A natter with… Anni Ridsdill Smith

By Samantha Rutt of Barefoot SUP and Fitness
Photos: Geoff Mather, Jade Rogers Photography, SUPjunkie and Peter Tranter
Interview taken from the October 2020 SUP Mag UK

It’s August 22nd, 2015; we have just arrived at a very busy Queen Mother Reservoir in Hornton, the excitement in the air is positively electric with the buzz of paddleboarders rushing around, stalls being set up and people greeting each other with huge hugs and big smiles.

Today will be written in history and will be the site for a world record attempt, 264 SUP enthusiasts all coming together on the water to become the largest parade of paddleboards ever recorded. However, for me, today will be written in history for a different reason because it’s the day I become aware of the most incredible human, who I am so fortunate to call my friend (she needs no introduction to the SUP community) Anni Ridsdill Smith of Frangipani SUP.

Anyone that knows SUP knows you… you’re embedded in UK SUP history but how did you first become involved in SUP and how many years have you now been a paddleboarding?
Thank you for your kind words, Sam, they mean a lot to me. Eight years ago, Drew Wood of AV SUP on the River Hamble pestered me to, “Try this new sport.” Nah. Then on the last day of a family holiday in Lanzarote, as I was settling down on my sunbed by the pool, my beloved husband Mike said, “Right, I’ve booked the boys and us a paddleboard lesson.” Groan. But, wow, we had such fun, it was just brilliant. Our Instructor Christian Diaz of SUP Lanzarote was lovely, and I still remember that day. As soon as we got home, we sourced boards through Drew and that was that. No looking back!

You were the first person I turned to when I wanted to know more about SUP Racing…who did you turn to when the sport was in its infancy and what was the equipment like then?
At first, I was clueless. All I knew was that I wanted to race. I just used the kit I had and went as fast as I could. Scotty Warren helped and encouraged me when I met him at an event at Rye Water in 2013 (and he is still doing so), and he told me to buy Steve West’s book ‘Stand Up Paddle, A Paddler’s Guide.’

I did, and I still refer to it, plus I listen intently to everything Steve says, and I race on awesome Mistral boards designed by him. He talks total sense and explains things, in a way that I understand, such as, “Gravity is free, use it in your stroke.” Ryan James encouraged me on the racecourse during my first ever race, and I have since attended several of his race clinics, where he taught me about the building blocks of SUP race training.

You train hard over winter with great race results, and you are also a host for one of the EASI Race Series events but how do you keep motivated to train all year round?
I find motivation by having structured training plans and clear goals, so I train with Larry Cain of Paddle Monster, using the app on my phone to plan my training week and to know day by day what I have to accomplish. Winter is ‘my’ time (when I am not teaching others), and I train consistently right into the busy Frangipani SUP school season. Then I hit a wall. I cannot find the headspace or energy to do both, so training starts to fall away. I hate when this happens, but I can only do so much.

I also feel motivated to welcome and encourage other women onto the race scene. However, it can get a little demoralising when they then beat me!

That was until I redefined what ‘winning’ meant to me, which I did a couple of years ago. It’s not just about podiums (though I want them), it’s about behaviours – trying to be the best sportsperson I can be, encouraging other competitors, finding genuine joy in my performance and their success – and enjoying my training.

You run a very successful SUP company (Frangipani) what and when did you decide to transfer your love of SUP to your business?
Right at the start. We live on the tidal River Chelmer, part of the beautiful Blackwater Estuary in Essex, with water all around us. People kept bugging me to teach them. I launched my sister off the shore on my SUP board, realising to my horror that I did not know how to teach her to turn around, or rescue! She survived! I decided that if I was going to help people, I had better do it properly. So, I got qualified via the British Stand Up Paddle Association (BSUPA) and have taught many hundreds of ‘sisters’ since.

You’re an inspiration to many paddleboarders? Who do you get your inspiration from both at the start and now?
I get my inspiration from them, from all the people I teach. Earlier this summer I was hanging out the washing when the Frangipani SUP phone pinged. It was a lovely lady called Jess, who wanted to learn to SUP; she wanted a new hobby. Here is her story:

“My name is Jess, and I am a detective in the Met Police. I work full time and commute to London from Essex. My husband is also in the Met Police. We have two beautiful kids, one who is seven and one who is four. Our seven-year-old is severely autistic with several disabilities; he has difficulty sleeping and so can be up during the night in a distressed state. He needs routine every step of the way in his day, he finds it challenging to adapt to change, so our day-to-day routine is very much the same, very mundane. If we keep it the same, then he’s happier.

“After lessons with Frangipani SUP, I spoke to Rory down at Mistral Hayling Island, and he was terrific. He took all my details, and he thought carefully about what board would suit me. My new SUP board feels safe, it’s so comfortable, and it’s made me feel confident. And I love SUP; it has changed my life!

“I needed to find a hobby to help me manage the stress and anxiety of being a full-time working mum, so decided to have a go at stand-up paddling. I wanted something which would enable me to switch off and where I could meet people who would chat to me for who and not for what I am, i.e. mum with a disabled child. SUP has provided me with a massive escape, getting out there and finding something to enjoy. It’s changed my life; health-wise I feel better, more motivated, more recharged and once home being able to provide a better quality of life for my son. I always felt locked inside, and now I’m outdoors!

“After lessons with Frangipani SUP, I spoke to Rory down at Mistral Hayling Island, and he was terrific. He took all my details, and he thought carefully about what board would suit me. My new SUP board feels safe, it’s so comfortable, and it’s made me feel confident. And I love SUP; it has changed my life!”

You have achieved so much both as a racer and an ambassador, tell us a bit about your achievements and who are the people that are lucky to have you represent them?
I love the camaraderie of racing, it makes me feel a million dollars, and I love being part of GBSUP family, such an enthusiastic, ‘can do’ tribe. I am enormously proud of my association with Mistral, both as a racer and as a professional SUP school. And the work I do with Simon Bassett and Andy Gratwick at BSUPA, as a trainer and now director, teaching others to SUP and helping new Instructors on their journey, is all extremely rewarding. It is me who is the lucky one. Thank you to everyone who has and continues to believe in me. Thank you, Sam, for the interview.

Tell us one interesting, none SUP related fact that we might not know about you?
I am a Trustee of the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance Trust, with two helicopters and the most fantastic team on the planet!

Quick fire round:

Inland or ocean paddling?
Inland – I get dreadful seasickness.

Technical or long distance racing?

Teaching or racing?
Both, sorry, is that allowed?!

Morning or evening training?

Post training guilty pleasure?

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