October 26, 2014
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

INTERVIEW: Casper Steinfath Just Got Announced As ISA Vice President – Here’s What It All Means

Jamie Mitchell wins Gold ahead of Casper Steinfath

Casper crossing the line in full Viking mode as he takes the Silver medal behind Jamie Mitchell at the 2013 ISA Worlds in Peru (photo credit: International Surfing Association)

In a further sign that he’s one of the best ambassadors our sport has, the International Surfing Association (ISA) today announced Casper Steinfath as their new Vice-President.

At the organisation’s Annual General Meeting in Peru (where the ISA 50th Anniversary World Surfing Games are currently happening), Casper was voted in as a Vice President along with five-time Olympic windsurfer and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Barbara Kendall, while the charismatic, energetic, bow-tie-wearing Fernando Aguerre was re-elected as President.

It’s been a crazy month for the Danish Viking, with a non-stop tour that’s seen him travel from Europe to Huntington to Northern California to the Battle of the Paddle to Turtle Bay to Kauai and now a 48 hour trip to Peru. Casper’s crazy travel schedule doesn’t stop here though: No sooner had he been elected onto the ISA executive committee than he was back at the airport, this time heading for France where he’ll compete in the SUP surfing world tour’s season-ender at La Torche tomorrow.

I caught up with the humble young champion on Skype moments ago to find out exactly what being an ISA Vice President actually means. Casper was sitting at an airport in Canada, halfway through his flight to France, and, despite his head having been in half a dozen different time zones the past few weeks, was very excited and very clear about his new role.

Casper Steinfath ISA

Left-right: The current ISA Vice President, Karin Sierralta, the newly re-elected President Fernando Aguerre, and the two new Vice Presidents Barbara Kendall and Casper Steinfath (photo credit: ISA/Tweddle)

– Congratulations buddy! This is very exciting news.

“Yeah thanks a lot Chris! It’s been a huge month for me but this was definitely the highlight. It was a massive honour to be asked by Fernando to fill this role and I can’t wait to get started!”

– How did this all come about?

“I’ve competed* at the past two ISA World Standup Paddle and Paddleboard Championships and have always had a good relationship with the ISA executive committee.

Every time I’ve spoken with the ISA about how to improve and promote the event, and the sport in general, they’ve always been very receptive. I also traveled to Turkey with President Aguerre to attend the 2014 SportsAccord conference and help promote the sport to the Olympic community.

So in some ways this has been a long time coming, though I never imagined it would lead to officially being offered the role of Vice President. So yeah this is a huge step for me! There are a lot of great paddlers that could have filled this role so I’m very honoured and super happy they asked me to fill it.”

(* that’s an understatement: Casper hasn’t just competed at the past two ISA Worlds, he’s won 2x Golds and 1x Silver for his country)

– So what exactly does “ISA Vice President” mean? What are you going to be doing?

“I believe my job is to work with the athletes as a sort of ambassador or commissioner. The goal is to bridge the gap and bring the ISA closer to the core stand up paddling community. This is for the good of both the ISA World Championship event and the organisation’s goal of seeing stand up paddling become an Olympic sport.

It’s not a full-time role, it’s more of an honourary/advisory position. I’m excited to see exactly what it will entail, but the basics are that I’ll be acting as a bridge between the ISA and the paddlers.

Fernando Aguerre (ISA President) and Casper Steinfath

Casper with ISA President Fernando Aguerre at the 2013 event, in what was a sign of things to come in the future… (photo credit: International Surfing Association)

– What does this mean for the future of the ISA?

“We’re seeing some big changes within both the ISA and the Olympic movement in general right now, with a big push to work more closely with athletes.

Obviously stand up paddling is a big part of what the ISA does right now and Fernando made it clear he wanted to work with the community more directly. That’s where I will fit in, helping the paddlers communicate with the ISA and vice versa.

It’s no secret there’s a lot of confusion and lack of clarity within the entire sport of stand up paddling at present. The ISA recognises this and wants to work more closely with the paddlers to help improve not only their own World Championship event but also the future of the sport as a whole.

So I guess a big part of my role is to help bring some clarity to the sport.

Hopefully I’ll be able to act as a go between so that the ISA can hear from the athletes more directly, while at the same time the community will get a better insight into exactly what the ISA is doing on behalf of our sport.”

Jamie Mitchell Casper Steinfath high five ISA Stand Up Paddle World Championship Peru

Casper and the now famous ‘may the best man win’ salute with Jamie Mitchell during the 2013 Worlds (photo credit: International Surfing Association)

– How does this all tie in to the Olympics?

“If we’re ever going to make the Olympics it’s going to be through the ISA. The organisation has done so much work behind the scenes already, however the core paddling community doesn’t always see that. So part of my role is to share what the ISA is doing on behalf of our sport while at the same time advising the ISA on what the paddlers want to see in the future.

The Olympics is still a long way off but there’s a lot of excitement and buzz around the ISA at the moment. Fernando has so much passion and energy for promoting surfing and paddling that it’s hard not to feel enthusiastic about the future!

This is also clear from the appointment of Barbara Kendall, who is a very experienced Olympian (winning Gold in ’92, silver in ’96 and bronze in 2000) that now holds a position within the IOC. I believe Barbara will play an extremely important role in the future as the ISA looks to work more closely with athletes and push the sport towards the Olympic Games.

As far as actually becoming an Olympic sport, the big key for traditional surfing will be having realistic wave pool technology available, which is getting very close. However stand up paddling, at least the racing, has no such technological requirements and is growing so fast that I believe we have a legitimate shot of getting into the Olympics one day soon.

Though if we want to have any hope of making the Games, we need much more unity in the sport than we’re currently seeing. The IOC wants to see a unified, cohesive sport. We have to show that we can function as a collective and not let politics get in the way of the greater good.

It’s also very important for any Olympic sport to have an athletes’ commission, so that the IOC can see that the competitors themselves are helping shape their own future. I believe that’s going to be part of my role as well.

There are many organisations that want to push the sport of stand up paddling forward – for example SUPAA was officially recognised by the ISA at the meeting this weekend – and hopefully we can all work together to continue growing SUP in a positive direction.”

Casper Steinfath

Casper defended his Course Race Gold medal at the 2014 ISA Worlds in Nicaragua. Even if this guy wasn’t from Denmark I think he’d still qualify as a Viking… (photo credit: International Surfing Association)

– To many within the core community, the ISA Paddleboard World Champs have been just as noticeable for who wasn’t there as who was. How are you going to help get all the best paddlers to compete next year?

“As both a competitor and now as part of the ISA executive committee, I’d love nothing more than to see all of the world’s best racing and surfing against each other. And I truly believe 2015 will see a very big jump in the participation, especially at the elite end.

The ISA is definitely aware their events haven’t attracted all of the top male and female stand up paddlers in the world. The event will always lack some big names, as nations can only send a few athletes for each discipline, however there are certainly some famous faces that we’d all love to see competing.

Though I feel it needs to go both ways: The ISA needs to continue to listen to the community and explain what the organisation is doing behind the scenes, however at the same time I feel the community needs to meet the ISA halfway and at some point commit to a more unified vision of the sport.

If the ISA reaches their goal then the entire sport, especially the athletes, will benefit hugely. So it’s part of my job to convey that vision to the paddlers and encourage the best athletes from every nation to support the ISA events, especially the ISA World StandUp Paddle and Paddleboard Championships.

So yeah, helping get the top guys and girls on the start line next year is definitely part of my role. It won’t just be me though, I’ll be working closely with Fernando, Barbara, the ISA’s new Director General Liam Ferguson and their whole team to make it happen.”

– One criticism among the hardcore SUP racing community is that, especially for a *world* championship, the ISA event seems to gravitate towards non-traditional paddling nations in South America. Is it always going to be this way?

“Yeah I can see that point and I know the ISA is very aware this is an issue for some sections of the paddling community. We’d all love to see a World Championships in France, California or Australia, unfortunately it’s not so easy or straight forward.

I believe the ISA is close to announcing the venue for 2015, however looking even further ahead I know the organisation wants a worldwide presence.

The executive committe is well aware it needs a global reach if it hopes to make the Olympics, so I’m confident we’ll see the event continue to expand to new locations. It would be a dream of mine to compete in an ISA World SUP Championship in Europe!”

ISA World SUP Championship - Team Denmark

Casper led an expanded Danish team at this year’s Worlds (photo credit: International Surfing Association)

– Apart from the location and getting more of the top athletes involved, what are the other challenges for the 2015 ISA event and beyond?

“One of the keys will be making the logistics as easy as possible for the athletes.

Many of us had trouble getting boards to the events in Peru (2012 and 2013) and Nicaragua (2014). For some athletes it was a real nightmare. So making it smooth and easy for the paddlers just to get to the start line is a big issue. That’s one thing I was already trying to help the ISA before I officially joined and it’ll definitely be my focus ahead of next year’s ISA Worlds.

This isn’t just an issue for the ISA though, it’s a problem for stand up paddling in general, at least on the racing side. It’s getting harder than ever to travel with our boards – for example I just found out that United will no longer accept 12’6 boards as of next month – and there are no easy solutions.

The ideal scenario would be an agreement with an airline, however with athletes traveling from all corners of the world that may not be viable. So we’ll probably have to look at other options, such as deals on freight and that sort of thing. But either way the ISA is more aware of this issue than ever and we’ll all be doing our best to make the 2015 event run as smooth as possible.

The good thing is the 2015 Worlds should be announced either this week or next, so we’ll have plenty of time to form a plan of action and help the athletes.”

(On a side note, although Casper wasn’t allowed to reveal the location for 2015, I’m pretty certain I know exactly where it’ll be – if I’m correct then I’m sure it’ll be way easier with boards than what we saw in Nicaragua/Peru)

Battle of the Paddle Casper Steinfath

Casper seen here at the 2014 Battle of the Paddle. Not bad for a kid from Denmark… (photo credit: Andrew Welker for SUPracer.com)

– Where do you see the sport in five years and how will the ISA fit into it?

“In the future I’m hoping we have a lot more unity across the whole the sport.

In a few years I can see there being two major themes: The first is some sort of global, professional world tour or circuit, much like what the World Series is trying to build. The second is an annual World Championship run by a unified international federation that’s trying to push the sport to the Olympics, which is obviously where the ISA comes in.

So yeah at the very basic level I think we need much more unity and hopefully the ISA and myself can play a role in making that happen.”

– Stand Up Paddling is only one part of the ISA’s charter, are you going to be working on the traditional surfing side as well?

“Given my experience I’ll be very focused promoting the stand up side of things, however surfing has always been in my heart and I’ll definitely be doing work across all the various surfing disciplines that the ISA promotes.”

Denmark's Casper Steinfath

– And how are you going to balance all of that with being an athlete?

“Before I accepted this position, I asked myself if I could do this role while being a professional paddler and the answer was yes.

I actually believe I’m only able to do this role if I’m doing both, as I can bring my direct experience of competing around the world to help improve the ISA’s championship event and give the organisation a better understanding of what the paddlers want for the future of the sport.

Also I hope the athletes will trust me to help convey their wishes at ISA meetings and events.”

– Well congratulations Casper, I’m stoked to see the ISA honour you with this role and I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more from you in the months ahead. Better let you go catch your next flight!

“Thanks a lot! I’m really excited about this role and even more excited to see where we can all take this amazing and fun sport in the future!”

So there you go. Casper Steinfath is the new ISA Vice President.

My hats off to the humble young champion, I don’t think there’s a more deserving paddler to fill this role. Casper was raised in the last place you’d imagine a paddling star to come from – the cold waters of Denmark – but has always shown maturity beyond his years, both in terms of his impressive race results as well as how he carries himself as an ambassador for stand up paddling in general.

For a sport that often resembles the Lord of the Flies, I’ve always thought that Casper rose above the politics and the bickering to promote what he believes is a positive future for the sport he loves.

As Fernando Aguerre commented in the official press release: “Casper Steinfath is respected by his peers in the Surfing and SUP Racing community around the world, not just because of his Surfing abilities, but also because he is somebody we can count on.”

Casper Steinfath SUP World Cup

Casper at the 2013 SUP World Cup in Germany (photo credit: Sebastian Schöeffel)

Two themes that kept coming up when I just spoke to the Viking were unity and clarity. Whether we ever make it to the Olympics or not, for the good of the sport in general I believe those are critical points to address. And with Casper in an official role like this, I’m certain we’re already one step closer to a solution.

With the dates and location for the 2015 World Championships expected to be announced within days, this is also very good timing for the ISA. The future of their event looks brighter than ever right now.