Champion windsurfer Sarah Jackson from Over Peover riding the crest of a wave
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 October 2019
Fromer Cheadle Hulme School pupil sets hers sights on World Championship events
Sarah Jackson had it all worked out. While the ambitions of small children tend to fall somewhere between teacher, astronaut or nurse; she was different - she wanted to be a windsurfer. It was on holiday in Menorca, aged just seven, she made the decision. She had her first taste for the thrill after begging parents Tim and Angela for a try.
'My mum and dad wanted us to go dinghy sailing but I thought it looked boring,' recalled Sarah, who grew up just south of Knutsford in Over Peover. 'I remember seeing a windsurfer and it looked so much more fun. I wouldn't let it go, even though my parents said I was too young.
'I got my way and what a thrill. The bay was full of jellyfish so I was scared to fall in, but that probably kept me on my board. It was the first sport I was better at than my brother Andrew, too, which at seven was another reason to love it.'
Those first tentative moments on the board turned into a life-long passion. While her friends were playing, she was more interested in being on the water at Astbury Mere. From age 10, in her final year of primary school, she competed for the Royal Yacht Association's North Zone Squad before graduating to the British Junior Squad three years later. She was one of the youngest on the team.
'I just loved everything about it,' said Sarah. 'It wasn't what your average 10-year-old would choose to do but I loved it. In the end my friends ended up getting involved and my friendship circle just revolved around windsurfing. I found racing hard at first, and there were many tears, but the excitement of having the wind catch the sail was like nothing else. It is something that never gets old, I still love it as much as those early experiences.
'I was good at it too and loved spending all my time training and competing. I still do.'
With encouragement from her parents the now 21-year-old recognised a need to focus on her education and, for a time, school life needed to come first. But she proved she was a natural at any sport and ended up playing hockey for Cheadle Hulme School and at Alderley Edge Hockey Club. She was so skilled, she got selected for the England team.
'I'm glad my mum and dad asked me to focus on school,' said Sarah. 'It meant windsurfing, when I got to do it, was purely for fun, too. But it was ironic I ended up doing well in another sport. It was fantastic but I never loved it as much as windsurfing.'
After her A-Levels (she got an A* and two A grades) she couldn't wait to get back to the water and began teaching in Greece as well as training abroad. But when a coach recognised her talents in slalom he encouraged her into this discipline. She placed 16th in her first professional competition, where she was the youngest in the fleet, and was hooked.
Since then she has competed and trained all over the world, from Spain to the Caribbean. She's been pegged as one to watch in the sport and has placed highly at several international competitions. She was British Freestyle Champion in 2016, British Vice Champion in slalom and Youth Champion at the IFCA Slalom World Championships in Lake Garda.
'The Youth World title is definitely my biggest achievement to date, it was amazing, a real dream come true,' said Sarah. 'When I first started professionally competing I went from idolising these incredible athletes to sharing the same space as them. It was mind-blowing, it still is. But they really were and still are the most welcoming group of people, it is pretty amazing. Sure, during the competition we're there to win and would knock each other off our boards given the chance. But that's just how it is. On dry land they really are the most supportive bunch.'
Sarah lives and breathes her craft - she studies sports performance at the University of Bath and also is a windsurfing instructor in Greece in the summer. But like most athletes, funding is a challenge. She travels to training and competitions in a van, which also doubles up as her hotel room. This year she will drive to southern Spain and spend several weeks living out of the van. While she enjoys the nomadic lifestyle, she needs to raise more funds to achieve her dream of competing in all of the World Championship events - it would take £45,000. She's already secured brand ambassador roles with clothing and sailing brands but is searching for that major sponsorship deal.
'We have to raise all the money ourselves which can be a challenge,' said Sarah. 'It's a worry not knowing whether you can fund something that is your dream. But it really is worth it all.
'That feeling when you're out on the water, travelling at 40mph, feeling at the edge of your limits, there really is nothing greater.'
And when it doesn't all go to plan, Sarah has an ace card - her mum - who is always there waiting with Sarah's favouite feel better tonic.
'It's always ice cream,' laughed Sarah. 'Ever since those first competitions, if its not gone well or it's been really hard going out on the water, she is always ready with ice cream. She's brilliant.'