Kitesurfing conservationist, wakeboarder, SUPer, freelance producer and TV presenter, Anna Campbell mixes her love of sports with a deep passion for the natural world. Read her story in this exclusive interview with Anna Campbell.
Interview with Anna Campbell
Packed with advice and insights, it’s a cracking read for anyone wanting to do something different – whether you want to be a kitesurfing conservationist, a pro athlete or want to make the world a better place.
Originally published in 2013 we found this interview with Anna Campbell in our archives and thought it’s still inspirational. All images and videos in this article are courtesy of Anna herself.
How did you originally get involved in kiteboarding and wakeboarding?
I got a round the world ticket when I was 18 and visited loads of weird and wonderful places. Determined to keep off the beaten track and normal gappy/tourist places, I ended up down some amazing paths, one being Nananurai (i’m just spelling it how we said it) a seemingly deserted island off Fiji’s mainland with only coconuts, wild horses and a few brave travellers. Here is where I met Ben Steppens who convinced me I should take my windsurfing skills and apply them to the wakeboard.
My next stop was California where I ordered my first wakeboard. It proved the perfect sport when I was at university in the UK, as coming from Africa I was used to outdoor living/playing, and this allowed me to visit some awesome places and be outdoors all day – despite having very Kenyan blood, there was a lot of blue fingers, toes and lips!
It’s also a great sport to meet like minded people who don’t necessarily just follow the norm, which is what I love, I got to meet some crazy individuals but then kinda over did it – I spent 6 months training everyday on the cable in Singapore and kinda lost my spark for it. When I flew home to Kenya I picked up a kite – and have never looked back!”
I love that it doesn’t require anyone else, no fuel, towers, motors – it’s just me, wind and equipment, something kinda magic about that. You can be so expressive as you are not tied to one lake, boat or cable… it’s whatever you want and so much space to roam and escape the crowds. And again, the places and people it has led me to have been incredible!
You are a woman who takes part in a lot of outdoor/extreme sports, mixing it up with a real sense of get fit, stay strong. Is it a battle getting out of bed every day to train or compete?
Ha,ha! No, I’m one of those really annoying people who jump out of bed full of beans when the suns up, much to the dismay of my boyfriend who enjoys a much slower pace in the mornings! I like the idea of everyone still being in bed and it’s quiet, fresh and often the most beautiful time of the day. A great time to run or walk somewhere awesome and have some time to yourself.
I’ve learnt that if you start right you are bound to have a great day! And be much happier. But I’m not a total fruit loop – there are those golden mornings when bed feels like the right place to be, especially when on holiday, and I embrace those whole heartedly too. I don’t judge those that like to lie in a little, everyone ticks differently, each to their own. But for me an early active start to the day puts me on the right track like nothing else.
Was it a tough to leave studying neuroscience to put sport first?
Although neuroscience is a fantastic subject and the way the brain works will always fascinate me, it was a career that would not leave me time for other things. I felt I was trading one path for a dozen experiences. I remember it really hitting during a morning lecture at the Queens medical centre in Nottingham – so I walked straight to my tutor’s room before I could talk myself out of it.
I had already been asked to drop my hockey and squash commitments and I knew wakeboarding would be next… I couldn’t do it and didn’t want to limit the chance to travel and explore more of Africa. There is so much advice about how you should live your life, but everyone’s different and only YOU know how you want to spend yours.
The only advice I know is 100% true is you have GOT to stay true to yourself, it’s such a cliche but when faced with difficult decisions I often ask myself, ‘you only live once, so what do I want to fill my time with’? You have got to make the most of it and listen to what makes you happy – then focus on making that happen, however far fetched it may seem – it’s just about having the guts to take that first step in the right direction.
You’ve made 2 kiteboarding films featuring pro kiters, Shawn Richman and Kevin Langeree, what makes kiting the Indian Ocean different and why film on Lamu Island, Kenya?
The Indian Ocean is home for me, I spent so much of my life in it, so I guess most water sports athletes grow a kind of relationship and familiarity with the waters they know. A big bonus is that the Indian Ocean in Lamu is the perfect bikini temperature! And where I kite there are no incidences with shark attacks or monster jelly fish (touch wood).
It is particularly amazing because it has a huge tide, so at low tide there are kilometres of beach that appears splattered with pools of water – it makes for the best flat water riding I’ve had. But if you like a bit of wave and chop, you can ride past the sand spit and play in the small surf. It’s also perfect for teaching in, as at certain times there are hours of calm, waist deep water to stand in, but still with the luxury of pumping wind.
In your second film you set the world record for highest lake ever kitesurfed on Mt Kenya – with Shawn. Why was this so important to you ?
It’s quite a random mission, but growing up in Kenya the elephant poaching really got to me. Most frustrating was I didn’t know how to help. I wanted to tell people who may not already know that ivory on the market comes from murdered wild elephants. I looked at what skills I had and the country I lived in, and started coming up with stunts I could do to try grab people’s attention.
People understandably are sick of seeing the gruesome photos of slaughtered elephants. So I thought I would try a more positive, active way to get the message across – it was a bit of stab in the dark to be honest, but better to try then not at all!
There has been a great response to the video and personally I’ve had a lot of feedback about the issue, so I am so glad we saw it through on the second attempt! And just on a personal level, a lot of people were telling me that it was impossible to kite up that mountain with such thin and unpredictable winds, so it was a satisfying victory on all accounts. Yay!
Describe the strengths you play to, and the weaknesses you have to deal with when competing?
Best lesson learnt through all my sporting experience is you’ve got to have fun – as soon as it’s a chore and not enjoyable, I don’t see the point!I also try not to take competition too seriously. Obviously I put in 100% but I’ve learnt that competing against myself is how I get my best results.
I like to zone out everyone else and just internalize and do my best – and be happy with that result. At the end of any competition, whatever the score, thank the opposition and leave the competitive vibes on the court/water… you know what I mean?
I can’t stand bad sportsmanship. Just nothing worse at the end of a positive event then bad attitudes. Weaknesses of mine are probably a secret fear of competition – because if I commit to it I know I will internalise and ask a lot of myself – and pushing too far. That said, the rewarding feeling at the end is what keeps me doing it. Such an awesome feeling!
What advice would you give to someone, who wants to commit fully to their passion, for example as a sponsored kitesurfer?
Do it! Just commit yourself mind, body soul, get on a programme and stick to it till you get it! Live somewhere that allows you to put hours on the water everyday. You want training to be easy and accessible so location is key. With kiteboarding/wakeboarding it’s all about time on the water, patience and having the balls to keep pushing yourself to try new tricks.
Having a good coach REALLY helps so you don’t run before you can walk – which in my experience always leads to injury and then 6 months off – which takes you backwards! You will have bad days, in fact weeks, but stick at it and you will get there – I try to remember on those days that all the best sportsman also started at the beginning.
Have you ever had a plan B, if things didn’t turn out the way you wanted?
Plan B? I think I’m already seeing through plan E,F,,G! Im a big believer in going with your gut or flowwww as some say, being 100% true to yourself in knowing what makes YOU happy and then striving for it.The key is to keep trying to stay true to that feeling. Having the guts to leap at something you know you want and then putting in the hard work with a dose of positive thinking will make most goals feasible.
So just aim and fire with all you’ve got, have confidence that you can make day dreams happen and don’t let others put you down. The secret ingredient to succeeding which is often overlooked is having good people around you that support and encourage your ideas and aspirations. Hard to find as there are a lot of ‘haters’ out there, but once you find some winners, keep them close.
What would be your top 3 things to add to a bucket list, that you haven’t conquered as of yet? Cage Diving? Skydiving?
Deep water soloing is something I am desperate to get my teeth stuck into. I have never been exposed to big surf so surfing is something i’m going to do more of now I am spending more time in Hawaii and I am buying my first spear fishing set next year so I can dive for my dinners. A slightly more level playing field when catching fish. Now I’ve done it once I feel like a bit of cheat just sticking some bait on a hook and waiting…
We promise this is the last question in this interview with Anna Campbell. Where can we find you online, and what do the next 12 months hold for a kitesurfing conservationist?
I am actually really excited about the next 12 months. Lot’s of option and ideas in the pot, going to be some big changes in my life and some new adventure chapters so I am going into some unknown territory eeeek… we’ll see! Wish me luck – will keep posting my progress online! Honestly… I am just hoping the next 12 months holds a lot of pure blissful happiness!
If you have enjoyed this interview with Anna Campbell, you can with the inspiring kitesurfing conservationist and talented freelance presenter/producer at these links below.