Hailing from Cornwall, along the rugged southwestern tip of England, Ollie Shilston has quickly established himself as one of the fastest paddlers in the U.K. The 34-year-old ocean lifeguard first got into SUP racing about three years ago after finding he had a knack for the budding new sport. Like many other top paddlers around the world, Shilston’s background as a lifeguard has given him the opportunity to hone his skills through a professional regimen as a member of Britain’s prestigious Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) which administers the duties of beach lifeguarding throughout the country. “We pride ourselves on the basic skills, swimming, running and board paddling. Although we have a lot of equipment like jet skis and inshore rescue boats, etc. which require a lot of training as well,” he told me.
Ollie Shilston has been at his post for 14 years, the last six of which he has worked as a supervisor responsible for 15 beaches and roughly 100 lifeguards. Unsurprisingly, he cited the challenging beach competitions requiring paddlers to battle their way in and out through the surf as his favorite racing discipline. “It’s great because I am in the water a lot and the skills really complement each other,” said Shilston. “A number of the best paddlers in the world, Jamie Mitchell, Kelly Margetts, Danny Ching, the Jenson brothers and many more all have beach lifeguarding back grounds.”
Across the UK, the most common races are long distance flat water events and Shilston’s first race was the Head of the Dart in Devon, where he finished third in the nine mile contest. He logged a number of notable accomplishments on the water this past season, most notably as the champion of the UK SUP Series – a national race series from which Britain selects its top champion and representatives for the annual ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships. Additionally, Shilston finished third overall in the 12’6” class distance race at this year’s Battle of the Paddle – Salt Creek and was tenth at the recent Nautic SUP Crossing in Paris.
According to Shilston, SUP is growing in popularity throughout the UK and is most prevalent along the south coast due to the abundance of flat water. “The hardcore surfing areas have a little way to go yet!” he said. Although he has taken part in SUP surfing competitions in the past (he finished a joint fifth on two separate occasions), he told me the surfing side of SUP, for him, is purely recreation and another form of race training. “I live 5 minutes from a good surfing beach and I enjoy just surfing out there for fun,” said Shilston.
Although SUP has taken Shilston far from the remote beaches of his native Cornwall, his home waters of St. Ives Bay remain his favorite place to paddle. He has recently co-founded the St. Ives Bay SUP Club and is looking forward to growing the club and introducing more people to SUP. The accomplished athlete offers the following tips for fellow paddlers around the world.
Advice From Ollie Shilston
On purchasing a board
Try as many boards as you can before buying.
Don’t be afraid to paddle in any conditions as it will help you improve.
Mix up your training to keep things fresh and have fun.