Vera Koo: How Windsurfing Kick-Started My Quest to Learn Other Sports

Before I met my husband, Carlos, I had no background in sports. I did not even take physical education classes in school.

Carlos and I met before I turned 18 years old, and we married in 1969. One of my marriage philosophies is that anything my husband likes to do, I should learn it, because if my husband is interested in something, he will give me the time and support to learn that activity. And I try to never miss an opportunity to learn something.

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Carlos has had an interest in various sports, so over the years, I have learned camping, equestrian skills, windsurfing, water skiing and snow skiing, among other activities.

Although I did not know it at the time, these sports helped prepare me for years later when I became involved in competitive shooting.

Take windsurfing, for example. What a challenging learning experience that was.

verakoo-windsurfingI first started windsurfing in 1980 when Carlos and I were living in Singapore. I did not particularly enjoy being in water. I am petite, and at that point in my life I was not a hardcore athlete, so trying to command the humongous sail while standing on the far edge of the board felt like pulling a 60-pound weight.

During my first windsurfing class, my hands started bleeding, and I developed large bruises from my legs slamming against the board. I had no idea how to stabilize myself. Standing on the board felt like I was trying to balance myself on an oversized bar of soap. After lunch that day, I taped up my hands and resumed practicing.

The instructor told me I had to be committed to 2 weeks of practice to see some improvement. So every day for 2 weeks, I went to a lagoon and practiced on a rented board. My husband and the instructor watched as I struggled to learn the skills that were taught in class. After 2 weeks, I was a pathetic case.

My instructor then told me I might need 4 weeks to see some positive results, so I kept practicing. When I did not have a good handle on the skills after 4 weeks, the instructor suggested it might take another month. After 2 months, I still did not have the skills mastered.

verakoo-waterskisIt was 4 months before I mastered the basics of the class — 4 months of practicing every day in the lagoon. I ultimately graduated from practicing in the lagoon to windsurfing in the ocean. Twice, the coast guard had to rescue me when a storm came to shore.

Yet, 18 months after that first class, I was a skilled windsurfer. I remember one man even tested me, sailing across my wind and blocking it from me. Usually you will fall when you have no wind, but I am very light, and I learned that if I put my body really close to the mast and do not move, I could maintain my balance until I regained the wind to resume sailing.

After Carlos and I moved to California, my young children liked to brag to onlookers that I was a professional windsurfer. Of course, I was not, but I had come a long way from that first class.

Windsurfing was such a difficult sport for me that, after mastering it, I felt I could learn anything. That was the hardest activity I had learned at that point in my life, and it gave me confidence. Windsurfing also showed me what can be attained through dedicated practice.

vera-koo=skiLearning how to snow ski also took plenty of persistence, and it gave me experience in competing in a sport in adverse weather conditions. I liked skiing in snowstorms, because that is when you get fresh powder. I would aim to be among the first dozen people on the slope the day after a snowstorm, so I could practice on the fresh powder. Dealing with the weather in skiing prepared me for practicing in the rain throughout my shooting career. I wanted to be prepared to compete in the rain, so I practiced in pouring rain.

Learning equestrian showed me the need to overcome fears. I was always afraid of the black horses. My instructor found out, and so she made me ride a very tall black horse. I had to face my fear. That is what equestrian does. If you fall off your horse during a jump, you have to get up, get back on the horse and do the jump again. Otherwise, fear will set in. (Only once did I not get back on the horse after a fall. It was a bad fall, and it turned out I had suffered a spinal fracture, so it is a good thing my husband encouraged me to see a doctor rather than getting back on the horse.)

Carlos and I also spent many years camping. On camping trips, we would hike carrying 35-pound bags. That tested my strength and fitness, challenges I also have to meet in shooting.

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While camping, we would sleep in the open air or in tents. It was not uncommon to wake up in the morning and find you were surrounded by ants. Camping can be a hot and grimy activity, much like shooting. I have showered after shooting competitions and watched as a layer of brown dust flowed off my body. If you cannot deal with heat, humidity and dirt, you cannot be a competitive shooter. You have to maintain your mental focus despite those conditions.

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(Andy Wu photo)

When I met my husband, I probably seemed very fragile and not athletic. Throughout our years of being together, he exposed me to sports that, without either of us knowing it at the time, taught me lessons that have helped greatly during my years of competitive shooting.

That is why when a friend tells me her husband is interested in a sport, I encourage the wife to take an interest in that sport, too. If your husband likes boating, learn as much as you can about boating, even if it does not seem interesting. For one, it will offer a chance to learn an activity while spending time with your husband. Also, it might teach you lessons that will prove invaluable later in life.

  • About Vera Koo

    Vera Koo is an 8-time National Action Pistol Woman Champion who holds 2 World individual titles. Her most recent win was a Gold for Team Women (2-person team) at the NRA World Action Pistol Championship in Germany in September 2012. Vera is proud to be part of the United States Action Pistol Shooting Team since 1999. She is passionate about sharing her love of the shooting sport and the pressures of being a competitive athlete while challenging cultural expectations.