I love to compete. There is nothing like training your body to perform at peak level, or learning to perfect the skills of a sport to beat other competitors. But at a certain point, you realize racing offers something more profoundly personal. It is an opportunity to evaluate how you approach everything you strive for in life. This, to me, is the true gift of racing.

As I head into the last stretch of the 2019 international surfski racing season, I find myself reflecting on why I am racing and what motivated me to take surfski so seriously in the first place.

In 2012, at the age of 22, I failed to qualify for the London Olympics in whitewater slalom kayaking. The Olympics had been a dream of mine since I was 12 years old and after a decade-long pursuit, I fell short at the Olympic Trials. Despite my many successes in several years of racing, and the incredible journey I had taken, I saw my paddling career in as a complete failure. What’s more, my goal had become so blended with my identity that not reaching it left me feeling like I was a failure as a person.

To fill the hole whitewater kayaking left in my life, I found the sport of surfski through my good friend DJ Jacobson. I instantly fell in love with surfski and delighted in the trill of learning a new sport and progressing quickly. However, when it came to racing, I still felt the residual burnout from whitewater. I needed a break so I stopped training and racing altogether, but after a year without either I realized that I still did have a hunger to compete.

In 2016, I made the life decision to dedicated myself to surfski racing for three years and see how fast and competitive I could become. I set a goal to see if I could win an international race, but this time, unlike my whitewater career, I would appreciate the journey and truly revel in the chance to live the life of a professional athlete.

In the beginning it was easy. As I returned to training my fitness improved on almost a weekly basis. Since I had few expectations of myself in racing, every event felt like a success regardless of how I placed. As time went by my expectations for myself slowly intensified and it became hard to cope with poor results. Despite my intension to right the wrongs of my whitewater racing attitude, it was hard not to feel shaken by my perception of failure.

Every serious athlete has to deal with the mind game if success and failure, and no two athletes go about it the same way. This is where the sport teaches you how to overcome your own demons — or not. For me, the journey hinged on my goal. Like the Olympics, I set a difficult goal to challenge myself, but my mood, motivation, and outlook on my journey were externally governed and rose and fell hard with each race results.

To combat this roller coaster, I turned inward and focused each day on simply improving as much as I could. Each day was a personal challenge and if I gave everything I had to progress towards that goal, my day was a victory. This was a hugely important piece for me, but even this transformational element felt like only part of the solution. When it came to race day, instead of the confidence and pride I felt during training, I became afraid. I worried that poor results might shatter the feeling of “success” my days of work had cultivated in isolation.

I felt stuck. I needed a goal to push myself to the limit and get the most out of my training every day, but if this goal was such an important driving force, how could I not be devastated if I fell short?

It wasn’t until I came seconds away from winning the Gorge Downwind Championships this past year that I realized the piece that had been missing. Coming just 7 seconds from winning (and thinking at one stage that I was going to win) gave me the clarity to ask myself what would have been my next step if I had won? After achieving my ultimate goal of winning an international race would I have just quit on the spot? Would I have been satisfied and never set myself another goal? Of course not! There would have to be another goal, to win the World Championships, for example, or win three international races in a season.

And there it was. My goal would never be some holy grail of achievements, acknowledged by the entire world as the true measure of my success. My goal was simply a tool. A tool I could use to get the most out of myself, push that little bit further when I hurt and get back up after falling short.

My problem had come from confusing the tool of having a goal with the purpose of the entire endeavor, which was to see what I was capable of doing and be happy with myself for trying - “win” or “lose.”

And so, as I approach the final races of the 2019 season, I am revisiting the intentions I set in 2016 to motivate my racing. I have done everything in my power over the last 4 weeks to prepare myself and I am ready to chase the podium and ultimately the win. This time though, my hunger to win is my tool. I will not be afraid of falling short, because if I use the tool correctly and give the race my all, then my finishing position has nothing to do with my success. I will have already achieved what I set out to do when I started this journey.

  • NAC Classic 2019

    Newport Beach, CA
    February 9th, 2019
    Austin's Blog

  • Maui to Molokai

    April 13, 2019  - 26 miles.

  • Molokai Challenge

    May 26, 2019

  • Canadian Downwind Champs

    Squamish, BC, Canada
    July 13, 2019

  • Gorge Downwind Champs

    Colombia River Gorge, Oregon
    July 15-20, 2019

  • Lighthouse To Lighthouse 2019

    Sept. 14 & 15, 2019
    Norwalk, CT

  • Irish Coast Paddling Champs

    Saturday 28, Sept. 2019

I love to compete. There is nothing like training your body to perform at peak level, or learning to perfect the skills of a sport to beat other competitors. But at a certain point, you realize racing offers something more profoundly personal. It is an opportunity to evaluate how you approach everything you strive for in life. This, to me, is the true gift of racing.

As I head into the last stretch of the 2019 international surfski racing season, I find myself reflecting on why I am racing and what motivated me to take surfski so seriously in the first place.

In 2012, at the age of 22, I failed to qualify for the London Olympics in whitewater slalom kayaking. The Olympics had been a dream of mine since I was 12 years old and after a decade-long pursuit, I fell short at the Olympic Trials. Despite my many successes in several years of racing, and the incredible journey I had taken, I saw my paddling career in as a complete failure. What’s more, my goal had become so blended with my identity that not reaching it left me feeling like I was a failure as a person.

To fill the hole whitewater kayaking left in my life, I found the sport of surfski through my good friend DJ Jacobson. I instantly fell in love with surfski and delighted in the trill of learning a new sport and progressing quickly. However, when it came to racing, I still felt the residual burnout from whitewater. I needed a break so I stopped training and racing altogether, but after a year without either I realized that I still did have a hunger to compete.

In 2016, I made the life decision to dedicated myself to surfski racing for three years and see how fast and competitive I could become. I set a goal to see if I could win an international race, but this time, unlike my whitewater career, I would appreciate the journey and truly revel in the chance to live the life of a professional athlete.

In the beginning it was easy. As I returned to training my fitness improved on almost a weekly basis. Since I had few expectations of myself in racing, every event felt like a success regardless of how I placed. As time went by my expectations for myself slowly intensified and it became hard to cope with poor results. Despite my intension to right the wrongs of my whitewater racing attitude, it was hard not to feel shaken by my perception of failure.

Every serious athlete has to deal with the mind game if success and failure, and no two athletes go about it the same way. This is where the sport teaches you how to overcome your own demons — or not. For me, the journey hinged on my goal. Like the Olympics, I set a difficult goal to challenge myself, but my mood, motivation, and outlook on my journey were externally governed and rose and fell hard with each race results.

To combat this roller coaster, I turned inward and focused each day on simply improving as much as I could. Each day was a personal challenge and if I gave everything I had to progress towards that goal, my day was a victory. This was a hugely important piece for me, but even this transformational element felt like only part of the solution. When it came to race day, instead of the confidence and pride I felt during training, I became afraid. I worried that poor results might shatter the feeling of “success” my days of work had cultivated in isolation.

I felt stuck. I needed a goal to push myself to the limit and get the most out of my training every day, but if this goal was such an important driving force, how could I not be devastated if I fell short?

It wasn’t until I came seconds away from winning the Gorge Downwind Championships this past year that I realized the piece that had been missing. Coming just 7 seconds from winning (and thinking at one stage that I was going to win) gave me the clarity to ask myself what would have been my next step if I had won? After achieving my ultimate goal of winning an international race would I have just quit on the spot? Would I have been satisfied and never set myself another goal? Of course not! There would have to be another goal, to win the World Championships, for example, or win three international races in a season.

And there it was. My goal would never be some holy grail of achievements, acknowledged by the entire world as the true measure of my success. My goal was simply a tool. A tool I could use to get the most out of myself, push that little bit further when I hurt and get back up after falling short.

My problem had come from confusing the tool of having a goal with the purpose of the entire endeavor, which was to see what I was capable of doing and be happy with myself for trying - “win” or “lose.”

And so, as I approach the final races of the 2019 season, I am revisiting the intentions I set in 2016 to motivate my racing. I have done everything in my power over the last 4 weeks to prepare myself and I am ready to chase the podium and ultimately the win. This time though, my hunger to win is my tool. I will not be afraid of falling short, because if I use the tool correctly and give the race my all, then my finishing position has nothing to do with my success. I will have already achieved what I set out to do when I started this journey.

  • NAC Classic 2019

    Newport Beach, CA
    February 9th, 2019

  • Maui to Molokai

    April 13, 2019  - 26 miles.

  • Molokai Challenge

    May 26, 2019

  • Canadian Downwind Champs

    Squamish, BC, Canada
    July 13th

  • Gorge Downwind Champs

    Colombia River Gorge, Oregon
    July 15-20, 2019

  • Lighthouse To Lighthouse 2019

    Sept. 14 & 15
    Norwalk, CT

  • Irish Coast Paddling Champs

    TBD Fall 2019