You can achieve anything you put your mind to! Way too often it’s nothing physical holding us back from learning, but it’s our mind and what we think is possible or impossible that holds us back.
I’ve read several posts of Maddie in the Women’s Kiteboarding Facebook community and was startled by her enthusiasm and courage to speak her mind – learning kitesurfing with a plus size has been a challenge – sadly not only because of some setbacks regarding her mindset and equipment but hurtful comments and humiliation by the kite schools – and she sure did take that one on and showed everyone how it’s done.
Her interview has so much wit, courage and shows her persistance and it rocked my world – hopefully it will inspire many more women and men out there to go for it and try it – no matter how big or small you are. So let’s dive right into it.
How did you get into kitesurfing? I read your facebook post saying you were a bit terrified getting into it being a big girl, what sparked the final decision and how did you get your courage together?
So I’m on a first date, with a guy who casually drops into conversation that he kitesurfs. Instantly, he’s gone from a 6/10 to an 8/10. Oh this is a guys who’s adventurous too, maybe this could work. My mind’s instantly catapulted back to watching guys on Weymouth beach kitesurf, engrossed by the freedom they seem to have. But the idea, I could one day join them never entered my mind.
You see, I’m not an extreme sports kinda girl, well not an any sports kinda girl. Although I loved sports and especially Watersports when I was younger, my round ball shaped figure and short stumpy legs didn’t really lend its self to be an athlete. Although I love the outdoors, there was always something holding me back both physically and psychologically – my weight. For a fat girl I was relatively fit, and by fat I mean not cute chubby and squishy – but more carrying and extra tractor tyre!
So fast forward five months and first date man and I have been dating a while, and have booked a trip to Cape Verde, island of Sal. It just so happens to my now boyfriend’s complete ‘surprise’ that you can kitesurf there, of course, he reassured me it’s just a coincidence. To his genuine surprise I announce I’ve booked a taster lesson, I pretty much had to scrape his jaw off the floor.
But what I didn’t admit was I was petrified, not scared of the kite, or the water or the potential physical injuries. But scared they wouldn’t have equipment to fit me. Being early in the relationship I would never admit that to him. I sent emails to the kiteschool prewarning them of my size. Who were so caring and understanding. The day arrived for my first ever kite lesson, and my worst fear became reality.
I was stood in the shop closely watched by my new partner, the kite boys try to squeeze me into a harness. The lady manager was sympathetic and quickly whipped it off me “don’t panic” she reassured “we’ve got another one”. It took three men, a lot of pulling around but I was finally in a harness. I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was in some weird Victoria chastity belt – but I was in! My taster got me excited, although only two hours. I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.
I felt relieved that it was possible and I was optimistic about my kiting future. After doing a couple more lessons in the UK (after buying my own harness so I didn’t have to go through that dabarcal again, Dakine Fusion seat Harness, if I’m having a really fat day there’s even a optional belt extender! ) I decided, I was going to be a kitesurfer!
What was your biggest struggle learning kitesurfing and how did you overcome it?
It all went wrong then. After sadly things didn’t work out with 8/10 kitesurfer man, the only way to mend a broken heart was a month long trip to Kalpitya, Sri Lanka. Already a little broken from heart ache, a confidence at an all time low, I was met at my first day with “you, you, really, you want to kite”. The shock on the kite school’s managers face, whilst he looked at my bulging belly, then at his kite disclaimer, I immediately became beetroot red and wanted to run a bury my head in the sand. Literally. ‘”Yes” I muttered in return, barely able to speak.
Wanting to quickly retract this silly idea I had to kitesurf. Unfortunately, the humiliation didn’t end there. The kite boys stared and giggled as I thrashed around in the water. The other kite instructors muttered under their breath. I tried to push it to the back of my mind and continue with my goal ahead. To finally get up and riding!
One morning I sat eagerly waiting for the kite truck to take us to the lagoon, trying to convince myself the stares and horrible words were all in my head. I over heard the kite instructors briefing next to me. “Who’s taking Madeleine?” said the manager. “Not me” they all protested. “She’ll never get up, what’s the point, she’s going to need an 18 meter kite”, said another. “Her kite control is alright” muttered the instructor. “She is a paying customer!”
With that, I fort back the tears and wished to be anywhere, anywhere but there. But for some reason, head held low I dragged myself on to the truck. “You’re going to need a board the size of a door” whispered an instructor to her boyfriend. Again down at the lagoon I was stared out, one man writing the number 18m in the sand and pointing at me and laughing.
Now I had clicked the heavier you were the bigger board and kite you needed.
You won’t be surprised that I didn’t get up and riding that day. Instead I dived the kite with anger and aggression and did nothing but do an impression of Dawn French in a superman outfit. Then the wind died. I went away from the camp for a while and when I came back magically instructors attitude had changed. It was as if they knew that my returned proved I was determined. I never cracked riding, I got up, but was nowhere near independent and knew this was going to be a very very long journey.
The Sri Lanka ordeal sure did knock me back. Being in a heartbroken fat girl in a kite camp full of fit glamorous people wasn’t the best environment for me to flourish. Then the fear came back. That dark cloud that I couldn’t do it. Why was I trying to do it? I’d wasted so much money on lessons that I felt so ashamed that I was a failure.
Now, I was too scared to kite anywhere but especially in my local area, I couldn’t face locals tormenting me. I was about to give up, but I reached out to the Women’s kitesurfing community. I was drowned with positive and inspirational messages of support. A fabulous company named BigBlue boards helped and guided me in what steps to take now in my kiting.
With new inspiration and motivation, I decided to book another kite trip. A lady named Jo Chatterton who owns White Dune Kiting, reassured me- there would be no sizeism in Dakhla! But, there was no wind. Was this a sign?! The wind Gods sure didn’t like me.
So, I tried Mexico and there was wind, wahoo! Cathy Padgett and Johnny from Holbox Kiteboarding finally got me up and riding and couldn’t of been more supportive. Demi Savio continued supporting my journey in Playa Del Carmen but here I got used to flying much bigger kites 15/17m due to the wind conditions.
But then it was winter. The seed of doubt of kiting in my local community returned, and where the bloody hell was I going to find a wetsuit that would accommodate my size F boobs!!! Back to Women’s kiteboarding community I went for some reassurance and advise on what I could do to keep my melons warm in the UK winter. Again, I was showered with words of encouragement and support. After hearing my story an American company, Platinum Sun offered to custom make me a 5mm wetsuit – FOR FREE. For me this was a massive turning point, not only were the women on this community so supportive but they were willing to help and support for no financial gain of their own! Now I had to stick to kiting, not only for myself – but for all the women (and men!) who supported me.
Now, new wetsuit on, two inspirational local women by my side (thank you Pauline and Hayley) I was willing to tackle my local area – in freezing temperatures and gusts of 35 knots! Not only did I kite in my local area, but I got up and had a wetsuit on that fitted! Did the locals laugh at me? No, the cheered as loud as I did as I began to ride further and further…
How does kitesurfing make you feel? What do you like about it compared to other sports or hobbies?
Kitesurfing makes me feel free. As I’m kiting, I often think of Moana and how she’d be staring at the ocean for as long as she can remember (I sing the songs as I kite too!) but it’s true I feel like I was always meant to kitesurf. Even if my body did make the process difficult.
You had some trouble on finding gear that would fit – like the harness, rash vest and wetsuit – could you give the readers with the same issues some advice on how you find your gear and which brands/models you use exactly?
I was fortunate to have a custom made wetsuit made by Platinum Sun, but they do offer plus size clothing and rash vests! For busty ladies, I’d recommend Fabletics for sports bra. For the larger man or women, Dakine Fusion seat harness is a winner!
What’s the next progression you want to make in kitesurfing?
My kiting journey continues, back to Dakhla where a 7m is whipping me clean from the water after some guidance from Driss and Jo at White Dune Kiting. I’m finally going upwind!!! I now want to nail my transitions and my summer goal is to do a little ‘pop’ jump!
I think we all know the feeling to not feel very comfortable at times in our own skin or our body. How do you deal with it when you have a bad day where you just don’t feel confident and what helps you change this feeling?
You must really believe you can do it, a remember confidence is attractive. Just own it! I strut down the beach with my nappy harness on, blue sun cream all over my face and I am fully aware that I’m no model. My most important thing is to have fun. Nothing else matters.
What would you tell a plus size woman/man who is thinking about learning kitesurfing as well but still doesn’t have the courage to actually go for it?
Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you, stop you doing what you want to do. You will be surprised how many people will be routing for you to succeed. Pre warn any kite schools of your size before booking lessons to check they have equipment that will fit you. Never say never.
If you could wish for something to change in the kitesurfing industry or community – what would it be?
Just remember kitesurfing is inclusive, it doesn’t matter how tall, short, fat, thin, young or old you are. If someone has the courage to take on the challenge to be spanked by Mother Nature, then they sure as hell deserve your respect and encouragement no matter what they look like!
What’s your life philosophy or do you have a mantra/quote that guides you through life?
Happiness is not a destination, it is a way of life, and kiting is my way of life. I have met so many incredible people and travelled to so many unique places I wouldn’t of dreamt of if I didn’t kite. I suppose, I should thank 6/10 man for that!
Do you want to get in touch with Maddie?
You can contact her on here.