From Kitesurfing Rookie to Pro

By Toni Tetzner - October 12, 2018

Today I have the pleasure to talk to the youngest member of the Suntribe, Rachael Hooper. Rachael is a British kitesurfer from Exmouth, UK who has just won the Women’s Pro Freestyle British Championships at the young age of 15. Rachael has only been competing for two years and already won the under 19 Girls’ Freestyle British Championships last year. Currently she is set to represent Great Britain in the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires 2018. Rachael feels right at home on all sorts of boards and if she cannot be seen flying a few feet above the ocean then she is probably surfing powder barrels somewhere up in the mountains on her beloved skis or skating across town.

How did you get into kitesurfing Rachael?

It’s actually a funny story. My brother Eddie was really good mates with Tom Bridge, the red bull kitesurfing athlete, so he learnt with him. As Eddie could kitesurf, I was encouraged by my mum to go on my first lesson at about age 11 with Steph (Steph Bridge, Tom’s mum and former Kiteboarding world champion who now runs the Edge Watersports Academy together with Eric Bridge) and give it a go, and let’s just say it wasn’t the best experience ever! It was a wet, rainy cold winters day and I was sent out with not much interest in the sport. I had never in my life flown any sort of kite and was absolutely petrified! So for my first time I was out on a kite and hated every second of it, I felt out of control and super scared! So after I came off the water I told my mum I never ever wanted to go kitesurfing ever again and had no intentions of ever doing it!

However as mums usually are pretty persuasive, about 2 years later when I was 13 mum had booked me into another lesson once again and I was not looking forward to it! I wasn’t happy about having to go through the same experience as before and was reluctant to go. But mums being mums she forced me to go, and to my astonishment I absolutely LOVED every single second of it, I got up and was riding on my first go which was probably only about 10 meters but it was honestly the best feeling in the whole world and then I got the bug for it! To this day I still can’t thank my mum enough and am so grateful for her making me give it another go!!

Rachael Hooper with Tom Bridge (second from the left), her brother Eddie (first from the right) and another members of the “Team Bridge”.

That's such a cool story! From being a complete novice you made it into the finals of the Junior Girls' Championships 2017, which you won, and consequently into the finals of the Women’s Pro Championships this year. I heard it was quite tight between you and Jessie Tucker, how nerve-racking was the whole competition for you?

Wow yeah it was super nerve-racking! I entered it with no intentions at all on doing well as I knew the level of competition was pretty high and Jessy and Holly (another contestant) where really good and I looked up to them as role models. At the first round there wasn’t much wind so unfortunately we couldn’t compete, but the second one brought us more luck and bit of wind and we managed to run some heats. I was so nervous to even go out as I didn’t want to embarrass myself as I knew all the others were really good. I got first in my heat and managed to get second in the final which was super cool. So come to the final fourth round and I was ready to give it my all! The conditions where not what the best for freestyle but we just had to make do! Jess won the first heat, I won the second then it was all to play in the third and final! 

I went out at first on my seven (seven-meter wide kite) and was so overpowered, and then the wind dropped quite suddenly and I was unable to keep upwind, so I came in quick as I had my brother on the beach as standby with another kite. I swapped my kite and went back out but didn’t have the best heat as it wasn’t just quite windy enough to complete all the tricks I was intending on. However I did my best and was content with that. It was a massive shock when I found out that I had won and was crowned Women’s Pros British Champion and I was so happy, I couldn’t thank everyone who made it all possible enough.

What is the kite surfing scene in the UK like?

It’s next level froth out there on the water in Exmouth! We have two main kite spots which is the main beach and the duck pond with both being so popular there is never a dull moment! The bar is always being raised and we’re always pushing each other to the limit no matter how gnarly your ability is!! Steph has the Edge Youth Kite Academy which is a free club where all the riders from any age up to 18 can come and join in. We spend two hours on the water after school on Thursdays and she gives us all the tips and help to get us to be better riders. We always have loads fun and it’s a great experience and there are always new faces each week. If we’re not kiting then we’ll still be sure to get together and do some fun training. Exmouth has got to be the best place to become the best of your ability with so many people always pushing you and the opportunities are endless!!

Having traveled to kitesurfing competitions and camps all around the globe, what was your favorite spot so far and why?

That’s quite a tricky one if I’m to be honest. So far, I have really loved the atmosphere in Gizierra which is in Italy, but by far the best kiting for freestyle I have ever had is Dakhla in Morocco. The water there was so so flat and the wind was really smooth! I definitely recommend it to anybody!

How has taking up kitesurfing impacted your life? How have you been able to find time for kiting and your other sports besides having to go to school?

So primarily my sports are water based, but I do also ski and surf and skateboard as much as I can! I always do my school studies first and then as soon as that is out of the way I’m a free agent! I’m doing my big exams this year so it could all get a bit busy for a short amount of time but hopefully it won’t get too bad! Then after that I will have a lot more time for kiting and training as college is a bit more malleable and hopefully I can get in a few more trips too!

We're sure you'll swing that one too. Let’s talk about sunscreen for a bit. I know that the UK is not known to be one of the sunniest places on the planet but how often do you use Suntribe sunscreen?

Typically the UK is not the sunniest, but this year has been a scorcher and I’ve used the sunscreen all summer! However, even when it’s not that sunny I still use the sunscreen out on the water as it’s really important to me to stay protected and safe. Being on the water you’re always exposed to the elements and Suntribe is sure to keep your skin still looking fresh! I also go skiing every Christmas with my family and we all use it then too so it’s a seriously good allrounder!

What do you like about it the most?

I’m always using the ocean and I would happily class it as my second home. I like the fact that the sunscreen is so organic and I really feel like I’m doing my bit and giving back. It’s easy to apply and feels amazing on your skin, there’s not really anything quite like it!!

Which kitesurfing challenge are you planning to master next?

I have recently taken up kitefoiling and my current goal is to master it so I’m ready for the 2024 Olympics. As you may have heard that kitesurfing has become an Olympic sport! I am on a programme to be one of the UK riders at the Olympics and I am so grateful to have the Bridges’ support as Steph and Guy (from the Edge Kitesurfing Academy) are going to be super helpful in helping me achieve this goal!!

We wish you the best of luck for that. Thanks a lot for the great interview Rachael!

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