Hakai Magazine

Coastal science and societies

pro stand-up paddleboarder Seychelle
Seychelle of Melbourne Beach, Florida, currently ranks fourth among women in the Paddle League World Rankings. Photo by Jason H. Reinhart

Coastal Job: Stand-up Paddleboarder

A meditative pastime for many, stand-up paddleboarding is also a lesser-known career path for elite athletes.

Authored by

As told to Shanna Baker

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Some people work in cubicles, others work in kitchens, but the most intriguing workplace of all may be the coast. Meet the people who head to the ocean instead of the office in our Coastal Jobs series.

Pro paddleboarder Seychelle of Melbourne Beach, Florida, bought her first race board five years ago—within weeks she was winning competitions. Now, pursuing the sport is her full-time occupation, and she’s one of the top competitors in the world circuit of competitive stand-up paddleboarding. 

Most people don’t realize stand-up paddleboarding is a competitive sport. You tell people you’re a professional paddleboarder and they’re like, “What!?” People think of it as slow and leisurely. But once they see a race, they often say, “Wow, I didn’t know you guys went that fast.” I love racing, I love competing, I love going as fast as I can—even if at the end of the day it’s not actually that fast. My top speed is about 200 meters in a minute. Two years ago I won the title “fastest paddler on Earth,” which was my first big international win.

There are different styles of racing, but the general outline is very similar to a running race in that you have a start line, you have a course that might go around an island or a set of buoys or to a bridge and back, and then you have a finish line. And the fastest time or the first one to cross the finish line wins. Most of this sport is done on flat water—inland waterways, rivers, lakes—but a lot of the higher profile elite races are beach races, where you actually go on and off the beach and maybe in and out through the surf. The surfing component requires a heck of a lot of skill.

I moved about a year ago to Melbourne Beach so that I could train in surfing. I started paddling in the Florida Keys and got really good paddling on flat water, but when I traveled to events with waves I would have no idea what I was doing. It’s such a big part of our sport, at the elite level, to be able to surf.

When I’m home, which is about half the time, my days look really similar. Every morning I watch the sunrise, play with my dog, eat breakfast, and then do social media while my breakfast is digesting because, believe it or not, social media is a big part of what I do every day as an athlete. I have a lot of sponsorships to maintain. Then I train for a couple of hours in the morning. Then I usually eat some more food—I love eating. And then I’ll work on daily tasks, which could involve responding to questions from athletes I coach, writing training programs, or working on logistics for my next race. Some days I’ll do another training session in the afternoon. And eat more food. And a lot of stretching before bed.

One of my most memorable experiences was the first time that I did a 24-hour, nonstop paddle. It was before I became a professional. My partner had to drop out after 10 hours, so I was paddling through the night all by myself, going up and down a canal in the Florida Keys. It was New Year’s Eve so until midnight there were people around partying and celebrating, and then there were fireworks and that was all cool. But after about 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. it all stopped. There was no moon and it was just so dark and I was exhausted. I was in the mangroves and could hear the insects and the animals but couldn’t see or tell the difference between the sky or the trees or the water. It all became a blur, like a hallucinating experience. I ended up hitting a rock and falling off my board, which jolted me back into reality.

That paddle was what inspired me to go after the 24 hour Guinness World Record a year later. And training for the Guinness World Record is kind of what catapulted me into this profession. My record has since been broken, so I’m going to have to do it again.

My goal? That’s easy. I want to be number one in the world.