Born in “America’s Sailing Capital” of Annapolis, Maryland, Farrah Hall soon found herself drawn to the sport and eventually to the windsurfer, on which she eventually rode her way to the Olympic Games London 2012.
Now 35, Hall continues competing for the U.S., and this week she’s at the RS:X World Windsurfing Championship in Enoshima, Japan.
Although a rough day Tuesday left Hall in 39th place and in the silver fleet, meaning she’s out of medal contention, she’s optimistic heading into the final days of competition, which runs through Saturday.
“The level is very high here, and we will have good racing to finish the series,” she said.
Hall, who lives in France with her husband, a French citizen, took some time on Wednesday to answer questions about her sport, her career and her future. This interview, conducted via email, has been edited for clarity.
TeamUSA.org: What’s it like to fly with the wind on the water?
Farrah Hall: It’s an amazing feel of connection with your body, your equipment and the environment — the waves, wind and all the small sensations of being in a state of flow.
TeamUSA.org: Tell us about the pressures at worlds.
Hall: Honestly, I am a strange person and I don’t feel much pressure when I compete. I feel very much outside that bubble, and bubbles in general. I’m never stressed over big things, but I’m easily over-stimulated by noise, bright light, people, etc., so I tend to try to control my environment at events a lot or I get too fatigued on a nervous system level, which affects my focus.
TeamUSA.org: What are some of the difficulties in trying to perform consistently?
Hall: This sport is so complicated that absolutely everything has to come together at the best moment to have a great result, not only including tactics, technique and physical fitness/recovery, but also funding, emotional support (family, friends, psychology), medical support and correct coaching. For an unsupported sailor, it’s really difficult to pull everything together all the time against the big teams — especially when the level gets more advanced each year.
TeamUSA.org: Do you have to get “psyched” to compete, or is there a Zen calmness involved, and how do you reach that?
Hall: I’m sensitive, so I’m normally not trying to be psyched as it will make me over-stimulated. I put myself into a calm, happy state for events, and my main focus is recovery and enjoying the racing and what is happening around me.
TeamUSA.org: What do you enjoy most about it?
Hall: Windsurfing is an expression of freedom, and the professional sailing lifestyle is very liberating. I make my own schedule and training plans. There are periods of intense work but also periods of down time. I love traveling to regatta venues and seeing new countries. However, what I love most of all is the continual learning and personal growth that comes with this sport. It’s a sport where there is always something new to master, and mastery is never complete.
TeamUSA.org: What are your best memories from your career?
Hall: My best memories are always from being on the road, experiencing new places and cultures, and meeting wonderful people around the world. However, the moments that always stand out to me are when I have the opportunity to share the sport with others. I love instructing. It’s just the greatest thing to help someone else improve their sailing because they are so excited after succeeding with a new technique or concept.
TeamUSA.org: Who do you look to as a mentor — and do you mentor others?
Hall: I am both being coached and am a coach myself. I have a lot to offer others as I don’t have a typical background in this sport and have experienced almost every difficulty that can face a high-level athlete. I’ve had to build my sailing from scratch because I am self-taught, don’t have much funding and started as an adult. Normally in this sport, you start as a kid or with a national program, so I really know how to build a sailor and a program from the ground up using minimal resources. I have seen many different programs from an outsider’s perspective and I know what works and doesn’t work. I have coached a number of aspiring younger girls and also instruct freeride and freestyle at a high level.
I’ve had a variety of coaching myself, and my coach now is a French sailor who is absolutely brilliant — he has a lot of wisdom, insight and can coach at all levels. He is a very “complete” coach in this complicated sport, and on top of that he is a really funny person with a great attitude. He also introduced me to my husband!
TeamUSA.org: What’s in your future after your competition days are finished?
Hall: I have no idea where I will end up after I finish my career, but I will most likely go back to school for something in the field of sports medicine, and live in a great place to continue to develop in my sport.
Right now, I coach and instruct a bit, but because it’s necessary to travel all the time, it’s not really possible to hold down a part time or regular job.
I went to college and have a degree in biology, and I didn’t start competing full time until about four or five years after graduation. Being a science person has definitely affected my approach to the sport. I attempt everything with a research-type focus and take lots of data. I have plenty of files on my computer from various experiments I’ve tried on myself, my equipment, etc.
TeamUSA.org: How did you get started in windsurfing?
Hall: I grew up near a small community beach on the Magothy River north of Annapolis. A high school boyfriend had an old windsurfer that he brought over sometimes, and we had a great time messing around with it. Although I had fun with it, I didn’t understand how to sail it until after high school, when I started working for a windsurfing (plus kayak and sailboat) rental shop on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. I worked there two summers, learned the basics of windsurfing and taught beginner lessons.
At St. Mary’s College of Maryland as a biology major, I was too busy to join the sailing team, so I decided to start a windsurfing club. I found some old boards from the Vineyard and in the local tobacco barns, also went to swap meets and advertised in the community to obtain old equipment. With the club, I taught students how to sail, did club trips, learn-to-windsurf days, and other fun windsurfing stuff. The club initially started with three active members and grew to 15 during my time there. The St. Mary’s College windsurfing club has now been active for 15 years.