On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed, granting women the right to vote. In honor of this day, August 26th is now coined National Women’s Equality Day. We have had many inspiring women over the years make a difference and change history. Today we are celebrating local women who make South Florida great and are changing the tides!
Viktoria Burgess is a local legend. She is the ultimate power woman – fighting fires for her day job while still finding time to make a name for herself in the global SUP world.
She just returned from the Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championship. The M2O is a race across the Ka’iwi (or Molokai) Channel. This channel separates the islands of Molokai and Oahu. Stretching 26 miles with depths up to 2,300 feet, it has the reputation as one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water. Common fowl weather and open ocean swells that push through the narrow canyon between Molokai and Oahu. These treacherous conditions have resulted in the destruction of entire ancient canoe fleets and claimed the lives of modern-day fisherman and watermen like Hawaiian big-wave rider and waterman Eddie Aikau.
We were able to catch up with Viktoria hear about this amazing accomplishment and her advice to women who may feel like they are competing in a “man’s world”.
RK Ocean Gear, Starboard SUP, Roxy, Oakley, Surf World, Black Project Fins, Tailwind Nutrition, ISSN, VestPac, Stance socks.
Tell us what you do for a living:
I work for the fire department. I have been on the department for almost 12 years. The first six I was on the trucks as a firefighter/paramedic, and then I took a promotion to Fire Inspector.
Did you always want to be a firefighter?
Not always. I wanted to go into sports medicine originally, but had some friends in firefighting and I found the paramedic aspect was similar and exciting so I went that route. The firefighting part of the career took some practice because I was unfamiliar with a lot of the tools, etc, but after a while it wound up clicking and I really enjoyed it.
How did you first start paddle boarding?
I actually first started surfing (which is my life’s passion) about 12 years ago and was in the Trespass Surf Club. As the years went on it seemed the waves were less often, and I resisted paddleboarding at first because I thought it was goofy, but after a very long flat spell I gave in (probably about 4 years ago). I just kind of did it here and there with friends at the beach when there were no waves.
How long have you been racing?
The first time I actually stood on a raceboard was 3 years ago this month (September) when I was helping (Legend) Roray Kam at a clinic. About two weeks after I stepped on a race board, I entered my first race (the Quiksilver waterman in Deerfield Beach) and won. It seemed pretty natural and that’s when I got the racing bug. I was lucky enough to have a strong athletic background to be able to be very competitive very quickly and pick up some great sponsors to go along with my progress.
The racing aspect is great, and keeps you in top shape. I am probably in the best shape of my life at the moment.
But another awesome thing about SUP is actually SUP surfing. This last year I really started to click with it. I moved to a smaller board (7’11) and just won my first ESSC contest in June this year. I am looking forward to really progressing more in the surfing side of the sport as well. SUP Surfing is great because it combines both sports. You still can maneuver the same as a surfboard but with an extra kick of power that you can get from using your paddle.
So you recently participate in the grueling Molokai race. How did you train for this event?
The M2O has always been a dream goal of mine since I started getting into the SUP world. It is the worlds most difficult open ocean race, 32 miles long across one of the most dangerous channels from the island of Molokai to the island of Oahu. I am a huge fan of ocean races compared to flat water races. I like the challenge the ocean brings with it, instead of the ‘head down grueling flat water grind’. When my ‘coach’ Roray thought I was able to qualify for the race, applied and was invited!
My training consisted of many different things. The sport of SUP is not just about getting on your board and paddling. It involves lots of core strength and cardio, especially when competing at high levels.
Unfortunately living here in south Florida, I didnt have that many opportunities to get the actual “ocean training” in those types of conditions that I would be facing in Hawaii. However, I tried to surf a lot in big conditions and also surf with my race board in different conditions. I also did a lot of head wind training because I knew this race would be primarily somewhat ‘downwind’. So, the head wind training would make anything seem “easier”.
I tried to get on my paddleboard 3-4 times a week. Some longer mile paddles, and some short sprint days.
Along with that I was sponsored by Bommarito Performance Systems (a professional athlete training center in Davie), who worked with me on my gym training with weights and core strength.
I ran about 2 times per week, before work.I had a great nutrition coach, Dr. Jose Antonio, with the International Society of Sports Nutrition, who kept my nutrition on point.
I want to get as strong as I could off the water so no matter what happened in the water in Hawaii, I would know my body could physically handle it.
What was your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was trying to train and work at the same time. I work Monday thru Friday from 7am-4pm, and after work there were many times I was exhausted. Some days were more frustrating than others but I pushed through and managed to get most of my workouts in. I also learned that rest is a huge part of a training routine and also not to be so hard on myself. Time goes by so quickly, so its important to remain present and enjoy every different moment, because before you know it, it’s over. I had 6 months to train and day in and day out it was tiring. But, next thing you knew I was on the start line. Now I look back and its all surreal.
Tell us the highlights of the M2O for you:
The main highlight of the Molokai for myself was being in the middle of the channel, all alone, with my support boat sorta far away. It was overcast so all I could see was gray in the distance and the water. Oahu was not visible… and looking back and seeing the huge swell come up about 10 feet, then look in front of me and seeing the boat go high up and then disappear. I felt like I was in the movie the perfect storm.
The Molokai is known for its conditions changing in the blink of an eye. And, I was really happy to be able to experience many different conditions over the 6.5 hours it took me to complete. Everything from semi choppy, to huge rolling swells, side wind, flatness, and then at the end a gnarly head wind.
What was your setup?
I rented a board for the Molokai because you need a different type of board in those conditions. It was a downwind board which has more nose rocker and also a rudder for steering. I rented a 14′ SIC Bullet V1. The other girls in my division were all on 17’10 board. But, I didnt know if I wanted to try pushing something that long around my first time across. Although the longer board does have a speed advantage, it may have actually worked against me due to lack of experience.
My support boat (which every racer as to have during this race) consisted of Roray, my friend Chris Rubin, and our boat captain Tyler.
How does it feel to be a women in the a career and a sport that is generally dominated by men?
Men are funny creatures. I started the fire department when I was 20. So, it actually was very intimidating and quite an eye opener being that young in a new career surrounded by grown men. It was a struggle at first. I was tested time and time again but through the years I have learned that it is super important to have confidence and believe in yourself.
Whether it be in a career or a sport, if you have confidence, people see that and they start to respect you. The guys will test you to see what your made of. The more you stand up for yourself, the more they enjoy your company. At work, learn your skills, be open to learning and stand your ground but be respectful. Its the same as in the line up. Have confidence and charge, but remain respectful. Its ok to make mistakes, its going to happen. But just keep moving forward and keeping your head high.
Any tips for other young women wanting to compete in SUP?
Just get out there and have fun! The SUP community is such a great one and the people are so nice. Don’t be scared to fall. It happens to everyone, at every level. Also, don’t focus on what place you come in. SUP is such a new and evolving sport. Very fickle on conditions that many people get hung up on their placement, but really its a completely different race each time you go out. Be open to learning. SUP has taught me so many things about being a water-woman that I would have never learned otherwise.