“I’ve windsurfed an avalanche”There’s no such thing as impossible for Ireland’s world-class waterwoman: conquering waves and saving lives are all in a weeks’ work. The Red Bulletin sat down to chat with Katie McAnena about her goals in life
Katie McAnena knows what she wants, and it will take a lot to stop her getting it. A lifetime on the water chasing waves as an international windsurfer and a career as a 70-hour a week hospital doctor aren’t easy bedfellows, but rather than pick one, the 28-year-old Galway gal has followed two dreams at once – and succeeded. After taking her first victory on the American Windsurfing Tour on the African island of Cabo Verde in March, the five-time Irish national windsurfing champion and multi SUP title winner was soon back at work, doing the rounds at Sligo General Hospital.
THE RED BULLETIN: Your work must make it hard to have a sports career. Any thoughts of going full-time on the water?
KATIE MCANENA: I’ve thought about it a lot and I really don’t think I could do one without the other. They complement each other, in my life anyway, and the way I like to be. I don’t like to be idle, sitting around doing nothing.
Do you miss having time to relax and let your hair down?
Obviously I still like my down time – I love to party. But a long time ago I got into windsurfing, then I needed a career and chose medicine, and I’m really proud of it. This is what I’m used to doing. You get better at balancing both as the years go on. I would never want to do anything different.
You made a name for yourself by becoming the first woman to sail the infamous Jaws in Maui back in 2013. Would you say that was the highlight of your career so far?
It was a crazy day. It’s one of those things where I’ve never been more convinced and focused and 100 per cent sure about something in my life. I knew I had to do it, had to make it happen. The adrenalin was so high I didn’t sleep for a couple of days, as I started to realise what I’d done. But at the time, I always said if I’d doubted my decision or my capabilities for even a second, it would have been very dangerous to do it.
Is it the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t know if it was brave, because brave seems to be an effort or an achievement that’s way outside your comfort zone. It’s not my greatest achievement in windsurfing. All I had done to get to that point was my greatest achievement. People latched onto it because it was relatable, they could say, ‘Oh my goodness.’ But up to that point, I’d just been working as hard as I could, trying to save and taking out loans, and it was more about the journey rather than the actual day.
But it was an incredible achievement. Was it a very different experience?
People might say that I’d never done something like that before, and that I didn’t have any big-wave experience, but what they don’t realise is that growing up in Ireland, it’s the most violent place to learn how to windsurf.
What do you mean by violent windsurfing?
Violent is the best way to describe the density of the wind in Ireland. The low pressures are so heavy it makes for dense air, which makes for really heavy wind. It’s really technically difficult to windsurf. And then our waves are just gigantic. It’s rarely average. It’s either full-on hardcore or nothing at all and that’s all I know.
So what does a wave like Jaws look like close up? People have described it as like molten lava.
It’s like an avalanche. It’s hard to even describe how that mass of water moves at a phenomenal speed. And if you want to get onto the face of the wave, you have to match or exceed that speed. Windsurfers were the first on the wave of Jaws. It’s thought of as a surfing wave, but it was actually windsurfers who were the first to take it on.
Where to next?
I’m hoping to do the Mexican round of the AWS Tour later in the year. I like the atmosphere and the venues are great. Also I’m going back to Maui in a few weeks. I’m working all the hours I can to make it possible. It’s like a second home now.
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