Our friendship with Joana has been forged through years of shared moments both in and out of the ocean. A spirited soul born and raised in Sagres in Portugal, Joana is a leading light in the world of bodyboarding – and when it comes to shifting the needle for women in surf, nobody’s blazed a greater trail. We caught up to discuss sacrifices, influences, and her deep connection to the ocean.
Joana Schenker: Bodyboarding Champion
4 min read
Written by Joana Schenker
You first bonded with the ocean in early childhood. Was bodyboarding the catalyst?
The Ocean has always been in my life from my earliest memories. I think I chose bodyboarding because of my love for the ocean. For me, the sport just opened a whole new way of enjoying and interacting with the sea every day.
“When I was younger I always looked up to people that were courageous. People that would speak up, even when it wasn't fashionable, in a bid to try and change the general view of things.”
Your record as World, European and National bodyboarding champion is formidable. Have you had to make sacrifices on your journey to reach and stay at the top?
I think when you dedicate your life to one thing and invest all your time, money and willpower into it, you automatically make a lot of sacrifices. Although, sacrifice is almost expected when you’re in professional sports, and while I'm aware of all I’ve had to sacrifice over my 22 years of bodyboarding I don't feel like it was too hard, because I’ve very much enjoyed the journey and had way too much fun! The good times completely outweigh the hard times, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
Oceans play a vital role in maintaining balance in the climate. Clearly, we’ve all got a role to play in protecting their future. How do you give back and help protect the spaces you love so much?
The ocean has given me everything, so I feel like it's my responsibility to use my voice to advocate for the ocean’s future as much as possible. I have a school programme where I go into Portuguese schools and tell my story as an athlete aligned with a strong message for ocean protection. I’ve reached 12,500 students so far. I also organise regular beach and coastal cleanups in my home area, and I try my best to live by what I preach in my own home. I haven't eaten any fish, seafood or meat for 25 years now. But I must admit, the hardest challenge is in reducing my own plastic waste.
Looking to the future, do you think you’ll always maintain a connection to the ocean through the work you do?
Absolutely. The ocean is my best friend – I could never not be connected! My plan for the future is to work more and more for and with the ocean. Not as an athlete, but as an activist.
You’re an inspiration to so many, both in and out of the water. Who were your role models when you were growing up, and who inspires you today?
When I was younger I always looked up to people that were courageous. People that would speak up, even when it wasn't fashionable, in a bid to try and change the general view of things. Women like Sylvia Earle or Jane Goodall are my personal heroes. Nowadays I also get very inspired by ordinary people that actually care – people that go out of their way to make things better; that put in the effort to change themselves and drive change in their communities, purely because they know it's the right thing to do. If we all did even just a little to improve the world around us, just imagine the impact that would have…