Sometimes getting stung by jellyfish is inevitable. Robin Lang accepted this at some point during a 10-mile Hawaiian swim from Lanai to Maui. After five hours, you get used to the pain.
“It’s also about deciding it’s not going to stop you,” she says.
That may as well be Lang’s motto. At 28, she’s never let anything stand in her way. Her mom says she’s never been afraid to set goals and achieve them. Three times, she has completed the Moloka’i-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships, a 32-mile race considered the top competition in the sport.
Competitors paddle the Ka’iwi Channel, a stretch of water so perilous it’s known as the Channel of Bones. Lang is believed to be the only person from Tidewater to finish the race solo, and one of only about two dozen women (out of more than 250 racers) to compete at all.
On a 12-foot board, she uses her hands as paddles to propel herself through the channel – catching the wind, riding the waves and sometimes navigating storms. The challenge is not just physical but mental.
“Getting through all of that really teaches you what you’re capable of,” she says.
A Virginia Beach native, Lang grew up in the water. But she’s no prodigy. Her achievements come from putting in the time, working hard and believing she can do it. “I’ve learned to persevere,” she says.
Growing up, Lang swam for TIDE Swimming, a year-round team. She played club water polo as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and is pursuing a master’s in global health from Northwestern University. She also teaches at Hot House Yoga in Virginia Beach and works as a representative for Jolyn Clothing, a women’s swimwear brand.
In addition to finishing the paddleboard competition last year, Lang spent more than a month in Tanzania conducting research on nutrition for her master’s. After that, she and several friends climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching the summit just in time to watch the sunrise.
Lang also swam a 12-mile race off the Australian coast – the Rottnest Channel Swim. She earned a scar from a jellyfish sting on her neck, a reminder she’s “invincible,” she says.
This summer Lang hopes to swim from Fisherman Island off the Eastern Shore to Cape Henry in Virginia Beach. She’s thought about swimming the Ka’iwi Channel – the site of the paddleboard championship – someday, too. “I’m not,” she says, “going to rule anything out.”