Maria Andres and her boyfriend Tom are normally busy travelling around the globe at this time of year but the Covid outbreak forced them to stay at home under the harsh lockdown conditions in Spain. Just recently they have been let back out on the water, albeit with many complications. We caught up with Maria in depth, to find out how she has been adjusting to the quarantine and how the ‘new normal’ is going to affect her plans:
Photos: John Carter
WS: Tell us what has been happening in your life, over the past few months?
MA: Back in March, at the very beginning of the virus arriving in Spain, we did not really see this coming this way. I mean, we could see something was going on and that this would affect our lives very soon. We started to see more and more activities and places cancelling, and next thing was the borders of the countries. At that point Tom and I realised that we needed to start re-scheduling and planning our year differently. As every year, we planned spring and fall on Maui, and the summer somewhere in central America, everything was arranged, our cars were waiting in the parking (still are) and accommodation was already paid. Having to cancel our flights to Maui because of US borders closed to flights from Europe, and halfway packed everything in my van, we had to extend our stay in Spain and re-book our rental house for longer. At that point we had no idea how long it was going to be…
Still then, we did not see the complete lock down and the state of emergency coming. From one day to another, everybody was wearing masks in stores, and that afternoon, surfing in our home spot, somehow I had the feeling that that was going to be my last day in the ocean for a long time. I do not even know why, because by then, nobody talked about something like a complete lock down. I surfed until past sunset, it was an epic session, I then swam and floated next to my board while watching the sun going down and absorbed all the images and colours of the reflections in the water. It was crowded. I had the feeling that we all could feel in our pores this change coming somehow. Next thing, putting the boards in the van, still with the wetsuit on, we heard about the news. A complete lock down, for those who do not know; it means you stay home 24 hours a day. Only being able to leave for essentials: shopping food or medicines. Or going to work if your job is essential (doctor, etc). And when you leave the house, you are scared. Not only because of a killer virus, but because the sometimes-confusing rules, the police being super strict, and the fines being extremely high.
WS: What have you been up to at home?
MA: During the one month and twenty days of twenty-four hours at home, I have been through many different phases. Fortunately, at first, we were never told we were going to spend two months at home. The lockdown was announced for two weeks, and then kept extending. So, even though we could feel it was going to be longer, we never really scheduled our indoor time for too long.
At first, exercising and staying fit for when we would be allowed back in the water was the main and only focus, it was crazy! Water time helps you sleep. We had a beautiful winter, we were surfing so many hours almost every day and suddenly, without activity, we could not sleep at all!
Then, it was some days of anxiety that made it hard for us. The uncertain of the future (financially speaking), my family (some are in the risk range, I think myself included as I have asthma), and the uncertainty of when would we be able to get out again. As with many people, we also had some projects in the making that we had to leave on a standby.
Even though Tom and I live in a quiet place, we were still locked from day one. Seeing through the window life passing us by. We were already locked before the virus even hit our area, and with the infection numbers only getting higher, and people in big cities not behaving! It felt like all our effort and sacrifice was for nothing! Like this was never going to end. Being worried about something we could not control was only consuming our energy.
Things only became easier and gave sense to our days when we focused in daily goals. Working in some future projects, but not too far or things depending on the comeback of normality. We started also studying a lot. I focused on getting back to graphic design and getting updated with the Adobe. Tom was pushing with the web design. And you know what! The days started to fly! Training, studying and working on a little project kept us so busy that I have to say, that it didn’t feel long at all at the end! The worst struggle was during the first week. Of course, we missed windsurfing and traveling, if you know us, that is the definition of us two! But since that is all we have done for the last years, there was also a lot we were wanting to do and never finding the time. So, we tried to see this as a good moment to do those things. We are now creating our own little clothing line with my designs, and we are super excited about it! Of course, it is about our favourite windsurf spots, ha-ha. The name is Windy Lines!
WS: What were your plans during this time?
MA: We would have normally been on Maui, but we had to cancel the flights 12 days before departure. I remember, at one point back in February, I thought about going earlier to Maui. Now, sometimes I think about what if I would have done it? Would it have been better there? Windsurfing was allowed the entire time on Maui! But at the same time, it would have been a risk to be there. If it would have happened that we get stuck there for months, first of all, we would have run out of money! Visitors are not allowed to work there! Second thing, if we get sick, everybody knows how expensive health care is there and travel insurance already announced they do not cover Covid travelling. Third, I wanted to be close to my family in a moment like this, as we might need each other eventually! We still cannot visit; I have not seen them for two months! And last but not least, what if we would have gotten stuck for months on Maui, with the rental price so high, the groceries so expensive, the health care out of our budget and then they close the beaches? It would have been a disaster for us. So when I see pictures from Maui of my teammates doing well there I am super happy for them that they are able to sail, maybe I am a bit jealous sometimes, but the truth is that I am also very happy to be where I am, because there is no way I could have afford taken that risk!
WS: We heard you are back in the water in Spain, what are the restrictions and how does that feel?
MA: Now, with the numbers and the curve looking better, since last week, we started the opening phases in some regions of Spain. But it does not mean we can windsurf normally. The atmosphere is still a bit tense. At the beginning of this, there was a big chaos when in Madrid they closed schools and jobs to stop the spread and a lot of people took the chance to go on vacation or to their second homes on the coast. That was what triggered the decision to close the beaches. Since then, the beach remained closed until last week. So, for example in areas like where we live, in these months (in summer it is a different story) there is nobody around. We can walk an hour and we would not meet anyone. but to avoid people coming, isolated places like this one, our beach had to stay closed as well. It made no sense regarding the real spread, but it did for discouraging the movement the migration to the coast. It felt so weird what they did but at the end, I think it actually worked to stop people from moving between areas.
Since last week we are finally allowed to do individual sports outdoors! It was our first chance to step out of the house in almost two months! To stop everybody in the streets or beaches at the same time, we got some schedules depending on our age etc. The rules are still very strict and specific. The schedule for sports is ok, and it works well for surfing, but for windsurfing or sailing it does not really work. We are allowed on the water from 6am to 10am (sunrise is around 7:30, and sailing is not allowed until 1h past sunrise), and from 8pm to 11pm (sunset is around 9:20, and sailing is not allowed 1h before the sunset!). So, with this schedule, and the wind not showing up that early and without the chance to use a car as you are not allowed to drive the gear, forget about it! I mean, you can get lucky, but it’s complicated to make it happen. And also, some wanted it so badly that they went in spots and hours where it was not safe (late and offshore), and that ended in rescue and back to restrictions!
Then, the small places, quickly removed the time restrictions to allow sports all day, as I said, we live in a tiny place (less than 400 people), so we were some of the lucky ones that were able to windsurf during this first week, and yes, it feels amazing to be back in the ocean! We have surfed a couple days and windsurfed three times! It is so funny we thought we were going to feel so goofy on the board and it felt so normal, same balance and we enjoyed it so much! Good thing we were fully motivated with the workouts, we are fit to windsurf, but god, no matter how much you train in land, windsurfing is tiring!
After the last months protests from all the Olympic athletes wanting to be able to keep their trainings (all sports, before they postponed the games), in the new rules there were some advantages, since, this is our jobs. So, together with the schedules and rules, there were also some other rules regarding if you are training and you are a certified professional athlete, or if you are federated. Or if you are just practising some sport. Those rules make a difference letting some use the car and ignore the hours restrictions, or not. So, since last week, I do have the High Level Athlete CSD Certificate and I do have the right to windsurf wherever in the province and to use my car to get where I need, which is very nice.
But the reality is: the rules are changing so fast that even the authorities or police sometimes don’t get the information and new rules in time, not to mention the people, everybody thinks they know all the rules and they accuse others of breaking them. So, in this scenario, even in places with no time restrictions (like where I live, or next door in los Canos de Meca) I have seen police and helicopters kicking out of the water all the sailors and kiters in a very dangerous way. The helicopter was way too close to the kites and some people got too nervous they could not make it back. It is very intimidating to have this huge and noisy machine so close! People explained to police onshore about the rules, they checked and all good, but the helicopter kept making action Hollywood movie scenes for another hour until he got everyone out. That happened in multiple beaches because the authorities were not updated to the local modifications of the restrictions. I mean, rules change every 5 minutes!
About the pro athlete certificate, think about it. Nobody being allowed to go in the water at certain schedule, and there you arrive on your van, rig, go sailing (I mean, do your job!), and suddenly, you get hate and angry eyes from the beach. Sometimes, people that you are not allowed to be there, that have no clue about pro athlete permits, so they think that you are breaking the rules in people’s faces. Then, they decide to call the police, they take you to the police station. You explain them about it, but again, they have no clue about this law. They fine you. Real case, it happened in my hometown. So, this was the reality of a professional athlete doing his job legally during this week. Some people have been walking dogs every day for hours, some, even borrowing dogs from neighbours to go out, dogs were exhausted!
Athletes have waited 2 months without training!, and now that finally are allowed to go back to work, people (they have been called the “balcony police”) that think you are just breaking the rules, call the real police! It is a very delicate moment. It has been a hard two months for everybody in many aspects, where everyone have been trying to follow rules and if they see others just having fun (cause they don’t understand they are actually working), it is understandable that they get upset.
So real police and balcony police, together with helicopters, have been making it not very appealing to pro windsurfers and kite surfers of the area to go with our vans and find the right spot to train. I have not forced the situation at all. I am not someone who likes confrontations, so I decided to wait longer to drive around and sail where it is not allowed for others. It also does not feel right, even though, it is our job (I guess because it is a fun job?). So, my printed pro athlete certificate, remains unused.
In my case, since we rent our home in our favourite spot, and since it is allowed to do sports all day in this area, it might not be always the right spot for every wind direction, but we do have the chance to rig at home and walk to the beach and train and enjoy the ocean without using special permits and getting stink eyes. We are very lucky to live where we live during a moment like this, I wouldn’t choose any other place. Here at our place, the waves are so powerful and hollow, too much of a beach closeout, ha-ha. Together with the light onshore winds, the sailing has been very intense! Great skills will come out from this! Like all difficult times, it will make us stronger right?
WS: Are you missing the travel side of life?
MA: I am missing sailing in better conditions, but, being honest, I do love this place, and I am not missing traveling right now, because it was a long time I did not have the chance to spend time at home. I call home the whole Cadiz coast, every winter I have been moving, but the last three I have been around los Canos de Meca area. I feel like I have spent all my life traveling! Since I was very young, I’ve been traveling and since I got a van (19), I just left. Also, the last two years following the IWT Tour together with some other SUP trips for articles for magazines, it was traveling full time. Imagine, adventures for life! But it was also very hard at times. Many months of camping, living in the van (beautiful, but uncomfortable), and not seeing my family. Nine months in a row for two years in a row, including months where we travelled with board bags by bus around central America.
So, yeah, I think I can handle very well some quiet months in a beautiful and comfortable home, working on things I never take the time to do, a home where things have a place, where there is running water, hot water and electricity (a very poor Wi-Fi signal though! Ha-ha). Those are amazing things to have! and last but not least, a place where I wake up at night and I remember where the toilet is! You know me, there are good things to enjoy in all situations. I am not only trying to see the positive side; I am enjoying some little things I do not get to do always.
As of today, we entered the next phase, with fewer restrictions. People will now be allowed to drive around in the province. The schedules will be the same, but at least, windsurfers will be able to choose the spot. That will make it possible to sail for more people, so our beaches will start to fill up with sails and happy faces, behind masks in land. It will be nice to share the session with others!
WS: Are you going to stay at home the rest of the season or do you hope to travel?
MA: I hope I will be able to travel, but I do not want to have big expectations, since things are changing quickly. If we can start traveling only inside Spain, I would love to go to the Canaries, for a long time I wanted to spend a summer there, and it would be great. If we can start traveling around Europe, we will take the van and make a road trip to Portugal and Galicia! That has been in my bucket list for too long, and this would be a perfect moment. There is also beautiful places and spots in Europe and the islands!
If the world goes back to normal, then, well head to Maui as soon as possible, since that would be around the good timing for waves. And at one point to Baja, we have our van in Tijuana ready to travel, and it is worrying us to leave it there parked for so long. This year I was super motivated to go back to Jeri, after so many years, but watching the news, it does not seem like I could make it there anytime soon. It is hard to make plans right now! Normally I let things happen not sticking too much to a calendar, and this year I had everything planned and booked! Funny, now I will start to go with the flow again. But who knows… time will say how things develop in terms of opening borders!
WS: Will that affect your role as a rider?
MA: I am very focussed on promoting my sponsors through articles in magazines. They know I love traveling and writing about it and I think this is what they expect from me. Content and exposure! Now, without the chance to travel, it is time to get creative! It will definitely affect my role, as well as everyone else’s role, since competitions are stopped also. But since I have kept traveling for a long time, I have material to keep working with. During the Covid I was still getting some articles published and there are some still coming. I hope to be creative enough to create new contents even though I am not traveling. If it has to be right here in our beach, I think I could still prepare some content. It is beautiful here, and plenty of things to talk about! I do trust my creativity. I love finding stories to share and everything has a story to be told!
WS: Where would normally be your favourite location to travel to?
MA: I have a couple! but I love Ho’okipa in Maui so much! The colours, the light, the weather and the consistency of conditions during the season makes it a perfect place to train. The conditions are not the most perfect I have sailed (sometimes it is! but not that often), but this is part of its charm. I love that it is a challenge every single session. Gusty, offshore, the rocks, the reef. It is not a relaxing spot, but the changes with the tides, the swell directions and the wind shifts makes you adapt your sailing every minute! It sounds exaggerated, but it is the truth, with every cloud passing and the wind changing, it already feels like a different spot. The same day you can train onshore, side and offshore, 3.7 and 4.7, mast high perfect waves or logo hollow closing, or sometimes, even mushy onshore… you have it all in one place! It is the perfect windsurfing school!
WS: How do you like being on the Fanatic Duotone Team?
MA: I love the team. I am very proud of all of them. They are beautiful people and amazing windsurfers. When we get to meet at the shoot and spend time together everything just goes easy, laughing and supporting each other. The equipment is top quality, and high performance, and every little detail, you can see that has been studied and taken care of! From the peak performance technology for the higher-level windsurfers, to just the rigging part little details that make things easier. The rigs are crazy light and stable, and the boards are great in all the range, with so many options to choose from! I also love that Fanatic is both SUP and windsurf brand, because I can be well equipped in both my favourite sports! And I am very proud to be part of a team and brands that push for kids and women, they are the future! I am also super happy and thankful that they have appreciated my role as the content creator and adventurer side of the team. That support from them has motivated me to do more and better articles, and I love to have the chance to do it!
WS: What is your favourite Fanatic Board and Duotone Sail and why?
MA: I love the Fanatic Grip 68 and 75. I love how the 68 turns! And the 75 has an amazing combination between manoeuvrability and flotation, so in big days, gusty, with holes, far out spots or big currents, I’d go no doubt with the 75, and in more ideal conditions, I’d go with the 68.
As for sails I love the Duotone Super Hero 4.2 and 4.5. They are amazing sails. they have power, but they feel light. I like them a lot in light winds, they give me the perfect amount of power while feeling light.
WS: What are your favourite conditions?
MA: I enjoy all conditions, I just do not love too strong winds, it was never my best thing. My favourite is logo high waves with light winds in general. If I can pre-order some conditions, I would go for: If it is side off, I like it very light winds to use the wave power, kind of like Pacasmayo style or some Ho’okipa super light days in the fall. If it is side on, then I will be happy to be powered up. I also love side on! I love the way it turns so much in the top turns and the backsides or backside airs are pure fun to me! I must confess, I do have a lot of fun with pretty much everything, and that is great!
WS: How do we encourage more women in to Windsurfing?
MA: I think that the more girls are actually in the water and the more they are featured in media, the more new girls will see it as something they would like to do. The better sponsoring deals and equality in competition for pro women, the more women can be real professionals. The more women can be professional, the more exposure in all senses, at the beach, in mags, in videos and in social media. It is all a wheel, that from my eyes its already rolling slowly, and it just needs to be pushed to roll faster.
WS: What are your three words to live by?
MA: It is a bit more than three, and it is in Spanish, but due to the times we are living through, here it goes: “A vivir, que son dos dias!” ha-ha
WS: Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
MA: Hmmm, I like to see myself on Maui, going in the water every day and living somewhere wild and green with a nice garden with all we need and a couple dogs! But who knows, I love the south of Spain too and it would all be simpler to organize paper wise and less of a cultural change. Let us speak in ten years again! ha-ha!