Standup Journal’s photographer-writer Glenn Dubock recently drove north up the Central California coast to catch up with fitness guide, sup coach and shining star, Nikki Gregg. Here is final installment of Glenn’s three part series: What’s the Original Queen of Sup, Nikki Gregg, doing now?
Nikki finds fresh waters and bright new beginnings
The morning glistens out on the mirrored waters of Baywood, just a few miles from the hustle of downtown Morro Bay, CA. Nikki, Sandi and Ken show up with their attitudes adjusted accordingly. It seems like they are almost hesitant to put paddle tracks on the Monet painting that the pristine blue waters have become overnight. One by one they give in to the lure of the sheet glass surface and soon their rhythmic cadence is only interrupted by quick pauses to take note of and express to each other just how lucky they are to call this place home.
As usual, Nikki looks absolutely regal out there, like she is exactly where her destiny is telling her to be at that precise moment – but she has come through some choppy, dark waters to get here:
Discovering The Paddleboard Co. in Morro Bay
What prompted your move from Hood River to Morro Bay, California?*
I was introduced to the owners of The Paddleboard Company, Ken & Sandi Twist, a few years ago, when I joined a small expedition group that paddled the Big Sur coastline in October 2013. We had a wild and crazy adventure and we’ve kept in touch since. When the Twists’ opened their shop about a year and a half ago, I was eager to come down and do an event with them. I love their sense of adventure and desire to build a solid community of paddlers here on the Central Coast. This past October I came to town to give a standup paddle clinic and a presentation for the community about my travels, but I never left! These two believe in me, treat me like family and I love what they’re doing here with the business. So we decided to collaborate and work together on some upcoming projects and events. I’ve been working on my own, by myself, for so long so it’s refreshing to have some support and a tribe that has my back no matter what.
Why no sponsors? What happened?
In order for me to film the TV show I hosted last year, a 10 episode series sponsored by FitBit featuring beautiful paddling destinations and adventures around the world, I was required to work with certain sponsors who financially supported the show, but who also conflicted with my sponsors at the time. Although I was VERY wary to part ways with the companies that had supported me for so long, I also didn’t want to miss this huge opportunity to share my adventures with the world. It’s not often a TV host position comes along, so I made the sacrifice.
Around the same time I was ALSO offered a full-time position with a company in the industry working in a high-end sales/marketing position. It sounded like an amazing offer, though quite a workload combined with the TV show, but there were so many promises of great things.
“It’s not often a TV host position comes along, so I made the sacrifice.”
Unfortunately, my experience with the lack of ethics and morals of this company almost destroyed me, strained my relationships with people I care about and also compromised my reputation. I knew deep down I should have bowed out of the sales/marketing position, but instead I had to try to make things work because that’s what I do. In the end I sacrificed everything (including all of my sponsors) that I’d worked so hard for.
Mindfulness and positive relationships over money
Being the eternal optimist, I prefer to move forward with positivity instead of dwelling on the past. Lessons learned- I’ll file them away, forgive and let go, and move on. I’m definitely keen on aligning with new brands to build a few strong and positive new partnerships. I have also been rekindling former relationships, but it was necessary to take a break before jumping into any other sponsor partnerships too quickly.
“I’m going to be more mindful of who I work with in the future. It’s not even about money, but finding ways to work together in a way that everyone succeeds.”
A unique and diverse environment
What will you be doing while you are in Morro Bay? Classes, seminars etc ?
I’ll be working closely with The Paddleboard Company on events, classes, training, fitness, retreats and aiding in spreading the love of stand up paddling all over the Central Coast, as well as continue to build my NRG brand. If you’ve never been, the central coast is a hidden gem, and isn’t too fast-paced or crowded. I feel at home in the small town of Morro Bay and I thinks it’s one of the most rugged and beautiful places on the globe to explore via a paddleboard. There is SO much wildlife, especially a unique and diverse bird population, lots of sea critters including, my favorite, sea otters. Morro Bay is not far from San Francisco or Los Angeles and Big Sur is just a short drive north.
You’ve had some wild injuries – how has the recovery been?
It goes with the territory if you’re an athlete. I kicked off 2016v with eleven stitches and completed it with a bad concussion. During my first surf of the year, I took a surfboard fin off the board with my thigh when I landed on it in some shore pound during a hurricane swell in Cocoa Beach. I felt a pop in my leg. It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t until I got to the shower that I found I was bleeding profusely through my ripped wetsuit. I peeled off my wetsuit to realize my insides were hanging out. And I had been playing it off as a ‘mere flesh wound’.
“I had to wrap a beach towel around my thigh to catch the blood while I drove myself to the ER. The cotton balls and bandaids I had been offered weren’t going to cut it.”
Then when I returned to Hood River last June, I embarked on my first downwinder in a couple of years. I remember feeling free again and SO stoked to be back, especially to encounter hefty winds and swell for my first run.
“Fairly early into the famous eight mile Vento run, I fell and swam to the surface only to be greeted by my board catching a fresh gust of wind full speed square into my face.”
After years and years of downwinders, I was quickly humbled by being briefly knocked out. Fortunately, and wearing all the right safety gear, I came to quickly and tried to ‘blow it off’ and get going again, but was unable to find any balance. I was dizzy and faint. Afterwards, I couldn’t even remember paddling the rest of the run, but my friend Darryl informed me that I was clearly messed up and that I was falling in a lot even though paddling on my knees. She called my doctor and I was ‘couched’ for several weeks.
“The two injuries from this last year were wake up calls”
I believe I’ve racked up more than my fair share of injuries lately because I fell out of physical shape, gained a few pounds. My invincible immortal middle-aged self believes it can merely jump back in where I left off a few years ago when I was in the top shape of my career.If I want to get back into shape, I’m going to have to take it slow and it’s going to take some time. I’ve healed now and thankful it wasn’t worse!
Nikki to her fans: Stay Positive
You have an incredible, loyal fan base – anything you want to say to them?
It’s refreshing to know that fellow paddlers out there still care and respect what I do. Lately, I have become a ‘fan of my fans’, and many have become close friends. I’ve watched people who came to me in the early days of standup paddling for instruction and guidance end up doing some incredible things in the sport. I am proud if I had anything to do with their success and ability to grow stand up paddling in a positive way.
A renewed sense of purpose
What does the future look like for Nikki Gregg?
I have a completely different outlook on life these days along with a strong sense of purpose again. Although I still love to travel, I realized I was trying to do WAY too much and it was severely compromising my health/fitness, my ability to connect and build solid relationships.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m ready to move forward and am open to opportunities that help me utilize my talents, to be of service to others and give back.
“Nothing is more fulfilling than guiding someone else to succeed, inspiring them, and knowing I had some part to play in that.”
After some time off, I’m happy to get back to doing what I do, and doing that better than ever with more clarity and compassion. In the interim, I’ve learned to continue to grow, learn and do what I love without compromise. Most importantly, is my undying desire to inspire others, to show them that if I can do it, they can do it- and encourage others to stay strong, stay humble and never give up no matter what they’re faced with.