5 questions with... Olga Redinova
Meet Olga Redinova…
She’s not your typical surfer, but her story is one of relentless dedication. Learn how surfing supported and saved her following the death of her father, and how the smell of a wetsuit makes her happy…
Olga is a 37 year old, London-based Croupier. She juggles late night shifts at a private members casino with regular 4am commutes to the coast to catch the first session of the day. Her nearest break is among the chalk crowded reefs of Brighton, where surf conditions are unforgiving and far from predictable. Only the most relentlessly dedicated surfers have the stamina to persist in Brighton, but Olga is tough. Here’s her story…
1. Olga, take us right back to the beginning of your story, and tell us more about yourself?
I tried surfing whilst I was travelling in South East Asia around 9 years ago. My first ride was in the Philippines on a foamy and I absolutely loved it! Following that, I signed up for a few hours of surf lessons in Hawaii, but I only really fell in love with surfing about 4 years ago when my travels took me to Sri Lanka. It was there that I caught my first green wave and the obsession set in [laughs]! When my travels ended, I headed back home to London, but I didn’t want to give up surfing or my lessons, so I googled the location of the nearest surf shop, which turned out to be Brighton. I drove down to check it out. While I was there I ended up buying everything I needed to surf in the UK; a new hooded suit, boots, gloves and a board, and I also picked up a card at the till for Pure Spirit Surf School, which (luckily for me) is run by two times English Masters Champion, Cliff Cox.
For me, having lessons were really important. Being new to Brighton, I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t really know what I was doing surf-wise. I’d also never surfed in cold water or in a wetsuit, and so I wanted to fast track the learning curve by getting some help and tuition. Surfing is so technical, so all the little hints and tips from an instructor go a long way. I’m a lot handier on a board now than I would be without the lessons and I can see why so many surfers, men and women, give up because surfing in cold water, especially in the inconsistent wind-sloppy waves of Brighton, is really tough.
Cliff is a water-father to so many kids and adults in the area. Not only is he an incredible surfer and instructor, he’s endlessly supportive and really fun to be around. He’s the one that keeps me going and progressing, and someone I really respect and look up to.
2. What does being a cold water surfing mean to you?
It makes me happy, but it can be hard work! Because I live in London, I have to get up really early to catch the first session of the day, sometimes as early as 4am, which means getting up in the dark and driving to Brighton. Sometimes after a late shift or if the weather’s really bad, I just don’t want to do it, but I’m committed, so I always go.
One day, a little while ago I misjudged the tides and arrived at the break a little too early. With nothing to do but wait, I sat in the car listening to the storm howling outside and thought, for the first time, ‘what am I doing…?’ ...then I smelt my wetsuit and thought, ‘okay… I can do this, let’s get in the water’. Which I did. For some reason my brain seems to have connected the smell of a wetsuit to the feeling I get out in the water. Maybe it’s the neoprene? Whatever it is, it’s perfect because all I have to do to motivate myself now is smell my wetsuit! Days where I question why I’m surfing are few and far between. I actually love the challenge of storm surfing, it makes me feel truly alive.
Getting up early in winter, suiting up and getting into a winter cold ocean isn’t for everyone. I also think you have to have thick skin because when it comes to taking waves, there are no gentlemen in the water! I’m lucky because I have an older brother and grew up with lots of male friends and family. I also work as a Croupier in a casino where the majority of the clients are male, so the competitiveness and sometimes intimidating nature of a male dominated line-up doesn't bother me too much. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love surfing with guys, it’s a great laugh, but if there’s a good wave coming their way, they’re going to take it! [laughs]. It’s rare, but one time I was paddling for a wave and a guy dropped in on me, which is not unusual I know, but I decided to pull him up on it later in the session and he made some flaky excuse, saying he just didn’t think I was going to take it! Why wouldn’t I? Because I’m a girl? I’m pretty certain if he’d have done that to another guy so blatantly, it’d be a different story! Although I have to say the better I’m getting, the less this sort of thing is happening, which is just fuel for me to keep pushing!
I love surfing regardless, but I really love surfing when other women are out, and if the session allows it timewise, I find myself floating over to where the other women are positioned. There’s an unspoken camaraderie, support and shared experience with other women surfers. Rarely is it seriously competitive and we have fun, which is really what surfing is all about for me. I want to be the best I can be and progress, but I never want to lose the fun. I’d just like some crispy, cold, 3ft, a little offshore, 16ish second interval conditions, a little snow and some friends!
Aside from wanting to surf at every opportunity, to have fun and progress technically, my father passed away three years ago and being in the water helped me. It’s really difficult to explain exactly how, but just being in the cold ocean seemed to give me respite from the sadness of losing him. Maybe it’s the shock of the cold water, the freedom of being in the ocean, or the focus required to surf well. I’m really not sure. Whatever it was, I was really grateful for it, as it gave me the strength to get through a particularly dark time in my life.
3. What’s your relationship like with the ocean now?
It’s one of respect on so many levels, but we live in a time where everyone knows that plastic in the ocean is a catastrophic problem for the environment. In the UK we usually only see big pieces of plastic floating or washed up on the beach. It wasn’t really until I visited Costa Rica and Panama last year, where the local people do care, but microplastics are everywhere visible, especially on the beach at low tide. It’s so sad and you just can’t pick them up. We’ve caused the problem and now it’s our responsibility to fix it, even though so much irreparable damage has been done. When I’m in the water I try and stuff as much floating plastics into my wetsuit as I can, and I always pick up rubbish on the way back to the car. If everyone who visited the beach picked up a bit of plastic everytime they visited, it’d make a huge impact to marine and sea life locally. Which would be a great start, right?
4. Are you happy with how you’re surfing now?
I’m never happy with my level of surfing, as there’s always room for improvement. I’m currently working on my fear of big waves and would just like to be comfortable on 6ft’ish waves, plus it would be great if I could pull off a few tricks, and be able to control my board effortlessly. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I get in the ocean and there isn’t a bit of adrenaline fueling me, but it would be nice to be a bit more comfortable in some of the bigger stuff.
I went to Putsborough on quite a big day, the waves were around the scary 6ft mark but I thought, ‘yeah I’ll be okay out there, let’s do it’. By the time I got changed and paddled out, there was just me and a bodyboarder in the water. The bodyboarder paddled over to me and shouted ‘are you mad?’ which got me thinking perhaps going out on my own in those conditions wasn’t such a clever idea, but it took me 20 minutes to paddle out so I didn’t want to bottle it and head back in. I managed to catch a few waves before heading home, but the whole experience rattled me a bit.
Apart from making me happy, surfing is a real challenge. I’m the type of person who isn’t drawn to easy activities. I like to do things that challenge me as a person; things that take me out of my comfort zone. I’d love to surf in Scandinavia for example, in the snow. Something different! I do like a challenge. I’m stepping down from my 6’6” to a beautiful, shiny-new 6’2” custom built Darchy board, so the dream for the immediate future, with Cliff’s help, is to get to progress and get to the next level!
5. What are the down sides to cold water surfing?
It can be exhausting and sometimes I get tired really quickly. There are rarely any friendly waves in Brighton, and a lot of white water and shore dumps to battle through, so I only tend to last 60-90 minutes per session. When I surf in warm countries, I wake up, surf all morning, have lunch and surf all afternoon, but in the UK, two 90 minute sessions, and I’m done. I try and keep my fitness up by running and cycling, but cold water surfing really does take it out of me. You have to make the most of every moment in the water here in the Brighton, as we have to work with what we’ve got, which is far from consistent, or easy… but weirdly it’s these conditions that push me. That and getting into a wet wetsuit. It’s just nasty!
The best ways to cope is with a good wetsuit and a hot cup of tea! Seriously, a good wetsuit is a game changer and you really do get what you pay for. By good I mean one that keeps you warm for the duration of your session and gives you the flexibility you need. I recently bought a Finisterre suit. As they’re based in the West Country, they purpose-build high quality suits for UK waters. It was expensive, but really worth the investment.