On Feb. 17, Hood River resident Fiona Wylde won the 2019 Sunset Beach Pro in Oahu, Hawaii, a Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) surf competition organized by the Association of Paddlesurf Professionals (APP). The Sunset event is the first of many in the APP’s World Tour, with future events taking place in London, New York and Osaka, to name a few. This victory for 22 year old Wylde, whose six-year professional career is laden with success, stands out amongst the rest.
“I had never won an APP World Tour SUP Surf contest until this one,” said Wylde. “I’ve placed second a few times, but had yet to take the top honors, but this proves to me that I can win a SUP surf event. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Wydle was introduced to Stand Up Paddling by Steve Gates, the owner of local water sport shop Big Winds, who put together a small team of Hood River kids to form the Big Winds Junior Elite Team. Wylde was 14 at the time and a passionate windsurfer, as were her new teammates, though none of them had experience with SUP; that would soon change.
“Little did we know during that time that we were learning how to race, and we all started competing together,” said Wylde. “It was one of my best summers and the best introduction to SUP I could have ever had.”
For the first two years of her competitive career, Wylde raced in the amateur and junior divisions. She won her first professional race, the Gorge Paddle Challenge, in 2013 at the age of 16. Given her late start relative to the competition she faced, Wylde has had to gain significant ground from a technical standpoint and sheer number of hours surfing.
“I knew I had catching up to do if I wanted to compete,” said Wylde. “I have tried to watch and study surfing as much as I can. It really is an art, something that molds and morphs with nature.”
Such studying appears to have paid off over the years, as Wylde now boasts a collection of championships both local and international. She was the 2016 SUP Racing World Champion, the four time Gorge Paddle Challenge Champion (2013, 2016-2018), the 2017 Mercedes Benz SUP World Cup Champion, the 2018 Japan Cup Champion and the 2018 Pacific Paddle Games Distance Champion. Besides the motivation gained from her many championships over the years, Wylde continues to participate in SUP surfing events simply because of how much she enjoys it.
“SUP surfing is a challenge, and that’s what makes it fun,” said Wylde. “There is never one day that is the same; you are always moving, adapting and having to adjust for whatever weather comes your way. Beyond that, stand up surfing is really fun.”
At the age of 18, Wylde was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, shortly after signing her first sponsorship contract with Starboard and entering her first full year tour. Not to be held down, Wylde adapted and continued to compete and excel in her sport.
“The diagnosis came as a shock,” said Wylde. “But I was so excited that I was achieving my dream of being a professional athlete that I realized my diabetes was just going to have to come along for the ride. There’s no cure for Type 1, but there are ways you can live and still chase your dreams.”
In preparation for the Sunset Beach Pro event, Wylde flew to Oahu two weeks before the competition to test the waves in various weather conditions. She spent time understanding how the water moved and broke day by day, ensuring that she would be able to adapt when competition day came.
“I surfed Sunset in small waves, big waves, wind and rain, just to figure out how the wave breaks and the swell size and direction,” said Wylde. “This really helped me on finals day as wave selection was a major factor passing heats and eventually winning the contest.”
Finishing behind Wylde were Izzi Gomez from Columbia, Shakira Westdorp from Australia and Aline Adisaka from Brazil. Wylde had finished second to Gomez numerous times in the past, and commemorated all the competitors for bringing such quality to the sport.
“I am where I am today with my surfing because of the way the other women are changing and pushing the sport,” said Wylde.
“When we all surf well, the level only rises and that is something really exciting to be part of.”
While the remaining APP World Tour events don’t take place for a few months, Wylde’s schedule is packed with other international events. She’ll be windsurfing and kitesurfing in addition to SUP surfing, and traveling the world to do so. Through it all, she’ll continue to train and work towards her dream of winning the APP World Tour Championship.