Being a competitive female athlete is a tough job.
Pro kite surfer Michelle Hayward threw caution to the wind, quit her job and pursued an athletic career. Still, people meeting her for the first time mistake her for a beginner. When she tells people she’s a kite surfer, she’s not met with a selfie request. Instead, she’s met with disses. “They’ll immediately think, ‘Oh, you’ve just started!’ or ‘Can you get up on the board?’” Cue eye-roll emoji. “I say, ‘No, actually I’m a pro’. And they don’t believe me; they don’t think I can do what I can do,” she says. Here, she opens up about her story.
Michelle has been kitesurfing since she was 16, and at one of her competitions, there weren’t any women competing, so she joined the boys — and placed second. “I saw people kite surfing and I thought, ‘I need to try this’. Eventually I went for some lessons and it took me quite a while to get started, and buy a kite, and then the kite broke, and eventually we got a board, and eventually, I got into it and I just loved it. The second I started doing it I was obsessed with it,” she says.
After leaving high school, Michelle became a Pilates instructor and opened her own studio. “I enjoyed it but I couldn’t kite surf as much as I wanted to,” she says. What she really wanted was a career in kitesurfing. But when she spoke to her friends about it, they seemed unsupportive. “Everyone thought, ‘Why are you doing this?’” she says. “But I thought, ‘I love kite-surfing so much and I really want to pursue it; it’s my dream.’” She quit the studio, and two months into kite surfing full-time, she’d already seen an incredible improvement in her performance.
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Burn The Rulebook
“I think a lot of people go around their everyday life, doing the same job, doing the same things, and it’s not necessarily making them happy or even content,” says Michelle. To her, pursuing a career kitesurfing was more important than holding down a regular job. But she wasn’t taken seriously. “They think there’s no way I can do it because I’m a girl,” she says. “I’m also a lot smaller than the other girls who compete. They’re younger but can be quite big, strong girls. My husband also kitesurfs, and he’s this big guy, and they say, ‘Oh, he must be the pro, and you must still be learning’ or ‘Did he teach you how to do this?’ and stuff like that.” But Michelle stood her ground and let her skills speak for itself. “It’s fine because I surprise them when they see what I can do. So that’s quite nice,” she says.
Now, she’s a pro, and since she started competing, more women have taken up the sport. “I prefer that then getting there and knowing you’ll be on the podium because there’s only three girls,” says Michelle. “Because I’ve been having so much competition, I can push myself so much harder.”
Play To Your Strengths
Michelle is tiny, but it’s a mistake to underestimate her abilities. Kitesurfing relies on wind to fly the sails and perform tricks like flying high above the waves — something that works to her advantage. “I’m way smaller than a lot of the guys that do it, so I always have more power than them; it’s easy for me to jump,” she says. Her fave discipline? Big Air, a branch of kitesurfing that rewards the highest jumps in the air.
Michelle bravely acknowledges the pitfalls of being a sportswoman in a male-dominated space, but is making the sport her own. In a recent Instagram post with her feature in Women’s Health, she said “I love being a girl ? but sometimes it can be difficult, complicated and even lonely. That’s why I love how Women’s Health celebrates Women in Sport as sport can often be male-dominated and girls are not always taken seriously enough… Girls, we need to remember that we are beautiful and strong, inside and out! ? ..and we need to stick together! ?” We couldn’t agree more!
I love being a girl ? but sometimes it can be difficult, complicated and even lonely. That’s why I love how Women’s Health celebrates Women in Sport as sport can often be male-dominated and girls are not always taken seriously enough. ? And not only that, but @womenshealthmagsa also celebrates women in all fields of influence and encourages us to work hard and go after all our dreams; to be our best selves. I also love how they promote body confidence and teach us to love our bodies, flaws and all. And actually give us practical ways to be healthier, fitter, more confident and how to truly take care of ourselves. It’s always good to be reminded that YOU are beautiful, no matter your shape or colour or field. Girls, we need to remember that we are beautiful and strong, inside and out! ? ..and we need to stick together! ? Tag a friend that you think is beautiful, and make her day a little brighter!