British kitesurfing champion, Sukie Robertson, fell in love with kitesurfing at the age of ten and has spent the last 15 years competing in the freestyle and wave riding disciplines. In 2014, Sukie opened her own kite school, 514Elemental, with boyfriend Robin, where she coaches up-and-coming talent.
Here, the 30-year-old Dryrobe ambassador, who was crowned 2018 British Wave Champion at the British championship last weekend, fields my questions about everything kitesurfing.
Sukie, can you tell us about what kitesurfing involves?
Kitesurfing uses a large kite to pull you along on a surface, often water, and you can then use the speed and lift of the kite to ride waves, perform jumps and flips, or even as a mode of transport.
You are attached to the kite by a harness which goes around your waist, so actually you don’t need to be too strong to kitesurf.
What kind of kitesurfing do you specialise in, and what’s the process in a competition?
I mainly freestyle and wave ride. Freestyle is all about big tricks, so spins, flips and passing the bar behind your back. You have a 7 minute heat to show your best 5 tricks, and you try to advance up a ladder to get into the final.
Wave riding is all about carving on the face of the wave as you actually depower your kite, then power it back up to take you to the next wave. During a competition you have maybe 15 minutes, and again it is a ladder system so you try and work your way to the final. I’ve been British Champion in both freestyle and wave, and it’s great having the two disciplines as it allows me to choose which I want to practise on each day, so I never get bored! That said, I have competed in a few different races before, both long distance and short, and have really enjoyed those.
How did you get into kitesurfing?
I have surfed from a young age; I saw it one day on the beach and immediately knew it was something I was going to do. Of course, in reality, a 10 year old can’t just buy gear, so I picked up horse poo for a few years to fund my first little kite, then went from there doing as many odd jobs for people as I could before eventually being self-sufficient at the age of 15.
What attributes do you need to be a successful kitesurfer?
I think the ability to laugh at yourself! Kitesurfing is funny, crashes are funny, and learning new tricks or slaying a wave is beyond incredible, but it takes the crashes and the hard times to get there.
Is kitesurfing training all about time spent on the water or do you go to the gym too?
I go to the gym in the winter. I’m a big fan of HIIT classes, and certainly find having someone yelling at me means I actually work! I practise yoga most days, and also swim every day so have good body awareness. You don’t have to be massively fit to simply kitesurf, however the fitter you are the better your performance and I certainly notice the difference when I’ve not been so active.
I walk or run for maybe 2 hours every day and also surf and swim a lot, so find that keeps me fit enough.
What does a typical week of training look like for you Monday to Sunday?
I try and do something as well as kite every day. So, typically, I’ll go for a run with my dog in the morning, then either kitesurf for about 2 hours, SUP if there is no wind, or cycle or hike or something. Then, most evenings I will jump in the sea for a nice swim or surf. I try and get in the water every day.
You run your own kite school – can you tell us what this involves?
A lot of checking pressure charts! When I started the school I was quite naïve, and thought it was all about being in the water, coaching. Of course that’s the end goal, however the reality is that it’s maybe a quarter of what I do, and I spend way too much time on my computer.
I wouldn’t change it, however, and love all the different projects I’m able to do, and that I am able to go kitesurfing midday on a Wednesday whenever I like… who else gets to do that?!
Do you enjoy teaching the up-and-coming kitesurfing talent?
Teaching talented youth kiters is something I have always been interested in, and I’m really lucky to have coached quite a few kids who have since gone on to become National Champions in their categories and disciplines.
I’ve learnt an awful lot over the past 6 years of doing this type of coaching, and it’s great how we’ve seen a huge growth in the youth uptake of our sport over the past couple of years. At the moment we run 3 different kite clubs for local kids here in Devon, which is a great, fun way to get into and enjoying kiting. We also have a team of kids who are spread throughout the UK, who all have a huge passion for kiting and are bringing home some impressive silverware!
I took one of the local girls here – who is a product of our club scheme – to China this spring to compete in the Youth World Championships. It was great to be able to do that, as it’s something she would never have been able to do without our support.
What’s a typical day in your life like at the moment?
During the busy summer period at 514, I will be up early to run with my dog, then straight back for a few hours of admin before lessons start – normally at 10am. Then I’ll teach through until 8pm. If I’m lucky I’ll have an hour or so in the middle of the day when I can jump in the water for some riding, or if I’m being a bit naughty I’ll get one of my instructors to cover me so I can ride instead of coach!
After this, it’s a couple more hours of admin, walk the dog then flop into bed by 11ish! Of course, this is wind dependant, so on the days when there’s no wind I have a lot more time for myself, and after admin work I will try and go for a longer hike or run, or a SUP. I am my own worst enemy though, and find it very hard to turn off from work. Sometimes, I sit at my computer for what I think is 1 hour when in fact 6 have passed!
What are the ideal kitesurfing conditions – are you after wind and waves?
Simply wind. And not as much as you would think. Hydrofoils are increasing the lower wind limits, and now in as little as 5 knots of wind can you be kitesurfing. Personally, I like at least 12 knots as I ride a different style of board, but for me any water state is good fun. If it is flat or choppy I will freestyle, or if there are good waves I will go out on my surfboard. The world is covered in water so the possibilities and locations are endless.
How often do you get the right weather conditions in the UK?
Aside from this year, which has seen phenomenal sun but not much in the way of wind, we normally get about 4 or 5 days a week. Which is pretty good. And certainly, if you are out that often you need those 2 or 3 days of rest!
Where in the world is the best kitesurfing destination?
Everywhere! The possibilities are simply endless. You can use skis to kite in the snow, or a mountain board on solid ground, or a twin tip or surfboard for the water. All you need is your imagination and there will be a way to make it happen.
I personally love a small island in Indonesia called Bintan. The wind is cross shore and there’s a reef break with perfect peeling waves which protects a shallow flat water lagoon. It’s perfect for both wave riding and freestyle, and is a very simple and easy place to be. True living.
You’ve completed the Red Bull Coast 2 Coast kitesurfing endurance event – is this a different type of kitesurfing to your usual style?
Yes, that was a really fun event, kitesurfing from Germany to Denmark and back again across the Baltic Sea. I actually have had quite a fear of open water so have started to challenge myself a little more with these types of things. A couple of years ago I kitesurfed up the coast of Cornwall, and I recently accompanied 14-year-old Adam Farrington kitesurfing across the English Channel.
What’s your proudest kitesurfing achievement?
That I am kitesurfing, and I am able to kitesurf more or less whenever I want. I did not come from a rich family who would buy me whatever I wanted; I worked hard, and still do, to achieve my goals.
Are you looking forward to defending your British Champion title?
Yes! I actually took a bit of a break this year as was ill last winter, however am starting to feel fit again now so looking forward to get back into competitive riding. I’m not actually very good at competing, but I love going to the events and being with fun people, and if I win a medal it is bonus!
What are your favourite items of kit for kitesurfing and coaching?
My Dryrobe! It has changed the whole experience for me. Even when I am soaking wet and in and out of the water for 10 hours each day, I can put it on and be instantly warm.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
I am lucky to be supported by some great brands who I have been working with for quite some time.
Ozone kites first picked me up when I was only 16! And I am proud to still be part of the team today. And Dryrobe have been great supporters of not only myself, but also a team of kids I coach and take to competitions.
Also my kite school, 514Elemental, and all the awesome staff who work for us who always cover me when I want to go kiting or to an event!
You can follow Sukie online via her social media channels: www.instagram.com/sukierobertson and www.facebook.com/sukierobertsonkiteboard. To find out more about Sukie’s kite school, visit www.514elemental.com.