Meet Jane Paddler: Karen Figueroa, Hawaii and Florida
Where you were born and where you live now?
I grew up landlocked in the small town of Bellingham, Massachusetts. I loved Cape Cod and the ocean, though ever since I was little. Now, I split my time between Hawaii and Florida and can spend time on the water every day.
What is your occupation?
I own a tutoring company and do a lot of work with local high schools and the University of Hawaii. Teenagers are awesome – the perfect mix of smart and silly and weird and sweet. They really make teaching fun!
Tell us about your charity
I am so inspired by the 305SUP Special Olympics – these ocean warriors have kept the spirit of Coach Andres Pombo alive through their dedication, passion and love for our sport. Our June 2017 Cuba2Florida Paddle fundraising goal is to donate special “Andres Pombo Edition” SUP and Prone paddleboards, new uniforms and a new board trailer to the 305SUP team in memory of Andres. We are so honored to #livelikepombo.
Where do you paddle the most?
I put in most of my miles on the windward side of Oahu training with the Hawaii Kai crew, but I love the April/May race season on the East Coast. The SUP tribes in Orlando, NSB and St. Pete were my first paddle friends, and they went out of their way to include me in their races, since I was the only prone. Mike Coté and the Hawaii prone crew taught me big wind and big water and wild conditions – their talent and knowledge are just mind-blowing.
Do you have a favorite local paddle shop?
Gone Surfing Hawaii and Waikiki Shore Beach Services have been my close friends and surfing buddies for years. In Florida, Wave Of Wellness, CAguilar Paddleboards, and Paddleboard New Smyrna Beach have made paddling and racing so much fun, especially when I was the only prone paddler!
What paddleboard, surfski or OC do you ride most?
I have a beautiful black all-carbon BARK prototype (prone stock of course). She weighs only 11 pounds and is one of a kind … I call her The Black Beauty.
Do you own any other paddleboards, surfskis or OCs and what kind?
I have five surfboards, two 12′ prone stock race boards, and a 17′ unlimited prone with a rudder. I also own a handmade John Sedley prone paddleboard, which I used in my first Carolina Cup. Her poor little fin is damaged and duct-taped right now, but she is my Little Green Machine and I love her!
What paddle do you use?
My arms, silly. We don’t need paddles … we have guns!
Have you changed boards/paddles/equipment since you started? If so, why?
Oh my gosh yes! I decided to start prone paddling in Spring 2013 … unfortunately, I had never been on a prone board or knew anyone who paddled prone. So I GoogleStalked pretty much every local paddler and started making calls. (I brought them all little gift bags of chocolate & Starbucks cards so they would let me hang out with them!) Every board I started with was borrowed from some kind soul who took pity on the prone paddler with no paddleboard – John Sedley, Andy Gerber, Karen Mirlenbrink, Terry Mason, John Gordon, Mike O’Shaughnessey, Jessica Melger, Julia Nichols, Mike Coté, Cynthia Aguilar … It’s an embarrassingly long list of amazing people who kept me in a sport that I really had no special gift or talent for, outside of being Irish stubborn. (Prone paddling is tough!) It was Christian Cook and Chad White from St. Pete who started my transition from surfer to trained athlete … and my weapons of choice evolved from there.
If you could travel to anywhere in the world to paddle, where would you go?
I’ve always just wanted to be where my friends are, so I would say I would travel the world to see them … Mexico, the Mediterranean, Bali, New Zealand, Australia, and the list goes on. And if I could bring my two sons, even better!
Best piece of paddling advice you’ve ever received?
From my amazing coach Mike Coté: “There are only three things you need to know about paddling: use the conditions, catch waves, and have fun … stop complicating it.”
Weirdest thing that’s happened to you while paddling?
SCARIEST THING THAT’S HAPPENED TO YOU WHILE PADDLING? Mark Matheson and I were finishing up a training run when the phone rang on his board. It was our coach Mike Coté telling us that the channel had closed out and to head back immediately. When we rounded Portlock, we saw double overhead sets closing out Maunalua Bay and Mikey Coté and Mitch DeGeus waiting for us outside Wailupe Channel, in full lifesaving gear and looking intense. I knew we were in serious trouble. The channel is very narrow with sharp rocks and reef on either side and the waves were HUGE – no way we were getting through unthrashed. Suddenly, a tiny passage opened, maybe 8 feet wide, and Mikey yelled “GO!! NOW!!!” I did not have to be told twice. We all slid through and the channel completely closed up again behind us … it was divine intervention & the scariest paddling moment of my life.
Favorite performance/paddling nutrition? (During races/ during a long haul)
I get nauseous if I eat too much before or during the race, so I eat about three hours before. Usually a breakfast sandwich or bananas, almond butter & honey on a tortilla. And coffee is a must, preferably Dunkin’ Donuts! I have two water bottles on my board: one water with electrolytes and the other a powdered carb mix with caffeine, but I’m still dialing that in. For longer 4-5 hour paddles, I’ll bring little sandwiches: white bread no crust, banana & almond butter soaked in honey. (Weird but I get really grouchy if my sandwich does not have enough honey … )
Goals for this year?
Yup three big ones: Paddle Cuba to Florida, finish Moloka’i 2 Oahu solo, and get into The Mullet!
Favorite post-paddle nosh (snack/beer/recovery drink)
After the last race, we all went out for breakfast food: omelettes, biscuits & gravy, waffles, fresh fruit, bacon, pancakes, little cinnamon rolls. It was seriously the best recovery meal ever. Plus there was ice cream …
Your favorite non-paddle thing to do.
I am a surfer before anything else … it is my love, heart and soul.
What piece of paddling gear do you wish someone would invent?
1) Water specs that don’t fog or get spotty … ugh. 2) An app that will show you all the little currents & winds on a race course for the day – so important especially if it’s an intracoastal race like Key West or the Carolina Cup. (A huge thank you to John Beausang and Dave Baker for teaching me this!)
What’s your biggest challenge with paddling?
I don’t knee paddle enough. I’m not fast on my knees and I think like a surfer, so paddling prone comes so much more naturally to me. But I know that to be competitive, knee paddling is the way to go.
What is your proudest moment in a race or event?
By far, it is being part of the three-women prone relay from Cuba to Florida to raise money for Ocean of Hope and the Florida Special Olympics. It’s everything that is important to me: strong women, prone paddling, giving back, inspiring and being inspired. And to be on a team with Cynthia Aguilar and Aimee Spector, two seriously great female athletes … it really is such an honor.
Tell us about the best friend(s) you made through paddling.
1) My Paddle Race Tuesday Ohana … who have been there from the beginning with love, cheers, tacos, and PFDs. Thank you, Jessica Cichra. 2) My Hawaii Kai Prone Crew … who inspired me and challenged me to train harder, train smarter, train bigger, and just have fun. 3) And My Prone Sisters … who prove every day that strong women make waves. We may be small and few, but we are mighty.
What was your best paddling travel tip?
Bring enough honey for your sandwiches.