Ryan Funk – A Man on a Mission
Tahoe native turned Maui resident, Ryan Funk has seemingly stepped onto a fast track to excellence as one of the most committed young paddlers of his generation. Funk first began paddling at home in Lake Tahoe where a chance meeting with Jay Wild at a local race series placed him on a course which began with a four-year stint on Team Tahoe Watermen and would result in an early sponsorship opportunity with 404. “I went to the Battle of the Paddle and saw how stoked everyone was on the sport,” Funk told me. “I really got hooked after that event.”
Funk’s family moved to Maui not long ago and the relocation opened up a variety of new opportunities for the motivated young paddler. He began training on his own in the harbor, but was eager for some company. “I messaged Connor one day to see if he would be interested in training together,” Funk told me. Connor promptly replied and they arranged a time to meet. The pair hit it off from the start and has been training together ever since. “I’ve made a huge jump in performance this past year from training with him,” said Funk.
Indeed, the Maui paddling community has fully opened its arms to embrace Funk and play a role in cultivating his ambitions to become one of the world’s top paddlers. From Suzie Cooney and Connor Baxter, to downwind specialist Jeremy Riggs, Funk is fully taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge and experience in Maui’s local paddling community and from all appearances he is on a solid course to reaching his goals.
What is it like living on Maui and being surrounded by so many great paddlers?
I moved to Maui a few months before my parents and was hanging out with my brother. I had heard of the Maliko Run, but had never paddled it, so I reached out to a few people. Suzie Cooney brought me along right away and showed me the run. She was so stoked and I’ve been hooked ever since.
All in all it’s great! The weather plays such a big role over here. Back in Tahoe it could be so cold that you’d have to wear booties and could only be in the water for about 30 minutes before you couldn’t feel your feet anymore. Here the wind is either howling, and you’re going to go do a downwind run, or if it’s not, I can go surf or go train in the harbor. Every day there is something to do.
The wind was really up in Maui in late November / early December this year. What has it been like and what have you learned?
The conditions here are fun and can be a bit crazy. It is like paddling in the open ocean and you’re just a mile off-shore.You can’t get that anywhere else in the world. It’s awesome! It doesn’t really compare to any other downwind run I’ve done, even the Gorge which is amazing, but here there is nothing else like it because the bumps are overhead. It doesn’t get any better!
Tell me about your interests outside of paddling, or do you have any?
Right now I really have my head down, am concentrating on training, and hope to be the best paddler in the world one day. When I do have some free time I enjoy going fishing with my family or go surfing. But mainly it is just going down to the beach and enjoying life.
What is your training curriculum like. Do you participate in a formal program similar to The Paddle Academy?
Youth SUP racing is a lot smaller here and there isn’t anything like The Paddle Academy. We do have all the adults, but mainly I just train with Connor in the harbor. I also go out downwinding with Suzie, Jeremy Riggs and Andrea Moller.
Who is your favorite paddler and person who has inspired you the most?
Probably Connor, because of what he has done and how much pain he puts himself through to be a top paddler and seeing how focused he is. Hopefully I can be like him one day.
What do you enjoy the most about paddling? Obviously there is the competitive side which you are pursuing, but what do you enjoy the most about just being out there on the water?
I think when you do get out on the water almost everything else goes away and you’re in a zone that is really indescribable. It is a happy place that I have which I cannot really find doing anything else.
Do you have a preference for a certain type of paddling or are you striving to be an all around top performer similar to Connor and Kai?
I come from a flatwater background and am a bit better at it, but I love all the conditions and want to become as good as I can in all of them. That’s what I think those guys are good at and it’s why they are the best paddlers.
Where are some of your favorite places to paddle?
Maui, of course. Also Tahoe and I really like Hood River for what it has to offer. Dana Point is another cool place.
Looking at different competitions, which ones are your favorite and why?
Probably the Pacific Paddle Games, because all the top named paddlers are going to be at that race. It has its ups and downs, everyone is there and really wants it, but you can be taken out of a heat just like that, so it makes it exciting.
Tell me about your goals as an athlete. What are some of your near term goals as you progress to becoming a top paddler?
I really want to be the overall fastest paddler. I love surfing, but I’ve found my click with racing, regardless of whether it is downwinding, sprint racing, or long distance I want to be the best. I’d like to have the opportunity to travel and visit Europe and compete in the Stand Up World Series.
Is there somewhere you’d like to compete, but have yet to visit?
There is a potential Stand Up World Series event in Bali…Bali has been on my list of places to visit. Another event I’d really like to do is Lost Mills…I’m a lighter paddler and I think the 200m sprint race they hold kind of fits my abilities.
What is your favorite memory or experience while paddling?
I was just around 11 years old and was competing at a little race series on Donner Lake in Truckee, California. There were only about 10 people, but it was my first race and I was on a huge inflatable. I think I probably paddled with my paddle backwards, but everyone was so stoked and connected there, I’ve never felt anything else like it. I took last in the event, but everyone there was so happy and it’s where it all began to click.
Ryan Funk has set up a fundraising campaign on Go Fund Me to help raise money to enable him to travel and compete as he pursues his goal of becoming the fastest paddler in the world. If you would like to support him, you can visit his page at the following link: www.gofundme.com/ryanfunk