When people think of Australia they often think of white sandy beaches, beautiful surf and of course our iconic bronzed surf life savers. With a nation surrounded by water and hot summers it’s natural that both Aussies and tourists alike are drawn to the sea side to swim and cool down. Whichever way you look at it however, surf beaches all have the potential to kill and it is our surf life savers that that take on the job of rescuing swimmers that struggle in rips and other dangerous conditions.
Surf life saving has therefore become an integral part of Australian life, with young kids joining their local Surf Clubs’ “Nippers” programs where they learn their surf skills and compete against each other in various surf sports including swimming, paddle boards and ski paddling. From there they can continue the sport and if good enough, even make it to the world’s peak professional competition, the Kellogs IronMan and IronWoman Series.
Candice Falzon is a veteran of the game, having turned pro at the tender age of 14 straight out of Nippers. Her career went through a rough patch when the tabloids made more of her social life than her athletic performances and she disappeared from the scene as the press activity took its toll. But Candice never gave up on her dream, a dream to one day win a professional ironwoman event. In the past couple of years she’s been able to refocus on those childhood dreams and push herself through the tough training regime required of a professional athlete, culminating in her winning the right to compete in this years Kellogs IronWoman Series.
Candice’s results in the series so far had been mixed with a couple of good 4th placings but a disastrous 20th in Round 3 in Newcastle. She managed somehow to put that behind her and in Round 5 at Coolum achieved what the knockers had said she couldn’t – she took out first place, her best result to date and the fulfillment of that childhood dream.
I caught up with Candice and asked her a few questions on her journey, her training regimen and naturally sought a few paddling tips for myself.
[FP] Thanks for speaking with me Candice. The journey for you so far has been quite a roller-coaster – some incredible highs, some pretty rough lows, and fortunately now back to the highs. Your recent win in the Kellog’s Ironwoman Series would have to be up there as one of the biggest highs of your career. What was going through your mind when you hit that finish line?
[Candice] It still hasn’t hit me that I have won. It stills feels a little surreal that I finally cracked it. I had dreamt of winning a race like this ever since I was a little girl so for a dream to finally become a reality is a feeling that I’m struggling to describe. When I crossed the line I had total inner peace. I said to myself “Good job Candice you did it”!
[FP] The win came off the back of a disastrous result in Race 3 in Newcastle a few weeks prior. What happened in that race, and what did you learn from the experience?
[Candice] Newcastle went all wrong for me. During my warm up I was washed up on the rocks and it rattled me going into the race. I’m usually very calm and have everything under control but on this day after a terrible warm up and getting smashed by the surf I was tense and nervous due to the large size of the waves. During the race I got hit by a few sets during the ski leg and I couldn’t recover after that and I finished a very disappointing 20th place.
[FP] One of my favourite aspects of the Aussie sporting psyche is the “never say die” attitude that we as a nation seem to adhere to. Your win in Coolum after such a poor result in Newcastle is testament to that. How do you keep the competitive fires burning in the shadow of defeat?
[Candice] I grew up with two older brothers so I learnt from a very young age to never give up, and never give in. Of course after Newcastle I was upset and embarrassed about my poor performance but after a good nights sleep I put it behind me and then used it as motivation for the next race. I then placed 4th in the endurance format in Perth which gave me plenty of confidence going into Coolum. I believe everything happens for a reason and if you learn from your mistakes then it’s a good lesson learnt.
[FP] Now that you’ve had some time to mature and take stock of the negative aspects of fame, how do you train yourself mentally for both the rigors of professional sport as well as the pressures that come with a public profile? What did you learn about yourself through the dark times?
[Candice] You learn very quickly how important family and true friends are. You learn to be mentally unbreakable and to not sweat the small stuff. I think now that I have come through the other side I’m now more mature and capable to take on anything, not just in the ocean but also with life in general. I take most things with a grain of salt now and I appreciate the important thing in life.
[FP] You’ve previously stated that the swim and board legs are your strong ones, but naturally I’m more interested in the paddling component of the event. How often do you do paddle training each week and what does it consist of?
[Candice] Each week I’m on my surf ski at least 3 times training for a minimum of 1.5 hours. During this session we work a lot on skills, focusing on chasing runs, catching waves, trying to be quick through the break and not making any mistakes. We also do a lot of hard work in-between that. In my sport if you have good surf skills then you will be a good competitor. On top of this I also spend 2 hours a week paddling on the harbour doing fitness work on a Epic.
[FP] When not training and competing, you can also be found down at Sydney Harbour Kayaks teaching people how to paddle. What’s your single best piece of advice for enthusiastic newcomers to surf ski paddling?
[Candice] I think it’s very important to be realistic about your paddling ability. Like anything in life the more you do something the better you’re going to get, but when starting out stick to the basics and get a lesson first!
[FP] Good advice. Could you see your paddle instructing turning into professional surf life saving coaching once your competitive career eventually draws to a close?
[Candice] Yes I most certainly can. I love coaching people and helping them achieve their goals. Growing up I have had help from so many people that I have lost count and I think it’s important for me to pass on all my knowledge and help the next generation of stars!
[FP] I’m currently training for an ocean event in Mauritius, which I am utterly under-prepared for. Any pointers on accelerating my surf ski skills?
[Candice] Spend as much time as you can in the ocean. Learn to chase runs and read the swell. If you’re fitness isn’t great but you know how to chase runs properly then you’ll fly past everyone and use half the energy.
[FP] What are you saying about my fitness?? Onto something less serious, I see in your profile you’re a lover of Lil Wayne and other American hip-hop artists. I didn’t see any mention of any of the great Aussie hip-hop crews out there such as Bliss n Eso, Hilltop Hoods, Seth Sentry etc. Don’t you like Aussie Hip-Hop?
[Candice] Haha, I love my Hip Hop. I’m actually a big fan of Bliss n Eso and the HillTop Hoods. Another Aussie fave of mine and a guy I grew up with is Kid Mac. I always like to support Aussie artists but to pump me up for a race Lil Wayne is the man!!
[FP] Hip-hop aside, I’ve always felt surf lifesaving is an integral part of Aussie culture. But are there other places in the world where the passion for the sport is as strong?
[Candice] New Zealand are very strong and South Africa have always produced great athletes, but in Australia it is almost a way of life for people who live by the coast.
[FP] Lastly, any words of advice for budding paddlers or surf life savers out there watching you compete?
[Candice] Listen to your coach, train hard, believe in yourself and live your dream each day!
[FP] Thanks for your time Candice, and good luck in your next race.
Candice is currently sitting in 5th position on the Kellogs Ironwoman series and will be competing in the last series race in Noosa Heads, this Sunday 19th February. Candice is also available for paddling lessons on our beautiful Sydney Harbour (schedule permitting) – contact Sydney Harbour Kayaks for booking details and prices. Cheers, FP