Women's Sports: Meet Steph Bridge, the kitesurfer and former world champion representing Team GB at the World Beach Games

Alex Schwartz

Mums doing incredible things in sport have been getting a lot of press recently with the likes of Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Allyson Felix coming back from maternity leave to become world champions.

Another Mum who has been competing and winning for years in her chosen sport is Steph Bridge – the five-time kitesurf race world champion who will be representing Team GB in the inaugural World Beach Games. 

Bridge is based in Exmouth where she runs a water sports company – Edge Watersports – with her husband. It is, according to Bridge, the best place in the UK for kitesurfing because “there's a variety of conditions. It's different each day plus the best riders live here.”

Bridge numbers as one of those riders – she is a former world number one, currently ranked tenth in the world, who has won the kitesurf race world championships five times between 2007 and 2015, not to mention she’s a race-winning snow kiter.

She’s also Mum to Team Bridge, three of the UK’s best kitesurfers, two of which – Oliver Bridge ranked 18th in the world and Guy Bridge, ranked 23rd – will be joining her at the games in Doha. Bridge says: “What's really special about this is that this is the first time, hopefully not the last, where we're all competing in the same event.”

The World Beach Games

The event the Bridges will be taking on is kitefoil racing and, depending on the weather conditions, they could race as many as thirty times across five days. Bridge says: “What's really nice about this discipline is that we can get going at very light winds and we go extremely fast, up to 40 knots.” She adds: “It's not a mixed event, it's separate events for gender this time and there will be a series of races around very small courses that will be short, sharp, fast and a process of elimination to get to the final.”

How is she feeling about competing in the first-ever Beach Games? Bridge says: “This is the first time it's been exhibited in this kind of stadium, on the beach with the beach games, so to be part of all those amazing other sports it feels fantastic.”

Working full-time, fitting in her own training and supporting her sons must be a phenomenal juggling act but Bridge says: “It's been my life and that's how it's always been. I gain all my energy and I gain my good decisions from the ocean. It’s not just where I work, it's where I play, it's where I compete, so the water is 100% of our lives, all of us. If each of us hasn’t got three or four wetsuits that are wet each day then we're not doing our job our properly.” 

GMSW Steph Bridge - Kite Surfer

She adds: “The boys are older now so it's easier for them to travel because they can drive. In the beginning, it was more difficult because obviously I had to drive everywhere with them.”

Bridge has also ensured that it will be a quiet week for her business since three of the team won’t be there to run lessons. Because they aren't fulltime athletes they will go straight into competing at the Beach Games with little time to acclimatise.

Bridge says it doesn’t feel real yet and that she doesn’t think it will fully sink in until they are on their way to the games. She says: “It'll be a great opportunity to showcase this sport that we've been doing for many years and also to meet lots of other athletes that are doing the same sort of thing.”

An Olympic Future

Kitesurfing will make its Olympic debut at Paris 2024 as one of the sailing disciplines and unlike at the Beach Games, it will be a mixed event with one man and one woman competing together in a relay-style race. The reason for this is that there was only the opportunity to add one medal discipline.

Bridge says this format will be fun to watch and she’s pleased it’s going to be included in the Olympics, but for the athletes it’s mixed: “The downside is for the guys who have been doing the sport for many years, they're a bit gutted because they're not going to get a medal for themselves as it's a shared medal.”

There is a huge positive, however. Bridge says: “The good is that it's encouraged more women to get into the sport.” She says she’s already noticed a significant increase in the number of girls kitesurfing: “There's a whole team of new girls training a lot every day, so there's way more participation which is great, it's really worked.” In the long run, Bridge hopes to see individual events for the men and women. 

So does she hope to take to the water in Paris? Bridge says: “I'm really on the fence, it's very difficult to combine being an athlete with a full-time job, particularly our job which is so intense during the really busy season.”

There are other reasons too. Bridge says age plays into it: “I think they do want younger people and I'm quite old now. I've been involved with the sport for many years and winning for many years. So I guess there's a little bit of me thinking ‘Oh I should just hang everything up and let someone else’, but then there's quite a lot of me also going ‘Oh what a cool thing to have done’.”

It’s not a decision she will make lightly: “All I know is that if I'm going to do it I'm going to have to stop work a lot – I'd need to stop work two years before at least.” She adds: “Let's see. Never say never.” In the meantime, Doha is calling and for Team GB kitesurfing is very much a family affair.

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