” as well as different Hippostick paddles.
I’m currently waiting for a new shipment of paddles. In addition, I’m collecting customer pre-orders for boards, like the new LTD ll to place the next big order. At the moment the production time frame for boards is 90 days, but they have to be shipped from Vietnam which can take up to 2-3 months. If you are interested in buying a board or a paddle, you can order it our website or just contact me and we can find the best way to get you on board. Delivery within Europe is also not a problem.
Photo by Thomas Ecker
As the defending champion of the SUP 11 City Tour, you must have valuable insights into the event. Could you share your thoughts on the significance of this race in terms of training, performance and strategies? Additionally, which board from the 404 range do you intend to use for the upcoming race?
If you want to perform well at the SUP 11-City Tour you definitely should prepare yourself. Your training should include some longer paddles (20-30 km) beforehand to know what to expect, but also paddling several days in a row to see how you recover. Moreover, it also helps to go out training in every kind of conditions, because you can have everything from Sun to rain, wind and hail. What’s even more important, is the mental preparation. The SUP 11-City is not only a marathon a day, it’s also a multi-day event. That’s why it’s super important to pace yourself and not to blow your head off already on the first day.
Photo by Marloes Kaal / SUP11 City Tour 2022
Cutting the daily distance into smaller pieces can help you a lot. Furthermore, nutrition is also crucial. You should always take something you tried before and that gives you enough energy, this aspect is very individual. I already participated five times and each year I’ve learnt something new about how to prepare better for the next time, so it’s a never-ending story 😉 Every year the SUP 11-Ctiy Tour is my favourite event, because I love the challenge and the community around it. I’m also working for the media crew the whole year round, so I have a special connection to the event and the people.
This year I’m going to use the 404 Jump 14’ x 22” and the Hippostick Triple G. My approved set up that has kept mw going for the past three years. The Jump is the perfect board for the SUP 11-City Tour, because it runs easy on flat water, but is also stable and fast in choppy and windy conditions. And like I said, you never know what to expect, so I like a board that can handle everything. This year you’ll have the opportunity to test the 404 Jump in different sizes at the SUP 11-Ctiy Tour, so if you are around just reach out to me!
Photo by Anne de Boer
Thank you for your time Tanja – Good luck with the rest of the SUP racing season and all your entrepreneurial endeavours!
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