SUP Women: Kiristen Cousins

Photo: Olga Korobova
Kiristen Cousins—the unofficial SUP ambassador of the Cayman Islands. Did we mention she does yoga, too? Photo: Olga Korobova

SUP Women: Kiristen Cousins

We first spotted SUP woman Kiristen Cousins last year, while searching for a cover shot for our Summer 2014 Issue. With her radiant smile and strong SUP body standing up above the cool, stingray-filled Caribbean water, we couldn’t help but be taken straight into Cousins’ dreamy SUP world. So, with summer just around the bend, we thought back to that Summer 2014 cover—and Cousins looking like she’s having the time of her life—to find out a little bit more about the Cayman Islands’ unofficial SUP ambassador who’s helping to popularize the sport in her stretch of the Caribbean.

SUP mag: Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, with the variety of surrounding water, were you influenced to get into water sports?

Cousins: Most definitely. I’ve had a connection with the ocean since I was a little kid, but the funny part is that I was a horrible swimmer. My big sister was definitely the water baby of the family, and she always pushed me to get into the water. During the summer, we made lots of trips to the pool and to the beach where I was fascinated by water—it was both a fear of the unknown and an appreciation for its beauty.
Growing up in the Northeast, we played lots of lacrosse and rode BMX bikes, but I eventually got into dance, which then lead to cheerleading. I cheered for 16 years, ten of which I cheered competitively at a national level. The level of team work and athleticism involved is extremely high and I was always challenged to push myself to the next level within the sport.

Photo: Douglas Cameron Jr.
Photo: Douglas Cameron Jr.

How’d you end up teaching SUP in the Cayman Islands?

After moving to Orlando, Florida, and constantly living on lakes, I noticed a few people on paddle boards. I immediately became fascinated with it and wanted to try it out of curiosity. I was hooked right away.
Fast forward to me meeting a guy who was visiting for a few months and had lived on the island since 2002. He invited me to come see what Cayman was all about. It was one of the most beautiful yet laid back places I’d ever experienced, and I found myself visiting at least once every two months as a result. I knew I needed to be there when I flew back to Tampa, and I felt a genuine sadness because I wasn’t on the island anymore; in that moment, I decided that it was time to look for work. I connected with the owners of Waterman Cayman Surf Co. and immediately went to Jupiter, Florida to get my PaddleFit certification. A month later, I was a Cayman Islands resident and slowly built the SUP program with the store owners.

Photo: Douglas Cameron Jr.
Photo: Douglas Cameron Jr. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

What’s the SUP scene like in the Cayman Islands?

When I first got to the island it was rare to see a SUP out on the water, let alone to have someone teaching fitness classes on the boards. Over the last three years, the scene has grown like wildfire. I’m very proud to have brought PaddleFit to the island, which I’ve been teaching for three years now. There are rentals, social gatherings, fitness classes, SUP yoga, full moon paddles, fundraisers, races and more.

We’re lucky enough to have conditions for flatwater, surfing, and downwinding during certain times of the year. As a result, I’m moving all shapes and sizes of boards at the shop. I get excited because the paddlers are now catching on to see that there is so much more that you can do besides flatwater paddling. The community is small, but growing fast. We all know each other, so if something like a paddle goes missing, its pretty easy to find it.

The most recent event I was involved with was called Ride Like a Girl. The focus was to empower and inspire women [to get] out on to the water on a SUP, kiteboard or wakeboard at any age. The event sold out and was a great success.

Can you suggest some places for visitors to paddle at while visiting the islands?

For flatwater paddling, you can’t beat Seven Mile Beach. It’s always in the travel magazines as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. The water is so clear at times you can see to the bottom at depths of over 20 feet depending where you paddle. It’s also always fun to tie your leash to a buoy and go for a snorkel.

For surfing, the best spot is called South Sound. It’s a reef break and wave heights can go from ankle- to head -high depending on the time of the year and the swell direction.

Photo: Amy Strzalko
Photo: Amy Strzalko

You firmly believe that SUP takes its enthusiasts’ overall well-being to another level. Tell us more about that belief.

I believe this because the sport gives us the opportunity to reconnect with ourselves. When you are out on the water, you can leave the stresses behind and come back refreshed and revived. If you’re stressed, there is nothing that a good SUP workout won’t fix! I’m always thanking my students at the end of my PaddleFit classes because I feel so accomplished for them and for myself when we’re finished.

Another thing the sport can bring is confidence. With time on the water, I’ve seen people overcome fear of the water and take their physical fitness from one level to the next. As a result, it helps with the [other] sports my clients cross over to as well.

You’ve worked with some top SUP competitors and trainers, and landed our Summer 2014 Issue’s cover with that killer stingray shot. What can we expect from you in the future?

At the moment I’m a PaddleFit Affiliate and am working with Brody Welte to certify new PaddleFit instructors and hold some destination camps on the island. Being able to share my knowledge of the sport has been great and I want to keep that going.
Yoga is also a big part of my life, so I’m working on obtaining my certification for that this year so I can give my students more time out on the water. I’ll also be doing some traveling this year throughout the Caribbean, Europe, and will be working on some more travel plans with Coreban as well. You can also find me at Surf Expo in September at the Coreban booth chatting about the latest gear coming to a shop near you.

Follow Kiristen Cousins’ Facebook page for more Cayman Islands SUP.
Get inspired with more SUP Women.

Photo: Olga Korobova
Photo: Olga Korobova

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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