By Anika Lalopa
I was born and raised in a landlocked country in Eastern Europe where the likelihood of being exposed to the surf culture growing up those days in a communist country was rather slim to nothing, ha! My mom was a single parent in an underprivileged household, but hey, with the right attitude we made the best out of what we had.
Mom couldn’t afford to put me through college so I left the homeland at the age of 18 in a pursuit to learn and experience all of what the world has to offer…
Fast forward many years later, after visiting, living, working in various countries and being able gain valuable experiences through the eyes of different cultures, a lucrative job opportunity and a chance to formally receive a college degree brought me to the US where I eventually settled down in Rochester, in upstate NY.
And this is where my passion for sup started… yep, I did say “Rochester, NY!” Lots of bodies of water around, but not much surf culture to speak of. There was just a handful of guys at that time who’d brave the elements and surf the lake in the middle of winter when the swell is at its best brrrr! And no one has even thought about standup paddle boarding back then. Just a few years ago you couldn’t even buy a board in town!
I ordered my first board online: the Amundson Glide 11’4 TR. From the first time I stood on a long board I was hooked. Super stoked to paddle out, way out there exploring unchartered waterways. Every fishermen and boat I encountered on my way out thought I’m a little nuts to be out there on the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, the canal ways… and I just kept paddling and smiling all the way. Pretty much I was the first and only women in town to own a board back then.
Gliding across the water I got to see the whole ecosystem in an entirely new way and at a wonderful pace that allowed me to take in a lot. I felt the need to bring purpose to my passion and bring awareness to overuse and water quality issues on Irondequoit bay and Lake Ontario.
“I set up a fundraising challenge to become the first person to trek the entire length of the bay out to the lake and back, nonstop and solo on a standup—didn’t do it for the glory, simply wanted to do it to make a difference.”
All of the raised funds went to benefit the H2O Hero Project and the Water Education Collaborative of Greater Rochester, a coalition that serves to protect and improve water quality in the lakes and streams of the Genesee regional watershed of lake Ontario.
A year later I met Wes on a vacation to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. He was on his way back from a sunset session on the reef brake. I was walking the beach meditating, in solitude reflecting on another beautiful day in paradise. He was on an 8’3″ and the first thing that came out of my mouth when he washed ashore was: “Whoa, that’s the smallest standup I’ve ever seen!”
Now here we are, not even a year later, living together in the Caribbean. Wes has taught me so much about paddling in open water in every condition imaginable; the reef brakes, surfing and kiteboarding. Learning to surf and kite at the age of 33 has been one of the most humbling and rewarding things I’ve ever done. And I’m super grateful to have done so under the watchful eyes of a truly one-of-a-kind, all around waterman, Wes Matweyew. -Anika