When Karolina Winkowska burst onto the kiteboarding scene, every day dawned with untapped potential. Her peers and fans watching eagerly as they awaited the answer to the question, ‘what would she try next?’
As a native of Warsaw, Poland, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest ocean or large body of water, Winkowska knows it may not seem like the most natural sport for her to fall into, but that’s only if you don’t know her father, Peter.
Peter was a professional wind surfer for much of Karolina’s childhood and she got to travel with him all over Europe.
“As a little girl, that was really fun,” Winkowska remembers with a smile. She would travel with her father in an old Volkswagen van and it didn’t take long for her to want to try everything her dad was.
At 14 years old she started kiteboarding and remembers struggling with balancing growing up around her peers with a more conventional background.
“I was still in high school and would get to go places like Venezuela and South Africa, things my friends in school couldn’t even dream of doing. I didn’t have many friends because they didn’t really understand what I was doing. There was no social media. I was writing a blog but it was a really different reality.”
A reality Karolina was helping shape for generations of female kiteboarders who came after her. There were always women she looked up to in the sport but her generation took the foundation those who had come before her had laid and took the sport to new heights.
“There was a new generation of female riders when I started,” Winkowska remembers. “We started pushing the sport in a new direction because women weren’t really doing what we were doing. There were three of us who were really standing out from the crowd.”
Which meant as the sport gained popularity, it was Winkowska and her friends that kept everyone coming back for more.
“We’d try tricks and we could go to the next event and then they were doing a new trick, or I was doing some new tricks and we were all secret training because there was no social media. We were the women who was the first ones to land this trick or that trick.”
That competitive, boundary-pushing mindset took Winkowska to the top of the podium multiple times, become a 3 time Freestyle World Champion and two Triple-S wins.
But after nearly a decade of doing that, Winkowska found she wasn’t enjoying the competitions, the tour lifestyle, and the stress of it all like she used to.
“I started to see a lot of symptoms of just exhaustion from a psychological perspective. I would finish the season and need two months of doing nothing, like no sports, because I was so tired. I would need like a week off after the event, just physically dead. I wasn’t depressed but my body was really exhausted and I was still pretty young, so I didn’t want to get worse.”
That led to Winkowska trying something new, even to her, in the kiteboarding world. The park discipline. Which, similar to in snowboarding and skiing, is where athletes run through a course laid out in the water of elements like rails and jumps, and do tricks off of them.
“I had to learn kind of from scratch,” Winkowska said of making the switch. “I felt like the park discipline was more fun in a way, we went to new locations, it’s where I met Sensi.”
As if trying a new discipline wasn’t enough, Winkowska is now navigating being a professional kiteboarder with a new title: mom. Her and her partner, Alex, are the proud parents of nearly one-year old Ruby. While the change has been a gift to Winkowska and her family, that doesn’t mean the transition was easy.
“When I was pregnant, I felt like my life was finished,” Winkowska remembers. “I wasn’t this type of pregnant mom that was super active at all. Normally, I’m super active, I work out every day, I do yoga every day, I’m doing things all the time. When I fell pregnant, I did nothing.”
As hard as the pregnancy was, the moment Ruby entered the world, Winkowska said everything changed for the better.
“Turns out my body is amazingly healing. I actually have more energy than ever before. I think it’s a new mom super adrenaline or something, even if I don’t sleep at night, even if I’m super tired, I just keep going. And now, I get to do my sport as well.”
For Winkowska this season of life is no different than the previous ones, where she listens to her body, and her soul to decide what is right for her. Similar to switching from freestyle to park, now she’s listening to her body again as she navigates how to be a professional athlete and a mom.
“Not feeling like yourself is the worst, like when I was pregnant, I was not myself. I couldn’t do my sport. Now that I can do my things, I am happy and I have energy to be with her.”
“A lot of voices around me say a lot of different things [about being a pro and a mom] but I really want her to see that she can do whatever she wants. There’s no limits. Life is open for everyone. I get to pursue my passion and live my dream and that’s what I want to show her.”
So don’t expect Karolina Winkowska to fade into the shadows of the kiteboarding world, instead it’s her newest, closest shadow, her little Ruby, she’ll continue to break barriers for.
SHOP KAROLINA'S TOP PICKS FOR KITEBOARDING: