We found out about Layla and her passion for paddling on the Paddle Monster 100-Day Facebook Challenge where she celebrated her first ocean race on a stand up paddleboard (That she named WAVE CRUSHER, BTW, Awesome!) Layla is also an artist and sells her artwork on Facebook at Dancing Red Panda. Check it out. The more we learned about Layla, the more inspired we became. Paddling has changed her life as it has for so many of us, so we reached out to Layla and her mom to see if she’d be our next Jane Paddler. Thank you Layla for inspiring us.
What are you paddling?
Where is your favorite place to paddle?
I love to paddle on the ocean. My Special Olympics team paddles on the intracoastal or lakes, but my heart is on Ft. Lauderdale/Pompano and Deerfield beaches! Sometimes I paddle at George English or Birch State Park.
What is your favorite event and why?
I love to go to Special Olympics State Championships in Sarasota and compete against my peers! But my favorite event so far was the Sunshine SUP Series race #1 in Pompano! I loved it because my coach, Victoria Burgess, is my hero and my mentor and the Sunshine SUP Series is put on by Coach Victoria and Coach Roray Kam! I wanted to make them proud by finishing my very first non-Special Olympics race on the ocean! I not only finished, I got 3rd place in my division! I can’t wait to do it again in August! When I’m not swimming and surfing on my teams, I am training for August!
What is your favorite paddling moment and why?
I wanted a used racing board really badly and didn’t have the money. So I made a video telling my story and put it on Facebook and sold my art through my Facebook art page, Dancing Red Panda! I made the money I needed to buy the board in ONE DAY! On my Boga, which I renamed the Wave Crusher, I spent my first day on the water, collecting trash from the waterways in Ft. Lauderdale. I paddled for two hours and dumped 3 bags of trash! It was a great day!
Do you have a bucket list event?
Ooooh yes, one day I want to race the Molokai 2 Oahu! I have always wanted to go to Hawaii!! So beautiful and I can surf there too! I also would love to do the Crossing for a Cure from Bimini to Florida. And eventually I would love to beat Victoria’s record paddling from Cuba to Key West!!!! But first, Molokai! And I think I’ll need a new board before that!
What are you grateful for?
I am so grateful for all of the kind people I have met and for all of the help that I have been given along the way! I am grateful for the ocean, the sunrise, the sunset and all of the beauty I get to experience when I’m on my board. But mostly I am grateful to be a part of the paddling community! It makes my heart full!
Advice or tips for paddlers?
I like to do yoga and get really stretched and relaxed before I paddle. With my Autism, I also have anxiety and ADHD. Yoga really helps me to focus and relax. But the most important advice I have is…show up, be present, don’t ever quit, never stop doing what you love, even if they say you can’t do it. You are enough!
Do you have a favorite charity?
Water sports have changed my life…and so have some people! I’d like to thank Sgt. Rick Shick for always supporting me, Coach Victoria for being an amazing coach, mentor and friend, Coach Roray for being totally awesome, Coach Kenny for being the best surfing coach a girl could ever ask for and to the 954 Paddle Crew for being the best group of paddle buds this girl could ever dream of! And most of all thank you to Miss Mindy and Miss Marlene from Baby Otter Swim School for teaching me to swim when no one else would! Without the gift of swimming, I would be lost!