Introducing TJ Munks – Arizona’s newest SUP racer
I first met TJ earlier this month when I attended the Cali Paddler Retreat 1.0 at Refugio St. Beach. I may be wrong, but I believe he was the youngest paddler in attendance that weekend. He was almost certainly the most excited paddler to be there. TJ Munks will officially become a teenager on April 20th, two days shy of the sixth annual Stand Up for Clean Water event in Malibu – an event he plans to attend. His journey to the event will be a bit longer than most, for TJ and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona where he regularly paddles on Tempe Town Lake.
TJ began paddling in March 2016. His mother arranged for him to meet Rob and Steffi Griffin – two of Arizona’s most prominent stand up paddlers and ambassadors for the sport – and receive an initial paddling lesson from Rob. “I instantly fell in love with SUP racing and dropped every other sport!” TJ told me.
Later that fall, TJ chalked up his first notable paddling achievement when he completed a 10.5 mile course down the Colorado river at the annual fall desert classic, Another Dam Race. Despite a grueling headwind and soaring temperatures, TJ won second place in his division.
TJ’s favorite subjects are language arts and social studies – he told me he would like to paddle in Venice, Italy one day. When he is not paddling, he enjoys reading, writing, exercising, and skateboarding. I can easily relate and actively pursue the same set of passions.
I asked him if he has any favorite memories or experiences so far in his brief paddling career. “My favorite memory while paddling was when I was picked up by a 40 mph gust at the AYC Leukemia Cup. I didn’t even stand a chance against that gust, it just plucked me off my board and sent me flying, along with my board upside down on top of me!” said TJ.
For the moment, there is not a formal group training program for TJ to participate in, yet when I asked him what he enjoys the most he cited the paddling community and just being out on the water as the one thing he enjoys the most about paddling. “When I am on the water, it is amazing because I forget about everything else and just focus on my paddle, my stroke, and my board,” he said.
TJ Munks may live far from the coast, but the ocean in Southern California has already become his favorite place to paddle. Yet while he may long for the ocean in the Arizona desert, he has a piece of the California Dream beneath his feet in the shape of a yellow Infinity raceboard.
“Tyler Bashor is my favorite paddler and inspiration,” TJ told me. “He has been racing for only a few years and is only a couple of years older than me, yet he is one of the best SUP racers in the world!” said TJ.
The thrill of competition is a driving force in TJ and his favorite events are Another Dam Race, the AYC Leukemia Cup, and the race on the Salton Sea.
“I like ADR because it was challenging and a different experience, yet it is fun and amazing to paddle. The AYC Leukemia Cup is fun because of the different terrain, for we do not have many races in Arizona. It is an amazing, enjoyable race. I like the Salton Sea Race because of the amazing community and the surreal beauty of the terrain,” said TJ.
TJ Munks has already accumulated a number of amazing experiences in his short time as a paddler. His enthusiasm for paddling make him one to watch, both as a racer and an all-around ambassador for the sport. There will be future trips to California, but paddling in the Arizona is not so bad. Perhaps we should all make a pilgrimage to the desert and pay him a visit!