Sarah-Quita Offringa: Aruba’s Windsurfing Darling
The first time I ever heard of Sarah-Quita Offringa was the day my husband excitedly shared with me that his surf shop was going to sponsor this charismatic, promising young kid from Aruba who was already impressing on the international windsurfing scene. I remember he showed me a photo of her, and her unruly mane, her irresistible smile, and the joyous twinkle in her eyes immediately won me over.
It’s many years later now, and this once up-and-coming windsurfer now holds 14 PWA World Champion titles at just 26 years old. Fourteen! She was knighted in the order of Oranje-Nassau by decree of Queen Beatrix of Holland for her windsurfing feats. She’s a living legend. Aruba’s windsurfing darling. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Sarah’s story begins when she was encouraged by her parents to give windsurfing a try when she was nine. Not being able to lift her sail, she quit, but was coaxed back into the sport a year later when her parents entered her into the Bonaire Regatta 2001. It was at this event in Bonaire that Sarah fell in love with windsurfing.
There are three different disciplines in competitive windsurfing: freestyle, slalom, and wave sailing. In the highly technical freestyle discipline, the windsurfer performs a creative acrobatic show filled with aerial stunts on flat water. Slalom windsurfing is high-speed racing, which requires high winds. Wave sailing is a combination of wave jumping and wave riding, with sailors using the waves to catapult into the air to perform high-flying tricks.
Sarah grew up doing freestyle—for her, windsurfing is freestyle—and for her, it’s the most fun. In the next few years after that fateful competition in Bonaire, Sarah developed her freestyle skills in the waters of Aruba and Bonaire, already earning recognition and awards as a young rider. She entered her first PWA event in 2003, and in 2006 she was named the PWA Rookie of the Year, ranking second in the freestyle discipline. Just two years later, in 2008, Sarah clinched her first PWA Freestyle World Champion title. She amazingly went on to win the world champion title in freestyle nine more times, back-to-back, the most recent one earned in July 2017.
Let’s just take a moment to put this into perspective. Not only has Sarah won the most world champion titles in freestyle windsurfing in history, but she hasn’t lost a single freestyle competition nor heat since 2008. Furthermore, Sarah has consistently beat competitors much older than she. In fact, when she was on the winner’s podium for the first time, she was a mere 14-year-old standing next to women at least 12 years older. It’s safe to say that Sarah-Quita is indisputably the best female freestyle windsurfer in the world.
Of course, starting at such a young age is one of the keys to Sarah’s overwhelming success. Aruba’s perfect wind and flat-water conditions for windsurfing have also played a significant role in her rise to stardom. But let’s not overlook the simple fact that Sarah is an extraordinary, first-rate athlete. You can pretty much throw her into any sport, and she’ll thrive. Take slalom windsurfing, for example. At one point in Sarah’s career, she decided to give slalom windsurfing a go, and being the amazing athlete she is, she excelled in it. Most competitive windsurfers specialize in only one disciple at a time given the heavy demands of training. Not Sarah-Quita. In 2011, in addition to earning the world champion title in freestyle, she also won the world champion title in slalom. She was the queen of slalom again in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
And now, Sarah is looking to up the ante once again. Since a few years ago, Sarah has added wave sailing to her repertoire. If focusing on two disciplines simultaneously is uncommon among professional windsurfers, then tackling all three at once is simply unheard of on the PWA World Tour. But if anyone can do it, Sarah can. In fact, she ranked third in wave sailing on the 2016 tour, which is mind-boggling given that the holders of first and second place—the Moreno twins from Spain—have been specializing in wave sailing their entire careers. Sarah also won the 2016 NoveNove Maui Aloha Classic, which is one of the most prestigious events to win in the windsurfing world. This year, she won fifth place in the wave competition in Gran Canaria in July, second place in Tenerife in August, and second place in Germany in October, holding onto her third-place overall ranking in wave sailing for 2017.
Ultimately, she hopes to nab first place overall in wave sailing. Once she manages this feat, she will hold world champion titles in all three windsurfing disciplines. And when that happens, will she be considered the best all-around female windsurfer in the world? In Sarah’s opinion, titles don’t prove who’s the best. The bottom line is, she feels she still has more to learn in wave sailing. Her goal is to reach a level where she is at least as good as the two best wave sailors in the world currently, regardless of titles. Maybe then she can say she’s the all-around best. But she doesn’t need to proclaim this to the world; she wants to be the best for herself, and herself alone. Sarah clarifies, “I’m not as good as the twins yet, but I finally feel that the momentum and potential is really there. I’ve almost gotten rid of the fear of jumping, and I feel that if I put in that extra time this year, I will be right there with them next year. I feel like I can transfer my freestyle capabilities to waves next year if I keep at it. I just want to get to that point where I can get my gear to do exactly what I want it to do. That’s when you can start getting creative on the water and it becomes even more fun.”
Words like these are so typical of Sarah. Above all, she’s keen on having fun and reaching her maximum potential, not exercising her bragging rights. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Sarah-Quita personally—running into her at my husband’s shop or at the beach or at a coffee shop with her mom. What has always struck me is not necessarily all of Sarah’s incredible accomplishments on the water, but rather how she has stayed so refreshingly grounded, so humble, so Sarah, despite her many windsurfing achievements. It’s these qualities, in my opinion, that make her so special and such an inspiration.
And I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so. In January 2016, I attended the premiere of Sarah’s biographical windsurfing documentary, Cabeibusha – The Curly Gem. During the event, attended by both young and old, there was a palpable sense of pride and adoration in the theater. The local community is incredibly proud and fond of this young woman who represents the island of Aruba so beautifully on the international stage. She is Aruba’s cherished darling, and rightly so.
For the next two to three years, Sarah plans to travel the world and windsurf, with Aruba and the Netherlands serving as her home bases. Sarah loves traveling—encountering new lands, new cultures, and new people. Her love of languages also plays nicely into her travels. Her fluency in Papiamento, Dutch, English, Spanish, and French, as well as her understanding of Portuguese, German, Italian, and Turkish, enriches her travel experiences immensely. Sarah also loves studying, so along with her windsurfing and travels, Sarah plans to add to her degree in science and innovation management by starting on her masters online.
As for her future beyond the next few years, Sarah is not so forthcoming. She is rather adamant about living in the moment. Then again, can you blame her? Despite all her accomplishments and the extraordinary stardom she has achieved, Sarah is only 26 years old, after all.