“Water is the driving force in nature.”
~ Leonardo Da Vinci.
The power of water; its necessity, its strength, and its beauty are evident to all who live near powerful rivers, or the ocean. Water feeds the soul, is necessary to sustain our lives, and is a source of joy and fun on a hot spring or summer day.
Idahoans are fortunate to live in an amazing white water state; with more white water miles than anywhere in the United States (besides Alaska), Idaho is a mecca. The thrill of punching through waves on a raft or in a kayak draws visitors near and far who want to experience the thrill of charging the rapids. The unpredictability of white water is what thrills adventure seekers – but we know a lady who has taken that thrill to another level.
Imagine for a moment, what it would feel like to face those same rapids, while standing on an over-sized surf board with only a paddle in hand, and your balance to get you through the tumultuous water. A fall in white water can lead to a rocky and bumpy ride – or worse! – so you need to have nerves of steel!
As the temperatures are rising and the mountain snow melts, the rivers swell and we move in to another season of exciting outdoor sports. We at Snow Bunny Mag are thrilled to cover a women who is revolutionizing how rivers can be ridden! She is a pioneer in the sport of Stand Up Paddle Boarding ; “SUP” as it is called by many,which is a sport that can include the most mellow of athletes, or can be taken to an extreme.
Nikki Gregg grew up in a small suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, nowhere near the mountains or oceans that have filled her life with passion and given her a career many envy. As a professional SUP-er, she has had the opportunity to travel to exotic places, experience beautiful landscapes only accessible by water, and change the lives of others through passing on her love of stand up paddle boarding.
Whether residing in Hood River, Oregon, or “out of her suitcase” due to her extensive travels, she has been SUP-ing the past 7 years, watching the sport transform while being a foundational part of its growth. Besides being an amazing and dedicated athlete, Nikki is a successful business owner; she has taken her passion for SUP and fitness, and created a series of instructional videos and learning clinics. She is currently working on a SUP-ing segment with Outside Television, just got a new puppy, and did we mention she has amazing abs? This lady does it all!
We heart Nikki Gregg, and here is why:
SBM: SUPing seems to be a relatively new sport? How did you first hear about SUP?
Nikki: I discovered stand up paddling while I was living on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I saw a stand up paddler out at one of my favorite surf breaks and had no idea what the heck he was doing. My first time stand up paddling was on a flat day on an old windsurf board and a homemade paddle. Once I began paddling downwinders and stand up surfing every day I became completely hooked.
SBM: The popularity of SUP has grown quite a bit over the years, why do you think that is?
Nikki: Stand up paddling has grown because you can do it just about anywhere, at any level and in a wide variety of conditions. There’s now a board on the market for pretty much every variety of stand up paddling you want to try. And, it’s a very accessible sport because all you need is a board and paddle and you’re good to go!
SBM: What caused you to pursue SUP as a career and how did it come about?
Nikki: When I started stand up paddling for literally fours hours a day while living on Oahu, my clients at the gym asked me what I was up to because I looked extra lean, toned and strong. I also had a ‘perma’-grin from ear to ear because I was having so much fun. At the time there wasn’t a lot of equipment available, so I wrangled up any board and paddle I could find and began to take some of my clients out paddling. SUP was a fun and exciting way for my clients to get out of the gym, get out on the water and do some cross-training. I then began adding other fitness components to my paddle workouts such as beach runs, swimming, as well as using the board as a platform for basic body weight strength-training movements. Word got around about what I was doing and I began a SUP ‘Bootcamp’ program in which visitors and locals would seek me out. I saw the potential for the sport, especially the fitness side, packed up my things and took my program on the road. It took a few years for the fitness part of stand up paddling to take off, but I kept at it and also began competing in SUP races and running rivers. It’s rewarding to be credited as being one of the innovators of the sport, but thinking back to that time I really had no idea that that’s what was happening. I was just doing what I loved!
SBM: You are in amazing physical shape! What does it take physically to stand up paddleboard, and is this a sport anyone can do?
Nikki: Wow, thanks! Haha
Quite honestly, if you have a nice stable board with enough volume to float you, calm water conditions and a great instructor, then I believe just about anyone can get up and take their first strokes within minutes. If you want to improve or specialize in a certain area of SUP it’ll take a lot of training and time on the water but, getting up for your first time is easy and just about anyone from the kids to grandma can enjoy the fun of SUP.
SBM: Your background is in fitness, how has SUP-ing and fitness combined in your own life?
Nikki: Actually, SUP came together for me as a blend of three of my favorite passions: a background and love of fitness, whitewater paddling and surfing/board sports. For me, it’s the perfect sport and it never gets boring because there are so many facets of stand up paddling to enjoy including expedition/touring, fitness, racing, whitewater, downwind and surf.
And I love SUP for getting into shape and teaching and sharing the fitness benefits with others. If you think about it, you’re using your entire body when you paddle: Postural and stabilizing muscles to keep your balance, major muscles in your torso and legs are firing to propel yourself forward, and your cardiovascular system is working hard if you’re paddling at a decent pace for an extended period of time. So it’s not long before you notice the physical benefits. The fat melts off and the muscles start to grow, revealing a lean mean paddling machine.
SBM: As an experienced athlete you use your board on flat water, on the ocean, and on whitewater, what is the major differences between SUP-ing in these different environments?
Nikki: Major differences include the type of equipment I use, the stability (or lack of) while I’m paddling, the different types of strength and fitness involved, as well as the knowledge and experience required to be safe and efficient in the unique conditions and characteristics of each environment.
SBM: Do you have a favorite style of SUP-ing (whitewater, flatwater, ocean?) and why?
Nikki: My top three are whitewater, downwinding and surf. (Sorry, I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one. ) I enjoy a lot of variety and each of those types of paddling is ridiculously fun, challenging and gets me outdoors and in shape. It never gets boring!
SBM: Whitewater SUP-ing seems to take the sport to an extreme level, what is the thrill and challenge of SUP-ing on rivers?
Nikki: Stand up paddling in the river is definitely challenging, even for the best paddlers. However, if you don’t mind swimming rapids and taking a few beatings, along with occasional bumps and bruises, it’s extremely rewarding to stick a drop or tough rapid. To me, I love the butterflies in my stomach when approaching a rapid, when I can see the horizon line and hear the roar of the rapid just ahead. Really, though, just being in the river environment itself is wonderful, because oftentimes the river flows through very beautiful places that you can’t access by foot. And coming from a river paddling background, it feels good to get back on the river again with a paddleboard.
SBM: Snow Bunny fans in Idaho can watch you compete during the Payette River Games in June. How does a typical SUP contest work?
Nikki: River SUP contests have evolved to include a combination of a downriver race, which varies in length and difficulty, along with a SUP Cross, or ‘head-to-head’ style course race in the rapids, with heats of 4-5 people. At the end of both races, the top scorers in both events make the podium. So it’s important to have a high level of fitness along with a fast board to do well in the downriver race, and technical river skills with a solid strategy for the SUP Cross.
SBM: What is your favorite place EVER to SUP?
Nikki: That’s a tough one for sure. If I had to pick only one place to paddle for the rest of my life I think I would have to say here in Hood River, which is fortunately where I live. There’s a little of everything here from world class downwinding, river paddling, a great community of paddlers and the Oregon coast is only a few hours away if I want to surf.
SBM: In Whitewater SUPing what was your scariest moment, and what was your coolest moment ever.
Nikki: One of the scariest moments in whitewater SUP for me was when I fell in a rapid where the current flows directly into a rock. My board went around one way and I went around the other side. I pulled my quick release to disconnect my leash, but it didn’t come free. So I was hung up on this rock with no immediate way to rescue myself. A friend of mine paddled over to the rock and pulled me out of water.
My coolest moment was when I paddled over a waterfall on my stand up board back in 2009. My boyfriend at the time had brought in a videographer and photographer to document his decent for the media, but I was looking at it thinking, “I think I can do that, too!” It was about 20 feet high and I had to paddle the board backwards with no fins in order to clear the rock sticking out in the middle of the drop. If I had swam over the falls or didn’t have the right line it would have been a very uncool moment 😉
SBM: Who is the most influential figure for you in the sport?
Nikki: There are so many influential people in stand up paddling! However, I really respect the people who use stand up paddling to selflessly give back to the community, raise awareness for an important cause or money for a charity or person in need of help. The person who comes to mind instantly is Michele Baldwin, who passed away a couple of years ago from cervical cancer. In order to bring awareness to HPV and cervical cancer, Michele paddled 700 miles on the Ganges River in India with stage IV cancer. As you can guess, that would be an amazing accomplishment for a healthy person let alone a person dying from the final stages of a terminal illness. She was a wonderful person and I think about her every day. You can learn more atwww.starryganga.com
SBM: What would you say to young girls who look to you as an example of following their dreams be?
Nikki: I had an extremely tough childhood without much positive support, which unfortunately didn’t set me up for ANY kind of success or happiness. However, I’m proud of myself for working hard to overcome a mountain of obstacles and for listening to my heart, never giving in to pressure from others to take a path in life that I didn’t want to follow. I’ve made a million mistakes but, I always land on my own two feet no matter how hard things get and I never give up.
SBM: So, my advice to the younger generation is to sit down and take the time to figure out EXACTLY what you love, what you’re good at, what you visualize yourself doing or want out of life. Set goals by writing down all the things you want to do, want to have or accomplish. It doesn’t matter how crazy it sounds or whether your family or friends will approve. Next, let all your choices each day reflect a movement towards your goals and don’t put your focus on anything negative or what you don’t want. That’s what really helped me get clarity and stay on the right track. Hey, if I can do it, anyone can do it!!! And, don’t do drugs….haha.
Nikki: Are you involved with any charities/non-profits and what do they mean to you?
I get involved with organizations that provide assistance to the homeless and I also support women’s shelters. Anyone and everyone are prone to finding themselves in a tough spot, and we all need a little help from time to time. That help can give a struggling and hopeless person the tools to completely turn their life around. Maybe it’s just a few words of encouragement from someone who cares or a little financial help from someone who believes in them to get them out of a tough situation. If it wasn’t for a few key people in my life believing in me, I wouldn’t be where I am now and I’ll never forget their generosity.
SBM: What impact has your involvement in this sport had on your life and on the lives of those surrounding you?
Nikki: Stand up paddling has positively impacted every area of my life; from my happiness, my career, my health, exciting travel and adventures around the world, and the opportunity to meet new friends wherever I go. I still get excited when I see other stand up paddlers driving by with boards on their roof or on the water because it’s such a great community of people. I feel like stand up paddling has been my platform to reach and inspire others, whether it’s through my instructional clinics, online content, health/fitness coaching or by giving someone the courage to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Who would have guessed that through the little sport of stand up paddling, I have discovered my true purpose in life.
Be sure to check out the interview on SnowBunny.com: http://snowbunnymag.com/snowbunnies/nikki-gregg/