James training during February in Mauritius from Mistral’s R&D Centre. Being an ocean athlete all my life, I take it for granted to be fit and in shape is a by-product of what I do. It’s therefore inspiring to see a young man take a good hard look at himself and make the decision to change his life and not only has he done this in a short time span, he’s put himself front and centre into competitive SUP racing and so far as he is concerned, there are no limits or boundaries that cannot be overcome.
Not so very long ago, James Van Drunen at the ripe old age of 14 going on 15, weighed in at 100kgs plus. His day consisted of gluttony and hours of computer games, that is until he tried SUP, got hooked, got addicted and got motivated. Today if you had known him pre-SUP, you would simply not recognise him.
In respect of what he has already accomplished, given less than ideal beginnings, you would have to say, he has overcome what the likes of ‘privileged’ paddlers have never had to face and by privileged, I mean in reference to the immediate benefit of being ocean sports inclined from the moment you can walk (or swim) or even from the stand point of being born into an ocean rich paddle sports environment such as Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii or California or indeed into a family, possessing a water sports heritage.
In 2015, when still only 15, James Van Drunen became the youngest paddler to attempt and complete the 220km 11 Cities Race in Holland and again he participated in 2016. In doing so, he won the hearts and minds of legions of followers, more especially his extended family, which ranges from Spain where he resides, back to England from where his mother hails and to Holland, from where his father is from.
Dropping into a few waves after a passing cyclone on the Cloud 8’6 2017 and below Steve West runs through some of the finer points of technique.
On the face of it, his story is good enough for any form of media in respect of motivating the youth of today, up to and including national TV, self help groups and more besides, because being grossly overweight, unfit and unmotivated are absolute killers in our modern society, a malaise which is ever growing. In short James as a person, is proof-positive, of what a change in mind-set can bring about.Ever on the look out for stand-out talent, James first came to my attention through his father Conard during the 2016 event, who introduced us on account of James owning my book, ‘Stand Up Paddle – A Paddlers Guide,’ which had become his bible and go-to source.
During the 2016 event James was struggling with his board, but not letting this affect his focus, finishing a credible 14th overall. Following the event and impressed with his maturity and passion, I contacted James with a proposal to represent and paddle for Mistral, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands to be part of a major heritage brand and professional team.This was in October 2016 and in Feb 2017 following our invitation, James visited MIstral’s R&D Centre in Mauritius to stay with us in our beach-side residence, to train in ideal tropical conditions, with all the latest Mistral equipment at his disposal during his five week visit and where I could add in some mentorship. Coincidentally, Ryan James, five times UK National SUP Champion was visiting and for the first two weeks they got to push each other in training.
OC1 paddling should form an essential part of cross-training for SUP in order to connect the dots and learn new skills at a faster rate and the nuances of ocean dynamics. Add in prone paddle boarding and you will be on your way to filling in the black holes which make the difference between being good and being exceptional.
While in Mauritius, I made sure he spent time paddling OC1s to learn the benefit of cross-training on related craft. This certainly opened up his eyes to the possibilities and indeed as to why many top SUP racers are also top level outrigger canoe paddlers. All of Mistral’s Tahitian paddlers for Mistral; Steeve Teihotaata, Bruno Tauhiro and Rete Ebb are world class, indeed world Champion Outrigger Canoe Paddlers, with multiple Moloka`i to Oahu victories, while Ryan James and Lena Ribeiro are also strong participants and lovers of this genre of paddle sport.
Moving forward, Mistral’s focus on multi-disciplined athletes will grow stronger, as it’s no longer good enough to be a ‘one trick pony’ and to only participate in SUP and expect sponsorship. Outrigger Canoeing, SUP, Prone Paddle Boarding, Ocean Swimming, Free-Surfing skills and cross-training, make for better all-round and highly skilled ocean athletes and this added to Mistral’s sponsorship of the Waterman Tahiti Tour in French Polynesia, makes its implicit we are opening up our field of vision.
James may well find himself in Bora Bora for the Ironmana Liquid Festival in December, one of the world’s most prestigious waterman challenges, involving Canoe Sailing, Prone Paddle Boarding, SUP and Ocean Swimming, as part of our wish to push him to his limits and draw attention to our support of such individuals and of an event we are deeply passionate about. In addition it will draw attention to Tahiti and her islands, with the support of Air Tahiti Nui with whom we work closely and raise awareness of Tahiti as a true waterman destination.
Pounding out the miles on the Equinox 12’6
One cannot but be impressed by James’ determination to take on the world’s best through focus and dedication. His approach is professional and way beyond his years and in many respects he represents a new generation of SUP paddler, lured into a new sport, making them pioneers in every sense in the same was as windsurfing appealed to a young Robbie Naish, Matt Schweitzer and even myself.
Whereas at 17, most young guys are like a candle in the wind, with no real idea of the future, devoid of genuine focus and passion for much more than chasing girls and abusing their bodies, here’s a guy that smashes his body daily, whether at the gym or on the water. Fresh faced good looks, multi-lingual, tall and lean, girls just aren’t in the equation for him at this point in time, much to the disappointment of his ever growing female fan base.
Mistral has very high standards of its riders, both ethically and from the way in which they approach their sport, their life and how the world perceives them and while some brands seem to actively seek paddlers merely on talent and not on personality and character, the latter qualities are essential for brand perception even before podium placings; both of course being the ideal mix. In this sense, James ticks the boxes on all levels and is for Mistral a perfect ambassador and athlete with whom all comers can relate. His popularity is self evident.
We’ve lots of confidence in James and this year, he will take on many of the Euro Tour Events and of course the 11 Cities race and we wish him every success in his journey with Mistral’s blessing and support.
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