Costas Symeonides: 'When your body is about to quit, you still have your mind left...'

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Just 1 year after his trip from Crete to Limassol on an SUP board, Costas Symeonides is still spending most of the hours of the day with his eyes turned towards the blue sea. "There is no other way. I am drowning, asphyxiated without light and the sea. I was on a trip with friends to London for 6 days once and I just left before the half was over", he says.

We found him at the place he calls second (and, sometimes, even first) home. At the eastern coast of Limassol, on the beach known as “Santa Barbara”, this SUP rower, athlete and a coach to great athletes in Cyprus, such as Pavlos Kontides, sits down daily and thinks of new challenges to overcome.

He has been in the sea since he was 8, after a first encounter with water sports at the Kyrenia Nautical Club, he has been a coach for the Sailing Center afterwards and always an active friend of sports. "I have never been to the field to watch a game", he says, even if he has been engaged in track events, gymnastics, football and basketball. It seems as if the role of a viewer was not cut for him.

An accidental acquaintance with sailing resulted for him to stick with it. As a student at the Physical Education Academy in Thessaloniki, with daily training at Peraia, he was still nostalgic of the sea in Limassol, anytime he was away. "In Limassol we have the best conditions to be able to enjoy the sea 365 days per year. The temperature is high enough and the water is suitable for all sports, from sailing to rowing and SUP", he explains, justifying his preference. 

He does travel often, though. He is off to a new SUP destination every winter. Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Bali. He did travel a lot as a coach, too. Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Korea, China, Thailand, all of the European shores. "You may find better beaches, but I believe that Limassol has nothing to envy from these, in what concerns water sports. On the contrary, other places sure have something to envy Limassol for", he claims, stressing that summer is a good season for those who want to get a first taste of SUP, while winter is more satisfying for those more experienced and demanding.

How were things for you after your studies?
Since 2001 and until 2008, after the the Olympic Games in China, I was a Federal Coach. For the next 4 years, I was a coach for high standing athletes, until the London Olympic Games in 2012. After these 11 years as a coach, I started dealing the SUP.

During my trip from Castelorizo, I lost almost 6 kilos. During my trip from Crete I lost 7 kilos and 2 nails... I was about to go crazy.

How did SUP came up?
It just happened in 2010, after a friend from Greece suggested it. Very few people were dealing with this in Cyprus back then. Now, we are quite many and people are coming from other cities in Cyprus, or even from abroad, to do SUP in Limassol.  

Is it hard?
No, you can learn how to stand on the board from the very first day. A 60 year old man came the other day and he was standing on day 1. The oldest athlete here is Mr Avramis, aged 73 — 74, who is coming everyday from Lofou. This activity is ageless.

Even for kids?
In fact, kids have it better. Some kids do great from a very young age, actually.

What does the SUP offer;
It is both an exercise and a way to relax. It is very relaxing to me, actually. Everyday I spend 1 – 1,5 on the board. I keep a lot of things inside and I need this time to think clearly. Setting up this Academy here, where water sports were never very popular, kind of makes me feel as if I am in my own place.

What is your relationship with the kids you coach here?
I like coaching. I want to pass on this relationship with the sea, to inspire some high goals to them. There are some talents that will do nothing, if they do not work hard, there are talents that are on the top and there are those with no particular talent, who work hard enough to surpass the talented ones who do not work. This applies in every sector. If you do not work hard, you will always be mediocre.

When did you go off to your first long trip on the board? 
The first long trip was back in 2013 with Nicos Karaolis, from Paphos to Limassol. Of course, now, after the rest trips, you cannot consider this a long one. I was looking for motivation to keep going further. When I was a coach, I was motivated by the goals of my athletes. After that, I started coaching myself.

There are people who go after their dreams. After my trip to Paphos, I would not imagine a trip to Castelorizo, much less to Crete. It was my mother who suggested the trip to Castelorizo as my next goal, after the trip from Paphos. It is the first Greek island west to Cyprus. After that, I decided to double the distance and I chose Crete. 

There are some talents that will do nothing, if they do not work hard… and there are those with no particular talent, who work hard enough to surpass the talented ones...

What was difficult about it?
The hardest part was the training. Of course, even if I had a lot of it before going off to Castelorizo, I did have several problems afterwards, because I was not aware of some things and I could not be prepared. My legs were swollen from standing for too long and I could not walk. So, at the trip from Crete, I made sure to have special socks for proper circulation on my limbs.

During my trip from Castelorizo, I lost almost 6 kilos. During my trip from Crete I lost 7 kilos and 2 nails. The second one was quite stressful on a psychological level, too. That was the first time I looked so many times down to my watch, to check the kilometers left to the finish line. On the sixth and seventh day from Crete I was about to go crazy. On both trips, at the second day my body was in shock, I was throwing up and I could not eat. When your body is about to quit, you still have your mind to hold on to. The support group of collaborators was a huge factor to keep me going.

Why didn't you quit?
I never thought of doing so. I did not leave a choice to myself. If you start thinking of alternatives, you will never get through with the journey, the goal you have set. I would only leave the trip half, if they had to carry me off the board. I did a lot of training, I had a goal and I had to get to the end of it. The training before Crete was particularly rough. I did 4 — 6 hours of cycling in the morning. Then I would go to work, I did 2 — 4 hours of training in the water and I would repeat that every other day for 9 months. I have no regrets for that.

You still want to go on a longer trip.
Yes, I want to give it all in for something even greater. I am processing some options, because I still feel strong enough for that.

You are really well in order. Don't you have any weak moments?
Healthy eating and exercise is a way of life for me. It has always been. But, yes, sometimes I may lose control with chocolate, go overboard somehow, because I like it a lot. Of course, I would still burn the calories afterwards.

You are not the typical Cypriot guy, to lay back and eat a load.
I think that Cypriots are on a turning point. Personally I did stand by people who were inspired to start cycling or exercising in general. Some people just need a person to push them a bit, when they are about to quit. I am happy to see people keep going on. There are still more foreigners than there are Cypriots on a steady date with sports everyday on the beach, but the Cypriots sure are more than they used to.

Who care more about the beach, Cypriots or foreigners?
This is not related to origin, but to the family. The mistakes are first established in the household. It is a matter of respect towards the city and the people, to care about a place. This place feels like home to me. If someone leaves some garbage here, they do not respect my home. In this case I feel like I should put it away.

What does it bother you to people?
I despise ungratefulness. It is a good reason to write someone off. I cannot accept that after you had been helped by me, you turn your back. I have helped people many times, because I felt that this was the right thing to do, but it was not appreciated. The state itself, before anyone, did not appreciate it. The state should be supporting athletes that do stand out, but it does not.

What do you enjoy in Limassol?
The seafront and a walk with my son. I ride the
 long board, he rides the scouter, we reach to the Old Port, we get some ice cream and we come back.

I love the walks by the sea, either very early in the morning, at 5 – 6 am, or late in the evening at 7:30 pm. The sea is at its best these hours. My favorite trip, though, is on a moonlit night. I enjoy the trip on the board, to Limassol Marina and back.

I keep a lot of things inside and I need this time to think clearly.

There is also a spot, a rock at the sunk port of ancient Amathus, where plenty of sea turtles are found. It is a unique sight. Some have even seen dolphins. 

I also like long rides on a mountain bike. A route I love is north, to Parekklisia, at the view point of Kyparissia, from where one can gaze to the Yermasoyia Dam ant the entire Limassol. There are some routes that, apart from wearing me off during my training, were a pure pleasure, too.

Favorite places in Limassol?
I like to meet with friends and I like good food. I enjoy a visit to Puesta Oyster, for example. I am not a party animal, though. I never was. I am not after the events or Saturday nights out. I do not really drink and I have never smoked in my life. It is much more important to me to go see a friend. Of course, some beautiful ladies in a place are always a plus.

Costas learned how to love the city through its sea. The sea became a way of life for him. He may stay on the beach for 12 hours straight, or even more. "I do feel tired, but I enjoy my job", he explains. Thus, the more people he has to coach, the better his day is, even if it starts at 6 am and ends late at night.

This is why he stresses over the sea pollution. "These past 2 years, it has not been as clean. Winds from the west usually carry some dirt in the area", he points out, feeling uneasy. He feels for the sea and his relationship with it, is what marks his identity as a Limassolian. Because the only way to make longer and harder trips, is to keep its light and color in mind…

Costas Symeonides teaches SUP at the Eastern Limassol, running the Windsurfers on Tour Academy.
Contact number: 99 436 343

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