NY SUP Open: Expectation vs. Reality by April Zilg

April Zilg Statue of Liberty APP World Tour
Racing passed the Statue of Liberty reminds April of her family's arrival to the States from Germany nearly 100 years before. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour
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he APP World Tour rolled into town for the NY SUP Open offering athletes a chance to gather more points towards the World Championship in SUP Racing and Surf. Steadily climbing, hard working, effervescent, April Zilg takes home a massive win competing across the SUP racing and SUP Surfing disciplines.

April retells the tale here for Standup Journal, offering her personal reflection of racing passed the Statue of Liberty on her birthday and carrying the energy of her great-great-grandfather, who passed Lady Liberty on his way to the States over 100 years ago.  Aloha, April!  Thanks for your stoke!

April Zilg Seychelle Fiona Wylde NY SUP Open winners
April Zilg’s claiming the Overall victory at the NY SUP Open puts the chase for a World Title in high gear. Who will be this year’s World Champion? Photo by: John Carter/AP World Tour

Arrival at APP World Tour’s NY SUP Open

Thursday I woke up and hopped on my flight to New York. Once there, I was instantly in surf mode as the APP World Tour’s NY SUP Open would begin with the surf competition.

Hurricane Dorian tracker
With Hurricane Dorian creeping up the East Coast at 4MPH, New York expected to see a major swell off the coast.

Around this time that something else started looming. Reports of Hurricane Dorian creeping up the east coast filled news feeds online and on TV.  APP athlete, Seychelle Webster, the current women’s leader on the Tour, had to deal with a cancelled flight and made the drive of over 20 hours to arrive in time from Florida!

At this point, I’m thinking to myself, “The things we do to race on stand up paddle boards!”

It’s not an easy task, but nothing worthwhile is. I thought of my great grandfather, a poor German potato farmer, who hopped on a boat to New York. He had a lot more on his mind than a sick doggo, a hurricane, or how he was going to pick up his 14’ paddle board from New Jersey. For the distance course of the NY SUP Open this week, I had the opportunity to race right past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, two iconic locations that were a lot more than just cool sights to see for my great grandfather. For him, they symbolized a whole new life of freedom and an opportunity to work for a livable wage to support his family. I am proud he made the choice to come here to America, even if it was over 100 years ago!

April Zilg Statue of Liberty APP World Tour
Racing passed the Statue of Liberty reminds April of her family’s arrival to the States from Germany nearly 100 years before. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour

Level Up:  How April Uses Cross Over Sports to Improve Overall

One hundred years later, I felt the energy of my family alive and well in New York. It gave me strength. I entered the SUP Surf competition in addition to racing the Sprints and Distance courses for the APP World Tour.  SUP surfing is my hobby. I absolutely love it, but I’m not particularly great. But I love entering SUP surf competitions because it’s another chance to push myself, learn strategy, and have new experiences.

Even if you’re not trying to win a particular endeavor, you can still use the activity to learn and become a better competitor and acquire new skills that cross over into other areas of life. I warmed up on my 404 ATL and surfed that day to the best of my abilities. After a few wide, arcing turns, I scored high enough to advance through the Repecharge Rounds and into Round Three. I was proud of this placing for how little time I dedicate to practicing in the months leading up to the event.

April Zilg womens sprints
Learning to surf and compete in SUP Surf competitions helps April acquire new skills for SUP racing. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour

Expectation vs. Reality:  Get Your Head on Straight

I read somewhere that your response to your performance is merely a result of how you saw it going in your head versus the reality. If you think you’re going to show up and win and you don’t, then you’ll be disappointed. It’s good to set realistic goals with a healthy mindset to push your personal limits.

Although I was happy with my SUP Surfing, when we got to the Sprint racing in the surf zone, I was not happy. It never had anything to do with placing, after three pretty clean laps in my preliminary heats, I fell twice in the Final Round. For me, falling was the disappointment. Settling for 3rd place was just the result of that disappointment.

I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened. The board, my new 404 LTD, was fantastic. It surfed incredibly well and was fast in the straight sections. I never second-guessed my stability. The bobble kept me up that night reconsidering choices I made on how I chose to line up and when I decided to charge versus slowing down when punching out through the surf. My expectations that day did not align with the reality.

April Zilg hurting APP World Tour
Disappointment in one’s performance and learning to manage those moments is part of what being an athlete is all about. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour

NY SUP Open Distance Course: 8 Miles on the Hudson River

For the Distance Course, I woke up ready to charge the Hudson River with no expectations. At check-in, I grinned as they handed me my chip:# 33. It was also my 33rd birthday! Once word was out, I was serenaded a few times, and the outpouring of birthday wishes on social media came all day. I felt all of the good birthday energy along with some of my family mojo while out racing on the Hudson river.

My strategy was to play smart and fair, drafting when I needed to, and pulling when I could. The only real expectation was to have nothing left in the tank when I crossed that finish line. Being a little superstitious, I thought winning 3rd place was likely. With the All-Star lineup of women on the course, a 3rd win would be honorable.

April Zilg Fiona Wylde Seychelle NYC draft train APP World Tour
Racers in a draft train on the Hudson River (April Zilg in front) with the Freedom Tower looming in the background. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour

Hudson River Offers Up Flats & Bumps for Riders

We set out against the iconic Manhattan skyline racing towards the first triangular, white APP World Tour buoy. Then, we turned left and hammered up current. I found myself in the draft train behind Seychelle and Fiona, I wouldn’t yield my position to others attempting to enter the train. We rounded the northernmost buoy and the current was intense. The faster you got around, the more exponential your lead became.

Fiona went around first and launched ahead with a few bumps. The rest of us were in hot pursuit. We reformed a train on the flat, straight section behind Ellis Island. It was here where we traded the lead a few times, and Laura Quetglas from Spain made up massive ground to rejoin our train. At first I was worried that our draft had become larger, but in the end it all worked out in my favor.

At the second-to-last buoy, we hit the bumpy and chaotic Hudson for the last leg of this 8-mile race. When I caught a bump and cruised ahead before linking it to another, I realized I was out in front with no one on my direct draft. I freaking hammered.

April Zilg lead draft train APP World tour
“I freakin hammered,” says April when she learned she was out in front on the last leg of the Distance course on the Hudson. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour

Charging to the Finish:  Staying in the Game

Fiona and Laura also caught a few bumps enabling them to put a slight lead on Seychelle. I knew they were all incredibly strong paddlers and any one of them only needed one good boat wake to catch me and pass. I don’t think I’ve ever paddled so hard in my life.

Going up the flat channel to the finish, I could hear my labored breath, which sounded like an asthmatic wheeze as I gulped for air and kept hammering towards the APP World Tour finish arch.  I collapsed over the line, absolutely overwhelmed. I realized I had just become the Overall Winner of the NY SUP Open.

April Zilg NY SUP Open APP World Tour arch
Coming through the APP Tour arch, the crowd cheers for April’s supreme effort toward victory. Photo by: John Carter/APP World Tour

Reflection:  After the Victory, Gratitude

I looked at a photo of my great-grandfather’s meat truck in downtown New York and hopped on my plane home. I can’t help but think about the big and small challenges that we all overcome each day, and how they play out in reality versus our expectations, that wind up making our lives better.

April Zilg Butcher shop photo
April Zilg’s historic win at the NY SUP Open reminds her of her roots & family passing through Ellis Island to find a chance at hope, freedom & prosperity here in the States.

Thanks for sharing, April!  Best of luck in Japan and the hunt for a World Title!

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April Zilg is the hardest working woman in baseball... I mean, stand up paddling. She is a robust repast of technical knowledge and powerful skill. Her athleticism is a constant work in progress as we've seen her transform herself year after year to become one of the fastest women paddlers on the planet. But, what makes AZ stand out is her full on, 100% fantastic personality: warm, welcoming, & perpetually stoked. April is a true waterwoman and a great human being. We are honored to have her contribute to Standup Journal.