Five places that changed my life: Harriet Brown, Ironwoman


I grew up in Geelong, which is about half an hour's drive from Ocean Grove Beach where I started nippers at age 10. I fell in love with surf life saving because of the physical challenge of training, the unpredictability of the ocean and the friends I made at the surf club. Most of my summer holidays were spent figuring out how I could spend as much time as possible at the beach.


When I was 16 I became penfriends with a girl in France who also did surf life saving. One day I boldly invited myself to stay with her in Biarritz for three months to learn French. Our days were spent in the local pool, at her school (no English spoken) and at surf training. The town is so glamorous with beautiful old buildings along the ocean. Travelling to France by myself and staying with an amazing family who didn't speak English was such a challenging yet rewarding experience. I did, however, put on 10 kilograms as I couldn't resist those French pastries.


After I graduated from university I craved more worldly experience so I visited Sri Lanka, stayed with a local family and volunteered at an orphanage. My eyes were opened to new customs and culture. Each morning I had the entire beach to myself, so I would swim. The neighbours complained when I wore my bikini so I had to learn to bodysurf in the more culturally appropriate attire of a T-shirt and pants.


Hawaii will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently won my second Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard World Championship. This is a brutal 52-kilometre race between the two islands, crossing the treacherous Ka'iwi channel. For more than five hours it's just me, my board and the ocean. It is the most physically and mentally testing race I have ever competed in and I am really proud to hold the world record time for this event. Hawaii taught me, and continually teaches me, how my capabilities are way beyond what I perceive them to be.


I visited Tahiti last year to compete in a paddle and swim race. Tahiti is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever been to, with crystal clear blue waters, palm trees and white sand. It's no surprise the Tahitian culture is centred around the ocean. Tahiti was so powerfully beautiful that I promised myself I'll never live away from the ocean.

Harriet Brown is the current World Ironwoman Champion and Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard Champion. She is competing in the 2018/19 Nutrigrain IronWoman series. Round two is on November 9 and 10 at Coolum in Queensland. See