Yesterday, I caught the biggest wave of my life

A lot to be proud of

Interview & words by Elisa Routa
Photos by Olivia Mende, Michelle Avoca, Melina Heidinger & Carmo Raposo

When I stumbled upon Christina Gindl’s words the other day, I realized it takes courage to be honest—to share your feelings and fears on social media. Accepting to be vulnerable aloud can be inspiring for some and fundamentally change what we, as a society, consider as the norm. It can eventually make a positive impact on people. As I wanted to learn more about Christina, I found out that since she was a little kid, the Austria-born girl keeps a bucket list of things she wants to achieve in life. Born surrounded by mountains, Christina, who turned 30 at the beginning of April (Aries power! she claims) first knew more about skiing than she did about the ocean. It wasn’t until a few years ago, working in Mauritius, that she discovered surfing. Since then, all her choices have been made upon that new guideline.

From watching the sets from the rocks to jumping in the biggest wave of her life in Ericeira, Portugal, where she is based today, Christina told us about her urge to push her own limits and about how she developed complete trust in her skills without having to rely on somebody else. “At the end of the day, it was only me, my board, and the waves.” Today, she keeps on ticking boxes and setting up new goals. Surfing bigger waves is one of them. “I am trying to change my perspective on bigger surf. Seeing it not nervously or in fear, but as beauty and challenge, with a focused mind and a big smile, always.”

So here’s a lengthy interview about life-changing decisions, the power of conquering fear and having confidence in our abilities, how to embrace what’s coming towards us, and the importance of autonomy in the water as well as the frontier between self-confidence and recklessness.

“If you don’t paddle out, sit and watch and maybe get some on the head, you’ll never ever get there.”

What was it like to grow up in Austria?

Mountains, snow, and lakes—nowhere near an ocean. I love Austria, it’s a beautiful country with its crystal-clear blue lakes and mountains full of powder snow – but somehow, I just never really fully fit into this world. I am a big-time family person. My mom is like my best friend and I wish they all would have been able to just move with me to wherever I went. This was a reason why I was having a hard time breaking free from Austria back then, and exploring the world and all these places, where I would feel at home within.

Me as a little kid, I was loud, full of energy, entertaining everybody, jumping off things, climbing up every tree. Growing up, I think I have done 100 different sports. It was very easy for me to adapt to a new sport, train, and learn. I loved the challenge and almost always ended up competing or getting really into it with all my heart.My dad was always by my side, he came from a background of competing in skiing, which I tried as well for some time as a kid. He was and still is very sporty, and supports me every step of the way. 

Tell us more about your background and studies.

When I finished high school, I started studying economics for 2 years, which was fun. It was something that came rather easy to me but I wasn’t happy. I stopped and decided to travel around Australia for a year. Classic. I wanted to go by myself. I was 21 by that time. This trip changed everything for me. I knew I wanted to live differently. I can’t really say that, I guess, because I mean what is different? For me, it is, let’s say, living on my own terms, surrounded by like minded people. Since I am little, I have a bucket list of things I want to achieve in life. I keep adding things but I am also ticking off a lot of things, which makes me incredibly happy. Going to University and studying was one of them. Living and working abroad, another one.

What did your life look like before discovering surfing?

A big part of my 20s I was based in Vienna, studying Advertising & Brand Management. I was playing volleyball for years. For this period, my life consisted of training 3 times a week, full time university study and tournaments on the weekends. I loved it. Pretty much all my free time was focused on sports. But I also really enjoyed my studies where I could be super creative, developing concepts and campaigns for products or services, trying to find the best channel and strategy to reach the desired group of people. Advertising can be awesome!

I finished my Bachelors’ degree with Staffordshire University and was supposed to jump on that whole classic career road. You know, agency life for some years, then moving to a company side. And let me tell you, I did not fit in, again. I am more than grateful for my gut naturally telling me Yes, go for it!, or No, just don’t!. But it is also a big challenge to feel that you should not follow these certain normal paths and to feel that you should go choose a different way. Trying to figure out this different way is probably another whole big challenge in itself, it can be tricky and sometimes uncertain and with very little stability and financial security. Very soon, I figured out that I wanted to leave my home country and work somewhere abroad. Anywhere. Preferably anywhere warm and by the ocean, but I would have taken pretty much anything that was not based in Europe. It is very hard to find a job in my field somewhere abroad, with hardly any experience, directly after University. 

Through family and friends connections, I was finally interviewing for 2 jobs: One in Boston, a full-time Advertising/ Consulting job for a high-profile company. I would have started working for this Greek guy, who was one of the CEOs, an incredibly cool person, super fun, sharp, young mind, smart and driven. He would have helped me get started and set me up with proper working visas for the U.S. Looking back, I think I would have loved that job, a lot. But even more so, I am incredibly grateful to my gut for telling me not to take it. Option number 2 was moving to Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Madagascar. A friend connected me with this small NGO. They were working on projects dealing with waste management and permaculture on the island. I would have been working on all their communications, lots of project management and logistics as well, basically an ‘assistant girl for everything,’ in this whole wide sector of communications. Super exciting, good cause, small tropical island in the middle of nowhere. So, of course, I jumped on a plane and left Austria for this wildly underpaid job!

Mauritius… that’s where you first got introduced to surfing. Can you share with us the full story? 

When I moved there, I started kiteboarding. When you reach a certain level in this sport, you kind of decide if you want to stick with kiteboarding, which means big jumps and tricks, or transition to a kite-surfboard and go into waves with the kite. For me, it was waves. The problem was that I just knew nothing about neither waves nor the ocean. So my boyfriend at the time made me come surf with him in order to study and understand the ocean, reefs, and waves. And that was it. I was hooked on that sport! 

Even though I only had a tiny board, a 5’9 kinda egg shape around 35L, I loved it so much. Obviously, I was not catching anything but I became a pro in duck-diving and paddling. I was simply always out there with my friends who ripped. I studied how they managed to flow together with the ocean, understanding their patience and connection with nature. The amount of hours I spent watching and studying waves? I stopped counting!

After 2 years living and working in Mauritius, I moved to Bali, Indonesia. I got there, rented a board – a bigger one this time. I surfed it for a month, caught fun waves before buying my first own board, similar to the one I had in Mauritius. Then I left to spend 3 months in West Sumbawa. Quiet, wild jungle, like-minded kind people, nature, and crazy waves without the distractions of Bali life – best decision ever. 

“Forces of nature decide almost everything in this sport, which is also why I love it so much.”

During this time of my life, I was also going through a hard break-up. It feels a little out of my comfort zone to share this here with you now, but hey, if I stand behind anything than it is to be more vulnerable, real, and honest on social media. So here it goes: When I got to Bali, I was pretty lost, heartbroken, not sure if I should go left or right. I think we all know this feeling a little. My ex got me into surfing, he was there for everything, all the baby-steps in the beginning. When I got to Bali I was on my own suddenly, needing to decide which surfboard, which surf-spot, Is it too sketchy to go, Is there rocks, reef, any danger? Luckily, my best friend was there with me, which helped a lot, but she didn’t surf so when it came to waves, I was on my own. At that time, I could not afford to get surf-guides or teachers, even though I would have definitely needed it big time. I am sure every surfer who started later on in life, and not as a little child, knows how freaking difficult it can be. It just takes so long until you improve. It is for sure the most difficult sport I have ever done. Forces of nature decide almost everything in this sport, which is also why I love it so much. I wanted to experience all this with him, because, in the beginning, it was ours. But after a while of finding my way around the waves on the island in Sumbawa, and after many surfs, slowly but surely, surfing became mine. 

“I got used to not relying on others to be able to go surf. I had many friends helping me along the way but at the end of the day, it was only me, my board, and the waves.”

Post-breakup, you allowed yourself time to move forward in life and step into your own life. Most importantly you managed to reclaim your space and environment – the ocean.

I think this whole experience contributes a lot to my surfing today. I got used to not relying on others to be able to go surf. I had many friends helping me along the way, giving me tips to improve, cheering for my waves, motivating me, but at the end of the day, it was still only me, my board, and the waves, making every call for my own. I chose to change my perspective from needing someone to trusting my own judgment and skills in how much I can push, risk, and grow with each surf. And it felt incredible. To this day, this is how it is. Before jumping in at some reef breaks here in Portugal when I got here 2 years ago, I was just sitting outside on the rocks watching the sets, the surfers, where they get out to the line-up and how they get back in, with different tides, everything. Until I was sure I knew what to do and I will be fine without anyone guiding me. And I was. 

After Vienna, Australia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka—you moved to Portugal. What have been the circumstances that made you decide to move near Ericeira?

I decided to check out Europe’s surfing spots because I was hoping to find a place to live closer to my family. I was also in need of some serious grounding, having a home again, committing, signing rental contracts, building a life basically. And yes, my family is all in Austria, Indonesia was just so far. My family is everything to me, the older they get the more help they will need and I want to be there for them as much as I can. And also for my sister’s kids. My family was and is growing and I want to be a part of that. My only conditions for the move were finding a home with waves all year round and as much tropical/warm weather as possible in Europe. So I was checking France and Portugal. France was a clear no from my gut (haha, sorry!). Portugal, luckily, a clear yes.

Portugal is incredible. The waves but also nature, climate, locals, and their culture – very kind-hearted, mellow, and calm. Almost all of the people I have ever met speak English, most of them very well which helps a lot when you are getting started here. I am learning the language now, aiming to be able to understand and speak basic without trouble by the end of the year. I am really starting to love this language! 

My family was over the moon happy and big-time relieved that I liked it so much over here. And yes, I knew it would change my life completely. For some reason, I just knew this would be good. I needed a break from that vagabond life, living out of a board-bag, my only home being my childhood room in Austria. I am not done at all with traveling and exploring abroad, but now I have a home, my own apartment, friends that truly became family here in Portugal. People that always support me and I am so grateful for that. Bali, or Indonesia, is a very fast-paced environment. I love that, but it also made it hard to have true lasting friendships. 

What do your current surroundings look like today?

The beautiful coast of Ericeira became my home. I live in a small town called Ribamar, next to Ericeira. When I walk out of my home, in 5 minutes I am standing at the cliffs, with some of the best of Portugal’s waves in front of me.

The daily routine here would be getting up early, 7:30am-ish, a cup of hot lemon water, and a surf-check. Usually jumping in somewhere, the surf is best here in the mornings, with less wind. After that, a breaky, coffee, and work. I am lucky to be working remotely and being able to manage my time the way I want. Big advantage when your passion is surfing. That way, I can work around tides and swells. I also started training over here in Portugal. Running, workouts, strength training. I freaking love it, my favorite activity after surfing for sure. I am learning more about it and am also considering pursuing further education to be able to train and teach myself. 

In my humble opinion, Portuguese waves are a lot more rough, wild, and hard to surf. Coming from Indonesian waves, surfing only this for 3 years, I felt like the biggest kook when I got here. It seemed like I didn’t even know how to surf! It took me a good 3 months to adapt, also to the cold water and 4/3mm wetsuits. But it was and is all worth it. 

“I learned to make the right calls for myself, without letting other people cloud my judgment. In the end, surfing is not a team sport, it is you and the ocean.”

Can you go back to that special day in November when you caught the biggest wave of your life ?

One of my favorite days ever. There was a swell coming this morning, my friend Lena and I didn’t know if it would be too big for us to surf here in Ericeira, but we didn’t have the time to drive to other, more sheltered spots along the coast. So we decided to meet up at first light and check the conditions. It was huge, for my level. But it also looked so freaking exciting and challenging. I have my troubles with people telling me ’Nahhhh Chrissy you can’t surf that.’ The more they say it, the more I want to jump in. Obviously, I also know my limits and am aware of my skills. I learned to make the right calls for myself, without letting other people cloud my judgment. This is the only way to go anyways, only you can be the judge of pushing limits and comfort zones, or knowing when to stop before it gets dangerous. In the end, surfing is not a team sport, it is you and the ocean. I think it’s important to know whether you’ll be fine even if everyone will leave the line-up. I saw the waves, it was a bit scary, but I could also clearly see that it was fully doable. I was going to be fine, even if I only got them on the head and made 100 mistakes. I was not sure if I would have the guts to drop in on one of the sets, but if you don’t paddle out and sit and watch and maybe get some on the head, you’ll never ever get there. Even if it wouldn’t have been that day, it would have prepared me for the next big swell. So it was out of the question, I was getting ready to jump in. 

Also, someone to mention here is my friend Lena. I met her a year ago here in Portugal. Lena is the first person (girl) that I have ever met that is as motivated, committed, adrenaline-addicted and passionate as I am, when it comes to surfing. I have never met a surfing girl that matches my energy levels or wants to jump in at the spots I do. She is also the one who got me interested in surfing bigger waves. I recently started apnea training too, inspired by her. We support each other fully in the water and out of the water, helping each other to push our limits and keeping an open and strong mind to be able to outgrow our limits. The type of surfing I like is sharp turns, big carves, barrels, being light on my feet and fast on the board, tricks, I love it, and I focus on it when I surf. But since that day, I got equally hooked on bigger waves and the feeling I have when surfing them.

A while ago, you wrote about how to conquer the feeling of fear facing bigger waves. Does it have to do with having confidence in your ability?

I have to explain quickly that I self-studied Ayurveda for some time. I am a licensed Yoga Teacher as well and kind of shifted into its sister science after some years of teaching. This was also a big change in my life, spending some time in Sri Lanka to study, getting to know myself and the power of Ayurveda and living by many of its principles. I changed my diet, but even more, I started getting to know my mind. I focused on reading a lot about how our mind works and how to break the patterns of, for example, fear, anxiety, and limits that were programmed in our minds when we were young, by accident, by purpose, or by society. I was starting to work on myself, in all aspects in my life, acknowledging insecurities and conquering them.

For surfing, it comes back to the very start of my journey I believe. I developed this complete trust in my skills and my judgment without anyone backing me up on decisions. I learned very early to fully trust in myself to make the right call, whether that’s in life or in the ocean. Same goes for bigger surf.

« The right kind of energy within you will get you very far. In the end, I know exactly that I am able to do it, there is no need to freak out and let fear creep into your system. »

How to deal with your urge to push your own limits and the reality of taking risks?

The urge to constantly push my limits is actually what fuels almost everything in my life. I think I never associated anxiety with it at all. Even if I face a situation that is scary, it is more an ‘exciting scary’, a situation that shows me clearly what to work on, so I better be ready for the next opportunity and not needing to sit it out. I am a person that is constantly looking to grow, mentally and also physically. Of course, there is always a risk in everything you are pushing. Preparation is key, fitness is key, breathing is key, and above all, a positive mindset with a smile. The right kind of energy within you will get you very far! 

You manage to overcome challenges offered both by life and the ocean. What are the lessons that surfing taught you so far?

I would say patience, for once. I am a very impulsive person, so patience doesn’t come easy to me. Be kind in the water, everyone deserves waves. Respect, for the ocean of course, but also for locals and other people in the line-up. The ocean is not a place for big egos. And Karma is real! But most of all, I think surfing taught me how to deal best with the worst possible situations. When you get massive sets on the head, when you’re at the worst spot you could possibly be, many people freak out and get nervous. So did I in the beginning but I have learned to stay calm, accept and almost embrace what’s coming towards me. Letting it happen and being as chill about it as I can, best case even coming up from a hold down with a little smile. Because in the end, I know exactly that I am able to do it, there is no need to freak out and let fear creep into your system. And this, you can apply to many other situations in life. Many of them also not sport-related, but just the constant challenges of life. 

Would you have a story, a special session you remember or an unforgettable beach adventure to share with us?

There was this one day in Bali, the swell was a little too big for my favorite spot Uluwatu, with a very strong current. Only a few people out but I still wanted to go. I caught 2 waves and it was amazing! Everyone was supporting each other, cheering. An incredible energy out there. On the second one, I fell and got caught by the current. I have never paddled this much in my life!. This spot is tricky when you want to leave the line-up through the small entrance of the cave. With the strong currents on the higher tides you have to time it well, otherwise you’ll miss it. I missed it once, for the first time ever. I was already super low on energy and tried a second time, but the current ended up pulling me all the way to the next beach, called Thomas beach. I think I have never felt this exhausted. And I still had to walk up many stairs to the main street to then catch a ride back to Uluwatu Beach where my scooter was. I remember I got to the beach exhausted after that massive paddle experience, but I started laughing and thinking ‘Damn it, you have to get more paddle fit, this is not going to work otherwise’!  hahah. I loved that session and the support I got in the water!

“Body image is such a tricky topic nowadays. It’s a thin grey line to walk between drawing inspiration from arts, images, words, or falling into the unrealistic Instagram- trap.”

You recently wrote a few lines about vulnerability and the struggle it might represent to feel comfortable with our own body despite what we might show on Instagram. Why was it important for you to share your own fears on social media?

It is important to me because I fully get inspired by people who are even more vulnerable than me on their IG channels. It encourages me to share real thoughts. Nowadays, body image is such a tricky topic with these unrealistic images on social media, you can get caught up in these “perfect” worlds. It’s a thin grey line to walk between drawing inspiration from arts, images, and words, or falling into the unrealistic Instagram- trap. I am thankful to have found my way in there. To be confident and 100% sure of who I am and loving myself, my body, no matter what it might look like in certain stages of my life. It was a little like freeing myself and my mind into deeper meaning and connection. 

According to you, is being vulnerable the door to self-confidence?

I would say it is one of many doors. It fully depends on your personality to know in which way you’ll be able to grow the most. For me personally, it is for sure also a cathartic release. Every time I share real thoughts, it’s overwhelming how good it feels to be fully me and share 100% what I want to tell the world. The feedback can be overwhelming as well. Good and bad! As soon as you start sharing strong opinions and personal feelings, you get the full range of opinions back but that’s okay. Everyone is free to express and have a different opinion. It’s always a matter of balance of welcoming other perspectives but also never losing yourself in the process.

Any projects or travel soon in this lockdown period?

Projects yes, I am starting to get more involved in environmentalism. Something that I have been wanting to do for a while already. I have been in touch with some people I have met over the years while traveling. They have created some incredible projects to help our planet and the ocean. Excited for all the possibilities that are arising right now! Picking up my plastic from the beach 5 minutes every day is the first personal challenge. Helping bigger global projects with my time and skills, will be the next step. 

As for travel, it is tricky in covid times for sure, and I also want to stay very safe, for myself and the people around me. I have been looking into going back to Indonesia in June, for 2 or -3 months, together with my favorite surf buddy and friend Lena. This would be an absolute dream trip if we can make it happen. During the season in Indonesia, hopefully less crowded line-ups, exploring some islands with the swells. Let’s see, it’s still all a maybe but fingers crossed it will all work out. My gut is definitely giving me a thumbs up!


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