Dorota Staszewska

This Polish dominator is not hard to understand

AMERICAN WINDSURFER: You are the female World Champion Formula windsurfer?

DOROTA STASZEWSKA: I am last year’s Formula World Champion Female, and two time Funboard World Champion Female, two time Youth Mistral World Champion Female, and one time Junior World Champion.

AW: How many years have you been windsurfing?

DS: Eleven.

AW: What is it like to be a professional woman windsurfer in Poland?

DS: Originally it was crazy. ERA, a very big global network company that is very much into marketing and promoting their logo and their company got into windsurfing last year. We have a new professional Formula tour in Poland that also started last year. Wojtek and I are sponsored by ERA this year which means a lot because they feature us as stars. So, not only do we gain as athletes but so does the whole windsurfing sport because we are in most of the magazines. We are everywhere right now—billboards on the streets, radio commercials—promoting the tour that we have in Poland. One of the ERA events turned out to be biggest Formula Euro Cup with the highest prize money. This is working. But I would like to see more women doing this. I always have to explain to my outside sponsors about windsurfing and they have no idea why women don’t want to do it. The sponsors don’t think this is so hard. They think this is a spectacular sport. That’s why they are sponsoring the events. For my own good and for the good of windsurfing I always have to explain that this is a tough sport.

AW: Are you disappointed that there are so few women in this event?

DS: Definitely. I knew before I came here that there wouldn’t be many women but this event fit right in between my races in Europe and I felt regardless of how many women would be here I wanted to show the attitude that I have for it. It’s really working. I really want to support it. I felt it would be a good idea. In the end I’m very happy that I came because the organizer of the event showed a lot of goodwill, good work, which is not very common. We need people like this to promote Formula around the world.

AW: In Europe are there many women competing in Formula?

DS: It depends pretty much. In the European championships we had fifteen women. In the Euro Cup we get from six to ten women. If we all go together, that would be fifteen or twenty and we aim to have the last Euro Cup in Holland. The youth are getting pretty interested and this is a transitional year right now. It’s going to kick off. Women in Europe took advantage of the Starboard support program. All the information about this program can be found on the Formula web site. Basically, there are very good deals for boards for women. Everyone in the world who wants to start Formula, did other class racing, or is new but wants results, can do this and can try to apply and get a good board to start at a cheap price considering the money needed to spend on windsurfing. This is very encouraging. For many years, even though I had good results. I had a very bad time dealing with industry sponsors. There was a time in my life that I got so fed up that I gave up on it. It’s a miracle that I came back and tried again. During my youth years and then when I was entering funboarding at the age of 18 all the financial help I got was through the Polish government. I’m lucky because Poland is very helpful as far as with Olympic sailing, and not all Olympic. The country feels it owes us something for our results. It wants to support us. I also get some money sometimes for doing world championships even though it’s not Olympic class. This is how I came through all the years of sailing without the help of sponsors because Poland is not a rich country. Its been just twelve years that we have freedom of speech and everything. I know how hard it is, especially for women, to start and get any kind of support and that’s why I promise myself that as long as I’m going to do it I’m going to be very active in helping women. Some people say I just do it because without other women I cannot race. It’s true in a way, but they forget that I also have a choice. I can do other things in life. I’m a student of International Relations in Warsaw and I can easily go back there and be successful in fields other than sports. This is not my main motivation. There are many other things I can do in life. I like to do this sport because I think it’s fun and more women should do it.


AW: How did you get so good as a competitor. Do they have a certain structure to train you?

DS: I don’t want to speak for Wojtek but mine is a very similar situation to his. I have very strong ties with my family. My parents and my brother have always supported me. My father is crazy about windsurfing and crazy about myself. He’s been great support for me. Even when I started windsurfing I didn’t want to do it but was forced by my father and my brother. I wanted theatre classes. My parents decided they were not going to drive to two different places. If my brother was going to the lake, I had to go.

I wasn’t afraid of storms or wind, just afraid of my dad on the beach. When I was little I thought my father was very aggressive and strong and I was afraid of him. Suddenly it all changed. With my first international competition in ‘91 when I was twelve, I got second in Junior Aloha Class and that really motivated me so much that I started my training. I was delighted not just by the results but the whole idea—competition, trips to different countries, the philosophy of living, and the lifestyle. All through the years there were ups and downs. I did the Olympics in Atlanta in Mistral Olympic Class and got sixth place there. I was very happy. Of course there was work, sacrifice, but the most important thing in my case is relations with my parents. It was not financial support, only a little bit, but very strong emotional confidence they gave me. This is very important in an athlete’s life.


AW: Do you find it unusual that both World Champions for Formula come from Poland?

DS: It’s a coincidence. It’s not like we’ve been planning this or we’ve been on special programs. I’ve known for a long time Wojtek is very good and I’ve been very proud of him.

AW: What do you think makes him so much better than everybody else?

DS: He has very clear goals and incredible dreams. He is beyond everything. Everyone works. Everyone has equipment. He is very clear in his hopes and dreams. He dreams a lot. I’ve never seen or spoke to a guy who talks like him about achieving things in life. Our conversation is not about windsurfing or tactics. He tells me, “Well it’s good. When are we going to get this jet? When will I have a palm tree in my garden?” He is not talking about the job. It is nothing to him. He want to be president. The whole thing is on the way. He is going to be great. I think he got it from his father. I know his father is a dream thinker—you can achieve everything you want in life. This is what is different about Wojtek than the other guys.

AW: We call it visualization.

DS: Maybe that’s it. He just goes for it without hesitation.

AW: What are your dreams? What do you visualize?

DS: My dreams are very down to earth. I dream about having a family one day. When I think of windsurfing of course I would like to make some money or when I think of other things I could do in life I want to do it, make this money. But what I think what I want money for is basically my family. I read a lot of books on philosophy and sociology and came to realize two things that are really important in life. Everything is a subject, something you do in life, but it is something that helps you in life. It makes you go on but it’s nothing. The whole world is built by someone for someone. It’s like a net you are living in and it is just something you have to have otherwise you can as well go in the desert and do nothing. So then I realize that my basic reason to live is to be a mother. It is so simple and so true that I am not afraid to talk about it. I feel my instinct. My most important part of life will be being a mother and having kids and family. This is what I visualize sometimes. I don’t want to scare people [chuckles] but it’s just part of me. Now I really enjoy my life and I windsurf because I think these years are my years to do it. And I really want to do it right. I don’t have any time to waste. This is the time of sort of freedom. I know one day this freedom will be probably taken away. So this is my big motivation…

AW: Wojtek was telling me how beautiful the women are in Poland.

DS: [laughing] When you arrive in Poland and speak English, they just cannot take their eyes and hands off you because Polish guys are not so beautiful. [laughing] Polish women take care of themselves. Not only Polish, but Russian, all eastern European women are not spoiled at all. They are very honest and hard working because this is how they have to live the day.

AW: You are how old?

DS: Twenty-two.

AW: And Wojtek is twenty-four. Do you have a future husband in mind?

DS: Oh yes, plenty. [laughing]

AW: I would think being the female Formula World Champion you’d have a lot of windsurfers knocking on your door?

DS: Windsurfers consider me as a guy because they know me so well. Sometimes I do but I’m more dangerous than they are. No! No! [laughing] I’m kidding.

AW: What do you mean more dangerous?

DS: No. They are just very shy. Most of the guys that are really interested are outside of windsurfing and this is very hard for me because it’s impossible. So I try not to focus on that right now.

AW: What is your idea of a husband, a man, that you want to build your life, your nest, with?

DS: [laughing] Oh my God. You’re not going to print this are you? [laughing]

AW: Of course! [laughing]

DS: I have to feel the safety that I felt with my parents. Someone reliable, with a strong personality, with something going on like a passion, something I could share with that person. But right now I’m not looking but a lot of guys impress me. I hate stars though, that are great in what they are doing but they are so great that they forgot there is something else. They have no distance to know that this is not everything in life. But really, I’m not seeking any candidate for a husband. I’m pretty relaxed about it and I hope to stay relaxed as long as my instincts let me. [laughing]

AW: But you just finished telling me about your instincts.

DS: Yes, yes! It’s back there somewhere but I try to cut myself off that. [laughing]

AW: What will windsurfing lead you to?

DS: I thought for a while that it led me to disaster because after ‘98 I stopped windsurfing for one year. I was a student. I got burned out. I felt horrible emptiness. I live in a dark, cold country in the winter. It was very depressing. I thought why did I ever touch a board? It’s like taking your whole life away if you stop doing this. So for sure, windsurfing is going to lead me to living in a warm sunny place. I’m not sure of what else because my dad used to say that I would be a politician and that windsurfing would get me out there and I would do some great things in politics. I think I am not able to do that. It is too much of a reality. I’m a windsurfer. I’m not going to deal with politicians although I have a gift for persuading and organizing things.

AW: What does windsurfing mean to you?

DS: It’s dealing with a different kind of reality because you have much more space to live. If you are a professional windsurfer you travel around the world and live pretty much, even though you work hard, a very relaxed lifestyle. The kind of stress office people deal with, I think is unbearable for someone who lives life on a windsurfing board. We are more close to nature, deal more with ourselves and our weaknesses, and we are athletes so we learn how to win and lose. People in offices who never deal with such things have completely different lives and I don’t think I could deal with that. I would be somewhere completely different with my mind. Many windsurfing guys don’t realize they are all in this different reality. We can communicate very well and I’m sure they have problems communicating with other people. The same with me. People who are not in windsurfing are completely different and have completely different thinking.

AW: So windsurfing spoils you?

DS: Unfortunately yes. I know girls who stopped windsurfing. They said they hated it because they were so tired of dragging the shit around the airport. The windsurfing was too much hassle. And I ask, “Don’t you miss it?” And they all say, “Yes.” Windsurfing was like the highlight of their life. The reaching . . . Especially for girls from Poland because maybe if you live in a beautiful sunny place, a hot place where you can do watersports all year long, it’s different. If you live in Poland windsurfing is getting popular but you’ll never have the picture of true windsurfing—warm, no wetsuit. In Poland it is rather cold usually. So if you are stuck in Warsaw where I live far away from any sea, but have the opportunity as a professional windsurfer or other athlete, to get away and do your sport, you feel really lucky. It gives you a lot but it can also hurt. When you are done, you really have to have something that will keep you really active otherwise it is very frustrating.

AW: When you walk away from windsurfing will you start your family?

DS: I will not. I will never walk away from windsurfing. I mean I have no idea what I’ll be doing but for sure I will not walk away. I need to windsurf every other day or at least during weekends. And I don’t mean racing Formula—any kind of windsurfing. And what about all the friendships all over the World? I’m too grounded in this and know too many people and been too many places to walk away. I have no other life. This is my life. I cannot walk away from that.

AW: Will you be in Brazil this October?

DS: I will be there. I’m afraid some very good European girls will not be there. They have not enough money to come, no sponsors. They have very big problems in getting any sponsorship from within the industry or outside the industry.

AW: Why is that?

DS: I don’t know. Maybe it’s about windsurfing itself—that it’s not such a big deal. It’s not in the headlines. Or maybe it’s because women are not promoted enough in the magazines, newspapers. Maybe women are not popular enough. Wojtek tells me all the time that I have a very big advantage over guys because I can smile to sponsors and they will give me money. But maybe that isn’t true. It’s hard to say. I’m trying to find a way to help them. I recently realized that there are fourteen women in the whole world in the whole windsurfing discipline that actually make money in windsurfing—Olympic, PWA, and Formula. This isn’t just about us. This is about everything. We need to heal this situation. Formula—people who race it and organize events are very passionate about it. This year with Euro Cup tour and Worlds in Brazil are just a start of new professional racing. We want it to be shown in Euro Sport again, we want to have big prize money at the events. We want our World Champions to be known world wide. And we have already started to work hard in order to get it. It is all in our hands. I mean, mine, yours, everyone who is here today spending their time around windsurfing. And this is something that will attract women as well.


AW: What do you think women can offer sponsors?

DS: I think what we bring into the sport is freshness, beauty, and smile. We are not going to compete against the guys on the course. We can do a great job in the healthy lifestyle magazines. We promote something for life, something exciting, something that you can do to stay in shape, be active and independent. It’s a freedom. It’s something guys aren’t really into because guys are about competition. They want to be the best, the winner, number one. But we are different which is what we have to offer. We will try to work in the future to have the women only events in very nice warm locations and approach everybody promoting clothing, fashion, tourism—to approach media and everybody from every side. We want to have women in the Caribbean, America, and southern Europe, promoting their stuff, a nice lifestyle. This is something that men are not bringing in. I will try to make it happen. It takes more women like me who really want to try to do it. There’s one, a Greek girl, a really good competitor, who had a car accident and another one, a French girl, broke her leg wave sailing, and a Danish girl broke her ankle. It’s like we are only five so if something happens to one of us, a few of us, there is no one there. Right now we are a very unknown kind of windsurfer. I would like, really, to encourage American women to join us because this is it. This is the thing to do. Formula is very popular yet in the U.S. very unknown and that’s strange. Formula is for women, not only for guys. You don’t have to be tall and heavy because you have a choice and the choice is not so much. There is limited equipment. It makes the trouble of getting the gear a lot cheaper than with the PWA. It’s a totally different thing and it’s exciting. In Europe it took off already and in America it is not known but I’m sure with help it is going to be promoted and I hope to see women, especially, in Brazil for the World Championships. This is the reason I’m giving this interview. [laughing]

AW: You mean it wasn’t because of my good looks? [chuckling]

DS: [laughing] Oh no! No! It’s 50/50.

article and photos by John Chao

Publisher / Editor is a former photojournalist for GEO, National Geographic and Time-Life Magazines