MARK OF A CHAMPION
Sarah-Quita Offringa ARU 91
We rewind the clock, back to our August issue and here is the first in a new series looking back on various champions to find out the traits they think have helped them reach the top. And who better to kick off the series with than Sarah-Quita Offringa. Born in Aruba, the exceptionally talented sailor has an amazing 17 world titles and no doubt many more to come. She gives us an in depth insight into her world.
BEING THE BEST
I think I only have this feeling of ‘being the best’ with windsurfing as I seem to have a natural talent at it. If I see that someone else, and usually another woman, can do something better than I can, something just switches in my mind and makes me want to do that too. Wait… who am I kidding? I think I feel like this in anything I do!
I guess I’m competitive. But I am realistic about it. In other sports I do, I know it’s not realistic to be the best, but then I will try hard to be the best that I can be.
Being good at something or having proper dominion over something just gives me a certain satisfaction that is a bit addicting. When it comes to windsurfing that means I’m just having more fun on the water the better I am. So the better I get, the more adrenaline rush I get, and the more I want to get better.
So being the best is cool, but I think the satisfaction comes more from being as good as I can be and having fun with that.
HOW TO ACHIEVE YOUR BEST
I measure myself against the person that’s better than I am. Learning from other people rather than having to figure things out yourself makes you progress quicker. When I am learning something new I will ask different people their take on it. I will always find a piece of advice that works for me. I also try to be smart about it. In windsurfing you can work on yourself, but making sure your equipment is working right is almost half the work.
So, if something is not going right, I will definitely check for the problem with my technique first, but I’m also very quick to adjust my gear as that is very often a shortcut to having a better session. Adjusting my boom, mastbase position or downhaul is done in seconds and I’ll feel a big change.
Yeah, so I guess I try to be proactive when it comes to improving myself!
I’m a bit of an all or nothing person. When I do set my mind on something I go all in. And then I think excellence means you’re doing everything possible to be as good as you can be – putting the hours in on the water, spending time tuning the gear, getting the right settings for your board and sail and spending time in the gym.
But most importantly when a contest comes around, making sure that you put in a 120%. In a contest your mindset is what matters the most. If something out of your control goes wrong it’s important that you can stay composed and focus on what you can control at the moment to bring it all back to a good end.
I think excellence is that moment when all your preparation comes together, with you keeping it together mentally, living up to your own level and then going past it and out performing yourself.
I feel like there’s different levels to excellence as well.
Like Maaike Huvermann for example last year beating me in Bonaire after sailing an amazing heat and right at the end, landing that chachoo to take the win. Amado making a massive comeback in Bonaire last year winning eight heats in a row, each with a ridiculously high score to win the event. Yentel in Sylt keeping it all together and doing what he had to, to make it back up in the double and claim his first freestyle title. Titoun (Antoine Martin) taking the win in Maui sailing the final like his life depended on it, his performance was ridiculous and came together when it mattered the most. Mortefon winning his first title in New Caledonia. Those are moments of excellence!
And then you have the ones that replicate performances like that over and over again. Being at the top and keeping that spot is another level of excellence.
For example, the twins keeping the wave title between them for years (25+ titles), and Daida winning Pozo year after year. Gollito has won the freestyle title nine times and has come back from the direst situations to take the title in the end. The younger guys are pushing, but Antoine Albeau with 20 plus titles and counting, is still such a powerful force on tour. And that includes me with 17 titles performing in all disciplines year after year.
LIFE DEFINING MOMENTS
I think there was one or two years, right at the beginning of my career that were very important for me. There was a competition in Pozo where I let the bigger girls (I was 15 at the time) get to me. I felt like I didn’t belong there, when in fact I was performing moves that most girls weren’t. I lost composure, couldn’t focus on my heat and lost out early. I reset myself for the event after and won my first world cup in Fuerteventura at 15.
The year after in 2007 I was tied for the world title until the last event in Fuerteventura, and there was just one heat I needed to win to get it, but I guess I didn’t want it badly enough. I didn’t feel much when I lost, but when I got home later that week it started setting in that I had just let the title slip. Again, because I didn’t believe like I deserved it. When again, I had spent all year training for it, and I was right up there with the best. Anyway, those were two moments where I learned that you shouldn’t bow down to others, no matter your age or your level.
From 2008 onwards I haven’t lost that freestyle title. Never be less than yourself for others. Now if someone beats me and I have given my all, it will be that much more satisfying for that other person.
I was the first one of the “younger generation” to win the slalom title after Karin Jaggi and Valerie Ghibaudo had that in a chokehold for years between the two of them. And now I’m the first in a long time to win the wave title since the Moreno twins. And there aren’t any waves to train in in Aruba you know! I spent time travelling and putting myself out in conditions that I’m not comfortable in to get better and to get to the point that I am today.
Rather than sticking to one discipline I think it was good to move on to slalom and wave sailing to keep challenging myself. The good thing about those disciplines is that I had to start from scratch with all of them, so I feel like I’ve never been complacent. And just like I never felt that the top girls were unbeatable, switching disciplines also helped to remind me that also I am not unbeatable (in terms of freestyle). So I think that helps to keep the perspective.
I don’t have specific athletes as role models. But I am inspired by anyone I see pushing to make their dreams come true. I’m a sucker for that stuff. Imagine me on the couch watching the Olympic games during the award ceremonies; I’m balling my eyes out because I’m so happy for those athletes. At the same time my heart breaks for the ones that didn’t make it. Sport is tough!
BEST AND WORST DECISIONS
I think the best decision I have made was about two years ago when I decided to slow down competing by cutting back on slalom. After finishing my studies in 2014 I went into overdrive, wanting to compete in everything. It was hard when I was studying and seeing events where I could be right up there with the best, but by the end of 2017 I was exhausted, and dreaded competing. And windsurfing is my favourite thing in the world. So, it was good to slow down, as I was living from contest to contest.
Now I can breath a bit more. And I’m enjoying training and events much more too, as the pressure of having to perform has turned down a notch. Having more time and energy I think helps me to apply myself better to the sport and contributing in other ways rather than just competing. I don’t think there have been any bad decisions, I think whatever I have decided, I just adapt and go with it.
WORDS TO LIVE BY
“Avontuurtje” It means “little adventure” in Dutch. My friend’s brother told me that one time and since then I’ve been using it for everything as it applies to me quite a bit. I think I throw myself into events and situations without thinking too much about them. I’m easy to say yes to things, which is a good and a bad thing.
Once I’m in that situation I’ll stop to think a bit and realize that I hadn’t thought it totally through ha ha! But I just mean that if you treat situations like a little adventure, it will always be an interesting experience. And if it didn’t turn out to be great then at least I will have learned something from it. Another adventure for the books. On to the next one.
I think when you’re balanced you just feel calm and happy. For me it means I want to be able to travel, compete and windsurf on my own terms and have time to spend with family and friends. I am working on achieving it! I have put everything into travelling and competing the last four years, and at some point it was a bit hard on me because I was barely home and I wouldn’t see my friends often. And when I was home I’d be too exhausted to function. So, I think the social and family aspect of life has been missing a bit. I think I was a bit too focussed on competing and wanting to achieve certain things. But since I’ve been competing less I’ve had more time to spend at home and focus on other things that aren’t to do with windsurfing, which makes me happier. I think it’s very important. Nothing in excess is good for you and being unbalanced takes away your overall joy I think. So that’s why I do my best to be home when I can, make it for the important birthdays and get-togethers etc.
I just have this drive to want to get better every session. Improving gives me the biggest satisfaction. Other than that it’s just pure joy being out on the water.
I think everywhere I windsurf there is always something beautiful to notice. Whether it’s the water colours, a big mountain, rainbows, sand dunes, turtles, the sunset, crazy clouds, I can go on for ever. Every spot has something special. Sometimes I’m too focussed on the session to notice my surroundings, but when I do notice them that just fills me with gratefulness for being able to have windsurfing as my hobby and job at the same time. So it’s the mix of wanting to improve and surroundings that motivates me to get on the water.
DEALING WITH STRESS
So, I can be quite jolly and jokey right before competing. That’s when I’m in the right headspace. But when the nerves do hit the situation is different.
It sounds a bit weird. But I have had so many times that the nerves would just pile up and literally the only way to let it out is to shed some tears. I feel lighter within minutes and then I’m good to go. So if I disappear for a bit, I probably just went to empty the water tanks!
I think I thrive under pressure and in the heat of the moment. In slalom you have to perform in the heat of the moment and react quickly to situations, which is ridiculously fun. I think for freestyle it’s a bit more pressure because you’re sailing your own heat, but both in waves and freestyle you need to adapt to the conditions. If a certain wave comes along, you need to decide then and there to go all in on that one or not. It can make or break a heat.
Like I mentioned, windsurfing just becomes more and more fun the better you get at it. Competing with the best in the world and having them around me constantly pushes me all the time to become a better windsurfer. Other than that there’s always funny situations and moments during contests, as that is where you learn about all the different people and characters on tour. Competition shows people’s character and raw emotions. It’s just really cool to experience all of that.
I think I’m a very determined person. As an athlete I think I can be happy with my performance, but really never actually satisfied with it. I will always want to do better. But also I want to see other people doing good. And I think that is good in terms of raising the bar together.
I love hanging out with all the riders. I get along with pretty much everyone. I can joke around until 2 minutes before the flag goes up. And then switch to serious mode as soon as I have too. But I have learned that not everyone works like that because everyone concentrates in different ways, so I try to respect that. But I think I just love being on the water and measuring myself against others so much, I’m just bursting with excitement, which is hard to contain sometimes. I do take it more seriously now. So I tend to just distance myself with headphones. But man if you’d listen to the Caribbean rhythms blasting through those headphones, you’d be bursting with excitement to get out there too.
I think I do that all the time, especially when I’m in Aruba. I think very often I look for different things to do. Tennis is right up there with windsurfing for me and probably my favourite sport. I’ll go kitesurfing to refresh my mind a bit. I’ll get washed on the north shore trying to surf. I can spend the whole day inside reading a book or I’ll be in the yard taking care of the plants. When I’m on a trip, I usually just call it “going for a change in scenery”. I’ll go hunting for coffee at random cafés and just hang out. In the Canaries it’s going for a drive and having dinner on the other side of the island. I just like to disconnect. It’s very necessary I think.
MONEY AND WINNING
With the current prize money and how our industry works, both are important.
I need to win to get enough prize money so I can keep the ball rolling and keep windsurfing professionally. If I don’t win or finish top 3 it’s hard to keep it up.
If everyone was earning enough I would almost say that winning isn’t the most important as long as you’re covered financially. Looking at other sports, people are earning enough while not being at the top. But, in the perfect world where everyone is earning enough, I would definitely say that winning is the ultimate goal!
I think my go to power foods are peanut butter, bananas, dates, nuts and the blackest double espresso shots I can find.
TALENT VERSUS WORK
I was lucky to grow up in Aruba, where from a young age I was able to put in a lot of hours on the water. And as a kid I was just having fun, so then it doesn’t feel like training. I also had some of the best freestylers in the world right around me. So they set the bar for me, which was top of the line at the time.
I do think I have a natural knack for sports in general. Overall I think it’s just a good mix of having been able to train so much from a young age and some natural talent sprinkled in there.
If I’m on a trip I will ideally do a gym session three times a week. On those days I windsurf a bit less. And on only windsurfing days I’ll do two sessions a day, between 3 and 4 hours if I get carried away. My ideal session will last about 1 hour 30-45 minutes. Besides that, I’m terrible at stretching…
Most of those were in slalom. I had a couple of years where I was really inconsistent. I would do one good race and then a bad race. It would usually be an over early at quite a critical moment. I have won several slalom events coming from behind and then right at the end when the only option was literally winning every single race after the first bad ones.
Maybe the last very significant race like that was in Denmark last year.
I was between Oda and Delphine. Delphine wanted to come down on Oda, but I don’t think she saw me, so I literally had the back of my head in her sail! We both slowed down completely, but stayed on our feet. I rounded the first mark in 5th and just put on the afterburners after that. After the first mark I passed one sailor on every straight, until finally I passed Lena on the last leg and finished first. That was the sickest race I have done ever!