A candid representation of balancing motherhood and a professional Stand-Up Paddle career.
All three mothers agree that parenthood is the most rewarding thing in the world, but that doesn’t stop the fact that it is incredibly disruptive. That is true whether the parent in question is a teacher, doctor, gardener or the President of the United States. In each case, the set of challenges is wholly unique, and being a parent/pro athlete is no different. It undoubtably adds to your life but for a pro Stand Up Paddler who practically lives in the ocean, constantly travels to compete and relies on their bodies’ abilities for a pay cheque, it can certainly make your life harder too.
I sat down with mum of two Lina Augaitis and mum of three Roxy Davis who both went through the colossal transformation of becoming a mother in the midst of a successful, fast-paced SUP career. I also interviewed single mum of three, Ginnie Betts, who only discovered SUP after she had children so had to make room in an already full schedule for competition. I wanted to talk to the mums about the decision to become a mother and how it can alter one’s competitive life.
Roxy Davis and her son Daniel Davis riding a wave at Muizenberg Beach, 2015
When Lina Augaitis had children, she was at the height of her racing career. She had the World Champion trophy in her left hand, the Battle of the Paddle trophy in her right and the ISA gold medal hanging from her neck. Whilst this seems like a complicated time to add a baby into the mix, this was all part of the plan for Lina.
“A year and a half before I had my first baby, I left my teaching job and started racing full time. I wanted to be the best in the world, and I wanted to have kids, but I wasn’t young so I began to get scared that neither of those things would happen. After that really great year of becoming the best in the world, I was ready to settle down and have kids. If I could never race again, I would be okay.”
Despite accepting the fact that her racing career may have been over, Lina’s success didn’t stop once she was pregnant…it didn’t even slow down. Lina carried on racing throughout her pregnancy and won some major international races including the Fastest Female on Earth sprint and the APP World Tour Stop in Germany, revolutionising what it meant to be a pregnant athlete.
“I felt very confident in the decisions I made with racing when I was pregnant. Some people would tell me that I need to stop and put my family first. That is a hard thing as a female athlete; people will criticise. For me I was just doing what I thought was right for me and my baby.”
Lina Augaitis 7.5 months pregnant and her son, Tav, on Arrow Lake BC on a canoe camping trip in 2017.
Lina is living proof that it is time to stop assuming pregnancy spells the end of it; being a mother and a badass athlete is not mutually exclusive.
“It’s easy to judge, but you shouldn’t, because only you know what is right for your baby. For my second child I went mountain biking the day I gave birth! It felt good, you just have to listen to your body.”
This is not a plea for the pregnant Stand-Up Paddlers out there to go mountain biking the day you give birth, but it is proof of the modern mother truly doing it all.
Lina Augaitis 8 months pregnant with her second child, Aiste, in Kalamalka Provincial Park BC in 2017.
Ginnie Betts, who only found Stand-Up Paddling in her 40s, started the sport already having three young children. After watching a leg of the Euro Tour, Ginnie was transfixed and wanted to give racing a go. She discovered that she had a knack for SUP and began seriously training and racing internationally wherever she could. She defied all expectations of a mature athlete and became one of the top female paddlers in Britain. Committing to becoming pro athlete as a single mum of three put her in the hotseat for similar criticism to Lina.
“People would say to me ‘you’re supposed to be looking after your 3 children. That should be your priority.’ But I actually think that I’m a better mother because of it. I’m more positive and it teaches my children that they can do something that they never thought they could. I think it is so important for every mum to carve out time for themselves. Your identity can get lost in serving your kids and if you’re not careful, you lose yourself.”
Ginnie Betts at the APP World Tour London event in 2018.
Mum of three, Roxy Davis, has been in the surfing game long before she had children and she stayed in it long after. She is nine-time South African Surfing Champion and is the first person to represent South Africa as a Shortboard Surfer, SUP Surfer, Longboard Surfer, National Surf Coach and National Surfing Manager. Roxy is truly a woman of the world.
In a fast-paced life of making history and winning titles, Roxy and her husband William always knew they wanted to have children. “It did cross my mind on how having children would potentially impact my competitive surfing career." She needn’t have worried though, as Roxy points out that post-children she probably surfs more now that she ever has before.
The achievements didn’t slow down for her either, three months after having her second child she was named captain of the South African Longboarding team that went to the ISA Worlds in China. Roxy contacted the ISA and said she wanted to bring her three month old son to the Worlds along with a friend to care for him while she surfed her heats. The ISA were very supportive and her son accompanied her to the World Champs held in China. Roxy placed 11th in the world at this particular event.
“I think I’m a better person and mother if I carve out the time to get into the water and fill my cup. I’m more patient and I think It is the best thing for me and my family.”
Roxy Davis, 7 months pregnant with her second child James, taking Daniel for their regular afternoon surf session 2017
Despite Roxy’s superhuman ability to maintain her reputation as a world-class surfer, it didn’t go without its challenges. All of Roxy’s three deliveries were C sections with the first one being an emergency; a sobering reminder of the potential physical complications that can come with having children.
“I had challenging deliveries and it was a big awakening to the things that can go wrong. Before children I was paddling into bigger waves and now, I’m much more considered about what I choose to surf in the water."
One of the main things I took away from talking to these three incredible women is that everybody is different and capable of different things. You can stay home with your baby everyday or you can climb mount Everest whilst dad babysits. Society has a knack of imposing guilt on to mothers who pursue their own interests but Lina, Ginnie and Roxy have proved three times over that you can do both and you can do both well.
Roxy Davis and her son Daniel surfing in tandem at Muizenberg Beach, 2018
We’ve talked about training with children; now let’s talk about competing. When a surfer is about to compete, they must be completely in the zone. Imminently, 10-foot waves will be hurtling towards them with no escape. Roxy Davis admits that when she travelled to international competitions with her new-born baby, she struggled with the cut-throat transition from mother to competitive athlete.
“The hardest part for me was compartmentalising who I was. As a mother, as an entrepreneur and as a competitive athlete. If I was mentally preparing for a competition, but heard the cry of my baby, I couldn’t switch off to that.”
Lina Augaitis, on the other hand, was able to transition from mother to athlete seamlessly. Lina was in the first group of Stand-Up Paddlers and was the very first female SUPer to partake in the Yukon River Quest: a 60-hour SUP race. In regular circumstances this would been difficult, but Lina had 6-month-old baby at the time of the event.
“I was breastfeeding on the start line of the Yukon 1,000, then set off and immediately had a race brain. That race was actually the longest I’d been away from my baby, which I found difficult, but I’m very competitive so I am able to separate those things.”
Lina Augaitis holding 6 month old Aiste at the Japan Kerama Blue Cup on Zamami island in 2018. Photo by The paddle League (Georgia Schofield).
There was some overlap of mother duties and racer duties during the Yukon though, as Lina had no choice but to breast pump throughout the race.
“I had to release my milk somehow, so I put my breast pump in my fanny pack and attached it to my nipple through my sports bra. Once it filled up, I would just dump it into the river and then put it on the other side. I did it nine times during the race. It was very empowering and very difficult. I’ll never forget it.”
Whilst we can consider this a remarkable feat of motherhood and womanhood, Lina was torn between her responsibilities as a mother and as a racer. “I had to have the philosophy that it wasn’t just about me anymore. I found it hard making the choices between doing things for myself or my family and finding the right balance between these two things.”
Lina Augaitis and her two children Tavas and Aiste, on the podium at the Squamish BC Canadian Downwind championships in 2018.
When a large part of your livelihood is traveling the world for international competitions, it can seem quite an inconvenience having a baby on your arm. Lina and Roxy both travel the world with their babies to get to major competitions.
Roxy Davis once travelled on a 48-hour flight to Hawaii from South Africa with a 1-year-old… I can almost see you cringing now. “The first thing I do when I get on the plane is make a general announcement to the few rows around us like ‘things may be chaotic, he will be crying and screaming at times but that’s what children do.’”
Rolling with the punches when traveling with children is Lina Augaitis’ expertise. Lina often travelled on her own with her 1-year-old baby.
“I travelled from Canada to Thailand to Honk Kong to Japan and back to Canada with my second born when she was 4 months old; it was exhausting. At one of the airports, we were so tired, so I made a bed on the floor.”
Lina Augaitis with her 2 year old daughter Aiste at Mabel Lake BC in 2020.
Whilst having young children has impeded Lina and Roxy’s ability to travel, it has stopped Ginnie’s altogether. She has a full-time job and is a single mum to three young children, so it is impossible to find the time to fulfil sponsorship requirements and as a result, she doesn’t have any, despite competing at a high international level.
“It’s super tricky to fulfill sponsorship requirements with 3 children. When I went to the ISA Worlds, I crowd funded my way there. My story of coming up from having children was an inspiring story to get behind so I got good support, but I can’t use that again. The logistics of taking boards and kids is a bit beyond me and I struggle to afford plane tickets.”
Despite Ginnie’s limited ability to travel and compete, she has still made a splash on Britain's SUP scene, winning the GBSUP title last year and competing on the London stop of the APP World Tour.
Ginnie Betts (left) with her son, Benjy (right), at the APP World Tour London event in 2019.
Motherhood has a reputation of being synonymous with self-sacrifice and whichever way you slice it; sacrifices will be made. You will find yourself sleeping on airport floors, breast pumping on the move and missing out on the competitions you have always wanted to do. That might be exactly what parenthood looks like from time to time, but as Roxy, Ginnie and Lina’s stories illustrate, it is possible to be a mother and pursue your career, hobbies and interests at the same time and the best part is, you can share that with those you love most in the world.
Roxy Davis taking her son Daniel for his first surf session away from their local beach break. Cape St Francis 2020 Photo By: Sandy Coffey