Anna Nikstad on Embracing Life’s Twists & Turns
Anna Nikstad is a professional wakeboarder who uses her platform and talent to break down walls in the industry every time she takes to the water. She never imagined that this would be her path in life, especially when she was a 17-year-old committed to playing Division 1 collegiate soccer. Anna’s passionate life has taught her the importance of following your gut and the power that comes with gaining confidence in yourself.
Before Anna achieved her many accolades, such as becoming the 2018 USA Professional Women’s National Champion of Wakeboarding, she surprisingly never pictured herself as a wakeboarder, let alone a professional wakeboarder. Even though she had been around wakeboarding her whole life, with her brothers being adamant wakeboarders, Anna’s sport of choice in her teen years was soccer. She lived and breathed soccer. Anna was extremely committed to the sport and even trained with the US Olympic soccer trainers at such a young age. She committed to playing D1 soccer at Florida State. At age 17, it felt like Anna’s future was laid out for her, until she needed a 5th knee surgery. It was at that point that her doctor recommended a change of sport for Anna because her body could no longer take the physical turmoil that came along with soccer.
The shocking end to Anna’s soccer career was hard to fathom at first. For so many years, soccer had been her passion and was what she did every single day. Amidst this difficult transition, Anna’s brother convinced her to go to a wake park with him one day. This was the moment that Anna really fell in love with wakeboarding for the first time. She had been on a wakeboard previously, but it was behind a boat rather than behind a cable. This avenue of wakeboarding was more enjoyable for Anna and much more gentle on her already damaged knees. She says, “Once I got a different perspective on [wakeboarding] and got behind a cable, it all just clicked for me.”
“Once I got a different perspective on [wakeboarding] and got behind a cable, it all just clicked for me.” - Anna Nikstad
Anna always looked up to the sport of wakeboarding with its extreme qualities and the immense amount of talent that it requires, but she never even imagined pursuing wakeboarding as a passion, let alone a career. She had a natural talent for many of the tricks because of her athleticism and background in gymnastics. She very quickly became passionate about the sport. She explains, “I’m the type of person to obsess over something once I love it.” Anna poured herself into wakeboarding, spending endless hours on the water. She admits “I never expected to make it a professional career. I was just having as much fun as possible with it and it just turned into that.” Once this passion was brewing inside of her, she was able to begin paving the path of her successful career. It is important to takeaway away this insight from Anna’s story. If you truly pour your energy and heart into your passions, you never know where they might take you.
Soon after falling in love with the sport, Anna began to travel around the country to different cable parks where she met many different people. These connections lead her around the world from Sydney, Australia to London where she worked at many different cable parks, networking with professionals across the globe and refining her wakeboarding skills. Anna says she didn’t realize how talented she was becoming during this time because she was so focused on how much fun she was having throughout the process. Before she knew it, she was invited to compete in a pro-tour in Europe. This was the moment that Anna fell in love with the competitive realm of the sport. Her professional career really took off while she spent 4 months in the Philippines at the CWC Wake Park. She spent 4 days a week constantly on the water practicing and filming content for her personal reels. Soon after, she secured her first sponsorship and she truly launched into her career.
“I decided to try to be a pioneer and push the women’s side of the sport as far as I possibly can because I felt like it was an obligation at that point. I couldn’t be in an industry that allowed that.” - Anna Nikstad
After spending some time in the world of professional wakeboarding, Anna came to realize the lack of respect that was awarded to women in the field. She made it her mission to use her talent and position in the industry to pave the way toward more opportunities and equity for women within the industry. Anna started showing up to different exclusive competitions that only invited men and requested that she be allowed to enter. In almost every incident, the competition allowed Anna to compete and she often scored extremely well because she was one of the top athletes in the industry at the time. She also used her platform to talk to different extreme sports magazines to bring awareness to the issue of disrespect toward women in the extreme sports world, especially wakeboarding. These bold actions paid off in the end. Anna is still pushing to uplift women in the sport today. She explains her motives. She says, “I decided to try to be a pioneer and push the women’s side of the sport as far as I possibly can because I felt like it was an obligation at that point. I couldn’t be in an industry that allowed that.” We must take this lesson from Anna to heart. It is important to notice and challenge the systems and status quos that create inequities for different groups of people in all our industries. We must be fueled to fight against the inequities that hinder us personally as well as the people around us. It is made clear in Anna’s story that the decisions we make every day to push back against unfair systems will help to pave the way for those who may follow us in the future.
“Follow your gut. If you feel like it’s something you need to do, just do it. Because you’re going to spend your whole life thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’” - Anna Nikstad
In light of her different experiences, a major lesson that Anna learned was the importance of confidence. She says, “Confidence is really the key to everything.” Throughout her career, Anna learned that often the thing holding us back is our unwillingness to trust in ourselves and our abilities. Once she broke past this point, things truly began to change for Anna in life and in wakeboarding. She also believes that this confidence comes from trusting our instincts. Anna emphasizes, “Follow your gut. If you feel like it’s something you need to do, just do it. Because you’re going to spend your whole life thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’” Sometimes you may fall flat on your face after you take a risk in life, but Anna firmly believes that there are many lessons that a person can learn from every failure. Even in her own failures, Anna has practiced reframing every defeat or rejection into a new opportunity that life is presenting. These lessons hold a very powerful message about believing in yourself especially when it seems like the world is against you. We all have the power to make an impact.
Written By: Anna Rice
Interview By: Jason Crowe