By Nora O'Malley
Lina Augaitis captained Team Canada at the 2016 Fiji International Surf Association (ISA) World SUP and Paddleboard Championship last November. Her team of nine water athletes took repose from their day-jobs to stand-up paddleboard race across a body of water called “Cloudbreak”—an epic surf spot located a couple kilometres from the heart-shaped resort island of Tavarua.
When it works, Cloudbreak roars into a fast, barrelling left-hander that breaks directly over a shallow reef. It is consistently ranked as one of the top waves in the world.
“The day of the technical race, there wasn’t a swell,” said Augaitis, who routinely trains on Kalamalka Lake, near Vernon, British Columbia. “I don’t know what the event organizers were thinking putting that race at Cloudbreak. They could have put it anywhere.”
Fiji marked Augaitis’s third SUP World Championships. In 2014, she claimed gold in the distance race and silver in the technical. In 2015, she was second in the distance and fourth in the technical. But for 2016, her confidence was off-kilter.
“I didn’t know how I would fare against the competition and I wasn’t sure what my body would do,” she recalls. At the time of the competition, Augaitis was still pumping breast milk for her 10-month-old son, Tavas, who stayed at home with her husband, Andrew Dye. Augaitis placed fifth in the 3.5-kilometre technical race, narrowly missing the podium by about nine seconds. (ISA awards medals to fourth place.)
“This was my first ISA race that I didn’t make the podium,” she said. Then, in the 17-kilometre distance race—which Augaitis considers her forte—she parlayed a brilliant start into a disappointing eighth-place finish.
“I wasn’t tired… but I couldn’t paddle any faster. I just couldn’t go. I thought, ‘oh my goodness, I’m a washed-up athlete.’ I really enjoyed drowning my sorrows that night,” Augaitis said.
Her silver lining would come on the last day of competition in the form of a 200-metre sprint race; an event the ISA had tacked on to the schedule at the last-minute.
“They really want to try get SUP in the Olympics and they figured the more variety of races, the better chance for it to get into the Olympics. I guess the pressure was off for that race. Or on, I don’t know. It was really just a fun race,” she said.
Augaitis made history on Fijian waters that day as she became the first Canadian water athlete to win gold in the SUP sprint race at a World Championship.
“It was the perfect finish. It gave me the boost I needed to feel like I was still part of that top group of athletes. I’m still around and maybe I’m different. It would [normally] be the distance race that everyone would fear me, but now maybe they need to fear me in a different way.”
With Augaitis at the helm, Team Canada finished a respectable 11th out of 26 countries at the Fiji Worlds. Her underlying motivation for the year was to show other female athletes that it is possible to have a baby and still finish in the top quarter of the field.
“You need to be creative and you need to be patient and willing—but you know your life isn’t over, it’s just 100 per cent different,” said Augaitis. To hammer that message home, Augaitis completed the 2016 Yukon River Quest when Tavas was six months old. She started training for the 715-kilometre adventure race simply by walking.
“Because I was breast feeding I couldn’t be away from [Tavas] for more than two hours. It was hard to be away for long. I did a lot of cross-training. I did a lot of yoga at home and I built a gym in my house,” she said, adding once again that the key ingredient is to be creative. “And use water time wisely. I wouldn’t paddle with someone who was slower than me. I use my time really efficiently on the water.”
Sharing the tasks of home life with her husband and having a supportive network of friends are also listed as her essentials.
The sport of surfing is gearing up to make its debut at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Augaitis is hopeful that SUP will eventually follow suit.
“It’s probably going to be one style of racing and then if it’s really popular they might add another style. The nice thing about the sprints, it’s maybe not as exciting as the technical race in waves, but the infrastructure is already set up. You don’t have to do anything,” said the world-champion water athlete and new mom.