For 16-year-old SUP racer Jade Howson, competitive standup paddleboarding presents a unique set of challenges. She doesn’t train or compete unless her homework is finished, but that hasn’t stopped her from beating some of the fastest women in the sport. Earlier this month Jade earned her biggest result to date with a gold medal in the Junior Pro division representing the US at the ISA World SUP Championship in China. Back home in California, we caught up with the young SUP and scholastic savant to learn more about her first world title and the SUP-school-life balance of a teenage race star. –MM
Tell us about the standout moments from your 2018 race season.
This year had a lot of great moments! As always, Pacific Paddle Games was a highlight for me because it’s in my hometown (San Clemente), and this year I got first in the Junior Pro event, which was amazing. I also won the distance race at Santa Cruz Paddlefest and that meant a lot to me because I was competing against some of the best athletes like Fiona Wylde, Candice (Appleby) and Shae (Foudy). I didn’t know what to expect going into that race but found my rhythm and realized, ‘Wow, I can actually do this.’ It made me want to train even harder.
What’s your history at the ISAs and what does the event mean to you?
Last year I competed in the technical race, the distance race and the sprints in Denmark. I had a shocker in the distance race…I got anxious about representing my country so I started hyperventilating and passed out on the course! I was fine, but needless to say I didn’t finish. Then in the tech race I was so nervous during the qualifying rounds that I either fell or went the wrong way on a buoy turn in every race. I was so mad at myself every time that I caught back up and finished with a qualifying result. I ended up getting fifth in the final. The sprint race was weird because it was in the canal next to the opera house, and it was really rough because our wakes were bouncing off the sea wall. Luckily I train open-ocean at home so I knew how to navigate the chop. I ended up taking the bronze.
What were your main motivations going into the ISA Worlds this year?
Along with representing my country, traveling to China was my main motivation to compete in the ISAs this year. I love traveling and my grandma is from China so I was really excited to see the country she grew up in.
How does it feel to be a world champion?
I hurt my heal surfing the week before the event, so I was limping going into it and didn’t really know how the race was going to go. I told myself to just go out and do my best and ended up coming home with the gold. Winning a world title feels a lot different than winning other races because there’s so much more meaning behind it. It’s an indescribable feeling.
How did your Black Project equipment work for you at the ISAs?
I paddle Black Project’s Sonic fin, and I really like it because its seem to work really well in technical races. We had some waves in the technical junior race, and the Sonic is great for surfing so I was able to turn on the waves really well and kick out when I needed to.
What’s it like to be 16, still in high school and competing against professional athletes?
It’s definitely hard because a lot of the women I compete against are doing this full-time. Their whole job is to train hard, and in a way I have two jobs with training and school. I have to balance out how much homework I have, what tests I have coming up and what I need to study for before training.
How do you handle the school-paddling-life balance as a teenager?
School comes first. I can always make up training in the mornings or after school, but schoolwork needs to be done on time. I train around my studies and I’m usually in the gym two days a week and on the water three days a week after school. It can be stressful but it’s definitely worth it.
How will you be spending your offseason?
I compete year-round, so there really isn’t a beginning or end to my season. I compete in local races during the ‘offseason’ to stay in race shape, then when the bigger races come up in the spring I get really excited to paddle with the pros and see how I’ve progressed. I’m definitely looking forward to 2019.
More Paddle Related Articles & Content
Learn more about Jade’s fin of choice: The Sonic
Developing the Fastest SUP Race Fin on Earth
Picking the Right SUP Race Fin: Advice from Champion Racer Connor Baxter
Words: Mike Misselwitz / Black Project
Photos: ISA Surfing, Rand Marino & Black Project
Follow Jade Howson on Instagram @jadehowson