The global warming crisis may be prompting some of us to swap planes for boats or cars for trains, but 35-year-old surfing champion Dreya Wharry had a different idea when she decided to go to Ireland for a spin: she kitesurfed. “I was on the water for eight-and-a-half hours going about 15 knots from Watergate Bay in Newquay, Cornwall to Dungarvan,” she said. “It’s about 134 miles!”
Dreya’s efforts paid off: she is now listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having completed the longest journey by kite and the longest journey by a woman by kite. Quite an achievement for someone who also works part-time as an estate agent in Truro to pay the bills: “The boring fact of life now is that since marrying we have a mortgage, which is a real pain because kiting doesn’t really pay.”
Dreya was born in Africa, but her parents moved to Cornwall when she was nine and she has lived in Newquay ever since. She started riding the waves on an ordinary surfboard when she was 14 and used to regularly compete, achieving a ranking in the world’s top ten women surfers for three years.
Dreya also found time to win Gladiators in 1996, and went on to take part in two international championships and a champion of champions; winning three out of four competitions. She has also worked as a wing walker on an aeroplane for Crunchie commercials. Not content with all this, she has a degree in stained glass, a career she would like to resume. To keep her creative hand happy, she runs evening pottery decorating sessions for children during the school holidays.
Her break into surf teaching came when a friend bought a beach complex at Watergate Bay and they both set up the surfing kite school Extreme Academy, when the sport was still in its infancy. They made great inroads in pioneering this type of surfing, but Dreya found that teaching all day severely curtailed her own surfing because the favourable conditions have to be reserved for lessons. Instead, she became a sponsored rider for the Watergate complex which supports her with PR and venues for press conferences.
One of the main advantages of combining kite and ordinary surfing is that you can surf in varying weather conditions and wind directions. “They are very good complements to each other, and the conditions you need are different for each,” she says.
The only wind you need for ordinary surfing is off-land, but for kite surfing the wind should blow from the sea inwards, although competitions are allowed to run in all conditions (mainly because of the spectators who turn up to watch), there are strict safety measures in place. Kite surfing when the wind is coming off the land is particularly challenging for surfers.
Dreya became a champion at the freestyling competitions but decided she would rather switch to ‘firsts’ and in 2004 was the first woman to kite surf from the Scilly Isles to Watergate Bay with seven other female surfers who were ranked top in the world, but the conditions were so bad that only three completed journey, Dreya being one of them. It was out of this journey that the idea for Ireland was born.
The trip wasn’t just for her own satisfaction. While sponsorship from Veuve Clicquot not only paid for her expenses and for the support boats, it also allowed Dreya to make a donation to the RNLI and to the Silke Gorldt Foundation, which was set up in memory of Dreya’s friend, the number two kite surfer in the world who died in a kiting accident in Germany. “It is to encourage safe kiting and children’s instruction,” says Dreya, who has the aim of raising more funds for charity.
More and more women are notching up successes in surfing. “It’s a great sport for women because we are much lighter than men – in light conditions we can ride when men can’t,” says Dreya.
Dreya is now intending to break another record – a trip around Watergate Bay with six kites and six kiters on one board – and she has written to Guinness to verify new the category. It is technically difficult because each kite has four 25-metre lines attached to them. “If we are standing two to three feet away from each other it can be very dangerous,” she says. “It’s quite a challenge to keep the board moving and the kites untangled or you end up with knitting.”
Husband Layton is extremely supportive and sailed in one of the accompanying boats acting as safety consultant during Dreya’s Irish crossing. He too is a surfer, but they don’t always take to the boards to spend time together. “When there is no wind we go out in a kayak and catch mackerel for supper,” she says.
How difficult does this top level of surfing get as you grow older? “Physically, I think I’ll be fine for a few years yet,” she says. “The biggest issue is finding the balance between work and time and having the space of time to do things.”
Dreya still competes occasionally and earlier this year took part in the first round of British nationals at Watergate, but her real love now is finding new firsts, whether they be crossings or stunts, and she is always searching for new ideas. “I don’t know where to go from Ireland,” she admits.
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Photos of Dreya Wharry in action off Watergate Bay, Newquay by Ian Edmison of ex pics