Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo for The Western Front

WWU student earns title ‘best woman surfskiier under 23 years old’

Local athlete talks about her journey after placing first at World Championships

Western Washington student Ana Swetish surfskis through the waves in Bellingham Bay in Bellingham, Wash., in April 2022. At age 20, Swetish has been surfskiing for nearly a decade. // Photo by Tom Swetish

Ana Swetish, a third-year student at Western Washington University, is the best surfski competitor in the world under 23 years old. Her journey began when she was 11 years old.

“In 2013, a kid’s kayak team started in Bellingham on Lake Padden, and my dad signed my sister and I up,” Swetish said. “I fell in love with it.”

Surfski is very similar to kayaking and is currently not included as an Olympic sport, and World Championships are as close as someone could get.

“It’s like kayaking; we use the same kinds of paddles. The boats [for surfski] are longer. They’re 21-feet long, skinny and narrow,” Swetish said. 

When Swetish started paddling surfski, she was hooked.

“I remember telling my mom when I had been paddling for two months that I was going to be in the Olympics,” Swetish said. “I hadn’t been to a single race yet, and she was like, ‘that’s ambitious but OK.’”

Since then, Swetish has gone on to place in World Championships three times and got first place in her latest race, the International Canoe Federation Canoe Ocean Racing World Championships in Portugal.

Swetish’s favorite part about surfski is the feeling of paddling downwind.

“When it’s blowing 40 mph on the bay, this is where I feel the happiest. Every other worry, every other stress about homework or school just disappears,” Swetish said. “It’s the best feeling.”

Jonas Ecker, a skilled paddler and long-time friend of Swetish, said he loves surfskiing for similar reasons.

“[My favorite parts are] the adrenaline rush of either being at the start line or catching the biggest wave you can,” Ecker said. 

While some college students might have trouble finding the motivation for training on top of school, Swetish said this is not a problem for her.

“I train a lot because I mostly just love it. Being out on the water is great,” Swetish said. “I usually wake up around eight, have breakfast, then paddle first thing in the morning. I train with my boyfriend, Wilson. It’s very fun to push each other.”

Austin Kieffer, Swetish’s coach and retired surfski professional, expressed how it’s been being able to watch Swetish’s paddling journey.

“I’ve seen the entire journey,” Kieffer said. “It was cool to see that talent and hard work pay off. [Swetish is] a passionate, accessible, relatable human who is also the best in the world at what she does.”

Part of the hard work that Swetish puts into the sport is teaching. Swetish said that learning proper technique is incredibly important when learning to surfski.  

“I coach lessons for people who are new to paddling,” Swetish said. “People who just bought their first surfski will reach out to me, I’ll meet them on the water and teach them how to paddle correctly.”

When asked how someone could start surfskiing, Swetish advised reaching out to the local community. For Bellingham residents, she recommended Whatcom Paddler.

“If you reach out to the community, people are super willing to help you get into a boat,” Swetish said.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Western Front