Emilie Tschanz rides the waves all over the world

Fri, 26. Jul. 2019
Emilie Tschanz flies across the water. (AvS)

Emilie Tschanz comes from Mannried and attends grammar school in Gstaad. In her free time, the 16-year-old is constantly battling with the wind. This spring, she’ll take part in the European Championship and will also be at this summer’s World Cup.

The wind ruffles Emilie Tschanz’s hair, she leans right back over her boat as the waves splash her from behind. Then, she whizzes across the lake in no time at all. This is what the sailor’s everyday life is like when attending a training camp or battling it out in a regatta. I met her in the simple setting of a boardroom, where she talked about her passion.

A true fairy tale
The young female athlete tells of how she attended a beginner course at the Gstaad Yacht Club (GYC) on Lake Thun when she was eleven. “I just wanted to try something new, I wanted to grab the opportunity.” Rightly so. “I really liked it and it wasn’t as expensive as I thought.” The water and wind fascinated her and she became a regular visitor.

In the second year, she was asked by a replacement coach why she’d chosen sailing. “I have a lot of fun,” the girl with the copper-blond hair replied. The joy and the great ease with which she sets sail impressed the coach. He suggested that she should take her sailing a little more seriously. A week later, she took part in a camp. “I started in the bottom group, but by the end of the week, I’d reached the top.”

Her clear, firm voice wavers a little when she talks about her career, which sounds like a fairy tale. Her first regatta was soon to follow, then her first Swiss championship and an opportunity to train with the German-Swiss team. “Of course, that’s what I wanted!”, she said, looking back. When she turned 15, she changed her boat class from an Optimist to a Laser 4.7. After getting used to the new size of the boat, she was invited to the Talent Scout event. “I was surprised to be even invited. The second big surprise was that I was immediately accepted onto the national team.”

Last winter, numerous training events and regattas followed. The results on the leader board showed that Emilie Tschanz already qualified in her first year on the National Team for the European Championship in Hyère (France). Since the competitions that followed also turned out well for her, she achieved another career highlight: from 16 to 23 August, she’ll travel to the World Championships in Kingston (Canada). “After a lot of hard training and long hours on windswept lakes, a dream has come true for me.”

“The cold is the hardest”
When Tschanz sails, her long loose hair is tied back in a bun and her eyes protected behind black sunglasses. The rest of her is covered under a 10mm-thick neoprene layer. She wears a grey life jacket over the top of this. Her hands are protected with grooming gloves. “Sometimes we spend up to ten hours on the water. Dealing with the cold is probably the hardest thing in sailing.” Even with snow and rain well into low altitudes, the athlete doesn’t stop training on Lake Thun.

There's another dimension to the race: depending on the wind conditions, it's never clear how many races will take place on any given day. Sometimes it's two, sometimes three. Each race lasts about an hour. “This isn’t for people who are the nervous type.” We only know just before the race starts that we’re about to compete. It’s also important that the athletes switch off immediately after the race and forget about it. “We have to be able to forget a bad race immediately so that we can fully concentrate on sailing the next one.”

Inspiration for the family
Emilie Tschanz started sailing relatively late. “I was eleven. Most of the people I sail with today started at seven.” In general, her family members don’t have a background in water sports. Her father comes from Blankenburg and her mother from Canada. The family has always lived in Obersimmental. “My parents are my biggest fans and they think it's a great sport.” Tschanz would like to inspire her two younger siblings. “But so far with only moderate success,” she confesses. For her, the feeling of whizzing over the waves and facing the wind is simply indescribable.

English is the language of sailing
Most winter camps take place in the Sailing Centre near Barcelona. “This place is the best equipped and the wind conditions are usually optimal. Days when we don’t train are rare.” The base is just 20 minutes from the airport. The accommodation is right by the sea.

Also, in Spain, English is the language spoken for sailing. “At the regattas, all instructions and conversations between friends are in English.” That’s not all: “Since the Southern Europeans don’t speak German very well and we aren’t so good at French, we speak English in the National Team too. Everyone’s good at this.” It’s a great help to Emilie Tschanz that her mother’s native language is English.

School and sport
School is the biggest challenge for the young athlete. She visits grammar school in Gstaad. With many competitive young skiers, the school is accustomed to teaching young athletes. “Because I take part in a sport that’s not native to the Saanen region, it’s rather special.” Of course, care is taken to hold training camps during the holidays. Nevertheless, the girl from Mannried missed 50 school days last year. “I often study when travelling,” she says. During the training camps, time is only allocated for homework if the weather is too poor for training on the water. Otherwise, Emilie Tschanz’s day starts at 6.30am and ends at 9pm. Who’d have the energy for studying after that? “Still, I try to spend half an hour every day.”

Every muscle counts
The physical demands of sailing are significant. “You use every muscle,” laughs the friendly sailor. This also means many hours of strength and endurance training and recovery time. “That’s all,” she says and closes the conversation. It’s natural for her that training is a part of the sport.

Based on AvS/Blanca Burri
Translated by Justine Hewson

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