In this world of photo-ops and self promotion it takes a real life, charismatic, and genuine person to stand out from the "look-at-me" crowd of faces that fill social media posts.
Five years ago I was given an assignment by a leading sportswear clothing company to do some test shots of a rising kitesurfing persona, and I wondered what she would be like. On the day of our meeting I walked over to a petite, athletic blond figure and she turned around quickly and immediately disarmed any preconceived thoughts I had about who she was. Her smile was larger than life and came from the heart.
We greeted each other and discussed how I would shoot her and what she would be doing, and the first time there was a pause in our discussion, her laugh came quickly and naturally. She had a sharp intelligence that showed through her easy, casual demeanor, and was ready to do what we needed to get the best shots possible. This was not work for me. It would truly be a pleasure - and has been for about five years now - to photograph Olivia Jenkins, at work and play, living her life to its fullest potential.
Olivia Jenkins was born in Plymouth, England. Her family moved from England to Australia when she was six years old, then to Princeton, New Jersey when she was eight, and from there to Connecticut when she was about fourteen.
Olivia grew up sailing with my family - the Aeders - and these experiences really facilitated her love for water sports from an early age. At that time, Olivia vacationed on Maui with her family and it’s there where she and her brother took their first kite lessons. During every school vacation, Olivia returned to Maui to kite. Finally, at age twenty one, Olivia ended up living full time in Maui: a dream come true!
After graduating from college in California with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology and a minor in urban environmental policy, Olivia officially returned to Maui and her interest in the competitive side of kiteboarding blossomed. She would go on to achieve her Masters in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A couple of years after she moved to Maui, she was spotted and slotted for sponsorship by Duotone Sports.
According to Olivia, so many people have inspired her along the way. She says, “ I always looked up to Jalou Langeree and Moona Whyte as female inspirations in kitesurfing. There are also so many other talented watersports athletes on Maui who served as mentors for me over the years. I spent a lot of time kiting with Jesse Richman, Patri Mclaughlin, Sky Solbach, and Niccolo Porcella, among others. They really coached me to develop as an athlete and gave countless tips for wave riding. Outside of kiting, there are many other people who have helped me along the way. Annie Reickert is one of my closest friends,and I have also looked up to her as a watersports athlete for many years. She has always helped me in the surf and with foiling, I am always looking to her for tips.”
To kite or wing foil? That is the question: “When the conditions are really good, I prefer to kitesurf, and when the conditions are sub-par, I like to wingfoil. I think this is the case because with the foil, the waves can be really bumpy without a steep face, but are still super fun because you're gliding above the chop. I say that, but I always like to switch it up. I would never give up kitesurfing altogether in order to wingfoil exclusively. That can be said about all my watersports. My goal is to be a well-rounded athlete, and to progress in a range of ocean sports.”
“I love the ‘wing foil revolution’. It has created a new excitement around wind sports with athletes who I never thought would get into a wind sport but who are now eager to try wing foiling. I think wing foiling will continue to progress both in technology and skill level!”
Olivia takes her fitness seriously: “I always like to stay active so I have lots of activities that I love to do when I’m not on the water! Typically, when I am training, you can find me running, road biking, swimming or mountain biking. These activities help me stay fit so I can feel confident in my water sports. I have a couple of goals in endurance sports outside of my watersports interest that I would like to achieve within the next year. For example, right now I am training for my first marathon! I would like to compete in an ultramarathon, in the Kona 70.3 triathlon, and the Cycle to the Sun bike event on Maui - a 36 mile road bike climb up 10,000 feet.”
What is a standout moment in her career:
“A standout moment from my career that I am proud of is the first time I kitesurfed at Peahi (Jaws) on the north shore of Maui. I currently hold the record for the largest wave kitesurfed by a female in the world. Every time I go kite Peahi, I am inspired by those around me who are pushing the limits of big wave surfing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing, and it makes me want to push my own limits the next time.”
Today, Olivia is sponsored by Duotone Sports, Fanatic, and Ion. In kiteboarding equipment her favorite setup is a Duotone 6 meter Neo SLS, a 5’7 Pro Wam D/LAB, and a 24m click bar. For wing foiling, her favorite setup is a 4m Unit D/LAB, a 4’2 Fanatic Sky Wing board, a Fanatic collab 82 mast, 750 aero carve front wing, 216 back wing, and 68 fuselage. (Sounds like a new incredibly fast airplane to me!)
Olivia's travels have taken her to many far-flung destinations. Most of the time, they are for photo shoots and are usually planned at the last minute. “Over this past year I have been to the Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Mauritius, and Samoa for kite and wing trips. I am not sure what the next stop will be!”
Creative outlets?: I am passionate about health, wellness, and active living. I just finished a Master's in Public Health, and I would like to use the tools that I developed from my interest in this sector to work on a project that aims to improve health equity.”
How does Olivia participate in the preservation of the planet and the ocean? “Above all, I try to make daily decisions that contribute to the conservation of planetary resources. I think these simple daily decisions and changes can be made by everyone -- this collaborative effort would make immense change! For example, I try to eat sustainably, reduce the amount of waste I generate, and choose earth-friendly products, among others.”
What does her dream day look like? “I actually keep a schedule on my fridge that outlines my dream day at home in Maui! It consists of waking up at 7am, with surf pumping & glassy 3-4 foot conditions at Hookipa to enjoy with my friends. Then I have breakfast, after which the wind will have switched to 25 knots by 11am. I’ll have a kitesurfing session at Hookipa for another couple of hours with clean, side offshore conditions and just a couple other kite surfers out. Next, I take a lunch break, and later enjoy either a sunset surf at Hookipa, wingfoil at Ka'a point, or kitesurfing at Lowers at Kanaha Beach Park. That’s my perfect day.”
Regarding the future of water sports and advice to young athletes who wish to pursue the waterwoman lifestyle she has, Olivia says this: “When I was first getting into kitesurfing, there were very few females at the beach with me. I have definitely seen a huge increase in the numbers of young females kitesurfing, wingfoiling, and surfing, and hope these numbers continue to rise! I think young female athletes are starting to fight against the inequities in the sports, and really pushing for their recognition from sponsors and events. I would just say that no matter how many people say you can’t do something, trust in your abilities and show them you can!”
Food? Veggie burrito
Surf spot? Hookipa, Maui, Hawaii It might not be the best wave, but I surf there daily so it is my favorite!
Foil spot? Nicaragua, not getting any more specific than this!
Kite spot? Maui, Mauritius, Indonesia, Madagascar
Ski or Snowboard? I’m a skier! Wherever the snow is good
Car? It’s a truck. My Toyota Tacoma
My favorite genre is R&B/Jazz/Funk music. Some of my favorite artists include Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller, St. Paul & the Broken Bones. That’s my go-to music as I am getting going in the morning. But I listen to all other genres too, a bit of a mix of everything!
Any encounters with sea life?
I have yet to see a big shark. I have seen plenty of whales, turtles, and flying fish out to sea. I need to make sure to avoid them!
Scariest moment at Peahi?
“In 2022, I was a bit too deep on a wave. The wind was hard offshore and was trying to pull me towards the lip. I couldn’t straighten out or edge hard enough to make it to the channel, so I had to eject my kite and bail. I jumped off and got pounded by this wave and then the next wave in the set. I had to pull my inflation. It was scary, but it was a real test of my training to come out unharmed!”
Does anything make you mad?
“I get really mad when people make assumptions about my athletic capabilities based upon my sex. This happens all the time to female watersports athletes. Men often tell me that I do not know the conditions, and it may be too dangerous for me, or that I shouldn’t go out even though there are already other men in the water. As women, we need to push past a lot of barriers like this!”
If you could be well known for a single thing what would that be?
“Nothing comes easy without hard work! If you want to make something happen, then you have to put in the work. I would love to be well known for making a difference – be it for one person or several people. “