The un­der­rated over­achiever

the un­der­rated over­achiever

Adventure - - #209 -

Annabel An­der­son has been the World #1 pad­dle­boarder since rank­ings started in 2012, and her achieve­ments across a miriad of sports have been noth­ing less than phe­nom­i­nal. Be­fore Annabel dis­cov­ered SUP she ex­celled at net­ball, run­ning, horserid­ing and ten­nis but chose to fo­cus on ski­ing. She was 16 years old when she com­peted on ski­ing’s pre­miere tour, the FIS cir­cuit and was well un­der­way to be­come an Olympic level skier. How­ever, in 1999 Annabel broke her tibia while train­ing and soon af­ter her ACL. Annabel has al­ways pushed her­self to be the best she can and as a re­sult has suf­fered her fair share of in­juries and chal­lenges. With ski­ing out for the time be­ing, Annabel started swim­ming and bik­ing which led her to com­pete in triathlons which she also ex­celled at and was se­lected for the NZ High Per­for­mance pro­gramme, an Olympic-de­vel­op­ment train­ing academy. Once again, she trained hard and once again she blew out her ACL. So, she traded her bike for skis and be­gan com­pet­ing in free ski­ing un­til she re-rup­tured her ACL once again.

Any­one else would have given up by now, how­ever Annabel dis­cov­ered sail­ing and through this she stum­bled upon the sport of standup. The rest as they as they say is his­tory. Annabel has gone on to be­come the most dec­o­rated SUP ath­lete and has been ranked World #1 fe­male since rank­ings started in 2012. She has won so many events it would be im­pos­si­ble to list them all, she is a fe­ro­cious com­peti­tor, how­ever re­move the com­pe­ti­tion and you’ll a gen­er­ous woman, happy to give her sup­port and en­cour­age­ment to any­one she meets. It was a real plea­sure catch­ing up with Annabel to bring you the lat­est on her jour­ney…

2017 saw you win more ac­co­lades, not just in pad­dle board­ing but also moun­tain bik­ing, with ex­cel­lent re­sults in the Ban­nock­burn Clas­sic Ad­ven­ture Ride, the Red Bull De­fi­ance and The Gut­buster. You were once again crowned the 2017 fe­male ath­lete of the year award at the an­nual Stand Up Pad­dle­board Awards won the Cen­tral Otago Sports Woman and Over­all Sports Woman of the Year and were nom­i­nated for the Hal­berg Awards, and that was just in 2017. Do you have a favourite achieve­ment? Why?

There was no one ac­co­lade or achieve­ment that stood out over an­other, more it was the ex­cite­ment of if I could pull off the year that I did across mul­ti­ple codes, self sup­ported (no fi­nan­cial spon­sor) when the odds were more than stacked against me. It was nice to know that I could still smash ped­als and put my­self in the hurt box on bikes and it was a step to­wards fur­ther le­git­imis­ing the sport­ing trade I have plied for the bet­ter part of 8 years and have those achieve­ments recog­nised by my sport­ing peers.

But as far as achieve­ments go, hav­ing the courage to speak up when I saw the need to do so, to have the courage to take on es­tab­lish­ment, to ask ques­tions and to open the con­ver­sa­tion around gen­der equity in sport and to see the fruits of that work com­ing into fruition week in, week out this year will res­onate louder than any award or ac­co­lade I have re­ceived to date.

How long have you been in­volved in pad­dle­board­ing? Moun­tain bik­ing? Other out­door pur­suits? And what drove you to­wards these ac­tiv­i­ties?

I first stepped on a board back in 2008 and did so may be 10 times be­fore I moved to Lon­don in late 2009. It wasn’t un­til I wran­gled a place to store a board in the Lon­don

Row­ing Club shed in Put­ney did I bite the bul­let and buy a board to es­cape the con­crete jun­gle make up for the lack of ocean and wide open spa­ces.

When I look back on things, I’ve al­ways been a prod­uct of my en­vi­ron­ment. We lived on farms and used horses as an in­te­gral way to get around, so it was nat­u­ral that I grew up on on ponies and horses and still love to ride. When I blew out my first ACL, a vin­tage $500 road bike was my side step from the sur­geon’s scalpel. I loved to run, al­ways have and al­ways will. When you spent ev­ery win­ter school hol­i­day in Wanaka and your par­ents moved back to where they lived when you were first born, it’s hard not to ski. When you get trans­planted to Auck­land some­what against your will post univer­sity for a ‘real’ grad­u­ate job and you see wa­ter on your doorstep it was in­evitable that sail­ing would fea­ture highly. The same went for moun­tain bik­ing as I’ve en­gi­neered ways of spend­ing more time back in Wanaka it’s been yet an­other way of play­ing in my back yard and adapt­ing to the en­vi­ron­ments I find my­self in. In short, I’ve al­ways been a prod­uct of my en­vi­ron­ment and I’ll al­ways find ways to play re­gard­less of the lo­ca­tion or the land­scapes.

In 2013 you not only beat ev­ery girl at the French Oleron 30km Pad­dle Chal­lenge, but also ever male as well, lead­ing by over six min­utes. Can you tell us about that?

I think I was in as much dis­be­lief as ev­ery­one else, but that theme rang strong through­out 2012 and it wasn’t the only event I would win out­right. What en­sued was the con­tro­versy of un­equal prize money, the ac­cu­sa­tions of cheat­ing (good­ness knows how you do that when you all pad­dle the same course) and of tak­ing per­for­mance en­hanc­ing drugs. I saw the ugly side of

com­peti­tors and hu­mans. It was a very iso­lat­ing and lonely time. No one re­ally knew how to deal with these per­for­mances and rather than be­ing cham­pi­oned and cel­e­brated, it felt like they were cov­ered up as it was an em­bar­rass­ment to the men I was com­pet­ing against. But it did make the back page of a cou­ple of French news­pa­pers…

I hear you stepped in at the last minute for a friend in the Red Bull De­fi­ance, that’s a pretty im­pres­sive achieve­ment – how do you keep your­self that fit all year round so you are able to do an event at such short no­tice? Or do you have a down-time?

I was go­ing through a stage of mak­ing my­self step into sit­u­a­tions where I knew I would be un­pre­pared and have to rely on my men­tal skills to get me through. Sure I have a gen­eral level of fit­ness that al­lows me to say yes to things like this but this was on an­other level given the weather, hav­ing not met my team mate and deal­ing with the ups and downs that come with teams rac­ing.

For the past cou­ple of years I’ve been been re­ally mind­ful of the need for some time out through Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber. A time to re­pair and re­build the body, but in­creas­ingly the mind. But as I’ve been rid­ing more and more, that down­time has been squeezed and one way or an­other life was go­ing to force a time out. That hap­pened this Jan­uary when I fell back and hit my head on the con­crete floor of the garage at home putting me in full post con­cus­sion syn­drome/TBI ter­ri­tory. I was some of the fittest I’ve ever been and it all came crash­ing down in a mo­ment. It’s been an in­ter­est­ing jour­ney of pa­tience com­ing out the other side, but I’m rel­ish­ing the time out, the chance to fully re­cover and to take a breath for a hot minute…or two.

Com­pet­ing and per­form­ing at this level re­quires a huge com­mit­ment – how im­por­tant is spon­sor­ship in help­ing you to at­tain your goals?

Spon­sor­ship only works if there is an align­ment of core val­ues be­tween all par­ties in­volved. By na­ture I’m a deeply loyal per­son and have found it in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing to walk away from part­ner­ships that con­flicted with my val­ues. I’ve born the brunt of be­ing the ‘lit­tle guy’ and had to walk away and that has cut pretty deeply. In the past cou­ple of years, I went back to those core val­ues, en­gaged my vil­lage of peo­ple who also lived to those val­ues and had to turn up and win to make it to the next week. It was how I got my start back in late 2010, so it was al­most like com­ing full cir­cle. There were def­i­nitely times where I won­dered if I had the strength to keep go­ing, but some­thing made me keep go­ing and I’m glad I did. In a sense it was the ul­ti­mate type of com­mit­ment. I had to back my­self and I had to de­liver, no ques­tions. I had the trust of my long time board shaper and I had a global vil­lage of loyal friends. We made it work and I’ll al­ways back those who have backed me. It’s a two way street and it is one that will keep on go­ing for a long while yet. As for now, I’m grate­ful for the sup­port of Air Tahiti Nui. Of their sup­port of my multi-dis­ci­pline ap­proach to sport and of my ad­vo­cacy work sur­round­ing gen­der equity in sport. At the end of the day, suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships go back to align­ment of val­ues and a com­mon un­der­stand­ing of ob­jec­tives for all par­ties in­volved. I love the chance to bring these to life and to hu­man­ise the brand DNA through sto­ries, col­lab­o­ra­tions, achieve­ment, ad­ven­ture and me­dia plat­forms.

Is gain­ing spon­sor­ship a chal­lenge in your field and if so what are the chal­lenges of this?

In the surf in­dus­try, of which stand up pad­dling is vey much a sub cat­e­gory of – most def­i­nitely. When you know the fragility of the in­dus­try and the eco­nomics be­hind it, it’s not sus­tain­able for the in­dus­try to fund its ath­letes and iden­ti­ties which puts the onus on non-en­demic part­ner­ships in terms of spon­sor­ship. The same goes for many sports and events, but there is al­ways op­por­tu­nity if you’re will­ing to hunt for it.

In to­days world where so­cial me­dia seems to play such a large role in spon­sor­ship, it seems that hav­ing fol­low­ers may have more fi­nan­cial pull than be­ing at the top of your sport. What’s your thoughts about this?

It is def­i­nitely im­por­tant but judg­ing a per­son by how many fol­low­ers they may have is a rookie mar­ket­ing mis­take (and one which is made by many). So­cial me­dia plat­forms are only of value to a po­ten­tial part­ner if there is a core align­ment with the iden­tity they are en­gag­ing to pro­duce con­tent or to pro­mote prod­ucts or ser­vices. There are a plethora of tools to en­able this con­tent to be streamed to the peo­ple it needs to get to which may or may not in­clude the iden­tity’s au­di­ence. Now and go­ing for­ward this is where you are go­ing to see more pro­moted con­tent that is highly tar­geted to spe­cific au­di­ences and influencer led tac­tics that will con­tinue to change as the so­cial plat­forms pivot and ad­just their al­go­rithms. In short, it’s tra­di­tional brand mar­ket­ing, you need to think be­fore you act and you have to put some strat­egy be­hind what you do.

It some­times seems that look­ing good while do­ing an ac­tiv­ity car­ries more cred­i­bil­ity that ac­tu­ally be­ing good at some­thing. I’ve heard it re­ferred to as the ath­lete model. What are your thoughts on that?

Tag Hauer’s cur­rent cam­paign is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this where they use male ath­lete am­bas­sadors but fe­male mod­els in their ‘Don’t Crack Un­der Pres­sure’ cam­paign. It reeks of chau­vin­ism and is a com­plete turn off to ma­jor­ity of fe­males who have half a brain. The surf in­dus­try has been in­fa­mous for do­ing this also. When brands use real ath­letes who are au­then­tic and res­onate with that brand, it gen­er­ally works out well for all in­volved. But some­times I re­ally do won­der how many de­ci­sion mak­ers and agency heads need to be shaken to see what is ac­tu­ally go­ing on and how they are in the driv­ing seat to fix it.

In 2016 the Red Bull Heavy Wa­ter be­gan, an in­vite-only pad­dle­board race held in San Fran­cisco. For the first two years, women were not in­vited. What was the rea­son­ing be­hind that?

Quite sim­ply the event di­rec­tor did not think he needed to in­vite girls, then did an about turn at the 11th hour. Bad move buddy, in 2017 that re­sulted in so­ci­etal up­roar and it rep­re­sented the wider con­ver­sa­tions that needed to be had. Crises equalled op­por­tu­nity, things have changed and they have cat­e­gor­i­cally changed for the bet­ter.

The event is renowned for its heavy con­di­tions, why do you think peo­ple still be­lieve women can’t cope?

Have they seen some of the con­di­tions we’ve com­peted in over the years? It’s ig­no­rance and tak­ing the easy out rather than ad­dress­ing the real mat­ter at hand of why girls weren’t in­vited in the first place. Not ev­ery girl needed to be in­vited, but there were a small hand­ful that would have more than held their own in that field of men.

What mo­ti­vates you to want to com­pete in ex­treme events?

First and fore­most, it is me ver­sus my en­vi­ron­ment, me ver­sus my­self be­fore me ver­sus my com­peti­tors. But it has to feel right and it has to come from a deep feel­ing of ex­cite­ment rather than fear or anx­i­ety. If I can feel the ‘holy shit but­ter­flies’, that’s usu­ally a good omen to pro­ceed, al­beit with cau­tion, within my own lim­its and to be present and aware of my sur­round­ings.

You helped drive a cam­paign last year, #I Pad­dle for Equal­ity, to get things changed, what mo­ti­vated you to speak out?

I was the only one that had noth­ing to lose, whose per­for­mances could not be ques­tioned, I had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to speak up, fi­nally I was brave enough to do so.

It was pleas­ing to see women in­cluded this year. How­ever, you are the World # 1 pad­dle­boarder yet you were not in­vited. Why do you think that is? How do you feel about that? It must feel very bit­ter-sweet?

Maybe this is what hap­pens when you ruf­fle feath­ers. In the grand scheme of things it’s a poor play on their be­half. If I was run­ning their PR, I may have ap­proached the sit­u­a­tion quite dif­fer­ently. But we are talk­ing about the same peo­ple that in­vited no fe­males for the past two years of the event, so in some ways it is hardly sur­pris­ing. If that is the price of be­ing a change maker, I’d do the same thing all over again to­mor­row.

Can you tell us about some of the other chal­lenges you have faced be­ing a woman in the out­doors?

I never faced any real chal­lenge un­til 2012. Un­til then I had in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties. It as­tounded me that not all things were as equal as I was brought up or led to be­lieve.

Who do you be­lieve are our worst crit­ics? Other women or men?

Both. We are fe­males can be pretty good at tear­ing each other down. We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to be the ris­ing tide that floats all boats. We will all be bet­ter for it.

One of the mis­con­cep­tions about many top ath­letes is that be­cause they are hard and ag­gres­sive in com­pe­ti­tion they must be the same in real life sit­u­a­tions. What I have known of you off the wa­ter is a kind and car­ing and will­ing to do any­thing to help oth­ers. Do you find this mis­con­cep­tion dif­fi­cult?

Peo­ple will al­ways make up their own ideas of how they want to per­ceive oth­ers be it true or far from the truth. I’ve strug­gled a lot with mis­con­cep­tion and the prej­u­dice of oth­ers and it has cut me to the core for long pe­ri­ods of time. All I can do is stay true to my­self, true to my friends and those who have al­ways had my back and let ac­tions speak louder than words now and into the fu­ture. But I will never apol­o­gise for be­ing a com­peti­tor on a start line and turn­ing up to do what has been my job, to play fair, to think rather than act in the heat of the mo­ment and to know when to bite my tongue.

"I will never apol­o­gise p g for be­ingg a com­peti­torp on a start line and turn­ingg upp to do what has been my job."

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