Donato Freens Interview

Donato Freens made a name for himself in the competitive SUP World as a stand out Junior. He is competing against some of the best in the sport and is not a stranger to podiums. He once again had a very nice SUP Summer with many great results. In fact his biggest result of his career was just a few weeks ago at the Lake Rocks SUP Festival as part of the SUP Alps Trophy. There he beat one of his mentors and respected SUP personality Michael Booth. It was was time to reach out to Donato and ask him about his success, his goals and dreams.

My motivation is that I like racing. To be able to pursue my dreams and aspirations every day is a gift. I want to do this as long as my body and mind can keep up with me. Whenever there is an opportunity to race, I do my best to be at the starting line, develop myself by being better than I was yesterday not just in sport but in all aspects, as sport translates into other aspects of life. To show myself and my family what I can do and reach my potential. Road connections in Europe are great, combined with having an airport about 40 minutes from my home, makes it easy to travel to events.

With regards to racing, when I enter a race, I prepare well, I am driven to do well and I am eager to shape the race according to my strengths and my strategy. Over the years, I have got smarter in my overall racing approach, but I hope that everyone can see that I do not race defensively, but in general race for the win and with a desire to play hard. That is my motivation, paddle hard, paddle smart and if all goes well, take a step on the podium. At the end of the day, racing is the most fun if you can have a meaningful role in the race, and even better, take home the win.

First of all, I think it is important to pay our respects to the household names in our sport. Michael, Titou, Bruno, and Candice, Sonni, Annabel, just to name a few, have shaped our sport. I think we have seen new names entering the sport over the past few years, and some of those have put a mark on the sport even though they are still very young. The most obvious example is Shrimpy, there is no way around it that he is the new guy to beat in our sport. Behind him, there are many riders, who are in their late teens to early twenties who are stepping onto the podium quite consistently.

A big moment for Donato through the lens of Andy Klotz

The easy answer is, that the knives are sharper at the top. Lots of things can happen in a race and if you are not in top form, you pay the price. That is the name of the game. The most important thing is that I learned a lot from that race, while also realizing that sometimes you can have a day where things don’t go your way. After basically a podium in every race I entered, I must say that I think there is a blessing in disguise. On a day where lots went wrong, I still managed to finish 12th in a heavily stacked field.

I have also picked up on that discussion. My take, we want to make SUP accessible and visible to all, and create figures in our sport and imagery of our sport that inspire other people to enter Stand Up Paddling and/or to become a fan of the sport. For this we need to create platforms and opportunities for people outside our sport to be familiarized with our sport.

As an athlete I train a lot, and in different places, and often people try to start up a conversation on the beach. The feedback I get a lot is, “What you’re doing seems so exciting, but I did not know there are Stand Up Paddle Races, tell me more about it”. We need to be more visible to the general public as a sport, so we can attract non-endemic sponsors. The brands in our sport can only do so much to support events and athletes.

I think we should focus on making SUP racing visible to the general public. Let’s bring in media partners, the mainstream media, to portray iconic events. I am confident that when the general public is able to witness proper coverage of iconic races such as the GlaGa Race, the Battle of Hercules, or as a matter of fact, the Lake Rocks Festival, it will catch on. I know for a fact that there are millions of people watching the Tour de France, of which there are a fair share who not even have a bicycle. But mass interest in the sport is what underpins the pro teams existence, who then in turn inspire young kids to start in the sport so they can become like their heroes.

First of all, I am in favor of inclusive festival formats which bring everyone together, pros and amateurs. We need to grow our attendance and visibility and for that I think we need the festivals. Pros can and will attend based on attractiveness. Festivals can attract and invite pros as a way to attract more amateurs and the public to attend.

Besides that, it would be a big plus for an inspiring athlete such as myself to have the opportunity to be part of a world tour that allows athletes to travel the world, spread the SUP stoke, but last but not least also make a decent living. It’s not just about putting on a world tour with events in all kinds of remote places, it is also about providing athletes the solutions to be able to physically get there with the gear that is needed, and get more out of it than just barely covering costs if you podium. A world tour requires a fair share of the field to live a professional live, not just nr.1 as it is more or less now.

My goals is to develop myself as a person and as an athlete. I feel very privileged that I have the opportunity through the support from Infinity SUP and Black Project to pursue my athletic career, while studying Sports Marketing at Johan Cruyff Academy. This is a perfect combo for me to learn and grow.

I know there has been a lot of debate about what races “really count” towards obtaining recognition. In my mind that is a short-sighted view. What matters is the battles on the water, and how exciting the action was for the spectators. It is not just about who shows up to what race, but also what happens in a race, and then how riders respond. I think we can all recall that one race in Korea where Rai fell of his board at an APP sprint race, to fight his way from all the way back to the front, and to win the race. That’s what we all want to see, and that is what gets you recognition. 

Donato back in 2018 and Blue Planet. His dad Paco Freens used to represent this brand from Hawaii.

You can follow Donato on social media @donato_freens