MARK OF A CHAMPION: ODA JOHANNE
The Norwegian two-time PWA Freestyle vice world champion, Oda Johanne Stokstad Brødholt, talks success, injury, being competitive and why she is an all or nothing person.
WORDS – Oda Johanne Stokstad Brødholt
PHOTOS – Marc van Swoll / www.marcvanswoll.com / www.mvsphotostore.com
When I was younger I played handball in the top league and for the national junior team. It was always important to me to improve and to be able to feel that I was reaching my potential. I guess I took this mindset from handball with me into windsurfing. I would love to win, but in fact in windsurfing it has always been the battle for 2nd and 3rd place for me. But I never think much about podium positions. I keep a full focus on the tricks I want to land in my heat, as that is actually the only thing I can control. There were years I was vice world champion, but the years I got 3rd place I felt more stoked. It is all about putting down a great heat I am happy with. The sport has also improved a lot with what moves the top girls are doing now. I am proud of being part of that revolution. Seeing more girls going for proper power moves and sailing with more confidence is so cool! How I assure I reach my own potential is to make sure I train a lot and train smart. Filming and analysing my own sailing and comparing my technique with better riders is my way to learn best.
I remember when I was 16 years old I had a handball game that I wanted to play really well in, as it was also important to perform in this match to get into the handball college I was dreaming of attending. I was nervous before the game and I felt that the pressure was really high. I was thinking, what if I don’t play well and we lose?
In the right moment another coach I had a lot of respect for, took me to the side and said, no one can expect you to go out there and perform better than your best, have fun! Somehow his words made me so calm and I played my best game ever. I always tell myself the same when I sail my heats. I will do my best, and then see how it goes! Getting my first podium in Bonaire and Fuerteventura in 2014 and becoming vice world champion were also defining moments, as I then believed this is really my thing and I am getting good at it.
I think my best and worst decisions are linked! My main discipline is freestyle, and somehow I just love the way freestyle lets me express myself. It´s really about if you can do the tricks or not. Of course it is important to have great gear, but learning a shaka for example is all about putting in the hours and breaking a ‘code’ to understand the movement. It´s a learning process and that is what I love so much about it. But since we do not have many freestyle events, I started also competing in slalom and a bit in waves. Suddenly I found myself on the podium in slalom in France and that was cool! And then iQFOiL came along as well, and I competed at the world championship in Silvaplana. But then I suddenly felt a bit heartbroken. I felt slalom (when we added foil to it) and iQFOiL, took away time from my true love of freestyle. Doing all the disciplines was great, but it was hard to keep enough focus on one discipline as I was doing everything, but not enough of one thing. I decided after I broke my foot to follow my heart and freestyle as much as I can in the coming years! And that was a hard, but great decision!
Highs and lows
Highs have been to feel the power and happiness of improving in windsurfing. Maybe the lows would be when I broke my foot. That said, even bad things somehow bring something good as well. During my rehab time, I got some opportunities that I would not want to have been without.
Words to live by
I think I am a person that just never gives up if I really want to make something happen! So I guess it would be something like, “Never give up, trust the process!”
I guess life balance comes easier to you if you grow up in a safe environment with steady and supportive people around you, which I am blessed to have. I think I have a good life balance and I do live the way I want to live! Following the wind ain´t that bad if you are a windsurfer. And when I do get to spend time at home with friends and family, I want to make the most out of my time with my people! When I want to shut off from being a pro windsurfer, it’s easy – I just go home to my family and best friends!
Good conditions motivate me! And trying to be a better windsurfer today than yesterday. I always have missions and goals on what I want to improve in the sessions.
I have competed so much since I was 5-6 years old in sports, so I think it´s just in my blood. Rumours say my mum was also really competitive when she was younger. I don´t even play card games when the winner can be winning just with luck, because I don´t like to lose if it´s a game of luck ha ha! I love to compete if it matters who trained the most, or has the best skills. I know I need competition to improve so I try to really enjoy the days of being a bit under pressure. It´s more comfortable not having to perform, but that will not make you improve in the same way. I like to think that also my competitors are probably more nervous than me ha ha and having some good music before sailing my heats really gets me into that good happy competition flow! I do get nervous though if the wind is too light! I like to compete with power in the sail! When the green flag goes up I always tell myself: focus and have fun! You can´t windsurf without having fun! After all, it´s a fun sport! And when competing professionally, I never think about prize money. I just want to sail a good heat and that is it!
I think I am balanced. I can hype up when I need to, and relax when I should. I know where to put in the energy and where to save energy. I surround myself with people I know have good intentions and good vibes! By teaming up with great people it´s easier to reach my own potential and also help them reach their potential. It´s kind of like teamwork!
I don´t really focus on keeping my distance from rivals. It does not really matter to me if we socialise or not during contests. What happens on the water during competitions has nothing to do with who that person is on land. Competition is competition and people are people. From a very young age, I competed in handball with my best friends every day, so maybe I am just used to it. Together we push the sport to the next level!
My Severne teammate Maaike Huvermann has been and is someone I respect and enjoy competing against. We started competing on tour in the same year and it´s been fun for us trying to be the next women going for the more powerful tricks Sarah-Quita was already doing. I think she is a great sailor and she also just really loves windsurfing!
I also admire my talented friend Meiky Wieczorek, he is so stylish! Also Dudu Levi, so stylish as well! Outside of windsurfing, Lewis Hamilton is my hero now. I don´t really follow motorsport. But I like the calmness he has as a person.
I eat normal healthy food, plus an over-the-average amount of chocolate. It makes me happy! I don´t have a special diet or anything. Just clean good food and recently, more vegetarian food most days of the week.
Talent or hard work
I think my physique has helped me a lot to learn things faster. I always felt strong and in shape which definitely makes sports easier. My biggest talent must be that I never really give up on things I really want to learn. I might not learn the fastest, but I will get there!
It depends a lot on the wind, but I train on the water between 1.5-4 hours a day, 1-2 sessions a day. When I am not competing I try to go to the gym three times a week, alongside all my normal sports, so most days I do something active, but it all depends on where in the world I am.
It would be a heat that I crashed the first 3-4 freestyle moves in and there was not many minutes left. Suddenly it all went silent and I was calm and did not crash and got enough moves in to win the heat. It was good I did not panic and mess it all up, even though the time was limited and it was a bad start to the heat – proof you should never give up!
When I was forced off the water for months due to a broken foot with a serious Lisfranc injury, coming back on the water felt truly amazing. But the way I felt at the different stages as my foot improved surprised me. I realized I am an all or nothing person – if I can’t do something perfectly, I’d rather not do it.
Let me take you through it all from the beginning. After having the best training month of my life in Dakhla last June, I felt so good about my sailing and that I had stepped up my game a lot in freestyle. I then flew to Norway and packed a crazy amount of bags, because after Covid, we were finally going to compete again. I packed gear to compete in the waves in Pozo, and freestyle and slalom in Fuerteventura. Packing for 3 disciplines is no joke. I was nervous at the airport in case they would not accept my 8 board bags after all the training I had put in.
Luckily in the end there was no problem with my bags and I was off to train before the PWA wave world cup in Pozo. Sarah-Quita Offringa picked me up at the airport; we always stay in the same house, together with Lina Erpenstein also. I like to surround myself with other windsurfers who are motivated to windsurf a lot. It had been some time since I jumped on port tack, as I normally spend more time at starboard tack spots. So I figured out that after some visualization, the best thing was to get straight into those 3.3 overpowered push loops in Pozo. After months of not jumping that tack, and also not sailing such small sails, I landed push loops on my first try, so I was pumped for the upcoming training weeks after a good start!
I was feeling pretty good on my wave kit, so 3 days before the start of the world cup, Sarah-Quita was taking a day off, so she filmed my session. It was windy, but there were not many ramps, so I told Sarah-Quita that my goal was to jump on every single run out. I thought it was a great way to get into competition mode. Well, a few minutes later I got to experience the worst pain of my life. I somehow over-rotated a back loop as the ramp was too small for a push loop, and it sent me fully out of control on the landing. Lying in the water close to the infamous ‘bunker’ with breaking waves crashing onto rocks was maybe not the most ideal situation. Ricardo Campello and Marcilio Browne helped calm me down in the water, but the pain was wild. I managed to sail back to the shore on one foot. Looking down my injured foot looked a mess. Marcilio and another dude carried me up from the water like heroes on those slippery round Pozo rocks.
Going to the hospital was the start of multiple scans without many answers. Luckily Daida Moreno helped me every day to take the swelling down, plus I got magnet therapy. I bought an electric scooter – I was riding with 1 leg ha ha! I took it to the gym every day and somehow my focus on competing in the world cup switched to learning to walk again. It took only 10 days to lose half of the muscle mass in my broken leg as I could not use it at all. I have never seen my body that way before, so my motivation was high to try to stay as fit as possible, even with only 1 leg working. Finding out sometime later that instead of just 1 broken bone, it was 3 bones and a Lisfranc injury did not surprise me at all. But the ‘comeback’ day got pushed further back as my progress was slow at times. It was ok to not be able to sail as I knew that accepting the situation and following a recovery plan was the only option I had. Let’s do this Oda I would say! I am forever grateful for having had the best doctors and physios help me get back on the water. From the day I could walk without crutches, I started wing foiling with a running shoe on my broken foot. Like that I felt much better as I could spend time on the ocean again. Foiling is so ‘soft’ and it really saved my motivation. I was surf foiling and wing foiling in Brazil weeks before I could even think about putting my foot into a windsurfing footstrap.
I also got into learning to ride waves with a kite and a strapless surfboard. It was so amazing that just using a running shoe to protect my foot was working so well. It gave me much motivation to learn something new while still being injured and not being able to windsurf.
After around 5 months from when I broke my foot, it was time to finally try windsurfing again. I was in Brazil and was happy to land some freestyle tricks again, but the pain and a foot that got swollen after just 15 minutes killed my excitement a bit. Being able to windsurf was good, but the limits my foot gave me were not so great. I felt like I was missing out on doing crazy tricks off the small waves that rolled towards me. The first days back on the water were maybe the hardest of my injury time. That was when I realized I am an all or nothing person and I don’t like doing anything halfway. But now I had no choice. These days were probably the first days I cried about my injury and realized everything I had been through. Thank goodness Sarah-Quita was there to give me some motivational words when I was a bit down.
The fact is that someone with a similar type of injury normally can´t sail before the 9 month mark. And actually here I was doing some loops, shakas and burners way ahead of schedule. So in fact there was nothing to complain about! I tried to be more patient and trust the process step by step. Now, 10 months afterwards, I finally feel like myself when sailing. I feel pain in my foot all the time still, but can live with it and hopefully in a few more months I will not feel any pain anymore, and ask myself did I break my left or right foot?