Fresh off a relay win at the unofficial Molokai 2 Oahu World Championships in Hawaii, we caught up with Kali’a Alexiou at home in Aptos, California to talk about how this young teen ager is making a serious mark in the SUP racing world.
Kali’a Alexiou is 15 years old, and is just embarking on her sophomore year at Aptos High School. She’s a pretty typical teenager… goes to school, does her homework, hangs out with friends, loves the beach. But that’s where typical ends. Because at only age 15, she has some early and deep experience with SUP racing, and is quickly building a very respectable waterwoman’s resume of countless races—which includes TWO Molokai 2 Oahu crossings—but she doesn’t even have a drivers license yet. She has learner’s permit. And that’s a pretty good juxtaposition for where she’s at with paddleboard racing… an eager youth, developing skills, and on the verge of of some very adult responsibilities and some awesome adventures. By the time she’s twenty, she may very well have established herself as a perpetual force in the women’s SUP race game.
Off the top and down the line. Kali’a having fun and cross-training.
You’ve grown up in a paddling family. Your dad paddles and races, your mom paddles as well… what about your brother, does he paddle too?
No, not really. He used to be a swimmer, but he’s kinda focusing on other things now.
I feel like I’ve seen the whole family at the beach. Did you guys do Junior Guards or anything like that?
Yeah, we did Santa Cruz City and we did that for a number of years. I kind of grew up in that, it was really fun every summer, just being a kid and being out there… it was really fun.
On the beach, all day?
Okay, so what age were you when you started stand up paddling, and then racing?
Oh, I was about ten when I first started. My first time I went out on a standup paddleboard was in Waimea Bay in Hawaii, and then my dad slowly got into it. He used to be a prone paddler, and then he switched over to SUP. My first race was was the Tahoe Nalu (North Lake Tahoe, CA), the kids race, and from there I was like “This is really fun!” Candice (Appleby) was there and she let me borrow her board for the Nalu and I just remember doing pretty good, and my dad had started racing, and I just went from there. It was all about being out in the sun!
So, that was the annual Tahoe Nalu; that race is going on this weekend, if I’m not mistaken.
Yeah, yeah, we were going to go up there again, but not enough time. We’re going to go to the Gorge next weekend.
What about boards, what was your first board?
My first board was a Boga El Tiburon, it was 11 feet. I got that from Dave and Trish Meyler in Tahoe, and we really connected with them at Race Of The Lake Of The Sky, the first one, and my dad bought me that board. And I remember putting a bunch of stickers on it and taking it out, and I thought it was the greatest board in the world when I was that small (laughing). I felt really great on it, and then kinda just moved up to more higher performance boards later.
So it sounds like this didn’t start off like “Hey, I’m just going paddling recreationally, and then later on, a realization like, I’ll get into racing now.” You were racing pretty much right off the bat?
Yeah, but mostly I did it for fun. But then I was like “Oh, I’ll just set some more goals” and I’ve always wanted to challenge myself. It was something different on a standup paddleboard and I just wanted to get good at it, so… my dad was doing it (racing), so I was like “Why not?”
Is it, or was it, intimidating being a young lady among all these older, super fit athletes, some of them really accomplished watermen and waterwomen?
Yeah, it was, a little bit. I used to get really nervous, but I kind of just focused on what I wanted to do, and I had a lot of great people around me that were really great watermen and women, and I kinda of just listened to them, and I got better, and I learned a lot. Still learning.
Who would you consider to be your influencers, the people that you look up to in paddling, or that you look to for inspiration?
I look up to my dad, and…
I knew you were going to say that.
Yep, yep. My dad. And Candice Appleby and Anthony Vela of Performance Paddling, they helped me a lot when I was little. There were kind of the only kid’s program, and it’s… I was one of the only kids competing with a lot of adults, I kind of still am, so… they taught me a lot. And then just people in our community, I guess.
Santa Cruz has a really awesome community of paddlers, so yeah, you’re lucky to be surrounded by people with lots of experience, lots of stoke, and willing to share all that, right?
Yeah, and especially going to all the races, and just talking with everyone and making new friends, I learn a lot. And a lot of people in the Bay Area, like Jen fuller, she’s helped me out in the last couple of years.
Is your focus entirely on racing, or are you doing any SUP surfing, or adventuring as well?
Yeah, I SUP surf. I like to paddle when it’s flat. I’m really looking forward to this winter, it’s very flat right now, so I do both. SUP surfing is more for fun, but I do enter some contests.
Lets try to establish an overview of your racing experiences. Obviously, you’ve done all the local competitions in Santa Cruz and Central California, and then Molokai as well. You’ve got experience there, and we’ll get to that, but where else have you raced?
Hmmm, I’ve pretty much only competed on the West Coast, California and Hawaii. I haven’t really gone to the East Coast, but I would really like to, for some of the bigger races. And Hawaii is definitely one of the biggest challenges. I really love the water there, it’s so big, and I learned a lot when I was over there. And I’m pretty comfortable there, now.
Lets talk about Molokai a little bit. From what I’ve seen on social media, it looks like you’ve got some ohana in Hawaii. Who is there and how often do you get to visit?
Well, I visited a lot since I was little. On my mom’s side, my cousins live on Oahu, and then my mom is from Hawaii, so we visit there a lot. And then my dad first wanted to do M2O a couple years back, and so we started doing that. And pretty much every year, it’s been getting ready for that and every summer we go to Hawaii, so I’m really lucky, it’s been really fun.
That’s an awesome setup. So, what year was your first experience racing M2O and what category?
Last year, 2015, I did a relay team with Lara Claydon and Alex Mawae. Laura is from Maui, and Alex is from Molokai, and that was a three person team. We used a 14’ board, and last year was kind of the very hot and flat year. There wasn’t very much wind, there wasn’t very much swell. But we had a blast.
You got to work really hard.
Yep, but it was really fun and it was just a really good time for the first time in the Ka’iwi channel and doing M2O, and it was definitely a good year to do a three person team.
Yeah, split up the workload, right?
What was your result last year, and were you happy with that performance?
Yeah, I think my time, our time, I’m not quite sure… I think we did a 5:40 (this year) and I think we did a 6:39 last year.
This year your family went over again, and this year was a two person relay, right?
Yeah, a two person relay. My partner was Lara Claydon again, and she’s a professional stand up paddler, and she rips surfing. She’s trained by Talia Decoite… she holds the M2O record and she’s a really strong paddler. We kind of connected like two years ago at SUP Fiesta and we really connected and she’s been great. She’s shown me around Maui and I really enjoy paddling with her. She’s really fun! (laughs)
You said she holds the M2O record, for… what?
Oh, her coach Talia, she holds the record for women’s solo M2O, stand up. And she coached Lara.
I see. OK, well, it seems to me there’s a plan in place. If I could look into the future a little bit, it looks to me like, is this a sort of training and experience-building exercise leading up to a solo effort for you?
Definitely. I see a lot of people and what they do to train, so that’s probably a goal in the next couple of years. I’m not sure when, but I would really love to do it solo. That’s a really good challenge.
And this year, 2016, you and Lara were first place, right?
Yeah, first place women’s relay.
Congratulations. That has to be very exciting.
Yeah, it was! I was not expecting that. But, I don’t know, we were just like “Lets go out there and paddle hard and we’ll see what happens!” We did good.
And there you are on the podium. So, what about other goals for the future? M2O solo crossing, what else? Are there races you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
Yeah, I would wanna probably do the Carolina Cup and the OluKai Race on Maui. I think those seem really fun and the OluKai Race is… it looks epic! I really like down-winding, that’s one of my specialties and it’s really fun. And there’s a lot of good competition in Hawaii, too. It’s really fun to paddle over there.
I think you just gave away the answer to the next question I want to ask you… what the most exciting aspect of paddling is, for you? Is it down-winding?
Yeah, it’s pretty much down-winding. It’s fast, it’s challenging… and you get to just surf for miles.
At home in Santa Cruz, you’ve got an exceptional downwind training course in the Davenport run, from Davenport back to town. How often do you do that? Probably a ton of times by now?
Yeah, my dad and then the down-wind crew, guys like Mike Dillon and Jay Gomez, and then the prone guys “the Ghostryders”… we try to just look and see when it’s good and everyone piles into the cars and we’ve caught it on some really good days when it’s blowing 35-plus. So, that’s one of my favorite things when it gets really good, really windy here.
I get a little chill on my spine when you talk about that because I have very very little experience with that piece of water and it freaks me out a little bit, I have to admit. That’s a gnarly piece of coast to paddle down, especially when the wind is nuking.
Yeah, you should come with us sometime. (laughs)
Yeah, I think I’m busy that day, hahahaha. But one of these days I will, I will psych myself into it. So, tell me who your sponsors are, your support network.
I have really great sponsors. Boga Paddleboards, we’ve had a great relationship with them these past couple of years, they were kind of my first sponsors, and they are really great people, Dave and Trish Meyler. And then also Covewater SUP shop here in Santa Cruz has supported me. Quickblade paddles as well, they’ve been really good to me and some of the younger racers. And Performance Paddling are supporters, too… and of course my mom and dad.
Can’t forget mom and dad. And sponsorships aside, do you have any favorite products?
Yes. I really like Dakine products, Xcel, O’Neill, of course…
Well, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of positive things going your way, you’ve got your support network and your sponsorships, some solid results, you’ve got some very meaningful experience at a very young age… and you’re still young, so the view from the outside is, it looks like your name is going to be at the top of the results list at a lot of races. Is this a dream for you, is this the plan, try to dominate women’s competition?
Yeah, I like to do the races, but I don’t know, I just want to have fun with it and try to set some goals and finish them, and get really fast. There’s always room for improvement and mastery, so… those are my goals.
Good goals. Alright, that’s mostly what I’ve got. Do you have anything you want to add?
No, but… oh, yeah… I really like the Mile 22 straps you guys make, the tie downs, we take them everywhere. They’re the best straps.
Thanks, we appreciate that. I was hoping you’d say that! So, what’s going on today in Santa Cruz? Is it sunny over there on a Sunday afternoon?
Yeah, it’s actually sunny today! The weather has been really bad, but it’s sunny today. Um, packing for the Gorge, and then maybe do a workout today? Maybe get on my board. My dad is going for a paddle right now.
I should let you go… are you going with him?
No, he’s going, I have to stay. I’ll probably do one later. Probably go do some buoy turns.
You’re on your own program. Okay Kali’a, thanks for your time today. Good luck in the Gorge, we hope you do great!
Yeah, probably you’ll see it on Facebook!
Speaking of social media… connect with Kali’a and her sponsors, here…
Teammate Lara Claydon