THE WYLDE SIDE : FIONA WYLDE
WORDS: FIONA WYLDE // PHOTOS: JOHN LAPTAD, ERIC DURAN AND APP WORLD TOUR
We here how Fiona Wylde truly believes if you have a dream you can achieve it! Fiona tells us about dealing with Type 1 Diabetes, her background, foiling and being back on the SUP circuit!
I got into SUP because of Steve Gates who was the founder and owner of Big Winds which is the local SUP, Windsurf and kite surf shop where I live in Hood River Oregon. When I was 14 years old Steve approached myself and some other teenagers, and sort of asked us, but more told us that we were going to learn to SUP! We were quite amused by the whole thing and went along with his request. After we agreed he then told us we start training two days a week, at 6.30am in the morning! When we heard that our jaws nearly hit the floor! Four teenage kids being at the beach at 6.30 am learning how to SUP…are you kidding me! But Steve was one of those people who you never really said no to because you knew he had your best interests at heart. That was eleven years ago! Since those early mornings, I have absolutely loved paddling. All four of us still paddle or have some connection there! Obviously, I have taken it quite far. SUP has become my life. So, I guess it is all thanks to Steve, his foresight and giving us the opportunity to share a sport and share a beautiful place with young people. The four of us were really able to benefit from that. I found my dream and my passion through it.
When the pandemic hit, I tried to stay as busy as I could. I had a very busy 2019 schedule and competed in twenty-four events all over the world. I had my best season ever and won twelve of the events. There were only two events where I did not make the podium. So, I was on the podium or winning pretty much every event that I entered. It was a great season but it spanned from the middle of January 2019 until the middle of December 2019. At the beginning of Covid I took some time to work on my online schooling which I had been studying for the last two years. In March of 2020 I was on spring break. So, when it became apparent that I was not going to be travelling to Europe or racing, I decided to take that opportunity to invest my time into my education. I go to Oregon State University but I attend through their E-Campus. I organized myself a full class schedule and just focussed on studying. It was an interesting shift for me because it happened very quickly, as did most people’s lives change, in March of 2020. But physically it was a good transition for me because I went from training everyday and preparing for another big season travelling abroad to focussing on my education, keeping myself healthy and safe here at home. I was obviously trying not to get sick with COVID. I think I learned a lot about time management. When it is time to work on one thing you work really hard on that and this was a time to work on something else so I dedicated my time to that. Overall, 2020 was a big year. I worked all summer and fall on schoolwork.
Come 2021 I have been able to go back and start racing again, which is really exciting.
Before travel started opening up, I was more training for fun. I would still paddle or do downwinders. I also did a lot of stand-up surfing last year. I just kept it light and fun. I also learned to IQfoil, which helped me get back into windsurfing a bit. I have really been enjoying that process. It is hard to measure your strength when you are not constantly competing against other people. Especially when I was so used to racing every weekend internationally on a very high level. So, a lot of it was maintaining mental strength where I would say to myself, I am doing a good job and improving and keep moving forward with that.
When I realised that events were going to start happening in January 2021, I started to build a full training programme again. I was back to paddling at least four days a week depending on conditions. I have been balancing my paddle training with my IQfoil training this season. I have been getting ready for some IQ international regattas. If there is one thing I have learned from COVID is that you have to do things because you love them. I absolutely love SUP as a sport and I never tried to look at it as my job, even though technically it is my job. I like to look at it as ‘I want to go out and paddle on the water, have fun and push myself and become as strong as I can’. That is because I enjoy the process not because I have to do it. That was the mentality that I took into my training for 2021. The first few races of the year have gone really well and paid off so I am looking forward to heading back to Europe shortly to finish up the rest of the European season and the world championships.
When I heard that iQfoiling was going to replace RSX at the Olympics, I wanted to try and give it a go. The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was very young. My uncle who is one of the people I look up to the most. Went to the Olympics when I was seven years old. My whole family got to watch him compete in Athens in 2004 and he ended up winning a gold medal at Equestrian Show Jumping and it was spectacular. It was so cool to see him work so hard every single day to achieve his dream. I think since then, I have always wanted the chance to be an Olympian. I saw windsurf foiling and that new iQFOil class as potentially that chance. When you have that opportunity, you have to give it everything you have got to make it a reality. It has been quite a few years since I competed in windsurfing and the most recent discipline, I competed in was wave sailing. So that was completely different from course racing which is obviously similar to sailing disciplines. But I am absolutely loving the process. That was one of the great things for me that came out of COVID. It gave me the opportunity to have some time to learn how to sail the equipment, rig it properly and learn about sailing in general because I don’t have so much experience in course racing. That experience has been really cool and I have had a few opportunities to train with the US sailing team. I have been properly coached and that makes me love it more. One of the things that is very different is that SUP for me is an individual sport and even though the windsurfing is too, you still get to train, compete and prepare with a team. That element has been super interesting and is a big part of the process that I am enjoying and look forward to expanding on.
TYPE 1 DIABETES
I was diagnosed when I was 18 years old. At that moment I had officially been a professional athlete on the Starboard team for about two and a half months. I had not even competed in my first international race under ‘Team Starboard’. And that was when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It came to me at a very interesting moment in my life. I just graduated high school all online so I could pursue my dream of competing in SUP and windsurfing. I had made that happen. The graduation from High School, the contract for Starboard and all of a sudden, my life was amazing. The diagnosis changed a lot of things. In that moment I was ready to go out there and take the world by storm and do the best I possibly could. The reality was that I still chased my dream anyways but there was a big earthquake that rippled though my own perception of what I could go out and do. I knew I had the ability to go out there and compete but now it was about how?
That was the biggest change to my life that Type 1 diabetes had on me. I knew I still had the same goals but needed to find out how I could make it happen. I was pretty scared at first and in all honesty did not know what Type 1 Diabetes was. Nobody in my family had Type 1 so I did not know what dealing with Type 1 entailed. I figured it out pretty quickly. Type 1 is an auto immune disease where your body does not produce enough insulin, which means that I have to administer insulin on my own. So, it is all about managing Type 1, managing your blood sugars and learning how much carbohydrates and sugars are in certain foods. How to eat at the right times and how Type 1 effects your recovery and all those factors. But out of all of that, my passion and interest has always been greater for going out and competing on the water. For me there was no option but accept that I have Type 1 but I still want to go out and live this lifestyle and chase this dream. That is me! That is what I do! That is who I am!
Type 1 made things a lot more difficult in the sense that I have to schedule and plan things a lot more thoroughly. I can’t just jump on a plane tomorrow and go to Europe. I have to make sure that I have all my proper equipment, not just in terms of sporting equipment but in terms of my supplies to manage Type 1. I need to have my pump supplies, my continuous glucose monitor reading and my insulin. Everything needs to be prepared ahead of time. In one sense it has made me a bot better athlete because I really learned how to listen to my body and how to plan ahead of time so I can ensure that I can go out and compete to my best ability. It does not always work out as well as I planned but that is life. That is how it goes. I guess you could say in one way Type 1 has made me a more determined athlete. It has made me want to be the healthiest version of myself even more so now.
My relationship with Starboard began in the fall of 2014. At the time I was seventeen years old and I had just got third place in the semi-finals at a SUP world tour surfing event, then I won the breakthrough performer at the SUP awards and followed it up 5th place and 3rd place at the Battle of the Paddle and also won the most inspirational paddler of the weekend. All these things were simultaneously happening and my career seemed to be taking off the ground and Starboard noticed that. A couple of months later I won the youth world title actually after I had won the youth world title for the Professional Windsurfing Association, I received an email from Starboard who were offering me a contract. I was all in on it and super excited. I had one question to ask though, as it only mentioned SUP in the contract, I wanted to know if there was anything for windsurfing! They got back to me and told me it was a contract just for Stand Up. My dream was to be a professional athlete as a whole package. I knew I could go in either direction as a windsurfer of a paddler. Windsurfing was my passion since day one as it was a sport my family has always participated in. But I also love paddling just as much. Here was a chance to make professional sports my life. I jumped at the opportunity even if it was just a contract for SUP. That was six years ago. I have obviously been loving it ever since. Starboard is an incredible brand to work for, especially as a multi-sport athlete as they have all the equipment.
As well as that the people at Starboard are incredible, kind and forward thinking. On top of that they have all the environmental initiatives going on. Their environmental stance makes me proud to be part of their team. During the pandemic it was really interesting because as an athlete your job is to go out and compete. I had to figure out different way to make sure that Starboard was still seeing that I was providing them with enough value, that my contract could still stay afloat. There was a lot of re-evaluation and open discussions. I had to figure what other things I could do for the brand while I could not compete. There were different media things and making videos and all that stuff which was fun. It added a whole new section to my job. I love it.
I got vaccinated as soon as I could. Having Type 1 diabetes meant that in the United States I could get vaccinated with my first shot in February 2020. I have been fully vaccinated since March 2020. I always wanted to get vaccinated and know that there are a lot of people with Type 1 like myself who were a bit unsure. Definitely for me the consequences of getting sick with COVID 19 would be a lot more drastic to managing my diabetes than if I was not vaccinated. I think it is super important to get vaccinated not just for ourselves but for our community and those around us. The more people we can get vaccinated the better it will be for all of us. This is not an individual pandemic; this is the world. We are all little slices of the pie in this global situation and the more we can all help out the better it will be for everyone. Generally, in the United States we are quite divided in that sense. There are a lot of people who are against the vaccine. There are people who are 100% for the vaccine while some choose not to wear masks. I feel that it is important to wear a mask in a public setting, when you are around a lot of people, especially if you don’t know them very well. My personal opinion is that health is the number one thing. If we can protect ourselves, our family members and the ones that we love from getting sick, that needs to be the priority.
I was lucky enough to go to Europe in June 2021and race on the Euro Tour over there. I have also been able to travel with the US Sailing Team and train with IQFOil. That has been an absolute blast. I will be heading back to Europe at the end of summer for the next leg of the tour and the ICF World championships. That will be super exciting way to wrap up the SUP season. It has been really interesting travelling to different countries as well as different states in America. Every place handles COVID differently and all the protocols change wherever you go. I think the most important thing is to be vaccinated so you can travel easier and then also just to wear a mask when you are in busy places. With those general guidelines it really isn’t too difficult to get around. I found it pretty easy to travel to different places.
I would say across the board there are so many different athletes out there that inspire me. Purely because of their ability or the challenges that they have had to overcome. I would say on a day-to-day basis, the people that inspire me the most are just participating in whatever they love. People that love going to art classes, those that study hard for an end goal at school or those that love their job. They are the people that inspire me the most, those with a genuine passion and who are being the best version of the person they can be. That doesn’t have to be in a competitive realm. A lot of times it isn’t. It does not matter what you are doing but every single person has a busy life and has a lot of things going on. It is those that can rise above all the difficult challenges and go out there and focus on what they want to do and enjoy it and be happy. They inspire me.
As far as other athletes go, there are so many. I admire so many athletes and there are a lot I look up to for so many different reasons. I look up to the women who are competing in SUP who have started up families and are still passionate about paddling. That to me is extremely inspirational. I admire them for not only balancing sport but also balancing sport and family together and returning to the sport with their children with them. I think that is extremely admirable and a great example for many young women and girls on tour. It shows you can have both sport, business and family all in one. Other individuals who go out and keep training who don’t give up and keep pushing themselves. The cool part about SUP is that it doesn’t really matter what your background is. If you want to get into it and you want to explore the sport and enjoy it, there is so much room for anybody with a positive mindset. Those are the people that inspire me most.
STAND OUT SUP MOMENTS
There have been a lot of individual event victories that have meant a lot. Winning the Gorge Paddle Challenge five times, being Euro Tour Champion, being on the USA Team going to the worlds at three different events, winning Sunset Beach in a Stand-Up surfing contest and winning races on the APP World Tour. Individual races have been big stand outs for me. There have been specific moments in certain races of what I did to be able to pull through and win at the end. More recently a lot of awards I have been very appreciative of. I won SUP women of the year for the second time and that meant a lot. I think one of the greatest achievements in SUP for me is the culmination of a lot of those victories and moments. These moments help me enjoy and live the lifestyle that I have now because of Stand-up Paddling. There are a lot of pieces in that pie that have gotten me to where I am right now. I love that and want to keep that going. I also got to be the coach of the Big Winds junior elite team two years ago. That was the same programme that I learned to paddle in when I was fourteen. All the event wins, titles and all that stuff have come together so I am in a position to lead that programme. For me that is the biggest achievement that I can have!
RACE OR WAVES
It is definitely not easy to switch between disciplines but I have always thought they complement each other. SUP racing helps with your stamina and fitness while SUP surfing helps with your skills so much on a race board and vice versa. So, when I am in racing mode, I am pretty much full on in racing mode! I don’t even think about surfing or waves. The same thing goes when I am in the waves. I approach a wave event in a similar way I would do a race event. I think surf culture is changing where a lot more riders are more in a mindset of what a racer would do in terms of building up and peaking at an event. The surfers also have training schedules now to keep them at their peak. I really like the crisscross between the two and how they both help me to be a strong all round athlete.
OFF THE WATER
I do quite a bit of training off the water. I spend a couple of days of the week at the track running and also all sorts of different little core and stabilizing exercises to make sure that all those little muscles are strong off the water. The other thing I do a lot of general running and mountain biking and all sorts of sports that I love. I am a sports enthusiast so for me it is just fun to be able to be outdoors I am happy. A lot of those sports are not necessarily training, I don’t consider mountain biking training but I just love it because it mixes things up and keeps training fun. The bike is another really cool way to go out and experience nature. When I take a vacation from training I love to go skiing and that is just another sport that I love.
If I wasn’t a professional athlete, I can tell you that I would still be in the water a lot. I grew up around the water and my passions have always been connected to the water. I love paddling, windsurfing and anything connected to the water. In addition to that I will be finishing up my degree in Geography and Geospatial Science at Oregon University. If I was not a professional athlete I would probably be further along in my degree. I have been studying for about two and a half years now and I am about halfway done. That will probably be something I will be getting into a little bit further along. I don’t know how much would change in terms of what I am passionate about. If I want a pro SUP rider, I guess I would have to have a different job and source of income but right now I just see my life as an athlete and I am really excited for the goals that set myself for the next six years.
Absolutely I love going paddling with friends just for fun. I also like to go paddling with my dog. She kind of hates it but I love paddling with her anyway. Paddling with my boyfriend is super fun and sometimes we just go out and cruise around. Most of the time I go out and do things on the water with friends, either SUP windsurfing, SUP foiling and winging. Whenever I am travelling abroad or going to new locations my SUP is a really great way to explore the coast so I enjoy that type of exploring paddling also.
It is super important to have a paddle that is durable and reliable. I can’t highlight how important that is. It is always crucial to have a paddle that fits you. When you are paddling there is a lot of torque on your muscles especially on your back. If you have a paddle that does not fit your right then all of that torque is going to be spread in the wrong places. Having a paddle that fits you, the right blade size and stiffness on the paddle shaft is very important to make the most of your sessions. If you want to paddle the longest that you want to and go back to SUP day in and day out. That being said, I typically run my race paddle about to the middle of my forearm, when my forearm is extended all the way up above my head. That is about where I have my race paddle. For Stand-Up surfing then I have the paddle just above my eyes, somewhere about halfway up my forehead.
I am not that big of a person. I am 5 feet 2 inches and I weigh about 140lbs. I think a lot of my race wins have come from competing for so long and the experience I have. I am only twenty-four but I have been racing for ten years now. Having so much experience and going out on the racecourse, anticipating different sections of a race and knowing what some of the other girls are going to do in different situations. All those things help me anticipate how I can react during a race. I can use that moment as a place to take advantage of or figure out my response is before that situation happens. With my windsurfing background has also helped in the fact I have spent so many hours in the water and I can read the water, see the wind and know what is happening with the conditions. I can then use that water to my advantage. That knowledge and my skillset has helped me in so many events. Not just in racing but also in surfing. In racing it is really important to pick your head up and see what is ahead in the water, anticipate it and then react. That is one of the parts that I absolutely love about racing.
The other part to keep up with the bigger girls is training. You have to go out there, practise and want to be that first person across the finish line. I think it is a combination of all those things that keeps me up close to the top. Fitness, technique, determination and experience all play a part! I don’t think racing is about size or height, if you want to go out and achieve something then you can make it happen!
It has been really strange being away from the tour and all the event I normally attend. I kept in touch with a few different people throughout the lockdowns and all that but it has been a weird few years. I have so many close friends on tour. We have all travelled together for so long. That was a strange time! The coolest part about when I went back to Europe was that we had so much to talk about because on one hand our lives had all changed but on the other, really not that much had happened. Everybody was so genuinely happy to see each other and be back on the racecourse. It did not matter that so much time had gone by, we just picked up where we left off. That was really special and it just goes to show how many incredible friends we have all over the world. It is so important to connect and stay connected during times that are very challenging.
Goals change a lot during life. I think three years ago my goals were very different to what they are now. In sport I think the 2024 Olympics is definitely a target of mine for IQfoil to represent Team USA and go there and compete. That is a huge priority right now in sport. In SUP I have a lot of interest in continuing the kids programme here in Hood River and I am looking to expand on that. I will also continue to compete at SUP race and wave events of course. I want to push the level of sport higher and also work to get more women involved in the sport. So, in terms of being an athlete that would be my life goals.
Personally, I just want to stay happy. Whatever gets thrown at me or my family I want to stay positive. Also, to stay fit and healthy obviously. Those are the most important things for me.
TEN YEARS TIME
I feel I will be still living in Hood River but aside from that it is difficult to depict everything that is going to happen. Nobody can look that far ahead in the future. I hope that my sporting goals will have come true and that I am healthy and happy. I want to carry on living this life that I love to share with my family.
A positive mindset is everything. Being able to look in the mirror and be confident in the person that you see in yourself leads to so many open doors. That also leads to a really happy lifestyle. I think that it is really important for anybody to speak out if they are struggling with a lot of negativity. If you have negativity just talk about it. Being positive and having a positive mindset can turn difficult situations into a possibility. I think that is the most important thing. When times get hard…share with friends and family and look for the positives on the other side. That is what is going to keep driving us forward.