By Steve Waters Sun Sentinel.
South Florida is the ideal place to live for those who love the water, and Victoria Burgess takes advantage of all the opportunities the area offers.
The Pompano Beach resident's first love is surfing, but she's also into free-diving, lobstering, fishing, beach volleyball, standup paddleboarding and paddleboard racing.
She also makes time to introduce her passions to others, including youngsters and Special Olympians.
Burgess has been involved with Surfers for Autism, which helps kids with autism go surfing and raises money for autism charities, since its first event in 2008 in Deerfield Beach.
"It keeps you busy, that's for sure," said Burgess, 30, a former firefighter and now a fire inspector with Pompano Beach Fire Rescue.
Burgess makes the most of her time on the water. Although she's been standup paddleboarding for only a year and a half, she competed in the Florida State Paddleboard Championship two weeks ago in Cocoa Beach for the first time and won the women's 18-49, 12'6" & Under division. She completed the six-mile race in just under an hour, winning by 13 seconds over the favorite.
Last year, fishing in her first tournament, Burgess was the top angler in the Ladies Fish-Off with two kingfish and two tunas weighing a total of 73.6 pounds to win $2,000. Hook Me Up, the boat on which she fished, was second in the team standings.
"She has that competitive drive in her and the determination to be the best at whatever she focuses on," said Roray Kam, an expert paddleboarder who coaches Burgess. "Once she gets it in her mind, she's going to do it. She works hard at it."
Growing up in Lighthouse Point, Burgess spent more time competing on land than on the water. She was a starting pitcher for the United States Junior Olympic softball team and also played soccer, basketball and volleyball.
Burgess started surfing 11 years ago, and she's been heading for the beach ever since.
Her job starts early in the morning, so this time of year she can get in several hours on the water after work.
"Living and working and playing in the same city has its advantages," Burgess said. "I can grab my board and get to the beach by 5." Burgess admitted that she wasn't too keen on trying standup paddleboarding.
"At first I was kind of against it," she said. "I was like, 'I don't know, it's kind of goofy,' but we don't have as many waves as we used to.
"I still love surfing more than anything. I started getting into paddle surfing now."
Being a surfer helped her acclimate quickly to paddleboarding. She also credited Kam for showing her techniques for maneuvering her board in the water.
"He's taught me a lot," she said. "I wouldn't be this good this fast without him."
Burgess works on her paddleboard racing maybe three days a week. She also does some running and some yoga as well as cross training to build her endurance and cardio, which are critical to being a good paddleboard racer. She plans to compete in the world's biggest paddleboard race this fall in California, the Battle of the Paddle.
In her free time, Burgess and Kam coach the Broward County Special Olympics team, which won nine medals at a paddleboard competition in Key West.
"They started standing up on the boards on the third day, in the ocean," said Burgess of her athletes. "They love it."
Kam conducts a summer SUP racing series in South Florida and this year Burgess hopes to have a Special Olympics division in the races. As she noted, standup paddleboards provide all types of options and opportunities.
"There are so many different kinds of boards," said Burgess, who is sponsored by and uses a Coreban paddleboard. "Somebody who doesn't have the greatest balance, you can put them on a bigger board and they can do it.
"You can go out for a cruise, you can go out and snorkel, you can go places you can't get to with a boat," Burgess added. "It's a good workout and you can use it in any sea condition.
"Once people get into it, they get hooked."