Diving Deep with April Zilg
April Zilg is a gold medallist in the Pan American Surfing Games, Gorge Downwind OC1 Champion and now APP World Tour Vice World Champion; she is unstoppable on the SUP world stage. She made her APP debut in 2019 and emerged second place overall, behind Seychelle, with a win in the New York SUP open. She joins us to discuss the learning curve that came with the World Tour, discussing jetlag, strategy and the complications that come with eating McDonalds right before a race.
Did you feel prepared for your first APP World Tour?
AZ: I had just come off the 40-mile Wild Buffalo relay and two weeks later hit the Carolina cup for the 13.5-mile race. After that I hit a six-man race in an outrigger canoe and then hopped on the plane for the first stop of the World Tour. I was feeling great, I was feeling on top of the world and I was feeling excited and then the jet lag hit me. I wasn’t able to budget to be there far in advance and flying in too close to the race left me absolutely jet lagged. I found myself at the back of the draft train in the distance race gasping for air, barely able to hang on. I thought, I am not really cut out for this at all.
How did you turn it around after a rocky start?
AZ: That night I went out with Stephanie Shideler and we had a couple of beers and some good food. I thought, I’m just here to have fun. I had a great night sleep and I surprised myself with a second-place finish in the sprints. When you relax and have fun things seem to go a little better.
How did you feel about your overall win in New York?
AZ: I was so happy to secure a first in that event. I had an excellent support system in New York, so I got there early, trained in the choppy waters of the Hudson and got accustomed to the course. I wound up 3rd in sprints but took a win in the distance. The choppy conditions of the Hudson made me come alive. A lot of the other races were very flat and relied a lot on drafting and strategy and that is not my favourite part of SUP. Unfortunately, I did fall in the sprint race and there is no room for error at this level of competition. I really thought I had this one in the bag, but I made a last-minute decision to line up on the opposite side to what I had been doing all along and it panned out poorly.
Did you learn anything from that experience?
AZ: Trust your first gut instinct and just do what you’ve been doing in training.
How did you find the Osaka stop of the tour?
AZ: I could afford to get to Japan in advance and everything was beautiful. I was learning about when to be at international races and what to eat and how to do everything. I showed up to the sprint races and took first place, I was on top of the world. I thought I was figuring everything out. After the sprints when I was called up on to the stage, I slipped. I took the corner of the stage to the small of my back and it was excruciating, and I could barely walk.
I took a lot of anti-inflammatory to get through the next day, but when I woke up, the breakfast place I scoped out was closed for painting. My back was throbbing and now I didn’t have any breakfast. The only two places that were open in enough time to eat before the race was McDonalds and a sushi place, but I’m allergic to fish. Sorry McDonalds, it didn’t work out. About half-way through the course, I lost my breakfast. In that moment I did really want to pull out of the race. My back hurt very badly, my stomach hurt, and I wanted to quit more than anything.
What stopped you from pulling out?
AZ: I had signed up for the Yukon 1,000 for 2020, which is a 1,000-mile paddling race from Canada through the arctic circle and finishing in Alaska. I remember thinking to myself during the Japan race: if I can’t just suck this up right now, I have absolutely no business being on the starting line for the Yukon 1,000. So, I sucked it up, let out a couple of tears and finished that race. I still got 2nd overall so I’m really glad I didn’t quit, because I would have come out with nothing.
Paris was the finale of the tour; how did you feel there?
AZ: I wasn’t expecting much, but I gave it my all in the pool sprints and came out with a second place. I had to hold on for dear life in the draft train for the distance race. I was carrying a lot of accumulated fatigue and I was ready for my season to be over.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
AZ: I wish I had planned out my season a little bit more to have taken the APP world tour more seriously and focused more on each event because I think that is what separated me and Seychelle.
Who was your biggest competition in 2019?
AZ: Absolutely Seychelle. She showed up expecting to win all along and she did. I showed up expecting nothing, but to learn things and have a good time and I did. So, we both got exactly what we were expecting.
What are you expecting from yourself on the next tour?
AZ: I would love to have a world title on my paddling resume but if I don’t it’s not the end of the world. It really is about the journey, not the destination. I’ve already made it so there’s no pressure on me. However, If I get to every event with ample time to acclimate and train; if I bring my own food; if I do everything right, is a World Championship title in me?
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