An Interview with Evi Tsape

An Interview with Evi Tsape

A world-class athlete in windsurfing, Evi Tsape started windsurfing in 2001 and only 5 years later, was competing in the PWA (Professional Windsurfers Association) World Tour. She competed internationally in wave and freestyle championships between 2006 and 2011.
Her highest rankings include 5th Overall PWA Wave in 2009 & 2011 and 2nd Gran Canaria Super Session Wave 2008. She also holds the Greek national champion title in waves and freestyle, ranked 1st woman in 2009 and 2013.
After a car accident in 2014 where she suffered a tibial plateau fracture, Evi is no longer active as a competitive athlete.
Since her early days on a windsurfing board, Evi has been an ambassador for the sport of windsurfing on Greek television, magazines and radio stations as well as greek and international print, internet publications, blogs, and websites.
In 2008 Evi organized the first “windsurfing girls camp” in Greece, aiming to introduce more girls to the sport of windsurfing and inspire them to get better at it. Between 2008 – 2011, her camps had a total of 300 participants, a record number for Greece.
Evi is a certified windsurfing coach since 2011 and has a total of 9 years experience coaching children and adults in windsurfing. She is also a certified personal trainer, having earned her diploma in London, UK. She is starting her third University degree in the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens as we speak.

You can learn more about Evi on her official website here.

We caught up with windsurf Champion Evi Tsape, who gave us some insights about building – and ending – her professional career on the water.

 

As a pro-Athlete what do you think a new-comer in the sport needs to do in order to be successful in competition windsurfing?

I think this question misses the journey from being a new-comer in any sport to becoming a competitive athlete in that sport. One has to go a long way from starting windsurfing to being a competitive windsurfer, an athlete. But supposing someone knows they want to be a successful athlete right after their first sessions, they need to have a vision of what they want to achieve and the commitment to do what it takes to get there. I call this “finding your why”, as I believe that any successful athlete knows (or should know) their “why”. In order to be able to physically, emotionally and mentally do everything required to excel in your sport, your heart needs to beat about the sport. I have been playing sports since an early age: I started with competitive swimming, moved on to volleyball, then windsurfing… And in between those I tried other sports too, like tennis and basketball. When I first got on a windsurfing board, aged 20, I thought to myself “Wow, this is it!!!”. I had discovered a sport that gave me joy, a sense of freedom, a sense of meaning, something I became increasingly passionate about.
I think to find your “this is it” and then your “why” is the only way to be able to set clear personal goals and relentlessly pursue them, no matter what. Without knowing your why, there are always going to be things that will hamper your commitment, confidence and focus towards your goal. Also, in order to be able to achieve anything extraordinary, you need to be able to design a lifestyle that is congruent with your goals and adjust along the way. Although every sport has certain “skills that you need to develop to excel in it”, the point is: even if there is a “destination”, you don’t know when or if you’ll reach it or whether it needs to change during a certain season based on your circumstances, plus your goals certainly need to be modified at times. If you don’t have your why, you are lost; you need to trust yourself, have a feeling of what you need to do and you need to want it really bad. So, you need to find your why, design your lifestyle based on that and be “connected” to your pursuit every single day and every step of the way.

How important are the weather conditions and how can someone become better in mastering them?

If the question refers to new-comers to the sport, the magic about windsurfing is that the first thing a new windsurfer needs to learn is how to “read the wind” (which direction it’s coming from and how strong it is) and how to get the feeling for the equipment (how to control the sail, in which course relative to the wind, how much power in the sail they can handle and how). If they are learning in choppy water it’s even more challenging, because they also need to manage standing up on the board whilst they are trying to figure out how the sail works. Personally speaking, I try to take weather conditions “out of the equation” for a beginner in windsurfing; I always train beginners in a wind speed of 1-8 knots and flat water. I teach the beginner how to pick up the sail and get going, how to be able to “read” which course to the wind they are sailing in, how to control power in the sail, how to turn and go back to where they started. I go from simple to complex and from easy to difficult. As they learn, I give them more information and more difficult tasks and have them sail in, increasingly, stronger wind.
I view the process of becoming good at the sport not as learning to master the weather conditions, but as learning to feel what’s happening to your equipment, becoming one with your board and sail and getting the “feeling” for the wind and waves, being able to “read” and foresee what’s happening or is going to happen. Another magic thing about windsurfing, besides the fact that it’s practiced on the water which is ever changing, is the fact that- as opposed to other sports – there are only a few predictable & fixed parameters for the sailor. The sailor needs to constantly adapt to ever-changing parameters such as wind direction, speed, power in the sail and state of the water surface. You need to become one with the elements. There are several life skills to be learned through becoming a good windsurfer and one of my favorites has to do with the fact that windsurfers need to constantly adjust based on what’s happening: “The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjusts the sails”. In my opinion, learning how to be a “realist” in life has many advantages, as opposed to being a “child” and always complaining or a “daydreamer” and doing nothing about your circumstances. Sailing teaches alertness and courage and all windsurfers who have passed the beginner/intermediate stage know what it takes to be able to master the equipment, to get proficient at knowing what’s happening and adjusting accordingly.

What you think is the greatest challenge that an athlete has to face during a windsurf race?

I think that competitive athletes, especially those at the top of their chosen sport, all face different difficulties which have to do with maintaining a top and steady performance in all races. The difficulty of maintaining a consistent level of performance whilst competing has significant differences among sports. Windsurfing is one of the hardest, as conditions never stay the same. Even if you regularly train in the competition venue, you can never simulate exactly the conditions you will be facing at the time of the race. Whereas for example, a high jump athlete has to learn an 8-, 10- or 12- step approach before they take off and get over the pole, in the water you can never simulate and calculate in such ways. I cannot automate and re-iterate the moves (jumps and wave riding) that I will have to do during one of my heats. The only thing I can do is get proficient at the various moves I will be performing and make sure that I am “in the zone” when my heat starts, so I can feel which wave to choose, how to place my body, how much to press on my feet and how much to pull or push the sail depending on the pressure I am feeling in my hands. This is never the same. I need to be able to be totally engaged in the process of what I am doing, so as to become one with the equipment and the conditions.
The biggest challenge I had during my competitive career was that I couldn’t reproduce the same level of consistency during my races as I could whilst training on the water preparing for the race. This was mainly due to the fact that my competitive career in windsurfing was rather short, so I didn’t have enough competition experience to be able to handle the stress during a race and I also wasn’t making a living out of it, I had to keep a normal job as well. The fact that I was working meant I didn’t have the time to focus on mental skills outside learning and practicing moves on the water, working on my race psychology / how to handle stress and I also didn’t have the opportunity to take part in many races so as to train myself to be able to learn how to operate under fear, stress and the general vibration of a world championship. I think the greatest challenge for an athlete is mental readiness; how to do what they know best under demanding conditions and against high-level competition. You need to do a lot of mental work so as to be able to stay in the zone for a whole day of racing and keep your focus no matter what.

Windsurfing has often been associated with male athletes, yet women are a key part of the sport. Do you feel there are any significant differences for female athletes, either in their approach, or abilities ,to windsurfing? Were there any obstacles you faced, or perhaps things that came more naturally to you than might have for a male athlete?

Indeed, there are more male athletes than women in the sport of windsurfing, probably because more men pick up the sport of windsurfing than women do. So, yes, I assume there are differences in the way men and women approach the sport, because there certainly are no differences in ability. On a beginners’ level, more men think they can make it than women do. Most people see windsurfing as a difficult sport. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of people that are into the sport try to “teach” their girlfriends, friends or relatives with improper equipment, in unsuitable conditions whilst lacking the qualifications to actually teach someone! When someone gets on a board that’s too small, and tries to pick up a sail that’s too big, in unstable sea or weather conditions, they get a completely distorted view of the sport; the average person thinks they could never make it.

Windsurfing is far more of a technical than a physical sport; although one does need a certain amount of physical abilities to get good at it. I’ve seen many women who never get past the “beginner” stage, not because they can’t do it physically, but because of their mindset. They think that since they can’t do it the first time, this sport is not for them. Or they never try in the first place, because of the belief that “windsurfing is out of my league”. As I mentioned, windsurfers themselves are partly responsible for this (especially as far as women are concerned; women are the ones who mostly fall into the “my boyfriend tried to teach me” paradigm). In the end, more men go to the beach to try windsurfing, more men get through the beginner stage to become advanced windsurfers and then athletes. It’s only a matter of mentality though, and breaking through the different stereotypes that men and women are taught as to what they can and can’t do.

Speaking of myself and other female athletes in the top of their game (not only in windsurfing, but in any sport that involves the development of technical skills), I believe one thing we have in common is this: toughness and a desire to pursue our goals no matter what. A belief in ourselves. We set the bar high, and jump over it. We are ready to try something 1,000+ times until it we achieve it. In my view, there is no fine line between athletic accomplishments for women and men, at least in windsurfing. Men and women can perform the same manoeuvres in the air and on the waves. Yes, men are bigger, stronger and faster. This means that they can hold bigger sails, control bigger boards and they also have an advantage in strong winds. They jump higher and they can land their manoeuvres more “cleanly”, or combine more difficult manoeuvres and perform them more explosively, but they are still doing the same manoeuvres more or less. Yes, there are some manoeuvres that even elite level women can’t do in windsurfing; elite men are more impressive and more consistent on the water. All this is due to their genetics and hormones, nothing more. In a technical sport like windsurfing, all that a woman needs to develop is a certain level of kinaesthetic learning ability, will, perseverance, self confidence, and the motivation to achieve. This is the only thing that separates women who get good in windsurfing and those who don’t. It’s their mind. Simple as that.

I personally don’t see the point in many of the stereotypes about sex differences that are constructed and reinforced in our culture, not even in sports where there are proven genetic and hormonal differences between the two sexes. Girls can do anything that guys do and in sports they face exactly the same obstacles when they need to adapt themselves in order to face ever increasing challenges. When it comes to doing forward loops and back loops and sailing in 2-5 meter waves, both men and women need to have the same attitude. Guys are scared too, you know. You can’t even consider trying to learn the forward loop or the push loop if you are too scared or if you can’t approach it with the right mentality. And this is the same whether you’re a man or a woman. I personally didn’t face any obstacles compared to men whilst getting good in windsurfing and then competing on an international level. In fact, I could never understand why there weren’t more girls doing it. To me, it’s just a mental thing; the amount of willpower one possesses and how one employs it in everything that they do. The fact that I could get so good so quickly in a male-dominated sport made me realise that I am different, special in my own way. Knowing who I am and having done this journey through competitive windsurfing is still empowering me as I journey into the unknown future. Attitude is everything!

 

Looking back at your windsurf-life and tracing your memories, which was the most important thing that influenced your path?

What influenced my windsurfing career the most was definitely meeting Yiannis, who was my boyfriend and partner between 2003 and 2010. He was my role model, my mentor, my partner and he also coached me in windsurfing – although the latter part didn’t work out as I needed it to. I don’t believe that someone can be your coach and partner in life at the same time unless both sides clearly define their needs and boundaries. This is hard to make happen; I have met successful couples that have managed to do it but I don’t think this can last long; you need to be doing it full time and be 100% committed to it. Despite that, Yiannis is the one who influenced me the most in windsurfing; he is a guy who built his lifestyle on being able to windsurf and become really good in the sport. We shared the same passion for the sport and whenever I found myself losing connection or not trusting the learning process, all I had was look at what he was doing. I am grateful to him for that.

 

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