Image Credits: @KatyaCoelho

  • May
  • 10

Katya Coelho: ‘Being on water gives me a sense of freedom, gliding over the waves and feeling the breeze brush by makes me feel wholesome’

Author Image Mervin LR

Katya Coelho, India’s first woman iQFoiler, windsurfing extraordinaire and environmental advocate, chats with us about her journey, growing up in Goa, current quest and future goals and the importance of taking care of the ocean and plenty more in the interview.


Katya Coelho is no stranger to the water. Born and raised in the coastal state of Goa, the 22-year-old was always around water and started sailing around the age of 11. Her fierce passion and talent for the sport led her to become the first and only Indian female windsurfer to compete in the Youth Olympics in 2014.


For years, Katya has been on top of most of the windsurfing podiums in the country. Her merits include 10 national gold medals, and 2 bronze at the Asian Open Championship in Techno 2015 along with numerous other accolades. She has also participated in the 2018 Asian Games. Currently, she is the only female iQFoiler in the country.


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Katya has been surfing since she was 11 years old and in that time the sport has evolved far beyond what it was all those years ago. Back in the day opponents were few and far between, the youngster fought her male opponent way too many times to keep count. It was a different time, a sport still finding its feet.


Surfing has given Katya so many opportunities in life. In many ways, it has saved her and made her in equal measure. We wanted to know more about how her interest in the sport began, how the passionate windsurfer got hooked on wind foiling and how a Back loop with a foil equipment feels compared to a Back loop with windsurfing equipment and her upcoming quest and her future and more.





I read that you were in the water from a very young age due to being raised in the coastal state of Goa and your dad being a national champion in windsurfing and teaching you how to windsurf. What do you think it was that really attracted you to the ocean and surfing and revolving your life around it?


It was definitely growing up in the coastal state as you are surrounded by nature and the ocean all the time. I have always loved the ocean. I have always been curious and wanted to explore the big wide ocean, being on water gives me a sense of freedom, gliding over the waves and just feeling the breeze brush by makes me feel wholesome.


My dad has been a national champion himself, I along with my family used to go to watch him race and that is where I really picked it up from, I have been sailing since I was 11.



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Growing up in Goa and being surrounded by the ocean, have you noticed any changes in the way that humans have interacted with the waters and what is something that you think needs to change in our relationship with the ocean?


Well, yes! I see a lot of tourists abusing the ocean, and lots of broken glass bottles fill our shore now, whenever I sail, I always see plastic floating around. This is something that really bothers me, I try my best to spread awareness about environmental issues and I hope this changes.


A lot of our marine life has already been affected over the last few years, we have seen drastic changes and we must change our ways now.



What are the key environmental issues that you see a lot and want to change?


Global warming, deforestation, ocean acidification. Pollution to name a few. We need to be more cautious about our home, we need to treat this planet right, it is really all we have. I strongly feel if everyone takes initiative and makes this their priority, we can reverse the damage caused.



Is there anyone in the world of surfing that you look up to and inspired you to do what you’re doing?


Dorian van Rijsselbeghe and Lilian De geus. The two Dutch sailors, I absolutely love watching. I love their technique and dominance during races. I am inspired by them every day by the things they do.



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Windsurfing has often been associated with male athletes, yet women are a key part of the sport. Do you feel there are any significant differences for female athletes, either in their approach, or abilities, to windsurfing? Were there any obstacles you faced, or perhaps things that came more naturally to you than might have for a male athlete?


Well, I don’t agree that windsurfing is associated with male athletes, especially in today’s day and time, however, competitively there are much less women sailors than men in India unfortunately.


I have had to race against male athletes multiple times during my career, it is more challenging when it comes to strength but I have managed to win these championships and it has been a great learning opportunity, you really know you are true strength when you are put in tough situations.


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You are India’s first woman iQFoiler, so, what attracts you to grab your foil instead of your windsurfing board? And can you also describe what it’s like to foil compared with regular SUP or Surfing?


I loved the whole idea of wind foiling when I first saw athletes sail in Lake Garda, Italy back in 2019, my brother instantly bought a foil and started training on it during weekends.


I was just recovering from an injury so it took me some time to get back, but the day I started foiling, was the best day of my life.


In comparison to windsurfing:


In windsurfing you kind of glide over the water even at max speed. But when you are foiling even in 8 knots you can foil, you are not just gliding on the surface but with the hydrofoil and help of wind pressure you kind of elevate over the surface, you are flying about 2-3 feet above so it is a whole different feeling, it can get scary sometimes because the speed is 10 times faster, therefore it can get dangerous but the fun you have trumps it all.


Being the first iQ woman foiler in India feels amazing, I like doing different things and I think that is what makes me unique in my own way.



What are your favourite foiling conditions?


I really like using the foil to explore. 15-18 knots are my favourite condition, especially when the waves are not too big.



What is your strongest part in racing at the moment? Is it the speed, the acceleration, or the overall speed?


Well, I guess it is my speed and also mastering the theory part of it, studying and judging the wind directions, the tide strength plays an important role. So, I guess it is all of this combined.


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What was the maximum wind you have ever used for your foil equipment?


I am not entirely sure because I have not really checked. But super-fast haha



How important are the weather conditions and how can someone become better at mastering them?


Every day is a new day, every day the weather conditions change, so just sailing in all conditions and putting in more hours on the water can help you master your art.



What do you like besides windsurfing?


I am very drawn towards art and design, I also like to study about marine life during my free time, and I like listening to podcasts about the same too.


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Windsurfing has taken you all around the world to some amazing coastlines. Is there a memorable moment that really stands out in terms of your career and your personal achievement?


Travelling is my favourite part and sailing in different parts of the world is just amazing. The most memorable moments were at the Asian Games in Jakarta, 2018 where my brother and I were racing in a team, we finished 4th – that race was our personal best. Also, training in Penghu, Taiwan was memorable because we once tried sailing with winds over 40 knots.


What is your goal in terms of moves?What are your next challenges and goals? What do you have upcoming for the rest of 2022 and beyond?


Right now, I am trying to get qualified for the Asian games again, which will be held in China, I look forward to representing India at the same, this time on the iQFoil.



Katya’s perseverance and dedication to all things about the ocean excite us as we cannot wait to see what she continues to get up to in the future. A true talent in the world of Windsurfing, Katya is creating ripples around her and paving a way for the next generation of female surfers in the country.

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