In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight

Town and Around's Tim Keogh talks to Annalisa Dovey about water sports

Where do you come from? I’m a proud Norfolk girl, born and bred. My great grandparents, grandparents and parents, all hail from the area. As a teenager, I always wanted to branch out and see the world. So, given the opportunity, I travelled from an early age, studying along the way, but always envisaged coming back to my roots.

What made you take up water sports? I was sailing with my parents before I could even walk to be honest. My dad taught me to swim by hanging me off the back of his board. He had me bodyboarding, surfing and sailing from an early age and I learnt the ropes off the Hunstanton coast, where I was introduced to kitesurfing. It’s a very exciting and addictive sport, balancing water and wind to manoeuvre.

I heard you were rather good at kitesurfing? I ended up studying in Poole, where I trained and competed at kitesurfing for several years. Then, I moved to France, where I entered a local event just for fun. It turned out to be part of the European Championships ! I did quite well and suddenly I had a 4th ranking in Europe and a 3rd ranking In the UK. It was a long time ago, though, and my fellow competitors and I were pretty much the first women kitesurfing at the time. The sport has progressed significantly since then and, I am proud to say, the Hunstanton to Brancaster coastline has recently produced a number of competitors and professionals operating at a top level in the sport. Norfolk is now considered a world class training area and the community has started to acknowledge and recognise this, which is great.

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Photo credit Jo Lowe Photography

Funniest incident? Not particularly funny at the time but, looking back, it was probably whilst kitesurfing in the Dominican Republic. I had damaged my kite and became stranded inbetween some coral. I wasn’t too worried about the threat of sharks as I knew it was the scent of blood that attracted them. Until I realised I had ripped my big toe nail off, with blood seeping out! Fortunately, a fellow kitesurfer came to my rescue and towed me and my equipment back to shore. He was amazed that I hadn’t asked to pause a couple of times during this arduous and tiring trip back to shore. I didn’t have the heart to explain that I was convinced a shark had cottoned onto the blood scent.

How did paddle boarding become your main water sport vocation? I have always felt that everyone should have access to water sports so, alongside a career in education, I have always taught water sports in some form. In 2018, I was training to become a yacht master before COVID struck. I decided to retreat back to my origins in Norfolk where I found great solace in my paddle boarding. So, as the restrictions slackened, I began offering paddle boarding sessions to holiday makers and local people alike. The social distance and stress reducing element of paddle boarding seemed to hit a nerve with a lot of people. There is something wonderful about being able to leave your phone behind and head out into the coastal wilderness with not a care in the world.

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You’ve recently added to your team? I am delighted to have been able to expand and now have a team of talented people involved - Louise Edge, who is also competing in the BKSA (British Kitesurfing Association) National Championships, and Alex Kane, both excellent instructors. I also have a tie in with Andy Holland, who runs SUPSLife. More recently we are looking to tie up with Bridget Rooth - who runs the yoga based Mind, Steady, Go - combining yoga and paddle boarding.

It’s incredibly important to me that our team is well qualified with the national accrediting bodies, bringing with them a huge experience from their field and beyond. Its lovely that, as we teach paddle boarding, we can bring in a knowledge and stories from the deeper maritime world, be it about navigation, weather or tides, and relay how very cool and endlessly fascinating the ocean and coastal way of life is. This, combined with a deeply embedded local knowledge, makes working with this team really wonderful.

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What’s the long term plan? I think the Norfolk coast is one of the UK’s best kept secrets for world class water sports to be honest. We are now producing endless competitors and professionals across so many disciplines. For example, Samantha Rutt, from Wells-next-the-Sea, has just become the first female SUP paddleboarder to cross from Northern Ireland to Scotland and smashed both the male and female records. So for me, I would like to keep on building access to water sports and make sure these opportunities are visible to everyone.

I am particularly proud of being part of the UK where women outnumber men in some sports and are standing almost on an equal footing in others. The divide here is so much narrower than on many parts of the global coastline and we should be proud of this - it is an incredible achievement. Continuing this legacy is especially important to me.

We plan to continue opening up different and varied opportunities, classes and sessions to engage as many people as possible. It would be great to open up a few more locations and to continue to build a team of well qualified and experienced professionals.

My dream would be for the children we introduce to water sports now to be in a position to work or compete in the water industry later, keeping the passion going for future generations. Or, at least, for everyone who comes to visit us, to retain that little space of paddle boarding joy in their hearts, a memory they will hold onto forever.

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