Tips from the Top with Sonni Hönscheid

Molokai to Oahu, Sonni Hoenscheid. Photo, Sussana Teng

In the past two weeks, SIC Maui Team Rider Sonni Hönscheid has accomplished a remarkable, unrivaled achievement finishing second place in two of 2015’s most prestigious stand up paddleboard races, the Carolina Cup and the OluKai Ho’olaule’a. The two events could not be more different from one another – a resounding testament to Sonni’s well rounded skillset honed by continually challenging herself in the broadest range of conditions possible . “At home in the Canary Islands I train in all types of conditions. We do not necessarily have the best downwind conditions, but the diversity of the range from side winds to all types of chop teaches me to feel comfortable on the board no matter what,” Sonni told me.

The Carolina Cup, while it includes an ocean leg as part of the approximately 13 mile long grueling trek through Wrightsville Beach’s infamous Graveyard, is primarily a flatwater race through North Carolina’s scenic intracoastal waterway. Successfully navigating the route requires athletes to read the prevailing currents while developing temporary alliances of a sort with other paddlers as they built draft trains to conserve precious energy through the flats.

In contrast to the Carolina Cup, the OluKai Ho’olaule’a is an intense, dynamic, high-speed open ocean sleigh ride down the Maliko Gulch – the most well-known and consistent downwind run on earth. Two weeks, Two races, Two different boards, Two widely different sets of conditions, Two second place finishes. If there was a global governing body bestowing awards for SUP racing, Sonni Hönscheid would be a clear frontrunner for 2015’s most diverse and widely skilled competitor.

The season for professional SUP racing is just getting underway and two of Sonni’s favorite events, the Bluesmiths Paddle Imua and Molokai to Oahu (M2O) are yet to come. You may sense a pattern beginning to take shape and Sonni’s affinity for Maui is no coincidence. The daughter of a professional windsurfer, Sonni spent a considerable portion of her childhood on Maui as the Hönscheid family traveled the world together to support her father’s career. Competition is in her genes and before SUP Sonni competed in surfing competitions, she’s a 12x German Surfing Champion, thereby definitely no stranger to the podium. “I like to be competitive and enjoy the feeling of crossing the finish line,” she told me.

Sonni is currently training in Maui where she will remain until 18 May. Her training routine essentially involves spending as much time on the water as possible paddling with local paddlers who understand how to read the ocean conditions in Hawaii. “When paddling in the open ocean or downwind it is important to be able to follow a line in the water and not just paddle parallel to the coastline,” Sonni told me.

Sonni Hoenscheid. Photo, Mauro Ladu Liquid Shots
Photo, Mauro Ladu Liquid Shots

From Maui, Sonni will head to Europe where she plans to compete in events in Majorca and St. Maxime, alongside one or two yet to be determined events, before flying to North America for the Payette River Games in Idaho and the ever popular Race Lake of the Sky at Lake Tahoe. The entire SIC Team has been together on Maui in recent days and Sonni has enjoyed the time bonding with her teammates, paddling together in Hawaii’s pristine waters and simply hanging out and relaxing. Sonni’s boyfriend also resides in Maui, making each return to the tropical paradise a special occasion, particularly after a long day on the water.

When she is not training and competing, Sonni spends much of her time painting and is equally talented with a brush and canvas as she is with a paddle and a board. This fall, Sonni will hold her second art exhibition back in her old stomping grounds on the northern German island of Sylt, Sonni’s birthplace and inspiration for the exhibition – Peace Love Sylt II.

The accomplished athlete and 2014 Molokai to Oahu Champion offered the following tips for fellow stand up paddlers seeking to compete in open ocean, downwind races.

If you take part on your first M2O, it helps to do it as a team, just to see what to expect.

Crossing the Ka’iwi Channel is not something one does on a whim. There are races and then there is Molokai – the very name strikes a definitive, epic cadence as it rolls off the tongue. Molokai to Oahu is a race unlike no other in the competitive stand up paddling arena. “It is not just a race against other athletes,” said Sonni, “Molokai is a race against yourself”.

Go out everyday in all kind of conditions: onshore, offshore, sideshore, waves, etc.

If you only train when the conditions are most favorable, guess what? Come race day there is a very good chance you’re going to be confronted with significant challenges beyond anything you have trained for. Peak performance comes from proper preparation. By training in a variety of conditions you will enable your body to develop the skills necessary to adapt and overcome when it matters the most.

Go to Hawaii a couple of weeks before the M2O to train, get used to the conditions and adjust to the climate.

There is no substitute for local knowledge. Assuming you don’t already live in Hawaii, take the time, if possible, to acclimate to Hawaii’s tropical climate and open ocean conditions. This is not always feasible for non-residents of the Aloha State and even top competitors such as 2013 Men’s Molokai to Oahu Champion Travis Grant [a resident of Oahu] hold down day jobs when they are not traveling to competitions. Nevertheless, a quick look at the event’s past winners indicates a common thread. They all spent a significant amount of time training in Hawaii prior to their championship run.

Get a good escort team.

You may be the only one on your board, but you are not alone on the water. Having a good escort team will be a strong factor in how your channel crossing experience unfolds. A good escort team can assist you in making critical route decisions and help keep your spirits high throughout the duration of your crossing. Your escort team should be invested in your success to the same level as you.



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