More to the Story: Ashton Pienaar

By Taylor Harrington 2/14/2021 12:13pm ET

“Often as humans, when we get to the root cause of our anger it’s from some sort of trauma that we don’t want to revisit. That’s when we sweep it under the carpet, and we just carry on going through life affecting everybody else with our own emotional baggage.”

We first met Ashton Pienaar on Bravo TV Network’s hit show Below Deck, and while some viewers did not love the person they saw on their screens, there is always more to the story.

In an exclusive interview with Confessional Magazine, Ashton shares the intense changes he has gone through in the last year, and how he is learning to honor his true self; mind and body.

Since his season on Below Deck wrapped, Ashton has been on a journey of sobriety and has also started a coaching business where he truly tailors meal plans, mental health, and workout routines to the person he is training. 

We are so happy for all of Ashton’s growth and wish him nothing but continued success in all of his endeavors.

It’s been almost a year since we first spoke. What have you been up to, Ashton?

It’s been a massive year in my life. It’s been a really, really productive year, but it’s been a year of deep introspection, of just building myself back up. I think it’s been a lot of shedding off things that I wasn’t really happy with in my life, and just moving ahead with the things that I’m passionate about. I’ve found a lot of direction this year, which is really, really good. Going into the yachting industry was very transitional for me. I wasn’t sure of exactly what I wanted to do in life and where I needed to be, I just knew that I wanted to explore more and yachting obviously allowed me to do that. I feel like I look back now and everything just makes sense, you know? How everything seems to fall in place. Every experience over the last three or four years has just added to where I am today. It’s been really, really cool.


I’m at such a good place in my life. I’m clear-minded, I’m focused and driven, and I just feel really comfortable with where I am because I feel like this is where I should be, that this is what I should be doing. In the last year I started my coaching business and along my personal development journey I would always learn something and I’d be like, Ah, you know, why don’t people know this, I need to share this with someone, this is cool stuff. I would always get kind of frustrated and I didn’t feel like my learning was complete until I shared that with somebody else. This coaching business has allowed me to do that which is a massive part of why I chose health and fitness was just because of the huge impact it’s had on my own life. Growing up I’ve always been a sportsman. Sports got me through school. I think it really taught me certain characteristics that I’ve just applied to every other part of my life. The discipline, the character, the teamwork, all those really good things that make a good team player. In any and every part of my life, where I’ve kind of felt like I’ve fallen off the bandwagon or drifted astray from what I should be doing or what I should be focusing on, it’s always been when my health and fitness was also at a low point. Whenever I felt like I needed to bring myself back, I needed to refocus or just get better direction, I would start eating better and I’d start training again, and everything just kind of started falling into place around that.

I think going through the hiccups that I did last year with the TV show and watching my behavior, it was at times when I was again off the track; I wasn’t training, I wasn’t eating right, I was drinking too much. The minute I started focusing on my eating and training again, the less I wanted to drink, the less I wanted to go out and party, and the more in touch with myself I became, instead of damaging my body through the things that I was doing, I was more focused on how I can fuel my body in order to fuel my career and fuel everything else that I had going on in my life. I think that’s why it has been so easy for me to give up drinking- because I just realized how counterproductive it was to my life and giving it up has been the best thing for me. People reach out to me and they say, “Ashton, how did you just stop drinking?”, and people congratulate you like, “I’d never been able to do this”, but honestly, it’s been the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do. Maybe I crave having a beer on a hot day, maybe once or twice over the last year, or a glass of red wine with dinner, but I haven’t had that feeling of wanting to go party and get trashed and just forget because I haven’t wanted to be in an altered state of mind. I think along this journey I’ve just become more in touch with who I am and who I want to be and because that’s clear, and because I’ve also been dealing with my own demons in my own life, when when you start facing things, and you start processing feelings and thoughts, you don’t want to escape so much anymore.

That was a big thing for me, I was binge drinking and partying and stuff because I had no direction and I was just going along with life and looking for the next kind of high, and it was all false. You get smashed, and you’re having a party, and that’s all “in the moment”. That doesn’t add any value to your life. Really, what really adds value to your life is understanding who you are. That also requires you to go deep into your upbringing and bringing up those demons that we’re so good at sweeping under the carpet.

I think it’s been a really tough journey because it’s not easy to do those things, but it’s been the best thing for me because I’m comfortable with who I am now. I’m comfortable with what I’ve gone through, and I feel like I’m building myself on the right foundation. Going back to the coaching, having learned all of this, I want to teach people what I’ve learned. I want to give people that new lease on life and I want to help people get their confidence back in who they are.

Tell me about your business, AP Elite. How do people get connected? Do they just reach out to you? 

The easiest way is to reach out to me on social media; my Instagram account and on my Facebook page. How the onboarding process begins is I get to know you a little bit and what your goals are and the things that you are struggling with. What differentiates my approach to coaching from all the other fitness programs out there is it’s really, really custom and tailored to each individual. This is not an off the shelf, copy and paste diet. The initial stage is us having a chat and getting to know each other and once we feel like we are aligned, then we jump onto a call and we go a little bit deeper to understand what is motivating you and what is driving you. This call is really for me to get to know the “why” behind your motivation, you know? What’s driving you?, so that when I put your plan together and when I’m coaching you I ultimately know how to hold you accountable in the most effective manner.

In the onboarding process, as well, I find out what foods you enjoy eating and what you don’t like to eat, because that’s a massive part of sustainability is that I don’t ever want to put any of my clients onto a diet or food that they don’t eat. Food is such a massive part of our lives. We celebrate through food, we meet through food, we create memories around food, and there’s this crazy thought out there that in order to get into shape you need to go on these very restrictive boring ways of eating. A big part of this program is that I teach you that you can still celebrate with food and you can still enjoy yourself and still achieve your goals. That’s the meal plan side of things which also changes periodically. Every three to four weeks the meal plan we give you is going to change because as your body changes we need to adapt the calorie adjustments to make sure you’re always moving towards your goals because I never want people to be hitting walls or plateaus.

I really believe in educating people and giving you tools to be able to do this on your own, so that you’re empowered to live your life and have control over your own food. The workout side of things is also very, very custom. We do movement assessments when our clients sign up so that we don’t just give you any old movements or exercises to do. We focus on realigning your body first through stretching out your overactive muscles and strengthening your underactive muscles so that we create the strongest foundations in your body. It’s a very holistic approach. There’s also a massive emphasis on mindset coaching that ties in with what we just said. Healthy mind, healthy body, nobody can deny it. It’s just pretty much the perfect recipe to help anybody that needs that push or that guidance. We take all the guesswork out. 

 So Ashton, would you help anybody or does it have to be somebody that’s already a little bit familiar with different exercises or has dieted in their past? Would you work with a beginner?

Ashton Pienaar

Absolutely anybody. Whatever your experience is, or if you don’t have any experience, whatever it is, anybody can sign up with us. That’s the nice thing, the whole program is so customizable, it’s fluid, we shape it. Not one of my current clients has the same meal plan because everything is designed from scratch. My youngest client is 13 years old, and my oldest client that I’ve just signed up is 75 years old.

What has your mental health journey been like when it comes to digging deep? Have you had to reach out to anybody from your past? I’ve found that when it’s time for me to make a big change, I will reach out to people that maybe were part of a negative part of my past, and whether I was the one that did something to them, or they did something hurtful to me, I’ve found that sometimes you can’t move forward if there’s still sludge underneath where you are. Did you have to go through anything like that on your own journey?

Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of my issues had to do with my family and while I was back home in South Africa, I had some really good talks with my dad and my mom. There were some unresolved issues and things that I needed to understand from my upbringing, and having gone through that process, you make sense of things. There were so many things that I didn’t actually understand or that I wasn’t aware of, that I had to be made aware of, to understand a personality trait within myself or where that came from.

We go through life and we have these personality traits, or we’ll get irritated with certain things, or we’ll get offended by people, and we just think, THAT person offended ME. THEY irritated ME. If you reverse engineer that, it’s like YOU got upset about it, but WHY did you get upset about it? If you keep asking yourself why, it’s going to trace back to the root cause of that. Often as humans, when we get to the root cause of our anger it’s some sort of trauma that we don’t want to revisit. That’s when we sweep it under the carpet, and we just carry on going through life affecting everybody else with our emotional baggage.

So, for me, yes, there was a lot that I had to deal with. It was stuff that stemmed back from even my first months of childhood, and my first years of childhood. I needed to understand and I had some really hard conversations with my parents and with my family and friends around me, but, that’s part of the hard work that you’ve got to do. Once I had those conversations and dealt with what I needed to deal with, I felt like the world had lifted off of my shoulders.

Just having a deeper understanding of who you are, and where things come from and where the certain feelings come from is, it’s almost like you take power back of your own life, because you really take power back of who you are, instead of being reactive. I would have outbursts of irritation or aggression, and I would just be like, Ashton, you got aggressive again, you’re an idiot, instead of being like, Whoa, why? Why did I react that way? What was it that triggered me?, you know what I mean? That’s what I mean by “taking that power back”, because when you understand something you can process it and you can do the work thereafter, but if you don’t ever get to the point of knowing where it stems from, you’re always going to be fighting a losing battle.

The thing that’s been a massive part of this journey, for me, is my support structure and the people around me. It’s about those accountability partners and people that are wiser than you or have a different perspective and can just share with you and direct you on your journey. Coaches and mentors have played such a massive part in my life. That’s the role that I want to play for other people and support them in a change.

For more information on A.P. Elite, Ashton’s company, you can visit his website at, or reach out to him directly on Instagram at @ashtonpienaar. To watch the full interview, which gives more insight on Ashton’s life and story, Please Watch, Share and Subscribe: