Lamenting lockdown with Ryan James and Casper Steinfath

Sarah Thornely has a nattter with Ryan and Casper about the COVID-19 lockdown and how it has affected them both personally, mentally and competitively. Taken from June 2020.

Pics: Dave White Photography, Supjunkie and Red Bull Media

Sarah Thornely has a nattter with Ryan and Casper about the COVID-19 lockdown and how it has affected them both personally, mentally and competitively. 

What a treat to be able to talk to two of the BIG names of SUP – our very own Ryan James, a true ocean athlete who has been competing on the World and UK scene for over ten years, consistently being on the podium and multi winner of our overall National Series. SUP has been his dominant discipline over that time although Ryan now finds joy in outrigger canoe (both one and six-man), va’a, surf, spear fishing and free diving. 

Our other guest is the ‘Danish Viking’, Casper Steinfath, six-time world champion. Almost unbeatable in sprints, he won the Red Bull Heavy Water Race in both 2017 and 2019 and in his words, is an ‘adventure aAddict’. He is also well loved and respected by UK paddlers and a huge part of the UKN1sco family. 

Having been in lockdown for many weeks both in the UK and Denmark, are you both still sane?
Were we ever sane? Haha! Not sure about Ryan over there in the UK, but I’m still feeling okay here in Denmark despite having been locked in one place for a while. 
Ryan: Well, yes, strange times hey Casper! Am I still maintaining a level amount of sanity is a great question! I’m currently verging on the insanity. However, on the plus side, I had a paddle ergo to attach and I have been doing some virtual racing with the Bournemouth Outrigger Canoe Club crew and the training group I have down here on the south coast. 

Where have you both been staying during lockdown – has this been different to normal life? 
I have been staying at my family’s house back home in Cold Hawaii, Denmark, which also normally is my base when I’m home. I wouldn’t say it is unusual for me to be here but it is unusual for me to be here this long without leaving. Actually, I don’t think I have been home for 10 weeks straight for at least ten years! 
Ryan: Currently at home, working full time and trying to create a brand new routine from my old one. One of my main staples is routine and the wheels fell off this early, so I’ve been crawling to get back to sorting the new normal routine plan. However, we have a great ocean paddle and surf community down here so everyone motivates everyone else. The key for me is to stay in contact. 
Have you learnt any new skills, or resurrected old ones, during lockdown? 
 Although the lockdown in Denmark still allowed us to go surfing and paddling, the extra time spent at home has allowed me to learn a few new and old things. Gardening sort of came back into the picture for me, but I also began playing World of Warcraft. Never thought I would begin gaming again after nearly a 10-year hiatus. I actually really enjoyed it! 
Ryan: I’ve resurrected my complete disgust for indoor rowing! It’s a savage piece of kit that I have a hate/love relationship with. I hate it, like it’s hell and then I love it when I can fall off it after the session or virtual race is done. I am sat here 30 minutes after completing 3 x 2020 metres (three minutes per interval), struggling to type, not throw up and stay awake.  Basically, I’ve learnt to and I’m still learning to be more flexible with all things training. 

Have you had a break from working out or have you found new and interesting ways to stay fit during this time? 
 I would say that I still have had a fair amount of focus on staying active. With gyms closed, I have focused more on general cardio and other simple activities. After winning the APP World Title last year, I can feel that both my body and mind was a bit burnt out, so I have slowly been working my way back into training mode. Sweeping the living room floor with the mop has been one of my go-to activities indoors! 
Ryan: Unfortunately not, as work for me has been off the scale. My team and I have been under a lot of pressure as we work for the emergency services. Our job has been to try and keep them at work by trying to keep them both mentally and physically fit. Training fits around this with the only benefit of home working which enables weight training in the garden, early morning excursions on the river close by and a bit more time to practice yoga and meditation. 

Can you let us know how COVID-19 has impacted on your racing plans for the year? 
 Honestly, I think it has turned everything upside down for most athletes in the whole world regardless of their type of sport. I was planning to do the APP World Tour along with a few other select events, but so far events on tour have been cancelled throughout September. I hope that we will be racing again before the end of 2020 but I guess we’ve just gotta be patient and be ready to race when the time comes. 
Ryan: Well I had the dreaded plague about 5-6 weeks ago and am still recovering even though I was asymptomatic. My heart rate has been through the roof and still is, so it’ll be a few more weeks before I can get back to a full programme. However, racing is all virtual until September, when I hope to do the Bucca Kri downwind race. It’s a total distance of 53km so getting in shape for that goal and hopefully another downwind race at Crozon, France in October. The only race in the next month or so is the virtual M2O event, so I’m just putting the 25km course together at the moment. 
How well mentally do you think you have taken the changes? 
At the end of 2019 I was pretty burnt out on racing, so in all honesty I have used the last few months to take some deep breaths and enjoy other things in life that excite me.  As an athlete I really enjoy pushing myself to the limits, but I am also learning that as a human I sometimes need to take a step back and allow myself to fully relax and recover.  So mentally I am trying to make the most of the cards we all have been dealt this year. 
Ryan: For me personally it’s really affected me. I came into lockdown flying on both SUP and OC1, so stoked for the season. With nothing to train for, what was the point in the daily grind, contracting the virus too really set me back as I just can’t train consistently without the risk of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) which can really put you at real risk of heart disease later in life. So, having to try and train with the physical issues of additional fatigue and mental anxiety over physical long-term damage, has been difficult. 

What is the one race/event you will really miss this year? 
I am really gutted that the Midsummer Viking Challenge will not be happening this year. It holds a very special place in my heart and I will really miss seeing the 350 ‘Vikings’ and also the many Brits that were signed up. I am though already getting excited as we now have more time to work on next year’s edition. I hope to see a bunch of you over in Denmark on the weekend of 19-20th June 2021. 😊 
Ryan: I was really gutted to have missed the Kelt downwind race in France and most of the GBSUP series but these are strange times so you have to put it into perspective – health is by far the most valuable asset currently. 

Do you see a race on the horizon that you feel you may be able to attend?  Do you find it helpful at the moment to have this focus or are you going with the flow? 
 Hard to say. I think we are looking well into the autumn before big events might be happening again. I hope that I will be racing in the Canaries in November and Paris in December.  Like so many things right now, this is just out of my control. I’ll go with the flow and be ready when the race marshal blows that start horn! 
Ryan: Yes! As I said, training for training sake is really fruitless, grinding it out without goals is just wearing the body down with no real benefit other than trying to stay in shape. So, if the calendar opens up with a few races before the end of the year, that would be amazing. My main focus will be on the Bucca Kri organised by Glenn Eldridge down at Ocean Sports. The aim for me is to get some base back and get out and involved with as much technical ocean time as I can. The French race will be a bonus to double up on if we can travel in October. 
Do you think there will be a huge swell in numbers of paddlers in either leisure or racing – when we can’t have something, we want it more, right? 
 In Denmark we are already seeing a huge influx of new people getting into SUP on multiple levels. People that are stuck indoors in big cities are very eager to get out and I think now more than ever outdoor sports like SUP are just very appealing! With international travel likely on the down for the rest of summer, I think people will look inside their border to find new activities. I would not be surprised if we see a big SUP boom in 2020! 
Ryan: I really hope so. I’m definitely excited about the restart of racing. It all depends on what the ‘Rona has planned for the planet and if we as a planet can get it under control. There are so many unanswered questions right now, which is why people struggle. Control the controllable people, everything else – try and let it slide. For me now, exercise recommendations have increased and waterways and the ocean are now open. I’m just enjoying getting my mojo back and motivated to see what’s around the corner. I think many other people will feel the same. 

What do you think of all the new online interviews/ webinars – have you been involved in any of these? 
I think it’s cool with all the creativity going on. I have really enjoyed listening to a bunch of the podcast series and have had the pleasure of being on a few of them to share my thoughts on life. When we can’t have physical events, I think it’s nice that we as a community still can connect and share our stoke online. 
Ryan: Yeah, I’ve taken part in a few and I really enjoyed it. I am an avid listener of podcasts anyway due to my commute to work, so podcasts like Looking Sideways, the Paddlecast with Chris Parker and This Ocean Life just add to the motivation. The last one I look part in was organised by the Water Skills Academy and it was such a great platform to share all my knowledge with fun and serious paddlers and racers. 

Have you been able to get back on the water recently? How did that make you feel as you both have a very strong connection with the water/ocean? 
 In Denmark we were lucky to not become fully shutdown but it has been strange to hear of so many of my friends around the world that have been unable to surf/paddle for many weeks. I guess we are all in this together regardless of borders. It makes me feel bad, but I hope that soon we will all be back out there. 
Ryan: Holy ****, it was amazing, just feeling the energy of the ocean again, a few bumps to catch and sun in the sky – what more could you ask for? It only reinforces why I paddle and spend so much time in, on and under the ocean. It’s just where I am supposed to be.  I’m so overwhelmed by ocean beauty, ocean life. Every session is different which means you are constantly challenged in such a positive way. It really reminds you how important the ocean is and how we must take care of our planet ocean. The changes on the ocean locally are massive, the decrease in boat traffic has brought so much life back close to shore. 
Lastly, what has been your lockdown guilty pleasure? 
World of Warcraft! 
Ryan: Packets and packets of M&S thick, thick, thick chocolate wheel biscuits! 

I’d really like to thank both Ryan and Casper for taking the time out of their busy schedules to help me out with this article but clearly they don’t have busy schedules at the moment, just a lot of Warcraft and scoffing of chocolate wheel biscuits! Seriously, it’s been fun getting to know their thoughts at this strange time in our lives – you can also catch the interview I did with Ryan for SUPM – April edition which is free to read online. Stay safe guys and see you on the water 😊

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