Just Add Water
Paige Mycoskie and Brooke Robinson recall paddling through Icelandic waters for the Flatwater Foundation
By Vanessa Blankenship and Margaret Williams
Photographs by Caleb Kerr
In late July, Paige Mycoskie, founder of lifestyle brand Aviator Nation, and girlfriend Brooke Robinson participated in the Flatwater Foundation Challenge, a five-day, 100 km paddleboard excursion through freezing waters off the coast of Iceland. Fears of hypothermia, crashing glaciers and hours out in open ocean waters wouldn’t stop them from raising awareness and funds for the organization dedicated to providing counseling and support for those battling cancer. Like so many, Mycoskie and Robinson have both had cancer touch the lives of family members and loved ones so the cause was certainly a personal one. As if paddling 100 km wasn’t enough Mycoskie also brought the force of her business to the effort, designing an Aviator Nation capsule collection with proceeds going to Flatwater Foundation. The couple sat down to talk about their one-of-a-kind experience and the importance of mental health support for those dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Margaret Williams: How did you first learn about the Flatwater Foundation, and what does the work they do mean to you?
Paige Mycoskie: Mark Garza [Flatwater Foundation founder] walked into my Austin store [on South Congress] when I was building it last summer. He was talking to Brooke about the Iceland trip. I was immediately intrigued when I learned that he and a group of people planned to paddle 100 km around Iceland to raise money and awareness for people in need of mental health treatment. This is such a rad way to show people how important mental health is and at the same time, raise money for those who simply cannot afford the therapy they need. It’s not fair that something so necessary is so unattainable for people which is why I want to do everything I can to help grow Flatwater Foundation.
Brooke Robinson: I learned about Flatwater [Foundation] in 2011 when I was the graphic designer and marketing manager for Tyler’s. The work they [Flatwater Foundation] do helps put people into therapy that need it most and reduce the stigma around taking care of your mental health. Unfortunately, I’ve had several family members affected by a cancer diagnosis, and it really takes a toll on everyone.
MW: How did the Iceland paddle come about? Were you nervous to say yes (100km over five days!)?
PM: When I learned about the paddle, I said yes immediately because I was so passionate about the cause. I also love a good challenge. As the date got closer, I realized I signed up for something really difficult [laughing], and the reality of me not having much time to train for it started to set in.
BR: Mark Garza and Chelsea Hardee [Director of Development at Flatwater Foundation] are always looking for more unique and meaningful ways to raise awareness and funds for the foundation without having to plan any fancy galas. Mark likes to tell people, “find your flatwater,” meaning find that still place which allows you to connect and take care of your mental health —find that activity that contributes to the betterment of your well-being whether that be on a stand-up paddleboard or a hike or a conversation with a loved one.
MW: How did you prepare mentally and physically?
PM: Essentially, I had no time to train for this paddle at all, but I signed up nearly a year prior, and I was not going to back out. I tried to workout when I could, but building stores is quite grueling and pretty much consumes all of me. Mentally I did journal. I find that journaling helps me focus and remain calm in stressful situations.
BR: Paige and I worked out almost every day with either a run, a yoga class, a bike ride or a stand-up paddle. We surfed every day in Mexico for about five days to get our paddling arms in gear! We also ate as clean as possible as well and did intermittent fasting to regulate and calibrate our digestion. I mentally prepared by telling myself that I was going to give it my best each day, and for that, I would be satisfied.
MW: Take us through that first day in Iceland out on the water…
PM: The first day was extremely challenging. I think we paddled a little over four hours the first day in the open sea. The reality of no preparation set in and all I could do was talk myself through every stroke mentally. I was surrounded by athletes who had definitely trained for months. Of course, I was at the back of the pack, but I never stopped paddling. It’s amazing what your mind can do when your body is failing you.
BR: The conditions were nice that day—partly cloudy, with one mild rain shower, some sun peeked through now and then, and the temperature was in the low 60s. The scenery was a backdrop of Reykjavik, the winds were at our back, the water was clear, and all 14 of us paddled at our own pace. The conversations on the water helped keep our minds of the non-stop paddling. To our happy surprise, we ended day one at an Icelandic hot pool to relax our muscles and celebrate the first day being behind us!
MW: What were the highs and lows from the five days?
BR: If I had to name a low, it would have been day three. I was so tired. The water was almost like a thick mud, the winds shifted out of our favor, and it was nearing midnight. The group had split up. We were all quite far from each other and had been paddling around six hours, and none of us knew how soon we would be meeting the finish line. My arms and legs were dead—my whole body was dead. I didn’t know how much further I could go. But alas, we made it to the finish shortly after midnight.
PM: One night in the glaciers, I experienced a low and also a high at the same time. It was late, maybe around 9 or 10 p.m. when we started our paddle. We were heading out to paddle among the glaciers. On the one hand, I was pretty scared a glacier was going to chip off, knock me off, and send my board into another glacier while throwing me into the ice-cold water. But on the other hand, I was surrounded by one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. We were on a lagoon of giant glaciers with baby sea lions swimming around. I think I went from crying to smiling at least 10 times. It was terrifying and also one of the most beautiful, challenging, and invigorating experiences I’ve ever had.