The incredible SUP racing year of Kim Barnes

Hi Kim, welcome to TotalSUP and massive congratulations on your amazing 2023 season! When and why did you decide to move from recreational paddling to competing?

Hello and thank you! Ten years ago, I was introduced to paddling through a kiteboarding friend, Alexandra Villarreal Menk. I had never been on a paddleboard, recreational or race until then. When the windy season ended in Florida, she asked me to come paddling with her.

At that time, there were not many paddleboards in the Jupiter area. She was a rep for Jimmy Lewis, so the first board I owned was a race board. We paddled a mile and a half and I thought I was going to die. It was the hardest thing I had ever done physically.

Shortly after that day, I bought my first recreational paddle and board. I started paddling as much as I could. The physical challenge and mental break I experienced while being on the water was incredible. The companionship of the other paddlers also became my draw to stand-up paddling.

A few months after I started paddling, there was a local race in Jupiter, FL. I was encouraged by the people I met to enter. So, with no expectations, I raced in my first race and placed third. I was hooked! Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast and springboard diver. I spent my childhood through college years competing. However, after college, I stopped. I started a career and eventually a family. That first SUP race brought a flood of memories and emotions and it relit my competitive drive. So, to answer the question, “When did I decided to move from recreational paddling to racing?” Right away!

What’s the driving force for you in the sport of stand-up paddleboarding? What makes it unique for you?

My driving force is seeking solace while paddling. I have a very busy life. It’s stressful, it’s demanding, and sometimes, seems unforgiving. When I’m on the water, I feel like nothing else matters. I don’t have to make a decision, I don’t have to figure out logistics for work or my family, I don’t have to face some of the realities I’m not wanting to deal with at that time. I don’t have to talk. I can just focus on me, what my body is doing and how to make what I’m doing better.

I like the challenge of pushing myself while practicing. Paddling brings me a sense of clarity, even if it’s only for an hour. It is my time to focus on me. As selfish as that may sound, juggling work and motherhood is challenging and taking the time out for myself is much needed.

Photo by Leisa M. Bee

Out of all the SUP racing formats, you’ve chosen and have excelled in the long distance racing. Why this particular format that involves that tough, consistent grind?

I like the monotony of distance paddling. It is, in my opinion, predictable. You don’t have to be as precise with each stroke, like you do in sprinting or technical course racing. You can daydream, you have time to process how you feel and make tweaks where needed on a long paddle.

What are your top 2023 SUP moments?

The first top moment, was wining Carolina Cup. I had placed second two years in a row, so to be able to earn the top spot this year was unexpected and exciting! The next top moment, was taking the overall at the Key West Classic Race. It was the first time in 26 years that a female had done so. Another top moment, was winning Chattajack 31 for a third year in a row. It was huge honour.

Image source: Chattajack 31

And the last top moment, was placing second in the distance race at ICF World Championships in Pattaya. The field talent was so deep, to be able to finish in the top three was unbelievable.

Photo by Georgia Schofield

As a pro SUP athlete, what’s the secret to staying injury free?

I am an older athlete so I’ve started incorporating more strength and stretching into my practices to help prevent injuries. I also think it is important to listening to your body. If your body isn’t up for the practice scheduled for that day, modify the practice and go harder another day.

What does your local SUP scene look like?

Our local scene is AWESOME! Our area has a great community of paddlers of all crafts getting together for practice or for social events. We have beginners through to elite level athletes all paddling together to learn how to be better and become faster.

Around the time I started paddling, there was only about 8-12 people really wanting to learn how to race. Through the help of Rachel and Stephen Chase and Blueline Surf and Paddle shop, Tuesday Night Race League was created. The paddle shop became the hub for all of us who wanted to be involved in stand-up paddle racing. This naturally developed into a community of like-minded people.

Fast forward ten years, we still have Tuesday Night Race League which is now ran by Jeramie Vaine. We average fifty-plus paddlers and crafts every Tuesday night during season. There are also two morning practices each week hosted by JV and on the off-season, one Saturday a month we will have a mock race for practice. So, there are many opportunities to get on the water and learn in our area. If you aren’t able to get to a scheduled practice because of work or family obligations, you can put a post on Facebook to let others know you are looking to paddle or simply call a friend. Our waterways offer flatwater paddling, technical paddling practices, and ocean paddling opportunities. I feel like we truly have a paddling paradise.

We’ve noticed a shift and North America is fast becoming the go-to-place for ultra and long-distance paddling, from flat water races to open ocean… What’s your take on that?

Wow! I didn’t know. I feel like we have such a wide variety of waterways to paddle in that there’s something, somewhere, for everyone. A lot of the longer-distance races are attached to charities and that motivates people to “Stand Up” for them. It is amazing to think that people who have never paddled before want to take on a longer distance race because they are paddling for someone else or for environmental stewardship. You will have elite level paddlers to novice paddlers all on the start line paddling long distances for great causes. Whether it’s an ultra or long-distance race, I feel like the draw is the mental and physical challenge. We also have a lot of support for the longer races. From the US Coast Guard, who will shut down boat traffic on our waterways for a race, or just have their boats out for safety; to volunteers with boats who want to help make sure all participants are safe and accounted for. The support for each race is strong! It also helps people have that sense of safety while on the water facing a long-distance paddle.

Could you tell us more about your collaboration with the Flying Fish Board Co. brand and becoming part of the Team?

I started with Flying Fish Board Co. six years ago. I was just coming off of back surgery and John Meskauskas asked if I would be interested in paddling one of his boards. I didn’t know to what capacity I’d be back to racing or how my body was going to heal, but I said yes. I loved the idea of having a board built for me. My size, my height and ability. After spending a year recovering, I was back to racing and testing boards for Flying Fish Board co. The company is supper supportive and I feel like they are truly my second family.

From left: Kim Barnes with John Meskauskas, Founder of the Flying Fish Board Co., and Eri Tenorio

What’s your board set up?

My flat water board is the Flying Fish Board Co. 14’x21” 256L Dugout Freedom Pro and my ocean board is 14×22” 269L Drop Deck Freedom Pro.

Image source: Flying Fish Board Co.

What are your 2024 SUP plans?

Honestly, I haven’t thought of next year yet. However, I will most likely go to the races I usually go to in the States, next year. I am also hoping to make it to Europe for some of the EuroTour races, but I’ll have to see if that works for my family first.

Thank you for your time Kim and we’re looking forward to your next SUP challenge!

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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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