All my life I’ve been obsessed with water; especially the ocean. There’s nothing like the sound of crashing waves to simultaneously calm me down and make me feel alive. For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from anxiety. Whilst seeming outwardly confident to those around me, inside I worried about everything and had little self-esteem. The ocean was my release from this; my fears drifting away on the waves.

During University I struggled being surrounded by girls who had already figured out who they were, weren’t awkward at parties and seemed to find life in general easier than I did. After graduation I worked as an intelligence analyst for a gambling company, building a career I wasn’t sure I wanted, surrounded by people much more content indoors than me.

In May 2017, after losing both my grandad and my job, I did the only thing I knew how to – I ran away to the seaside. Packing my things and moving 215 miles to the South Coast, away from my loved-ones, was a big step for me and for the first few months my anxiety meant I spent nights questioning whether I’d made the right decision.

Everything changed when, a couple of months after moving, I took my first kitesurfing lesson. Trying things outside of my comfort zone can be tough, but I’d tried (and fallen in love with!) snowboarding back at Uni and combining board sports and the open ocean seemed perfect.

Arriving at my local school in Camber, The Kitesurf Centre, the first thing that struck me was that I had a female instructor. Though there were hundreds of kiters, girls were rare, and knowing that a girl could not only kite but be good enough to teach was seriously reassuring.

From the moment I felt the kite tug on it’s lines as I learned to loop it through the sky, I knew I was going to love it. Years of overthinking and constant worry went out of the window, instead all I was thinking about was the adrenalin rush as we learned powerkiting, then our first body drags. Steering and diving the kite to pull me through the water, I felt more at home than I had in years. And that was nothing compared to sheer ecstasy I experienced the first time I got up on the board and rode off along the waves. Fast forward 12 months, and I’m so in love with kitesurfing, I’m planning on taking my instructors qualification.

Karen meeting Aaron Hadlow and Lewis Crathern

Learning to kitesurf gave me confidence I never thought I’d have, not just when I’m on the water. When I’m riding, I’m completely at peace with myself, my body and with nature. When I’m off the water, I’ve used the focus techniques and my new-found trust in my abilities in everyday life. Add to that the incredible girls I’ve met kiting (and a couple of pros!), it’s easy to see how much kitesurfing has changed my life.

Even without anxiety, being a girl can be tough. It’s hard dealing with what other people think of you, and constantly comparing yourself to girls you see in magazines. We’re natural worriers and this can stop us living our lives. Whenever I tell girls I kitesurf, I hear “Isn’t it scary?!” or “You must be so strong!” I say the same thing every time; “I’m 5’2”, 56kg and I have a reconstructed left wrist. If I can do it, trust me so can you.”

I only wish I’d started kiting earlier. The skills and coping mechanisms I’ve built would have helped so much growing up. Now, I’m going to do everything I can to get more women and girls kiting. I want a new generation of empowered, confident girls at the beach who are rocking a full kite setup with their swimsuit and having the session of their life.

Written by Karen Anne Inwood —Karen is a long time ocean lover and newbie kitesurfer, who left city life for the beach and hopes to become an instructor. She is passionate about helping girls overcome anxiety through sports, saving the environment and putting avocado in as many meals as possible. When she’s not kitesurfing or stand up paddle boarding at her local spot on the South Coast of England, you’ll find her playing with any dog she can find on the beach or planning her next overseas adventure.”