Q&A with SUP Yoga Instructor Gillian Gibree

Gibree talks race day motivation, advice for beginners and the allure of SUP

Photo courtesy of Gillian Gibree

Few people are able to successfully turn their passion into a full-time job. Gillian Gibree has been able to combine two of her biggest passions, SUP and yoga, into her own business—Paddle Into Fitness. The Massachusetts native first fell in love with the ocean while working as a lifeguard on Cape Cod, spending hours swimming, surfing, Stand Up Paddleboarding and practicing yoga on the water. After relocating to San Diego, she created Paddle Into Fitness, a company that trains aspiring SUP yoga instructors.

In addition to teaching, Gibree keeps a full schedule of competitions and events. She placed first in the Go Pro Mountain Games & the Waikiki Quicksilver Festival in the SUP Survivor Race and the Water woman Race, and also competed as a member of Team USA during the ISA World Championships. Gibree is sponsored by Roxy, Ocean Minded, Kialoa Paddles, and 404 SUP and has been a presenting SUP Yoga Instructor at the San Diego Yoga Journal Conference & Wanderlust Festivals.

We caught up with her to discuss her race plan, recovery routine and bucket list races.

The Active Times: What is the allure of SUP, and how did you get into competing?

Gillian Gibree: SUP is a total body workout, and can be enjoyed in so many different forms - yoga, fitness, fishing, exploration, surf, whitewater, and downwind. There is something for everyone no matter what your fitness level or interest. 

What is the greatest joy you get from racing?

It's always fun to catch up with friends and travel to cool places. There are a lot of fun people in the sport and I have made many lasting friendships. I have been to places I never imaged I would go to because of this sport. 

How do you “balance” SUP and Yoga?

They both go hand and hand. I need yoga as recovery from a SUP race, but then the SUP training covers the cardio and strength that yoga can't quite provide. They complement each other perfectly!

What sort of race plan do you take into an endurance event?

You need to put your training time in! My weekly workouts consist of 2-3 days/week of SUP intervals, 2-3 days/week of running, and then my second workout will be anything from yoga, to free diving, or surfing. You also need to train in the kind of conditions that the race will be in - whether it’s a river, downwind, or surf race. 

How do you psych up for the race and then keep yourself motivated for an endurance event?

It's great to do an event with a friend so you can keep each other motivated during training and on race day. Having fun music and yummy snacks to eat along the way also helps. 

What is the one mistake you’ve learned the most from?

Hmm I have made lots of mistakes! I think I have been better about taking off days and not being in "GO" mode all the time. I made the mistake of overbooking myself for too many events or work commitments in the past, and then resenting things I loved. You have to take time off and not try to be everywhere and doing everything all the time! Pick and choose wisely to make sure you always love what you do. 

What advice would you give to someone trying SUP for the first time?

Start off on flat water, and always paddle with a leash and a friend. You should put in at least 5 hours there before venturing into unstable water like downwind, surf, or rivers. You want to have that paddle strength and confidence before introducing any potential dangers. 

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome while training/racing?

Sometimes it can be challenging to keep up with training when I'm on the road all the time and also running my business—Paddle Into Fitness. It's amazing how much sitting in a car or plane can drain you, so I have to take a lot of rest days to catch up. Learning how to balance it all can be a difficult task! 

Are you passionate about any activities besides SUP and Yoga?

Yes! I love surfing, free diving, hiking, traveling, meditation and exploring new places. 

What is the one piece of equipment you’d never be without?

My iPhone because I can document my adventures and share them instantly. I have a special water housing too so I can share underwater content as well. 

What is your recovery routine?

Yoga! I like doing restorative or heated slow yoga, it helps open and stretch everything out. It also calms me down after the adrenaline rush. 

What's next on your schedule this season?

I am currently in Hood River, Oregon for the Columbia River Gorge event. There will be a fun down winder race this weekend as well as a course race. I hope to get in some time paddling on the local rivers as well. 

What's one thing many people don't know about you?

I lived on a couch for a year when I first moved to San Diego in order to be able to afford to start my business. I also didn't have health insurance even while I was doing dangerous water activities, like hurling myself down a river…yikes! I took the risk though and the rewards have been great—now I get to live a fun lifestyle and work a job I enjoy. 

Any bucket list races you still want to do?

Yes! I want to do the 11 City tour in Holland, you basically paddle around the entire country via the waterways. I also would like to do this Waterman event in Tahiti that combines prone, sup, swimming, and outrigger paddling. 


Gillian Gibree will be contributing to The Active Times, look for her upcoming articles.


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