Injuries put paid to Annabel Anderson’s plans to be a professional skier and cut short a promising triathlon career. Then she found stand up paddleboarding.
A photo shoot in a bikini in the freezing cold kick-started Annabel Anderson’s stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) career. The shoot at Wanaka was Jeremy Stephenson’s idea – he’s the New Zealand representative for Starboard, the world’s leading SUP board manufacturer – and they used Anderson’s photo in adverts, catalogues and on billboards. That was 2009 and Anderson was “just paddling for fun at the time”, but Starboard and Stephenson recognised her potential.
Two years on, she’s a rising star. In August 2010 she finished second in her first World Cup race. This year, her first as a professional, she won the European Championships, set a new world distance record, finished third in the Paddleboard World Championships and was nominated for SUP Woman of the Year.
“Americans owned the sport,” she says “and this Kiwi comes out of nowhere and wins races. They’re asking, ‘who is she?’”
The 30-year-old grew up on a farm, riding horses and running hills, dreaming of competing at the Olympics.
“I’ve never been a gifted athlete, but I always trained harder than everybody else,” she notes, with disarming modesty. “I put pressure on myself to be the best.”
But the pressure brought cracks from the age of 17. A promising ski-racer, she was told by coach Adi Bernasconi to take a break before the first race of the 1999 season. Spurning the chance to chill with a hot chocolate, instead she went for one last training run. Misjudging a turn, she broke her left leg. “She was like a thoroughbred racehorse,” Bernasconi reflects. “She wanted to go, go, go.”
The following winter Annabel tore the cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee. So she started swimming for rehab and rode her bike. After three months she was back running and swapped skiing for triathlon. She finished in the top 10 at the Oceania Championships and was selected for the New Zealand High Performance programme.
Read the full story in October's issue of the Red Bulletin.