We catch up with Karla Gilbert, Australian Surf Iron Woman and now Australian Paddle Boarding Champion who will be heading to the Mid North Coast of NSW early next year for the Forster Island Paddle Festival.
So Karla, how would you describe yourself?
Determined, head strong, mindful, persistent, stubborn and adventurous
When did your competitive surf / water sports involvement begin?
Gosh, how far do you want to go? I began at age 5 and competed in my first professional competition when I was 15 years old, and funnily enough won! I also represented my state of QLD in 4 sports throughout school, cross-country running, track and field (1500m and 3000m) and pool swimming plus of course surf lifesaving.
And since your time as Australia's golden girl of Surf Ironman what have you been up to?
Busy, Busy!! I dabbled in adventure racing in 2006 and ended up winning the Australian sprint adventure race in Lorne (5 hour race), which was super exciting to explore a different sport. This spare time was quickly replaced by the arrival of two girls (now 4 and 7) and of course, being the endurance junkie that I am I began the sport of stand-up paddle boarding which again led to me winning an Australia title (yes there is a pattern forming) and travelling the world competing once again as an ambassador for Naish SUP. I also work as a lifestyle, food and wellness coach with clients all over Australia helping them form sustainable healthy habits and creating the best version that they can be through support and goal setting.
So what made you first try out Paddle boarding and what is the attraction?
Oh, I guess it began as a way to get back into shape after having children. To bring my core back into action while still being out on the water. I entered a race and before I knew it I was competing again and loving every minute of it. It is different to my iron woman competition days though and my family and work is now my priority. Stand-up paddling for me is an escape where I can chill, gather my thoughts and feel in control.
How you would describe the average training session compared to your previous training routine?
My sessions now are very social, I paddle with a great group of people and we push each other along compared to the past where I used to train as a professional, which I gained a living out of so there was the side of seriousness. In a nutshell it is max 2 hours a day compared to what I used to do which was 5 hours a day. It was a full time job.
Tell us about the sport of paddle boarding for women in Australia? Is it competitive & will it attract women to participate on a competitive level?
SUP paddling is relatively new in Australia but I’m sure most people have heard or tried it. It is accessible and doable for most people in the flat water and a great way to explore your local waterways. It is competitive and numbers are growing with interest. There are a lot of social paddlers but hopefully in time it may convert to people who like to race.
What have been your successes to date in paddle boarding events, and what is next on the event calendar for you?
My successes to date have been winning the Australian title for the past 3 years, major races in Australia and placing in the top 3 overseas. Coming up for me next is The Dr, which is from Rottnest Island in Perth to the mainland and another race in Mandurah. We have a race coming up in February, which should be exciting in Forster also.
What benefits do you as a woman get from regular paddle boarding? Why would you recommend it for women?
Absolutely, perfect all over body workout, build leg and upper body strength, core strength, and fitness all in one! You don’t need any surf experience to be able to paddle in the flat water
What advice/tips would you give gals wanting a to purchase a paddle board and gear and learn the art this summer?
I would probably say to talk to your local dealer or try and find a good second hand board. Board lengths vary but the most common is 12’6, which is what we, race on but is a good all rounder in the surf and flat. Naish have a great range of women's boards and paddles. Start off on something a little challenging (around 28 inches wide) and as you get better it will get easier to balance rather than being stuck with a board that is too wide and cumbersome.