An exciting life on the waves for a Thai-Australian surfer
“For me, [surfing is] my profession, so it’s something I can do every day. I’m trained in it, that’s what I do and that’s how I live now.
Surfing with a Thai flag
Meet Annissa Flynn, a Thai-Australian surfer who is best known for her silver medal at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Anni also won three flow-board world championships and was ranked first in the Thai Surfing Championships in 2020.
More importantly, Anni will represent Thailand in the WSL Asian Qualifying Series in Indonesia in June. It will also be her opportunity to tell the world that Thailand is also a great place to surf and that there are many Thai surfers who have the potential to compete.
“Well, it’s an honour, first and foremost, because I started surfing here in Phuket, and I’m excited to represent my country on the world stage.”
On the preparation side, she reconnected with her coach, who trained her for the 2019 South-East Games, in order to prepare physically for the competition.
“So I trained in the gym, surfed every day I could and just got my technique down. It’s a lot of repetition and progression that I’m doing right now.
Life is exciting on the waves
Born in Australia and raised on the famous resort island of Phuket, Anni started surfing when she was just 8 years old. As Anni explains, she has always been athletic, thanks to her father. In fact, she started with wakeboarding, before falling in love with surfing.
“As soon as I touched a surfboard and had my first wave, I was hooked.”
Her favorite sport became her passion, as Anni enjoyed competing on the surfboard with her friends, which made her realize that she should pursue her career in surfing.
“Living in Phuket, I’m always close to the beach,” she said. “So they had competitions back then. Me and my three friends were like, let’s go, let’s do it, try to compete. I just loved it and have been striving to pursue that dream since I was little.
For many people, surfing is just a hobby, but not for Anni. Competitive surfing makes him want to improve, compared to recreational surfing.
“Well you may be led to some point [as a hobby], but I have the impression that the competition really pushes you to be better. So you constantly watch other surfers to see how you can change a technique or even improve. So it’s always like climbing an endless ladder if you’re competing.
Surfing can also be seen as a male-dominated sport. Nonetheless, Anni doesn’t feel intimidated by being around male surfers, as her only goal is to catch a wave. She admits, however, that at times it can be slightly intimidating when competing outside of Thailand, being lined up with the boys.
“But, you know, if you let that get to you, you’re not going to catch a wave,” says Anni. “If you’re at the beach, you’re there to surf. So after sitting in the water for about 30 minutes, trying to figure out the programming, you kind of go, okay, I gotta catch a wave.
Despite the challenges of the sport, Anni is proud and delighted to see that the number of female surfers is increasing significantly in Thailand, when there were only five female surfers.
“I’ve seen exponential growth in women’s surfing,” she said. “Now I see a lot of new faces and I love it. They compete, they paddle, they make a living and I love it.
As for her future plans, after the WSL Asian Qualifying Series, Anni told us that she will be looking for the next surf competition to compete in. If there is none, Anni still wants to travel to different places where she can improve her surfing skills.
“The waves here in Phuket, we have six months on, six months off. So out of season I really wanna find anywhere [where I can surf]. The closest place with the best waves would be Bali, so I could plan a trip to train, get a coach there, [to do] videography and all that.
As for what keeps her focused on her goals, the Thai-Australian surfer believes it’s her inner drive that keeps her going. At the same time, her competitors and idols inspire her to become better.
“I feel like when I go to competition I feel both out of place and at home,” she says. “The feeling is a bit weird, but you always see really good surfers. If I see someone who is my idol in the water, I can see how they catch the wave, how they ride in their turn, it is an inspiration for me to keep going and be better.
Whatever you want to do, you will make it possible
For the past 16 years, Anni has dedicated herself to competitive surfing, but what she really wants to do now is pave the way for more female Thai surfers to compete internationally. More importantly, she hopes her journey will inspire more young girls to do the same.
“At the moment no female surfer from Thailand comes through the WSL. I feel like I’m the first person to pave the way for this. So I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and hope to inspire some girls want the same thing.
When asked what she would say to young girls who want to take up surfing or participate in any male-dominated sport, her best advice is to just “go for it”.
“Honestly, these things may seem daunting, but if it’s something you want to do, I want to tell you that you can do it, think about it, and whatever you want to do, you will make it happen.”
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World