Interview with Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith is one of the top 10 Finalists in our “Most Influential Girl Kitesurfer 2011” competition!
We caught up with Michelle recently, and this is what she had to say…
Michelle, tell us a little bit about yourself or your story.
My name is Michelle Smith and I am a 19 year old kitesurfer. At the moment, I am a small town girl but I love traveling. I love the ocean, road trips and staying fit and healthy – both physically and spiritually. When I was 5 years old I had a heart operation but that didn’t stop me from being a provincial gymnast for 7 years and then starting kitesurfing a few years later.
A typical day for me would start off by going to teach Pilates at my studio and then heading off to the beach for a kite session if the wind is up. I also teach gymnastics and kitesurfing and I like to meet up with friends and spend time with my family.
Where are you from?
Where do live and kitesurf now and what brought you there?A tiny town called Alexandria in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, and I kitesurf in the even tinier nearby beach village called Cannon Rocks. Hmm… fate brought me here!
How often do you kite?
As often as possible…! It’s up to the wind – sometimes every day, sometimes only once a week.
Favourite kitesurfing spots?
Cannon Rocks and Kite Beach, Cape Town.
Do you have any sponsors? Who are they?
Ozone kites International, Island Tribe sun protection, Squadron Kiteboarding, Dean Geraughty directional boards, Airtool kiteboards.
Apart from kiting, what are your other Interests?
Teaching Pilates and gymnastics, spending time on the beach, painting, writing, Latin dancing, mellow indie music, friends and family, sushi, tea, Messianic Judaism, Malaria prevention, travelling, the sea.
How did you learn to kitesurf, who taught you and when did you start?
I wanted to do kitesurfing for a long time before I actually started. I started almost three years ago. After a failed lesson and a broken kite, I met Cedric Vandenschrik on the beach and he helped me out – teaching me on the same kites that I ended up being sponsored by shortly after and on the beach that is now my home spot. There have been numerous others that have greatly impacted my learning process and I thank you all for that!
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your kite career and how did you overcome it?
There are things like kitesurfing on Lake Malawi with Hippos around, getting back into the water straight after an accident or injury, or overcoming the stereotype that girls can’t kite like boys. The biggest challenge though, was starting kitesurfing. I wanted to do it for a very long time before I actually started to learn, and I spent many frustrated months with no means of doing it. It is also a very big challenge for me to be a kitesurfer in the area that I am in. The conditions are great but I am one of the few locals so there aren’t as many people to learn from as there are in the big cities. I overcame these challenges through perseverance and a never-give-up-nothing-is-impossible attitude! I now feel so blessed to be kitesurfing and I love my home spot!
What is your proudest achievement?
Becoming the Waveriding champion on the South African Kiteboarding Tour. In one of the comps I won despite riding just two waves in my heat in unfavourable conditions and that was also a great achievement for me. My first kiteloop was also a proud moment for me.
What is your preferred riding style?
I think Waveriding will always be on the top of the list but I also enjoy freestyle and course racing.
What would you like to learn?
I would like to learn more handle passes, to ride bigger waves – explore strapless riding a bit more, and PATIENCE when it comes to learning new tricks.
Who influenced you to start kitesurfing? Is there anyone you really look up to?
When I first wanted to start, I actually didn’t know of any other kitesurfers. Besides my dad suggesting that we try kitesurfing, I suppose it is the sport itself which inspired me to start. I really look up to my dad who has always been there throughout my kitesurf learning. He is my managing, motivating, photographing kite buddy! I also look up to all the girl kitesurfers out there – I know that you have all gone through tiresome body-dragging, kite-crashing, flying-through-the-air-out-of-control and sandy hair in order to get to where you are now – you are an inspiration!
Describe a time you inspired someone to start kitesurfing?
Often when I tell people that I kitesurf, they are inspired to start themselves, as a lot of people do not realise that even petite girls can kitesurf. They then feel that they can do it too.
My most memorable moment in regards to the question is when Tristan came along. He was at the beach for the holiday and this tiny timid boy of only 7 years old wanted to kitesurf. He seemed very shy and wouldn’t speak, but as soon as I gave him a trainer kite to fly, he immediately started to gain confidence as his determination shone through and surprised us all! I told him to keep trying and relayed to him that he would someday be a great kitesurfer. He continued to shine as he kept coming to the beach during the holidays for lessons. He is now 9 years old and though he is still tiny, he has recently done his first body dragging session. With just a few words of encouragement, I have seen him go from silent self-consciousness to sparkling spontaneity! I am so proud of you Tristan!
Video: Michelle Smith Kiting Cannon Rocks
Kitesurfing in such a small area also allows me to encourage more girls to start (as I am the local girl that has been kitesurfing for the longest). When they come down to the beach during the holidays they are inspired to start as they see that there is another girl already doing it and telling them that they can do it too.
How has kitesurfing changed your life?
Wow. My life would not be the same without kitesurfing! Firstly, I left boarding school to do home-schooling for the last two years of school so that I could kitesurf more. I am now studying online so that I can travel around for kitesurfing. I have met amazing people and travelled so much more because of this phenomenal sport. I have definitely grown in so many ways – I have learnt so much about marketing myself, my sponsors and my sport; I have become more free, independent, confident and happier and I have become stronger as a person (I will never forget the time I overheard a guy talking about me saying, “she kites like a man!”). I have learnt the importance of girl power!
Besides kitesurfing, what are you most passionate about?
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not into being a Bible-bashing religious freak, I just like to encourage and inspire a personal relationship with your creator. It brings me so much joy and peace and I want to share this with others. And I thank Him for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful sport.
What are you doing for Kitesurfing in your community or globally?
As mentioned before, I teach kitesurfing – I love to inspire others to start and then see them getting the same satisfaction from it that I do. I not only teach kitesurfing, but I also use this as a tool to encourage a pure and healthy lifestyle. I am also a member of our local beach club which strives to keep the beaches clean and kitesurf-friendly. I aim to promote my sponsors and my sport as much as possible – I have a Facebook page – Michelle Smith Kiteboarding, which I use as a platform to do so. I also like to connect with kitesurfers from all over the world.
How do you think winning the 2011 Most Influential Girl Kitesurfer will shape your life and the positive work you are doing now?
Winning MIGK11 would mean so much to me! I feel that I would be getting recognition not only for what I have done, but for what I dream of doing. I would definitely be experiencing a whole lot of girl power! I would feel as though I am a representative for kitesurfing girls worldwide! If I were to win this competition, I would use it as a platform for teaching and inspiring more people and encouraging more girls to start!
What do you think the future holds for kiteboarding / Kitesurfing and what can we do to improve our sport?
I think Kiteboarding will become more accessible to a whole lot of different people – young and old, male and female – as it has already started to go into that direction. It will become more well-known (people won’t ask me how my windsurfing or kitediving is going…)
To improve our sport, I think we should each start at our home spot. We can promote peaceful and safe Kiteboarding by communicating with the local fisherman and swimmers, etc. Get your kiting community together and discuss what you can do to promote safety at your home spot.
What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
Improve my overall kitesurfing; compete in a lot more competitions! Work on my course racing training for a future Olympics. Influence more people, especially girls into joining the sport.Besides Kiteboarding, I will have wanted to complete my bachelor’s degree in Messianic Judaism. I would also have wanted to open another Pilates studio possibly in Cape Town. It is also a dream of mine to travel overseas.
I am hoping to do more for Malaria awareness and prevention as I am a Malaria survivor and I have come into contact with a lot of children suffering from Malaria in Mozambique and Malawi. It was the most terrible thing I have been through and I want to prevent others from suffering from it too. I really would like to do my bit to help! Other than that, what more can I hope to achieve than to get closer to God and be the person that I can be?
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