Base: Starnberg, Germany
Occupation: Pro Surfer
Valeska started surfing when she was 20 and is now one of Germany’s top surfer. After several years of living and surfing all over the world, she has chosen Munich as a base for her surf travels and its river surfing conditions. I think she is also super nice and has a really in depth knowledge technical side of surfing.
Interview with the current german longboard champion on standing waves, Surfskating and how to improve your surfing with a good amount of inspirational tips. Just a quick shout out to my local surf crew Surfers Connection Berlin, love volunteering with you and thanks for making this possible.
I’m a proud member at the Surfers Connection Berlin. It’s the club that connects surfers in Berlin and does, among other things surfskate trainings. Valeska Schneider gave on of these smoothstar trainings for us (which was amazing) and I was introduced to her through it. 3 days later, on the 18. November 2019 the interview took place on the grounds of Wellenwerk, the first standing wave in Berlin, and is translated by myself into English.
Thank you to the Surfers Connection Berlin for making this interview possible!
thank you so much for taking the time.
First of all could you tell me, why we have the pleasure to greet you here in Berlin?
Of course. A couple of months ago I heard about the Wellenwerk Project. Julius [one of the founders of Wellenwerk] and I were in contact and he invited me to come along for a press photo shoot. After that he told me, that if I stay for the opening, I could surf on the wave for a week. Of course I was instantly convinced and that’s why I’m here.
A wave in Berlin, I still can’t believe it. Most of our Surfers Connection Crew are super excited, but have never been on a standing wave before. What is a thing, a surfer should know before trying a standing wave for the first time?
The most ‘dangerous’ thing about riversurfing or surfskating is, that it is quite easy to accustom yourself with the wrong techniques. With these techniques you’ll continue to stand in a river or on the skateboard, but you’ll definitely fall in the ocean.
The main point about standing waves is, that the wave has as much pressure, as 12ft wave in the ocean would, but it is only shoulder high. That’s why mistakes are easier to balance and you don’t need to generate speed, like you’d need to in shoulder high waves.
Other than that, to practice leaning on the rails, rotations or line of sight are all things you can practice well on the standing wave and that function similiar in the ocean.
What kind of turns are suited for an intermediate open water surfer, when surfing on a standing wave?
Carves, and holding the turns on the edge of the rail. Backhand and forehand carves can be connected to practice in an 8 form. And then you notice the higher up you get on the wave, the more speed you get. The more you hold the rail while doing a turn, the faster you’ll exit it. It is about learning to control the speed first, because for all the following turns, you will need a lot of it. The carves are basically setup turns, for all that follows.
What turns do you currently practice on the standing wave?
In August I’ve started practice the Air Reverse. I managed to land it once so far, but I haven’t tried it in the ocean. In the ocean I tend to practice more critical turns, that are steep and closer to the pocket [of the wave]. That doesn’t work for standing waves, because there isn’t really a pocket. The Wellenwerk wave is super steep, but it doesn’t throw over in the front.
Most of the Surfers Connection, and myself included are surfskaters. How do you compare skating on a Smoothstar and surfing a standing wave? And how does it tie in to the goal of surfing ocean waves better?
I think it builds on each other, so starting on a Smoothstar, it is really good to practice or correct your stance. The stance on the board is a common cause for mistakes. It gives you the time you need, and it is cheaper than the other options. The other thing you can practice really well are turns.
With the standing waves you have the 3 dimensions, which is harder to mimic on a Smoothstar. Of course, you could practice on a ramp or in a bowl, but than it is a little bit more tricky, especially with the concrete. Building up its best to transfer, what you have practiced on the Smoothstar, to the wave.
On the standing waves you can’t do a classical bottom turn, like you could in the ocean. In the ocean waves it is more like a ‘U’, while in the standing waves, it comes from Carve and is similar to a ‘C’, I guess. But in the end you hold the like you would in the ocean.
How does the wave of the Wellenwerk compare to other standing waves, like the Eisbach in Munich for example?
I think on the Eisbach it is more of the ‘surf’ feeling, you’re in nature, at least a little bit. It changes more often and you have to react to it, which makes it more difficult or frustrating. Some things don’t work as well, because there are shallow parts in the Eisbach. For that the Citywaves, like the one here in Wellenwerk, are really good, because you are able to practice the ocean techniques and tricks. For technical training I feel more comfortable on the artificial waves. The wave width at Wellenwerk of 8.5m is nice and gives me a lot of options.
Competition and Mindset
Within a short amount of time you got really good at Surfing. In another interview I read, that one of your secrets was to get coaching early on. I’ve been surfing on the same level for a while and would like to find a coach on my next holiday. What are some things to look out for?
It is difficult, especially in Europe, to know what is good quality coaching and what isn’t. I’ve experienced, that sometimes the language barrier is a problem, so that the explanations got lost in translation from spanish to english to german. But this person would probably be an awesome coach for a spanish speaker. I’ve had really good experiences, but also disappointing ones. I think working with recommendations is good.
Okay, so there is not like, one ‘test’ question to ask?
No, not really. Also some of the really good coaches want to train people, that have contest experience. In conversations before hand, you can see with how much respect you are treated. Some coach said: ‘Why should I invest my time, she started with 20 and wants to get a little better now.’ Sometimes, it is a little difficult to find a coach to work with over a long period.
However, I think it is super important, that the coach films a lot. And at best somebody who works with a surfskate board as well. […] The best coach I’ve ever had, made me practice on a Smoothstar at least for an hour before every session.
What to look for in an intermediate coach – Valeska
Do you have a routine that you follow before going into the water?
I probably should have one. But when the waves are good I’m so exicted, that I just run into the water. When I do warm-up properly, I notice, that the session is better at the beginning.
How do you cope with fear of bigger waves? Do you have certain practices?
Fear is a topic for me, when the waves are big and really steep. When they are just big and push into the bay with time for paddling and take off, I don’t mind it. But when they are steep, so that it almost throws a barrel and you have to be super quick, I feel the fear.
It is a process, first to get better in small, steep waves. And when you notice, that you have a good timing and the take off works, than you are ready to try bigger ones. If that is not the case, it doesn’t really make sense to try bigger waves and the fear is justified. Sometimes it is only in your mind and you pull back 3 times ‘Oh no I’m scared’, then the trick is, that you have to stop thinking. I motivate myself by telling me ‘Let’s just go, paddle without doubting yourself.’ That moment of doubt, is what is missing in power to catch the wave.
Also most of the people I go surfing with are guys and are at a higher level than me. Of course, that pushes me, especially when I know that they aren’t pro’s, but just a bit better than me. Because I know it is realistic to measure myself with them and I hate to be called a pussy. So I go in with them, and get used to it from the side at first. And you can go back to the beach at any time, when you feel really uncomfortable. It is important to keep that in mind, because if you are to scared or hesitate to much, the risk of injuries rises.
So, big waves, not the problem, as long as it is not to steep.
What is a big wave to you?
I’ve lived close to Bells Beach, while I was studying in Melbourne. One time was so big, that I need a 6’2 step-up board. I don’t know how big the waves were exactly, one of the guys said it was 8ft [2,5m], but you never know. That was really something. I surfed one wave, crossed that of my checklist and went back to the shore.
Do you sometimes miss the fun in surfing , with the performance pressure of contests and sponsors?
Sometimes, yes. When I’m alone, because not all of my friends have same lifestyle like I do, or they even go an a trip, but I can’t come, because I need to go to a contest. Or when I train alone and think to myself I have to go, because I need to train but it is cold and I don’t really want to. But in the end, this is my job and I have to train. Sometimes, when I don’t fell 100%, then I doubt myself, like ‘What am I doing?’. Or bad contest results, well actually, those only push me more.[…] Currently, I can live at home and train river surfing, but I’m often in another country to train in the ocean waves, with unknown coaches and strangers around me.
As a landlocked surfer I can relate. What feeling do you like most about surfing?
When the waves are perfectly glassy and you are able to do one turn after the other, without loosing speed. And you feel how good the turns were, because you have so much energy coming out of them.
What skill or attribute, other than surfing or skating, do you want to practice in the next 6 months?
Patience. I’m not the most patient person in the world. And I sometimes I need to have things planned exactly, to know what is happening next. To chill more, and just do what you are currently doing. Everything that I do, has a lot of uncertainty in it, not to know how things are going to continue, when the the next contest is going to be, how will be sponsors act, it’s difficult.
Where are you heading on your next journey?
I’m not sure yet. Maybe a spontaneous trip to Morocco next week. Or, it’s not planned yet, but maybe we’re going to drive down to Italy, to surf the mediterran sea around Christmas, if there is swell. Flying around Christmas is difficult financially and also I have a contest coming up mid January 2020. So I can’t go long anyways and I dislike to only travel short term. And I’ve never been to Italy, so maybe we’re going to be lucky and there is a little bit of swell.
Do you have an inspirational quote that motivates you?
Yes I have 2:
‘Small steps towards big goals to reach dreams.’ and ‘Happiness is the only thing, which multiplies, when shared.’
What would you do, if you knew you couldn’t fail?
If i knew, that I’ll be able to continue with my pro surfing career for a while, i would like to use some of my energy and resources to give back to the community.
Would that be something similar to your ‘Athletes against Plastic’ Project?
Not that specifically. The plastic is a huge problem, which is close to my heart. But I would rather do something involving actual people. Because I know how much surfing gave me and I would like to enable more people to experience that as well. For example the confidence you get from surfing, especially for women or girls, as we are still usually in the minority.
When was the last time you cried of excitement?
That’s easy actually. My best friend got married this July.
When was the last time you’ve traveled some where, where there is no surf?
A couple weeks ago I visited a friend in Essen for some days. [not what I meant :D] But other than that, I really have no clue. It was probably before I started surfing. [that’s 7 years ago!]