Q & A June 2015- Sean Rice and Emily McGrath from PaddleLife- Part 1

Part 1


Vaikobi in conjunction with Think Kayaks are proud supporters of PaddleLife www.yourpaddlelife.com

PaddleLife is a year long tour of surf ski coaching clinics that span the globe. Each clinic is coached by current ICF World Surfski Champion Sean Rice from South Africa who aims to increase participation and enjoyment in the sport of surf ski paddling around the world.

Sean is not only an amazing Athlete, he is also a brilliant communicator and coach who has the ability to improve the technique and performance of paddlers at all levels. Sean's partner Emily plays an equally important role in PaddleLife managing the endless organisation, marketing and logistics required to undertake the year round program.

With the year now half way over, we sat down with Sean and Emily to talk about their experiences so far and to find out what is in store for the rest of the year!

Vaikobi: Sean and Emily, You started the year in the Philippines and here we are almost at the end of June and we are exhausted just reading the number of locations you have travelled to and held Paddle Life coaching clinics.


Quite a trip so far. How do you stay fresh?

Sean: Haha! Yes it has been quite a crazy few months and staying “fresh” is our biggest challenge!! As hectic as it looks - and it is - we try and keep as much of a routine as we can. We usually travel on a Monday - so we take Monday and Tuesday as “off days” , and our busiest work days are the weekends. I have a strict training programme that I don’t deviate from. I can tell you exactly what session I am doing in 3 weeks time. So just trying to keep that going in such a busy life is a challenge. It’s not just doing the session - it’s finding water, finding a boat (thank goodness for THINK), finding dry paddling kit (thank goodness for Vaikobi and Emily haha). 

Emily:That’s cheeky!! haha. Yes - staying “fresh” is definitely the biggest challenge. Not sure when the off days are either?? haha! When we lived in Cape Town we had such a set sleep-eat-study-exercise routine. I would be lying if I said I don’t crave it sometimes. Sean is much better at coping with jet-lag than I am! It took me about a week to recover from our Hawaii flights - so trying to keep motivation to work and when all you want to do is sleep is hard. We try our best to keep a balanced diet as best we can. At the beginning of the year - we had a rule (passed down from Hank McGregor I think?) that anything is allowed if we are in an airport -Sean always goes for Burger King -  and then we realised we were in an airport far too often and we were just getting fat! 

Vaikobi: How are your Frequent Flyer miles going?!

Emily: Sean would’t know because I do all the booking! They are going OK - not as well as you would think because our routes are so ‘random’ that it is difficult, and often much more expensive to stick with one airline group. Hopefully we will be styling in the lounges soon!

Vaikobi: Can you tell us your worst or most interesting travel story over the past year?

Emily: Ooooh that’s a tough one. There have been so many. Worst - Um…. All I can think of is Sean having severe food poisoning (on many occasions) and trying to locate a nearby toilet very fast. but that’s not interesting. haha

Sean: Well in general - trying to travel carrying a paddle and a surfski is interesting haha. In Sydney we cruised around in a Mini Cooper with my boat on the roof - this resulted in unimpressed cops and a $200 fine. There are so many stories. Watching Emily getting smashed in the shore break at Pipeline was pretty interesting hahahaha.

Vaikobi: OK, with the first part of your tour so far in strong Surfski countries (participation wise) such as Australia, NZ, South Africa and then the second part in more emerging surfski countries. Can you describe the difference between some of these regions in terms of culture, participation and general enthusiasm for Surfski Paddling?

Sean: The difference is HUGE between all countries!! 

Participation - You wouldn’t think it at first - but the more developed countries, such as Australia and NZ are the toughest in terms of coaching. Mainly because having me there isn’t really a big deal as there are so many paddling ‘legends’ from these countries and there are such good coaches around. We were nervous to start off PaddleLife there for these reasons and to be honest the bookings were slow at the beginning. Aussies are quite wary to trust in new people/things, but once their mates had been to a workshop and news had spread that it was good - we were booked up!

We struggled to get into the paddling community on the Gold Coast - but I think that is because everyone comes from a serious surf lifesaving background and again the coaching there is world class. The places that don’t really get much paddling action are a pleasure to coach as everyone is just so excited to have us there. Once we had the “approval stamp” and had gone over all our feedback from the Aussies - we felt pretty confident for the rest of the year!

In terms of paddling culture  - the difference is MASSIVE and I find the differences very amusing!

Aussies - don’t care that much for the land-based theory, they just want to get in the water and downwind baby.

Kiwis - KEEN for anything!!!!

Spanish - So super friendly and lot’s of fun. It’s quite challenging to coach because of the language barrier so my coaching becomes VERY animated which is always a laugh. I just say VAMOS all the time haha.

Germans - pretty structured in the way they do things. I have loads of respect for them for paddling in such cold conditions!

Israelis - I love coaching these guys! Their enthusiasm is out of this world and EVERYTHING is a race. It’s so funny because I can tell that no one is really interested in the theory, they just want to get out and race each other. The paddlers are tough and not scared of any conditions. I do a more ‘training’ style workshop which works so well as they all push themselves, It reminds me a bit of my old training squad at home. We start off with boot-camp style running and pushups.

Americans: The opposite of Isaelis! Nothing is a race and team work is huge. Everyone loves the land-based theory and the questions always flow. Everyone paddles together in a close group and I love the way people acknowledge how well everyone is doing. It always ends with “Good job buddy”. 

Scandinavians: MAJOR respect for paddlers as it is cold. Right now we are smack bang in the middle of summer and today was a high of 14 degrees. Winter is brutal. Most of the paddlers come from sea kayaking background which is HUGE here. Everyone is very easy to chat to and friendly!

Asia - haven’t done much this year so we will see! 

Vaikobi: Which countries/ regions have the greatest potential for growth in Surfski participation?

Emily: We keep a very good database of every country on our tour. (I love numbers and statistics haha). I find it very interesting to look at the differences in the number of people who paddle surfski, what kit they are paddling in, what boat they paddle, what paddles they use etc. It’s also interesting the number of people at each workshop who are trying out the sport for the first time. 

I would definitely say Europe in general - but especially Scandinavia. People are moving from the traditional sea kayaking to surfski and everyone is loving it!! Paddlers don’t seem to be turned away by the weather as dry suits are pretty fashionable here! haha. I predict Norway and Sweden are going to see a huge boom in surfski in the next couple of years. It helps that majority of people have disposable income to invest into the sport. I also think the West coast of the USA has huge potential. We hope to create some enthusiasm after our tour in August (Charleston, Jupiter, Jacksonville, Newport, Maine). One of the main goals for PaddleLife is to grow the sport wherever we go. It’s an awesome opportunity for any surfski or kayak shop to get involved with our workshops - we have seen how it drives the paddling industry everywhere we go.

Sean: Yes Emily is quite a nerd when it comes to numbers haha. I would say everywhere! Though I cannot comment on South America or Antarctica (well just yet!).


Surfski paddling is clearly growing in Europe, with Spain leading the charge. What does the future look like for Surfski Paddling in Europe?

Sean: It looks great!!! Spain is on fire at the moment! They have some great paddlers - Danny, Esteban and James to name a few. There is also a new surfski centre in Grand Canaria - which I have heard is excellent! I think the way surfski is going to grow (besides PaddleLife workshops) is travelling to these centres for holidays. Flights around Europe are SO cheap - there is no reason why we shouldn’t be going on paddling trips with our friends. Especially if you are from Norway, Denmark and Sweden, where the climate is cold, you can paddle crazy downwinds while your family chills on the beach, it’s sunny and it’s cheap. I think the more Europeans start travelling to workshops/races/events/paddling centres - the better. (EuroChallenge/Nelo Summer Challenge/ Allwave Cup/ Grand Canary). Also getting a boat is super easy as there are agents everywhere!

End Part 1

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we hear about some of Sean's racing this year as well as his targets and goals for the rest of the year.


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