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An interview with… Annabel Anderson

Annabel Anderson

From ‘outsider’ to double World Champion and double, double ‘Battle of the Paddle’ Champion Step forward the one very unique Annabel Anderson. ThePaddler ezine interviews the woman from New Zealand who really has taken the world of stand up paddleboarding by storm in just over three years!

Interview by Peter Tranter Photos by Ben Thouard

The Paddler ezine:

Before we start – just let our readers know a little about you, family, background where you come from etc.
My brother was the one who got the natural talent; I was the one who had to put in the hard yards. We grew up pushing each other to the limit no matter what it was. It was in the latter years as we both found our athletic niches (my brother was an international free skier in his late teens) that we developed a mutual respect for what each other have gone on to do. Many people have often asked how much of an influence our parents were on us. We grew up with many opportunities and sport was just what we did. It made up a huge part of our life. It was like it was in our DNA, and while I can recall overhearing other people telling our parents that they should focus us into certain sport, which they didn’t. Instead we both scrimped and saved to do what we loved to do and moved whatever mountains were necessary to do it. It didn’t come easy and I can’t recall my parents sitting on the sidelines too often. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to be there, it was the simple fact that they were usually a long way away from where I was. And when I’d stretched out my university career as long as possible and realised that my body was well and truly broken, it dawned on my that I’d have to go and use my brain for a while. To think that I would re-enter the realm of elite sport at the age of 30 was almost impossible to fathom. As they say, stranger things have happened.

Annabel Anderson

What boards are you using? Starboard.
A range of prototype boards I built with my shaper last year as we constantly challenge and evolve the design process, an Ace for rough conditions and a 7’7 and 7’4 Carbon Pro Wave surfboard.

Where and what was your first surf and what got you hooked?
I rode my first wave a couple of years ago when I first came back to NZ for the Southern summer (I was a late starter in the surf department). It’s fair to say that searching for waves is fairly high on the priority list these days.

What and where was your first competition?
Hamburg World Cup 2010. How does SUP give you satisfaction? I paddle for the same reasons I do lots of other things. To go and get lost in the moment and to immerse myself in my surroundings. I love to be on or in the water and out in the fresh air.

2013 has been a huge year for you – do you still have an ultimate achievement?
Ironically, 2013 was almost a carbon copy of 2012. In 2012 I won the Oleron event outright (plus several others), as well Battle of the Paddle and the Stand Up World Series. Going back and doing it all again in 2013 was more difficult that winning the first time. I try to focus on the present; otherwise I’d be completely overwhelmed. I’ve embarked on this journey single handled at a time when I could never have envisaged being an athlete at the highest level again. Overcoming the inherent challenges that go with this territory, being female, earning less than the men (both in prize money and contractual assistance), travelling by myself, organising gear logistics across continents and language barriers and overcoming the feeling of being ostracised from the outset as I was the ‘outsider’ who didn’t ‘surf’ are my ultimate achievements. The ‘results’ I have achieved will be something to look back on in years to come.

Are you naturally competitive?
Some people would say that I am – I don’t like to put labels on myself. I’m me, if you put me on a start line; something intuitive starts to fire up.

Can you talk about your training? Greatest inspiration? Who/what kept you motivated?
People seem to be intrigued by the latest, greatest, get fit quick programmes this is a frequent question that I’m asked. I don’t like to think of what I do as training as for me it’s a way of life. Going and doing things on a daily basis is something I’ve done my whole life and will continue to do so. I try to do things in harmony with the weather to optimize the activity for the conditions. I love to be outside with fresh air pumping through my veins. In most circumstances I’d choose to do this over many other things.

I am my own source of inspiration as if I cannot motivate myself I should be doing something that does. It’s not sustainable to be ‘up’ all of the time. There are hard days and there are horrible weeks. There are times when you’re fighting through the pain and frustration of being injured or sick. I’ve had periods when spent the best part of a year in plaster, on crutches, in and out of surgery and re-learning how to walk, let alone run. My motivation comes from being able to do what I love to do… and that’s not necessarily a competition. It’s going and doing all the things I love to do.

You lived in London for quite a while – didn’t that cramp your love of the outdoors and how did you compensate?
When people found out I was heading to London, they thought I was bonkers and out of my tree. What they failed to consider is that I thrive on throwing myself into the unknown and foreign situations where there’s no choice but to sink or swim. London was no different. It was the height of the recession, it was the depths of the worst winter in 30-years with snow on the ground for six weeks. I was earning seven pounds an hour on the emergency tax rate (a far cry from the glamour of my previous role back in NZ). I rode a borrowed mountain bike with no front brake or ran to save money on daily transport and found an appreciation for the historic architecture of London that I would never have seen had I ridden the tube every day. I fell in love with the river, the commons and the beautiful running trails that wound their way through the wooded enclaves of the greater London area. In no way did living in London cramp my love for the outdoors, if anything it simply made it stronger.

In competition – who would you say is your closest competitor?
My closest competitor is always myself. It’s not likely the answer you’re hunting for, but I am my own biggest competition in everything. I’m always trying to perfect something I have not mastered. When it comes to competition I cannot control the performance of others, only myself. Sometimes things will go well, sometimes not so well. There are many talented and gifted individuals out there but to focus on others would be to lose concentration on the one thing I can affect, which is me.

Annabel Anderson


What advantages are there to being a Starboard rider?
The biggest advantage of being a Starboard rider is working directly with Brian Szymanski and John Becker. Between them, they are two of the greatest brains the SUP industry will ever know. Many people are not aware of Brian’s pedigree as one of the all time great short board shapers or that he has held multiple records for the Catalina Channel (prone). John Becker has been the design inspiration behind some of the biggest selling SUP boards to date. The combination of working with both of these two great brains is not so much the boards we shape, but what I learn during the process by simply being around them. They’re always pushing a boundary or two, challenging a design and are totally dedicated to shaping the fastest sleds possible.

Besides SUP any other watersport disciplines interest you?
I’ve always been around water, just not on the ocean. Growing up with rivers and lakes meant my early days were filled with jet boats and waterskiing. Migrating to Auckland when I graduated university meant taking to the water of the City of Sails and my love affair with the ocean was well and truly born. I’d always wanted to surf, and this chapter of life is granting me that opportunity. Other water sports are definitely in the wings so watch this space – we’re only at the very beginning of this oceanic journey.

Have you ever been scared and if not – what would it take?
There are plenty of situations that have scared me. I used to live on a knife-edge of fear the majority of the time I was skiing. I was addicted to the buzz I got from speed, but I had little respect for the ‘red line’ and often diced with chance and paid the price. I live with the long-term consequences of that every day. There’s times when big waves and the power of the ocean are damned scary, but the more I put myself into those situations, the more I become comfortable. You never lose the ‘fear’ but I’m learning how to harness it and use it.

What has been your best ever day on the water?
This day keeps evolving. I’ll have an ‘all time’ day and then another one will come along and eclipse it. They happen fairly regularly and I try not to single them out, rather savour the moment, drop it in the memory bank and look forward to creating the next one, which is not too far away.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
If someone asked me 20 years ago where I would see myself now, I would never have been able to give them an answer. Some people have a life force, a vocation that defines their life path and how that will play out. My life force has been different. It’s been about adventure being 150%, what I’ve been doing at any given point in time. In 20 years you’ll find me just as excited as I am now about what I’m doing. There will be some similarities to what there has always been. There will always be fun, games, action and adventure on a daily basis. I’ll let the universe decide what shape that path takes, relish the unknown and be excited about what is about to happen next.

I’m into SUP and going on vacation, where would you recommend?
Good company, great weather, fun waves and warm water. With these three ingredients it does not really matter where in the world you maybe. Make the most of the moment and share it with the people you love to play with.

What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?
I try not to let any single moment define my life. There are things, which may be failures in the eyes of others that I’m proud of what I have learned out of those experiences. In many ways, I don’t think it’s the ‘accomplishments’ in the eyes of others that I’m most proud of, but of how the challenges and dark points have made me resilient and strong to face whatever is being thrown at me. One such example is when I was house bound for over six months with a broken leg and acute glandular fever, unable to walk, study or see my friends and having to haul myself back to function as a normal human being was likely as rewarding as any podium or victory ever will be.

Annabel Anderson

OK Annabel let’s finish with something short and snappy…

If you could paddle with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?
I’d have to think about that one…. Definitely not a quick fire answer!

Pick two celebrities to be your parents
James Bond and GI Jane.

Which famous person would you most like to see play you in a film?
Kate Bosworth.

Favourite iPod track?
Anything from U2.

If you won $20 million on the lottery, what would you do with it?
Spend a third, save a third, donate a third.

Cats or dogs?

Facebook or Twitter?

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?
The leftovers from the festive season and a nightly army of guests invited around to help eat it. On a more standard week of the year eggs, vegetables, nut butters, honey, coffee and an assortment of condiments.

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Something that had been hunted from the hills or caught from the sea with vegetables picked straight from the garden. There’ll be my mum’s world famous whole grain mustard and plenty of other home made delights fresh from the preserving pantry.

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
A kindle.

What do you get really angry about?
Rubbish and waste in the ocean.

Worst injury?
Too many to recount but a tie between a badly broken left leg and my right knee which is going strong on about nine rounds of surgery and regenerating itself to the disbelief of many.

If you could be a wild animal – what would it be?

Fill in the blanks: I am ______?
I am me. Accept me for what makes me myself, not what you want me to be.

Thanks for your time:)

Annabel Anderson

About thepaddlerezine (655 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

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