ISA World SUP and Paddle Board Championship 2018

On October 24th 2018 I received a phone call from one of my friends that totally changed my life. Ariel Amaral is a member of the Team Canada SUP team for 2018, and she had called to inform me that a spot on the team had opened up for the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships in Wanning China. She had asked me to apply for the spot. I could not believe what I was hearing. I could not believe that she had thought of me to come and represent Canada on the world stage. I was able to work out my school and financial situation, and was able to say yes to this unique opportunity. I applied and with Lina Augaitis’s permission (the head of the Canadian SUP Team), I was on my way to China.

I had spent two weeks in the areas of Riyue Bay and Shemi Bay and can say that after paddling in the ocean and travelling in the area, I learned so much and came home a different person. The first week consisted of a lot of training and resting. I was supposed to compete right away, but the schedule got flipped around due to weather and ocean conditions. The swell was rising and the event kicked off with the SUP Surfing events first. It was fun to cheer on my teammates and watch them advance in their heats. I loved that we got to show the world that Canada can surf too! During our off time we paddled in a river that ran beside our hotel and this short paddle was very eye opening. I saw lots of garbage in the waterway amongst so many beautiful palm trees and grasses. This made me so sad, because I all I wanted to do was pick up every single piece to make the river beautiful. 

During the second week, it was finally time to compete. I had fun watching the world surf, but I was now getting anxious and ready to race. I was in the first heat for the womens’ technical racing on Tuesday November 27th. Standing on the starting line was so nerve racking but humbling at the same time. I was lining up beside my idols in the paddling world and felt very grateful to be where I was in that moment. The horn blew and it was time to go! I learned how to paddle through waves and practice pivot turns earlier in the week, and so I was able to apply those same skills during the race. I placed 9th out of 12 ladies in my first heat, and 12th out of 18 ladies in my second heat. My body was hurting but my spirit was strong after a hard day of racing. I had left everything I had out in the ocean and was super proud of my first international performance. 

My next race was the distance race on Saturday December 2st. I had the same feeling on the starting line on Tuesday, honoured that I got to stand with the most 30 amazing strong ladies I’ve ever known. The conditions were tough because it was super hot, and the wind and swell in the ocean had picked up. When the race started I ran to the water as fast as I could and got a fantastic start. I paddled as hard as I could against a cross wind section, then turned the second buoy into a downwind section part of the race. Unfortunately this is where my back gave out on me and I had to pull out of the race. I was so devastated that I had to leave the distance race only 4 km's in, but I cannot even describe how much that awful moment taught me. When I got back to shore my team was waiting for me with open arms. They were nothing but encouraging. They had told me “you didn’t give up mentally, your body literally couldn’t take anymore and that’s okay! You’ll be back!”. In the moment it was hard to accept those words, but they could not be more true. 

China was absolutely incredible and I cannot thank everyone enough for supporting me and allowing me to go and experience such amazing competition. This trip has only motivated me to work harder, train harder and be my best self each and every single day. Thank you to the University of Waterloo for allowing me to go, to all of the staff at St. Paul's University College, my friends and family for your encouragement and for watching and cheering me on! Lastly I’d like to thank Team Canada for taking care of me during the trip, and especially Lina Augaitis for allowing me to go. You will never know how much this trip meant to me and I cannot thank you enough for giving me this incredible opportunity. I’d like to finish this story with some last words of encouragement. To whomever is reading this, do not be afraid to chase your dreams. Go out there and try! I’ve learned that there is so much support surrounding you everywhere, and do not be afraid to ask for it. Experience the world, live kindly and have fun because you will learn so much.

Madeline Leblanc