Words: Clare Elliott
Pics: Gala liubytska, iDotPhoto, PROtography
Clare Elliott is looking to cement her rep as an all round windsurfing lady. In a short amount of time she’s come a long way. Having been working on her freestyle for the past few seasons wave sailing goals are now in the process of being nailed down. Fearless and always ready to learn Clare’s story should serve as inspiration to both female and male windsurfers alike.
I only started windsurfing in the summer of 2013. I was 19, working in Greece, Vounaki, for a company called Sunsail. It was my first season. Back then I was pretty clueless about the sport, I’d never tried it. I was acting as a beach apprentice and running some of the kid’s activities. I had very few qualifications, the minimum in fact! I never thought I’d be fully qualified to teach all levels of windsurfing and be putting so much of my life into the sport.
I’ve always been active and enjoyed the outdoors, especially the sea. I didn’t find my niche until windsurfing. I mean, I surfed, wake boarded and paddled a lot, but I wasn’t hooked (literally) like I am with windsurfing.
I think the one thing I remember which really drew me to the sport was planing for those first few seconds. It wasn’t for long but I remember getting the biggest adrenaline rush. It was after that a few people praised me on how fast I’d improved. That’s when I really thought: how far can I take this? I love this, what’s the next thing to learn? After that I couldn’t think of anything else.
Soon after I discovered Vassiliki. This was my first strong wind resort. I tried to get there whenever I could on my days off with friends. There was always a story to be told and laughs to be laughed. Windsurfing just got better and more exciting. The feeling of complete fatigue and achy, blistery hands – such a good ache – is something I love! So I guess Vassiliki is where I really learnt to windsurf properly. I have now worked in Lefkada for three years. It’s a really cool place to be.
At this very moment in time my home spot is in Exmouth, Devon. I usually spend up to two months here seeing my family and earning a bit of dollar for winter travels. However, when I get the time, I windsurf either on the seafront or the in the Exe Estuary, also known as the Duckpond. Exmouth is a kitesurfing and windsurfing playground. It provides flat to choppy water and in most cases it’s shallow so is a superb place for freestyle. I’ve had some great sessions here, it’s just a bit nippy in the winter.
Windsurfing wasn’t on my family’s radar when I was younger. Unlike a lot of families these days, we never went on package holidays. Windsurfing never really occurred to us. We tended to go and visit my family in South Africa or backpack and horse ride. I wish there was earlier windsurfing history for me, I wish I’d learnt sooner. Nevertheless you can never be too old to start learning freestyle which is why I got into it very soon after I’d learnt to carve gybe.
Freestyle seemed like a natural progression for me having windsurfed consistently nearly all year round in Dahab and Vassiliki where freestyle is very popular. There are always a handful of other sailors sliding and spinning around the place. I just thought it looked a lot more fun than simply blasting up and down. Freestyle appeals to me because it’s exciting and a challenge. There is always something new to learn and to talk about amongst other freestylers. Every move is like a new project.
There could be many reasons why girls aren’t especially into freestyle. Firstly, if you learn from a young age in the UK you tend to join Team 15. This is very much orientated around junior racing, automatically a path away from freestyle. From my experience I never had this opportunity so when I learnt to windsurf it was to express myself. When you are growing up as a girl you tend to look at things a bit differently. Maybe you don’t want to get into a cold damp wetsuit and go sailing in the rain. As a teenager you go through loads of changes and maybe windsurfing isn’t too appealing. Come on let’s be honest, freestyle windsurfing isn’t exactly one of the easiest sports and girls may feel like they have to be hardcore to do it. You don’t at all.
I think we need to encourage females and let them know that there is equality in windsurfing. Even though the ratio from men to women is a lot higher it doesn’t mean women benefit less by doing it. For example, at Club Vass, we have up to 25 instructors, half of which are female, including a few advanced instructors. We can get more women involved by making the sport appealing. Club Vass run two Diva weeks in June and September. This is tuition for all levels, run by all female instructors. It’s a chance to really come together as ladies and show off some girl power, drink cocktails and have a laugh on the water together. In the future I’d like to be running my own coaching clinics for women in the UK. There is a small group of us forming now and some of the girls have set up a group on Faceboook and Instagram called @Crossshoreofficial, where girl windsurfers come together, collaborate, share photos and stories and blogs.
I haven’t raced or wave sailed much. That’s not because I haven’t wanted to but purely because of a pattern I sort of fell into of working every summer in Greece and spending all winter in Dahab – both flat water spots. I am so excited about wave sailing though. As for racing, I haven’t even taken a moment to think about it! I really, really enjoy sailing big kit and always get involved with the light hearted slalom races we run in summer. It’s something I’m definitely interested in and feel id be alright at. I’ve still got loads of exploring to do with all disciplines! I want to have some sort of competence at all, although at the moment freestyle appeals to me the most.
Thanks to Club Vass my current kit is a 2016 Starboard Flare 93ltr accompanied by a quiver of Servene Freeks. I’m really happy with my kit at the moment. I could go smaller with the board but I find the 93 helps me in lighter wind and is best for what I’m learning. I wouldn’t say I have had to adapt my kit being a girl. I usually sail the same kit as the boys. I like the feeling of being overpowered and sail a lot better when I am.
Windsurfing technology just gets better each year. Boards and sails are becoming more high performance and the kit that goes with that is being kept up to date, keeping the sport ‘in fashion’ if you like. Feeling comfortable and looking good on the water is really important too (I’m sure you guys agree also!). Women’s wetsuits and accessories are becoming more colourful and sexier, this reflects how we look and feel on the water. That can be quite important to women.
The general state of UK windsurfing is good I think. It’s in the Olympics and windsurfing is generally seen loads in the UK whether that’s wave sailing on the coast, racing, freestyle or freeride in land. Team 15 clubs are dotted all across the UK that provide fantastic opportunities for kids, which is so important because they’re future of the sport. I feel my job as a windsurfer is to not only participate but also promote it to others.
For becoming pro, I think it’s all down to time and practice on the water. If you put the time and energy in you will start improving fast and gaining results. When you feel you are at a good level start to enter comps, go to demo days and events, and generally get your name out there and promote yourself via social media. It’s down to your attitude. Stay positive, happy and believe in yourself.
After Cape Town I am going to try and head out to Dahab for two weeks to see my friends. I will be heading back to Club Vass in early May I imagine. On the competition side of things, hopefully I’ll compete in Fuerte. I really want to and said by 17 I would doing the women’s tour.
Windsurfing gives me the best feeling, whether it’s speed, airtime, landing new moves or riding waves. Windsurfing has allowed me to travel the world to destinations I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to. It has influenced my life greatly, like most other windsurfers I suspect! It can be a very frustrating sport, especially if you are learning, but that keeps you hooked and allows you to set a challenge for yourself. It keeps me fit and all over happy. I’ve met some really inspiring and awesome people.
Thank you Ollie Scott for always looking after me and your generosity over the past year. Thanks to my mum for letting me use her house as a hotel, not to mention all the lifts to and from the airport! My two great bosses in Topsham, Pete and Steve, for letting me come and go so regularly to save money for winter trips, Marcus Kleber from MauiUltrafins, Joe Knapton from Flymount, Adam Sims for sorting my first lot of new kit out and Miles Taylor from PROtography for all the amazing clips and photos. Cheers guys, you rock.