Riding the Wind: Interview with Annabel Van Westrop
Pro Kiteboarder Annabel Van Westrop is constantly traveling either to train or to compete in either freestyle events or races, and somehow, she was able to take some time to talk to us about her career. Here is what she had to say:
Josh Campbell: I read that you have won everything from freestyle events to long distance races and even a silver medal racing horses. What is your proudest of all of these accomplishments?
Annabel Van Westrop: The day I graduated from high school, I pretty much got my international contract with a big name sponsor. Then it all just started rolling. I decided that I wanted to compete because that is what I love to do and then to become third place within the first year was something that was completely above all of my expectations.
JC: How does someone from Holland get started kiteboarding?
AVW: Well I moved to Aruba when I was 11 and I had always been really into horseback riding and I thought that I was going to be a professional horseback rider. I think I was 13 when my dad started kiting. Then I started windsurfing a bit but I was windsurfing and it wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted to be just like my dad I wanted to be a kiter. So when I was 14 they let me do some lessons and from there, I just got hooked and never stopped.
JC: What was the biggest adjustment moving from Holland to Aruba?
AVW: I think when you’re 11 years old, you adjust quite quickly, but I was very angry at first because I had to leave everything behind. I had to leave my family behind; I had to leave my friends behind; I had to leave my horse behind. So I think I was very angry at the time because all of a sudden, my parents just decided to take me somewhere so far away. But after six months, I decided that I never want to leave this place. I just fell in love with it and I found good friends and I found my passion of horseback riding here. It is just such a special place!
JC: What was it like working with Devin Graham?
AVW: To be honest, I had never heard of him before I met him. I heard that there was a big video going on and I just happened to be here while they were filming, and I just happened to be at the beach the day that they were filming. They were actually filming a good friend of mine and he said “Hey Annabel, so good to see you! Guess what, they need a girl for the video, go talk to them.” So when I go up to him, this guy, Devin, is swimming in the water and already filming. I went up to him and said, “Hey, I’m Annabel, I was told you need a girl.” He was super excited and so we started filming right away. Then afterwards, we were just on the beach talking and he told me to check out his videos and then I realized who he was. It was just such a special opportunity. They just know what they are doing so well even though they don’t know the sport of kiteboarding. They just go into it with so much enthusiasm and so you know before you even see it that it is going to be an amazing video.
JC: How often do you travel to go to competitions?
AVW: I travel a lot. Last year was crazy, it was my first full year and at one point I was gone for five months in a row. And it was not five months staying in one place; it was five months moving somewhere else every other week. We were constantly moving and it was pretty intense and crazy but I learned a lot from that first year and then this year I tried to organize a little bit better and plan in some more time for training because the competition level has gone up a crazy amount this year. So without lots of training, you’re not going to get there. So this year, I’m focusing on leaving some small events and training really hard so I can come back and do really well in the bigger ones. And lucky me, training at home is perfect because it’s always windy and warm. So it’s really nice that I can come home and train at the same time.
JC: Where is the best place that you have found to kiteboard?
AVW: No doubt Brazil. Everyone in the kite world actually goes there and I actually go there about six weeks out of the year. And there is nothing to do except kiteboard. There is a lagoon and since it is closed off from the sea, the water is super flat and consistent. So it is just ideal conditions for kiteboarding. The rate in which you can increase your riding level there is insane. So for six weeks a year, I go there and just train and only focus on kiting. Then you learn so many new tricks in the easiest conditions and then you go to a different place and you have to try and get those tricks in harder conditions.
JC: Who would you say is your biggest inspiration in the world of kiteboarding?
AVW: There are a couple of different people. In the beginning, it was definitely Susi Mai, who is now actually my teammate, all I could ever dream of was standing next to her and doing what she does. And today, I’m her teammate and we stand together in the photo shoots and everything. She doesn’t do the competitions anymore but she does so many other things to promote the brand. There is also Gisela Pulido, who has been world champion nine times and she is only 20 years old, which is crazy. Her level is so incredibly high. She has been a big example for me for a long time. And now she is one of my good friends. There is also a guy names Damien Leroy who is a team rider for the company I ride for, Cabrinha, and he is actually the one who saw something in me in the beginning and pushed Cabrinha and helped me to get onto their team of riders. He’s just a person who loves helping others and if I could ever be someone like him, it would be incredible.
JC: What does a normal day look like for you?
AVW: I think that depends on where I am. When I’m home, I like to make a routine for myself so it’s not too crazy. I try to do yoga every day just to get my muscles loose and flexible which is very important for preventing injuries. I also like to kite once or twice a day but that is very dependent on where I am in the world. I try to eat pretty healthy. I’ve started to do that recently and I’ve already seen a huge difference.
JC: Have you ever had any major injuries kiteboarding?
AVW: Kiteboarding can be dangerous especially on the competitive level. People mostly injure their knees. The ACL is a ligament that tears very easily because of the hard impact. The shoulder is also another danger zone for kiteboarders. Luckily, knock on wood; I haven’t had any major injuries so far. I’ve had a light concussion just from the impact of my head on the water. It definitely took me back a few steps but it helped to remind me that it is dangerous and I have to be careful. Injury is definitely the thing that scares me the most about kiting. So I try to take it pretty seriously.
JC: Thank you for your time. I hope the rest of your season goes well and I hope you can continue to remain injury free.
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