“A fear of the unknown drives me”Jordan mercer, the paddleboarding star, known to her fans as ‘Magic’, is a four-time world champion at 21 – and she hasn’t finished yet
Jordan ‘Magic’ Mercer spends so much of her life in the ocean, it’s a surprise to learn that when she was growing up she was terrified of the water. A fear of sharks and blacking out underwater saw her focus instead on athletics and gymnastics until her early teens. But this was all good training for her eventual watersports debut, and in 2011 Mercer made history as the youngest winner of the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships. She’s also one of the brightest stars in surf lifesaving, a sport her father, Darren, dominated in
the late ’80s and early ’90s.
THE RED BULLETIN: Are you still scared of the water?
JORDAN MERCER: I did a freediving course last year and discovered a superpower I never knew I had: breath control. I still have huge respect for the ocean, but I’m a lot more comfortable and relaxed in the water now.
Why did you turn down the chance to be an Olympian?
When I was 12, I was offered a place at the Australian Institute of Sport to train as a gymnast for the 2008 Olympics. But moving to Canberra, where there are no beaches, would have meant leaving a huge part of my life behind, so I turned it down and followed my passion for surf lifesaving.
Was it difficult having a father who was a champion?
Dad never pushed me, but I did feel a lot of pressure. Molokai gave me a chance to make a name for myself in a different sport – prone paddleboarding.
What does that involve?
Prone paddleboarding is a bit of a forgotten sport. It’s one of the earliest forms of surfing. You lie on the board with only your hands and your heart to get you from A to B. You’re so close to the ocean, which makes it a very pure and intimate experience. It’s also very gruelling as your body is in an unnatural position for such a long time. Molokai is a 52km paddle and you’re on the water for five or six hours.
How did you win at Molokai on your first attempt?
I was 17 and quite naïve. The fear of the unknown drove me. I didn’t know if my body would hold up or if I could paddle that far. I met Gerry Lopez, the Hawaiian surfing legend, at the event briefing. I told him I was racing for the first time, and my dad asked him, “Have you got any tips for her?” He smiled and signed my poster with a simple message: “Just Keep Paddling.” When I read those words, all my worries disappeared. I went out the next day and became the first person to win the event at the first attempt. I broke the female record by more than 30 minutes, too.
You’re going for your fifth successive win at Molokai on July 26. How do you keep yourself motivated?
My mum and dad are very driven, and I’ve always been a perfectionist who wants to do the best I can. Every year on the start line at Molokai, I’m a different person, racing for different reasons. For me, it’s as much a journey of self-discovery as it is a race.
How does Molokai compare with the IronWoman surf lifesaving series?
IronWoman races are so fast and fierce that if you make one little mistake, your race is over. Sometimes the ocean decides it’s not your day, and you can’t do anything about it. It can be incredibly cruel. Not only are you battling against the other women on the start line, you’re battling the most unpredictable element in the world. If you get hit by a rogue wave, you don’t have time to make up the places you’ve lost. That’s one of the things I love about Molokai – you’re out there for so long that one wave doesn’t decide your race.
Would you trade one of your Molokai triumphs for a win in the IronWoman series?
That’s a tough question. I’m on a winning streak in Molokai at the moment and I don’t want to break it, so the answer is no. But I do want to win the Australian IronWoman title, the Coolangatta Gold and the Nutri-Grain IronWoman series, and I’m getting closer every year. Most of the women at the top of the sport are in their late 20s, so I still have
10 years to achieve my goals.