Growing up on North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ellisa Thompson is a woman that enjoys all the area has to offer. The region gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in many outdoor activities, including kiteboarding and surfing. But she was often a minority, being one of the few — or only — girls amongst her peers pursuing ocean adventure.
And then there were times when she knew absolutely no one.
But she kept on.
We sat down at a local coffee shop to talk about those experiences.
Samantha Proctor: How did you get into surfing and kiteboarding?
Ellisa Thompson: Growing up in Cape Hatteras, I’ve always watched local surfers in the water. I knew I wanted to learn as soon as I felt physically able to do so. When I was nine, my uncle came up from Florida with some boards and said “Alright, let’s just try today.” I was pretty much hooked after that. I started surfing with the boys in the mornings, after school, and weekends as well.
Kiteboarding was a little different; it’s relatively new in the watersports industry and has grown tremendously in Cape Hatteras in the past couple years. We’ve got one of the best spots in the world for kiteboarding, but I didn’t understand that at first. My dad is really the one who put it into perspective when he said, “Your back yard is kiteboarding’s equivalent of Vail [for skiing], you just don’t know it yet.”
So, when I was 17, on Easter break, [my dad] bought me lessons. I didn’t have any local friends to ride with or anybody I knew who was into it.
When I was 20 years old, I met a bunch of riders; [they have] become some of my best friends over the past five years and have really influenced me in the sport.
What is your favorite thing about surfing? About kiteboarding?
With surfing, that’s easy: being in nature with just a board. It’s time I use to talk to God and clear my mind; there’s just not a whole lot else that can cloud your mind while surfing. You’ve got one shot to get the wave and every wave is different, so I love the uniqueness, the time in nature, and the simplicity of it.
Kiteboarding is a little different. I see it as more of an action sport; you’re always moving in kiteboarding, thinking about your next move and planning it out. So, for me, it’s more for the thrill.
Putting both sports together in an experience: it’s the time I use to bond with [the people I love]. I consider [both of these sports] a lifestyle, a way to connect earth with above, and enjoy my time here.
How have these sports influenced your life?
In a tremendous way. These sports have helped me make some of my best friends, through meeting them on the beach, in shops, [or in my travels to great kite or surf spots].
But it’s also given me confidence. Being a girl, there’s not a ton of local female riders here who are into action watersports. [Surfing and kiteboarding] have given me confidence to go places, meet people with similar [interests], and look to myself for inspiration in the sport.
Where have these sports taken you and what is your favorite spot?
I have been to the Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos to kiteboard. I’ve surfed and kited in Puerto Rico, New Zealand, and while living in Costa Rica. I’ve also done a trip around the country where I lived in a van, [visiting the Florida] Keys, South Padre Island (Texas), riding all over the [U.S.] east coast, and snow kiting in Michigan. This winter I am heading down to South America.
What motivates you?
Most of my friends that do these sports are male; I’ve always been the girl that wants to keep up with [them]. That’s a big motivational factor for me, as well as getting out there and enjoying the [natural world] that God has blessed us with.
What advice would you give women about surfing and kiteboarding? How about women that want to try it but don’t know where to start?
The first piece of advice is to [take] lessons.
[In kiteboarding,] it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing; you’re attached to a big kite with a lot of power that can pull you. Lessons are also a great place to start [in surfing] because you can make friends that will ride with you.
Save up your money [for lessons]; it’s worth it. You can buy [something material], or get into a sport that will help your mental and physical health for the rest of your life.
For me, working on my short board technique so I can travel through South America this winter and be the best and most safe surfer [possible]. I also plan on kiting more in the waves — working on that this winter in Peru and the Galapagos Islands — to bring both sports together.
I want to continue to enjoy [these sports] with the ones I love and help [those who are] willing to learn.
From February 6 - March 3, 2017, OWA is raising $25,000 to expand access to their Grassroots Program. We want women everywhere to connect, grow skills, and build in-person communities right in their own towns. Find out how you can support our efforts and what we plan to accomplish with your donation by visiting our crowdfunding campaign.