Interview with Sandrine Roussos Werner
Sandrine Roussos Werner is one of the top 10 Finalists in our “Most Influential Girl Kitesurfer 2011” competition!
We caught up with Sandrine recently, and this is what she had to say…
Sandrine, tell us a little bit about yourself or your story.
Where to start? I’ve always had an adventurous spirit. I have travelled all my life, and everywhere I go, I like to try new things. I got to know lots of different sports before falling in love with kitesurfing. There is nothing to compare to the feeling of being out in nature, riding the seas with just a kite … Every session leaves me both exhilarated and relaxed!
I have worked for 10 years in kiting in lots of different roles. I can see now, with hindsight, all my different experiences are what led me to where I am now. I’m hugely proud to be the co-founder of the Global Kiter Foundation. We have set it up as a way for kiters to give back to their communities. Right now, we are running kiting workshops for people with physical disabilities, and it is one of the most humbling and enjoyable experiences of my life. We want to show that kiting is a truly inclusive sport. Anyone can do it! The reaction we have to these workshops is fantastic, and it is amazing to see our small idea evolving in such a positive way.
Where are you from?
Tricky question! My father was a French diplomat, so we travelled a lot when I was growing up. I was born in Africa and spent my childhood in the USA, Turkey, Syria and Greece. I studied in Paris, then moved back to Greece after university. I have a French passport but Greek roots and consider myself a true globe trotter!
Where do live and kitesurf now and what brought you there?
Right now, I live in Athens, Greece. My husband and I lived in Cabarete for many years. After our son was born, we decided to live closer to our families. Greece is a beautiful area for kiting – the winds and weather are spectacular. Everyone should experience a Greek summer at least once a year!
How often do you kite?
I get out as much as I can, but my priority at the moment is getting the Foundation well-established, and getting as many projects underway as possible. Our 27-month-old son also keeps me very busy but is already becoming a little kiter, so it won’t be long before we are all out on the water at the same time!
Favourite kitesurfing spots?
I love flat water or big(ish) waves … I’m not a fan of choppy waters. I’m even less of a fan of thick wetsuits, so I tend to gravitate to warm waters! I don’t have a definite favorite, but the two that stand out the most for great sessions are Paros Island (Greece) and Las Terrenas (Dominican Republic).
Do you have any sponsors? Who are they?
My good friend and GKF Ambassador Dimitri Maramenides gave me an Epic kite, but I am not a sponsored rider for his brand. I have been kiting for more than 10 years, but since I’ve never felt drawn to big competitions, I don’t have sponsors.
Apart from kiting, what are your other Interests?
My main interests are: my little family, my work, spinning (I really love writing spinning classes; it’s wonderful to work with music!), reading, fashion and good TV series!
How did you learn to kitesurf, who taught you and when did you start?
Oh boy … Not sure I want to remember that one! It was in 2001 … I made a couple of mistakes: I let my brother and my boyfriend at the time teach me! It took months; every session would end up in tears (but thankfully no injuries), and it is only when I said enough is enough and got my own gear and the help of another friend that I started really enjoying it!
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your kite career and how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge has been to stay true to myself no matter what is happening around me. I went through a particularly nasty time with some former colleagues in the kiting industry. I was very tempted to walk away from it all, but that would have meant giving up on my vision of the work that I could get done. At these times, you need your closest of friends and a family that believes in you to help you focus on the bigger picture. My insight after this ordeal has helped shape me into a stronger person. Don’t get lost on the insignificant battles – no matter how big they seem at the time!
What is your proudest achievement?Without a doubt it is The Global Kiter Foundation. There are lots of times when you worry about your career or things happening in your life. But that melts away at GKF events. Bringing an amazing sport to people who thought they could never do it is a truly amazing experience. It is humbling and life-changing. I’m superexcited to see that our participants are catching the kiting passion. The reaction we have had is fantastic, and I feel so proud of the work we are doing and the changes we are bringing to peoples’ lives. I can’t wait for our next developments!
What is your preferred riding style?
I take it easy. I am not an extreme kiter, throwing big jumps! I love riding in strong wind on my 6m kite. I like to ride, surf the waves, do a few jumps. What is most important for me when I get out on the water is to enjoy my time kiting. The only objective I set before any session is “enjoy my ride.”
What would you like to learn?
How to slow down time so I actually have enough to do everything I want to each day. Outside of that, life is one huge learning curve, and I enjoy growing and learning from each situation I encounter along the way.
Who influenced you to start kitesurfing? Is there anyone you really look up to?
I started kiting right when the sport started becoming popular. I didn’t look up to anyone in particular. I just wanted to learn and participate in the sport.
Describe a time you inspired someone to start kitesurfing?
Our Foundation is all about inspiring people to kite. We run workshops that teach people with physical disabilities to practice kiting, first on two-line kites to build up basic flying skills and wind awareness, and they progress onto larger four-line kites to learn more advanced skills. When they are ready for the next step, there are specially adapted boards and buggies to let them experience the full sensation and freedom that our sport has to offer.
So, to be more specific, we ran our latest workshop in Athens on 8th October where 11 participants with a physical disability learned to kite with the support of 35 volunteers who were also involved in our big beach clean-up. The volunteers also had a chance to learn to fly trainer kites, and some were very keen to progress and learn more! We were also joined by officials from the Ministry of Health who wanted to learn more about how kiting can used as a tool to help improve the quality of life of people with a disability. What we do reaches far beyond the kiting community; it involves everyone. In my opinion, this is truly the way to get more people hooked on kiting!
In my previous work in the kiting industry, I created an all-girl office, the only one in a male-dominated industry. I did this not because I’m a “feminist” but because I wanted to make it more normal for girls to be involved in kiting at every level.
I believe that actions such as these help open up the sport to a huge range of people who until then might have been put off by the adrenalin-seeking, young-male image that it represented for so long.
How has kitesurfing changed your life?
It has totally changed my life! Before I decided to become committed to kiting, I was working as a P.R. specialist in a Greek internet company. But in 2000, just as kiting was becoming more popular, I decided it was closer to the lifestyle I wanted to have and worth getting more involved in. So I founded the first Greek kite association (GWA). Within a few months, we were all over the press and had amazing sponsors who helped us spread the word of kiting around Greece.
One thing led to another, and I got another job in an international company in the kiting industry, where I worked in various roles for the next seven years. After some serious strategic disagreements with the co-founders, I decided to walk away. It was one of the best decisions I ever made!
The Global Kiter Foundation was born out of a shared desire to see kiting grow in a positive direction, and now we see kitesurfing changing the lives of others!
Besides kitesurfing, what are you most passionate about?
I’m passionate about people. I believe most people are capable of doing wonderful and inspiring things if they are given the chance. I think this is often fast forgotten in our quest to get rich or famous, and it’s a shame. We each have an opportunity to make a difference – do something small that can affect a community for generations to come. This is what counts when you look back on your journey.
What are you doing for Kitesurfing in your community or globally?
Global Kiter Foundation works at both a local and an international level. We have developed our programs in Greece, and we are now getting ready to run these workshops in many countries. Our first few include Italy, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, the USA, South Africa and Japan!
We give the opportunity to people who never thought they had the chance to get into kiting to discover the sport; we help communities become aware of the importance of protecting our environment; and we help create work in underdeveloped communities through our training programs.
How do you think winning the 2011 Most Influential Girl Kitesurfer will shape your life and the positive work you are doing now?
It is a great honour to be nominated in the same group as some of the other girl kiters out there. I think the competition will raise awareness of women in the sport and open up new avenues for development. Because MIGK11 is voted for by the public, it means having a chance to get our messages out there to more people and giving everyone a chance to be involved in the winds of change!
What do you think the future holds for kiteboarding / Kitesurfing and what can we do to improve our sport?Kiteboarding is developing fast, and it will continue to grow. Each year, we see lots more people getting involved, improved equipment and safer practices. It might even become an Olympic discipline! But we need to make sure there are less “stupid” accidents. People need to understand that kiting is like jumping off an airplane. You don’t do it unless you get proper instruction or use the proper equipment. The kiting community needs to feel more responsible: like being more aware of the consequences of selling a kite to a beginner or understanding the effects that irresponsible riding has on local government and the general public’s perception of the sport.
Kiting can have an important future in communities all around the world, but we need to understand the responsibility we have as sportsmen and women to our environment – to those we share it with and to the natural environment on which our sport and lifestyle so depends.
What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
There is a lot of work that I want to do through the Foundation. We are only at the beginning! We will soon be introducing programs for training youths in poor communities to become beach safety assistants, which gives them the skills that will enable them to earn a living, and we are creating programs to introduce kiting skills to vulnerable children. It gives an outlet of creativity and expression in a safe and nurturing environment. We will go where the wind takes us. So come and join us!
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