Lina Augaitis is no stranger to the podium. But where she used to thank her sponsors and husband in post-race interviews, now she has another important part of her team to thank: the babysitter.

A world champion standup paddleboard racer, the Ottawa native now lives in Vernon, British Columbia and has a new focus as a mother of two young children. It’s a shift for a woman who helped shape the sport of SUP racing and was declared the fastest female paddler on Earth in 2014 and 2015.

“Four years ago, I could do whatever I wanted,” Augaitis says during a late-evening interview after her kids have gone to bed. “It’s 100 percent different now.”

Rewind to 2014, and Augaitis was not only Canada’s top SUP racer, but she was one of the world’s best. She was unstoppable. Wins in the distance race of the ISA World Championships, the massive Battle of the Paddle race and podiums in just about every race she entered proved it.

While she went on to win the sprint race title at the 2016 ISA worlds and she was the first female paddleboarder to complete the 750-kilometer Yukon River Quest officially, her biggest priority soon became starting a family. Tavas was born in December 2015, and Aiste followed in October 2017.

Parenting meant stepping away from the paddleboard racing for much of 2016 and 2017, as the training and travel required to compete at the sport’s top level were not an option. And while sleep was diminished, Augaitis’ competitive drive wasn’t. She continued to run, cycle and cross-country ski to maintain her fitness and, in March 2018, she signed to paddle for Team Sunova, an innovative SUP manufacturer based in Thailand.

A high school teacher by trade, Augaitis took an extended leave to focus on raising her young children and training for her return to the sport. The delicate balance between the two priorities meant being creative and managing time effectively.

“From 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. when Andrew is at work, I have the kids,” she says. “We’re just an average family. It’s not like I can hire a full-time nanny to follow me around.”

Training sessions take place before her husband leaves for work or late at night after the kids have gone to bed. There are also mid-day sessions in the basement weight room while the kids are having afternoon naps, or heading outdoors with Tavas and Aiste along for the ride in a Chariot stroller. But clearly, the training paid off.

As if to announce her return to the sport, Augaitis swept the Canadian National Championships in May 2018, winning the sprint, technical and distance races, and earning a spot on the national team.

Fast forward to December and Augaitis wrapped up her 2018 and comeback to the sport by finishing third at the Pan Am qualifiers in Peru, securing her a spot at the 2019 Pan Am Games, when the sport of SUP racing will make its debut. Many paddleboard pundits believe the Pan Am Games are the first step in adding paddleboarding to the Olympics in the coming years.

“I think it is the greatest thing that could have happened for SUP racing,” she says of the sport’s inclusion in the Pan Ams. “It will be attached to all these other mainstream sports, which will give it more knowledge and respect. Especially if one of us medals, it’s going to be a huge eye-opener in Canada. That’s what’s super exciting for me.”

Augaitis also hopes the increased international attention of SUP racing could mean athletic carding for SUP racers in Canada. Olympic athletes receive national funding allowing them to focus on training. It’s not much, but it helps.

And there are other opportunities, as well.

“My interest eventually is to have more kids grow into the sport. I want someone to follow me. I want this country to have strong SUP athletes beyond what I can do,” she says.

Lina Augaitis training near Japan’s Zamami Island 2018. | Photo: The Paddle League/Georgia Schofield

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