The champion windsurfer reducing plastic pollution in sport | Saskia Sills
When did you last windsurf competitively & how did you get on?
I last competitively windsurfed in September 2019 at the 2019 RSX World Championships in Lake Garda. I finished 9th overall, out of a strong fleet of 106 woman, and first British girl which was I am immensely proud about, having finished 23rd at the 2018 Worlds. I was placed 6th overall going into the last medal race just 1 point off 5th which was the highlight of my week. Unfortunately, my inexperience in Medal Races (the final race where only the top 10 girls qualify for and its double points) showed and the more experienced girls shone, and I dropped to 9th. I was pretty upset about that but once I took a step back and realised what I had achieved I became incredibly happy and I still am.
Tell us about the exciting & revolutionary changes happening to windsurfing?
In November 2019, the future of Olympic Windsurfing was reshaped – The IQ Foil was selected to become the new Olympic equipment for Paris 2024 and beyond. The IQ Foil is a new class of windsurfing which is revolutionary in the fact that it is a hydrofoil windsurfer as well as a class that is striving to be environmentally sustainable. We reach higher speeds with lower wind strengths; the racing is challenging and dynamic for the athletes as well as exciting and engaging for the media and public. Its full speed and scary but unbelievably exhilarating.
The sustainability of the new equipment is also very exciting, the manufacturer of the boards have committed to carbon offset each board 10x by planting 1 mangrove tree per board as well as using carbon offsetting sponsors to make each event carbon neutral with the hope to become a carbon net positive manufacturer. The IQ Foil class’ environmental policy includes lots of other cool sustainability initiatives such as abolishing all single use plastics at their competitions which is a great step towards reducing plastic pollution. There is nothing that compares to the feeling that the IQ Foil class gives you on the water.
Traveling above the water at a high speed, knowing that you are the one in control of the equipment and the limits you are going to push to be fastest and the best. To me, its complete freedom. With its added environmental credibility, I honestly believe that it was the best change for the future of our sport.
How are you involved in 2021 Olympics?
I am the training partner for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics representative, which I am honoured and feel fortunate about. The changes to our sport means that between now and Tokyo 2021 I will be splitting my time between training on the IQ Foil equipment and the RSX equipment to fulfil my role as a training partner.
What do the changes to your sport mean for your Paris 2024 Olympic ambitions?
I am really excited for the future of our sport with the change of equipment for Paris 2024. My goal of winning an Olympic Gold Medal remains the same. In fact, the change of equipment has only increased my motivation.
How have you coped with illness during lockdown?
I have had a hard time with two viruses that are non covid-19 related since last November. I was diagnosed with glandular fever as well as another virus that started to attack my liver. I had to stop training and pretty much everything else straight away to rest. I remember for about 3 weeks I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed to make a cup of tea. You hear horror stories of glandular fever in athletes and how it can ruin careers, I was so determined not to let that happen to me, however some days I really felt like it could have.
In total I spent 3 months at home in Cornwall resting and then I moved back up to Weymouth to start some light exercise in February. I literally had to start from the beginning again and so I started off with 15 minutes cycling every other day and have very gradually increased the amount of exercise since then. Lockdown presented some challenges in the fact that I couldn’t get out on the water or go abroad but that was ok. The importance of lockdown was far greater than me getting back out on the water. I am proud that we could all to do our bit by reducing the pressure on our NHS by staying indoors. Rather than getting frustrated about it I tried to turn it into a positive and see it as a good opportunity to train (cycling and running) rest and learn as much as possible so that I could get better as soon as possible.
I experienced post viral fatigue which has been quite intense and something I have had to be extremely careful with, by not adding too much load and intensity in my training too soon. It’s a complex illness and so everyone is different in their recovery which has meant that it’s been a lot of trial and error – I have had to learn a lot about myself in order to get better as well as a lot about health, nutrition and rest. It has been a tough time physically and psychologically but the support I have received from the British Sailing Team as well as my family and friends has been great and I will be forever grateful for it.
Tell us about your passion for sustainability in sport.
I studied Economic Geography at University. As I learnt more and more about Our World and the anthropogenic threats it faces, as well as seeing issues such as plastic pollution in our oceans first hand at competition venues around the world, I was inspired to look to Sport and investigate how as athletes we can change our habits and behaviours to help to preserve our beautiful Oceans and Earth.
I believe that sport has the power to unite people to make positive change and so I thought a great way to start change is to look at myself, my peers and my sport and to see what I could change to move towards a more sustainable future.
How are you campaigning for positive change?
I am an ambassador for The Big Plastic Pledge (BPP). It’s a global campaign founded by Rio 2016 Gold Medallist Hannah Mills. It highlights plastic pollution in our oceans and aims to reduce it by using athletes to drive change in behaviour. As athletes, I believe that we have a responsibility to inspire change and implement it.
What were you doing in Lausanne last year?
On behalf of The Big Plastic Pledge, I presented and spoke about the BPP movement at an International Olympic Committee forum on Sustainability in Sport. It was inspiring and motivating to be there and see the change that the IOC is wanting to implement in order to make Global Sport more sustainable.
Who are you most excited about at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics?
It’s always really special to see Team GB athletes win medals and achieve their goals. I am really looking forward to seeing my British Sailing Team teammates out there competing in Tokyo. In the Rio cycle I wasn’t as involved in the Olympic team as I will be this time around and so it’s going to be really cool to see them having known them for a few years. Saying that, I would also love to see my international friends from all around the world achieve their goals and dreams too.
The About The Big Plastic Pledge
Our Mission: Eradicate single use plastic in sport. Led by the athletes, driven by the fans, supported by the International Olympic Committee. Sports stars and fans unite together. FIND OUT MORE
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