How 5x SUP World Champion Sonni Hönscheid Combines Art, Surfing and Stand Up Paddling

Are you artistic or sporty? Have you ever wondered if you liked art more than sports or the other way around? For Sonni Hönscheid, this is an easy question because she is an artist, a surfer, and a stand up paddler rolled into one.

Let’s learn all about her best recommendations for water sport athletes, her favorite surfing boards, her art, and her plans for the future!

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Starboard

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Sonni Hönscheid, I was born on Sylt, a little island on the Northest part in Germany. My dad was a professional windsurfer, we travelled around the world with him, and spent almost half of the year in Maui. I grew up on the most beautiful beaches, discovering my love for the ocean before I even started walking.

When I was 5 years old, we moved to the Canary Islands. It is the perfect place to be close to our home island Sylt and has good conditions all year round. That’s where I started to surf, windsurf and later on stand up paddle.

I also played tennis just to try something different besides all my activities on the water. I went to Spanish school, finished my studies and become a nurse. I did my license as an International Tennis trainer and then together with my parents, we opened up our little family business called, North Shore Fuerteventura, a surfshop.

My other big passion besides my sport is my art. Next year, I will have my 3rd art exhibition, “Peace, Love Sylt III” in Germany.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Surfsupcenter.de

How and why did you get into surfing and eventually stand up paddling?

I was literally born into the water as we spent more time on the beach than anywhere else. Doing something with water almost happens naturally if you live on an island. My biggest influence, mentor and role model is my dad. He never pushed me to do water sports, but he always gave the support, opportunity, shared all his knowledge about the ocean and had material ready to go for us.

For a time I was really into tennis, competing in tournaments across the islands until I completely felt in love with surfing. Having the perfect conditions all year round and being in the water every day, I was able to start competing and I became 12 times German Surfing Champion.

In 2008, we saw the first stand up paddler in front of our house, my dad went straight into the workshop to built two boards. We mainly used it in waves until my sister and I did the first “SUP Worldcup” in Germany and that was the beginning – I totally good hooked! I brought a good fitness from surfing and I started paddling more often. I love the fact that besides your material, it pretty much depends on yourself. No judgment from people like in surfing competitions – a big sensation of freedom.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Sonni with her parents. Photo credit: Sylt Life

What do you consider the hardest parts of stand up paddling?

In the pure sport, there are no hard parts for me as I love everything of it, even paddling in a strong upwind. In competitions, however, it looks different, specially when you have a race every weekend because sometimes it is hard to refocus as you don’t have time to get back to your routine.

In long races like M20, the mind sometimes plays games with you like, “Why am I doing this? I could be sunbathing at the beach in Waikiki with a cold drink in my hand” – then you have a flying fish flying over your board, a dolphin following you playfully, a shark underneath you trying to figure out what kind of fish are you, and all of the sudden you go back to reality, paddling in the “big blue”, dancing on the waves, the biggest sensation of freedom and you realize of how lucky you are to have this “chance”.

How do you train and become better at your water sports?

I train by getting in the water every day in all kind of different conditions. I don’t have a coach but I´m lucky I have my family and some really good friends who really help me especially when it comes to training programs, improving my technique, etc.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Georgia Schofield

What’s your most memorable race so far?

My most memorable race so far is the Molokai to Oahu as I won it for a 3rd time in a row. It´s so special because it’s considered the hardest open ocean race in the world — wind, waves, currents — you are paddling from island to island, crossing on of the deepest channels. The whole event it’s just an unreal experience, besides a race it´s a experience an adventure – you get to know a lot about the Polynesian culture – you are going back in history navigating on the big ocean to reach another island.

“I never thought I could make it” but “we” did it, becoming the first European ever winning this race. It always was my dream to take part in it since I started paddling. I say “we”, because I have the best escort boat crew I could think of!! Thank you, guys 🙂

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Jürgen Hönscheid

What are your best advice people new to water sports especially the younger generation?

Jumps straight in! Sometimes people are not confident enough to inscribe in race, because they think they are not good enough, scared of judgments from other people, leaving the “comfort zone”. Getting out of this zone, either competing, challenging conditions, or a high level competition, will make you grow over yourself! It´s not easy, you are gonna fall and fail but you can do it and that will make you stronger!

Wearing a leash is a must! When you go for paddles by yourself, it is important to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), bring a phone, wear a bright shirt, tell someone about your mission before you hit the water, and ideally paddle together with another person. Those are some basic things to follow to be safe out there. Besides that, like in every sport, if you practice it in an “extreme way,” there’s a risk of getting injured – just from training too hard, having the wrong technique or paddle/blade size. In training or racing in surfing, another danger is to get hurt with your material or the material from others.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Mauro Ladu

Best advice for people who have been surfing and paddling for years?

The main thing is to keep it fun and break out from the routine. I think some people over train. I am convinced that a “healthy balance” is what will keep you doing this sport for a long time!

I really like the SUP community, really nice people from all over the world sharing the love for the sport. The “Love” for the sport is why we are all or most of us doing it, no other reason. “SUPolitics” are no needed.

One thing, which I am really trying to enforce is getting “doping controls” at the main races. Every year, it´s getting more competitive in racing, endurance, strength, more training and quicker recovery is required. “Some” paddlers “might” use doping to boost their performance. We have to keep this sport clean to not end like being a “routine” or a “must do” to dop like it happened in other sports.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Sonni windsurfing with her dad

How do you eat and sleep?

Traveling from a really young age makes it really easy for me to get used to new places and adapt really fast. I try to eat healthy, but mainly listen to my body for its needs. The only supplements I´m taking and which works really well for me is some Magnesium, Hawaiian Spirulina and BioAstin.

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

When it becomes to injuries or light illness (like a flu), if I can still paddle somehow, I go for it! It is really hard for me to say, “No, I can’t” unless I have a big injury. A good recovery is important to come back even stronger, keeping yourself active during injury if possible makes it easier to recover quicker as you keep your circulation going.

How do you balance normal life with your water sport?

My biggest passion besides the sport is my art. Art is like writing a diary for me of all my experiences, traveling around the world, different cultures. My biggest inspiration is the OCEAN. In the sport I want to be the fastest, when I´m painting, I can take my time. It´s the perfect balance for me.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Jürgen Hönscheid

What kind of board and gear do you use?

I have the privilege to paddle on the fastest boards on the market, which is the Starboard. I am really happy with the shapes, volume, etc. My favorite models are the Allstar for all conditions, the ACE for downwind and the Sprint for flatwater.

For surfing, I love the 7´7 x 26.75 Performance Pro. Besides the boards being the best race boards I’ve ever had under my feet, Starboard is also putting lot of effort, committing and researching on how to keep our environment clean through using BIO Resin, planting a mangrove tree for every board sold, etc., and educating kids and adults about it.

For really cold days, the gear that I wear for paddling is the dry suit from Starboard, the Xcel wetsuits for surfing and paddling, and the Kanaha and Lanes hydrophobic water tops from Bluesmiths, which I love.

For sunny days, I got some nice Chiemsee bikinis. You can’t top the Black Project fins, super light, nice shapes, it is a winning race fin.

For training, I use the Velocitek SpeedPuck, it is a small device that you can attach to your board to see speed and distance, perfect for training.

Eye protection is super important being in the sun everyday, specially being out on the water. I wear a pair of Maui Jim Polarized glasses to protect my eyes.

What has been your best sport purchase below $100?

My best purchase below 100 dollars was buying my first canvas.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Sonni Hönscheid

Please describe your art and painting style?

A lot of people have asked about my painting style, I called it, “The Sonni Style”. I found the passion about perfect lines and curves working with my dad in his workshop taping those perfect lines he makes on the boards for the airbrush designs, it totally fascinated me. A good friend of mine was doing murals with flotsam we collected on the beaches – a lot of details, different colors — that was another big influence for me. I get my main inspiration from the ocean. I´m really happy I can combine my two biggest passions, art & sport in one.

SUP Sonni Hönscheid
Photo credit: Tobias Kuberski

What will the future bring?

I am trying to live in the “now” and not think too much about the future, because I learned that many times you get caught thinking too much and then things turn out completely different, and most of the times even better.

I got a lot of racing done in those last couple of months and I still have some nice races coming up. Also, some nice events like “Paddle for hope” in Hamburg, end of August.

Besides paddling, I am preparing for my 3rd art exhibition coming up next year “Peace Love Sylt III” in Germany.

I reached more than I ever thought when it becomes to competing, my goal is to keep enjoying myself paddling, keep improving and having fun!

I have the chance to work with some companies in making this world even more colorful. So far I designed two skateboards for Jucker Hawaii, Bikinis for Chiemsee Clothing. Since last year, I am an ambassador for Mercedes Benz, they used one of my designs to decorate my V-Class. And this year, I was able to make a product combining my sport and art. The Tikhine Go Line from Starboard – Art you can ride, feel free to check it out.

I love being in the water, sharing great moments and experiences with my family and closest friends. Thank you, Mightygoods, for this feature – I see you in the water!


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