This Woman Is The First In The World To Win A Gruelling 80km Windsurf Race

Think you'd be able to squat for, like, two hours?


By Michelle October |

Windsurfing: something you may have seen other people do on holiday, and most likely nothing you’ve ever considered trying yourself. And, if you’re one of the people who were never sure what they actually wanted to be when they “grew up”, you likely also missed the memo that you could become a professional windsurfer, like Karo van Tonder. Last year, she broke records by becoming the fastest windsurfing woman in Africa, then besting that record by becoming the first and only woman in the world to complete – and win – an 80km windsurf race.

Pushing Through On A Weak Leg

The race in question is the Mauritius Challenge, a gruelling 80km windsurf through the Pointe d’esny in Mauritius. “I saw most of the strong men retiring at the 40km mark,” says Karo about the race. Her leg also started giving in. “People always think that most of our power comes from the upper body when actually our entire body is used to control the board and the sail. The way you tilt the board with your feet and legs and the pressure that you distribute between your two legs plays a big role in how the fin behaves. This determines to a great extent our speed.”

READ MORE: Why Are SA’s Sportswomen Not Getting The Recognition They Deserve?

During the race, her legs were working pretty hard to push her through the race. Two hours in, her back leg started giving in. “Your legs absorb all the shock from the choppy water on the board and therefore, during the last 20km of the 80km race my back leg lost power after straining for almost two hours. It’s like being in a squat position for an extended period of time. At some point, your muscles hit the wall,” she says.

Whohoooo!!!!! I am officially the first woman in the world to finish an 80km windsurf race!!!! ???????…… It was the most intense physical and mental experience of my entire life!!! All the hard work and training paid off today. A huge thank you to my dad Joos Bester who has been by my side and suppoting me 110% all the way, before and after every single race… And to my mom who came with to Mauritius this year to support me. Thank you Riaan van Belkum, my Personal trainer and biokineticist, who got me in top notch shape to be able to take on this incredible challenge full throttle!! This week was the biggest highlight for my windsurfing and i reached all my goals. Tomorrow its back to SA… ? ? ? Thank you Règis from #SAR_production and Xavier König from @blastoff_creative and Jaco Wolmarans for the most amazing photos and videos!! And a big thank you to all my sponsors for supporting me with the best windsurf gear i can ever have!! @severnesails @ZuluFins @Surf’n’Curve @starboard_windsurfing @starboard_Apparel @Windwaterwaves_Westcoast @capesportlangebaan @gypsea_swimwear @worldofwindsurf @Windsurfgirls #apex7 #Dermasure_skincare

A post shared by Karo van Tonder (@karo.vantonder) on

Mental Tricks For Endurance

Karo skillfully manoeuvred herself so that she didn’t need to rely on her back leg for power, and kept going. But it’s the mental tenacity that really kept her going. “Your mind is the strongest asset and can override most physical challenges,” she says. Added to that, she’s decided that windsurfing is the ultimate hobby for her. Translation: there are no bad days. “I have conditioned my mind to believe that windsurfing for me must always be about having fun. Therefore, I have never had a bad event or a bad experience so far,” she says.

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This kind of mental muscle has proved important for Karo, since she mostly competes against men (there aren’t enough women competitors in South Africa). “One of my greatest assets is my physical and mental endurance. Sometimes even some of the men fall out, while I am still out there pushing my limits and giving my best, even if it is on my smaller gear,” she says. So much more than #fitspo.

Want more? Here’s how sport helped Letshego Zulu after her husband passed away, plus the secrets to surfer Tanika Hoffman’s success.

READ MORE ON: Fitness Fitness Advice Real Women SA Women In Sport