How to surf like a pro when you’re from a landlocked country

Katerina Kern is an absolute shredder from Germany. How did she do it? How does a girl from a landlocked country (OK, I know Germany has a small coast-line), become such a powerhouse in the surf? Kat explains her journey.

– Guest post by Katerina Kern


I am from Germany, and I am a surfer. These two words never made sense in the same sentence to me. While Germany does have a coastline (Nord- und Ostsee. Duh!), it lacks access to the two big blue ponds aka The Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. Thus, it misses the chances of some serious, juicy groundswells, and delivering beyond a foot of onshore mess. And me growing up in the South, I lacked the accessibility to that coastline altogether (read: holidays in Italy).


Nowadays, it’s pretty common that you will come across Germans who surf, whether you float in the line-up in Balangan, or paddle out at Muizenberg. Without wanting to sound cocky, there is a difference between Germans who surf and Germans who rip. The latter is a rarer occurrence of the two, and it usually applies to folk who are lucky enough to hold a German passport (my grandma was from Heidelberg), but have grown up in proximity to a wave spoilt coastline (my dad was a professional windsurfer and my family operates a guest house in Tenerife).


Surfer Girl ripping in The Maldives
Kat ripping at Machine
Photo Lena Stoffel


My parents are both from Germany. I hold a German passport and did, in fact, grow up in this country. I can’t remember the exact trigger of my self-manifested intention to get good at surfing. It went something along the lines of a combination of snowboarding, plus reading snowboard mags with Roxy ads. At around age 16, I was a determined little bugger and knew that all I wanted to focus on, for at least a year after school, was to learn how to surf. Two surf camps spent nearly drowning on French beaches later, and Matric certificate in hand, I boarded a plane to South Africa where I’d was to spend my gap year.


I was simply fascinated by the art, activity, and lifestyle of surfing… Back in Germany, I felt restless, hungry, and not comfortable with accepting that the lifestyle I’d enjoyed during my gap year had been replaced by that of a partying student, in a small town in Bavaria.


Surfer girl from Germany - Katerina Kern


So this was my journey and the best advice I can give you…


#1 Truly WANT to become good at surfing

Thinking back, I was truly petrified about the prospect of paddling out at new spots in South Africa, without having a surf buddy by my side. I was barely being able to judge the conditions, let alone the icy-ocean that they said had men-in-grey-suits visit regularly (aka sharks!). Every time I went in, as I got pounded on the shore break, I’d ask myself “Why, Kat? Why do you do this to yourself?”. After most sessions, I’d be able to answer this question and for the most part, I was simply fascinated by the art, activity, and lifestyle of surfing. In those 9 months that marked the beginning of my surfing career, I’d gone down from a 6’8 to a 6’2 surfboard (plus a 5’8 toothpick which was a bad life choice!). I had surfed at Jefferey’s Bay and couldn’t get enough of this beautiful country and the people I’d met. Back in Germany, I felt restless, hungry, and not comfortable with accepting that the lifestyle I’d enjoyed during my gap year had been replaced by that of a partying student, in a small town in Bavaria.


The best for my surfing was to surf with people who were much better surfers than me.


#2 Fail and persist anyway

While I followed my heart, begging my parents to let me finish my studies in South Africa, I was reasonable enough to take surfing out of the equation when assessing the probability of this move, being a smart life choice. The upside was: I would speak better English, I would study at the best university in Africa (aaaaaUaaaaUaaaa UCT), I would live in a diverse environment, and be confronted with contrast and ambiguity. I would therefore grow and gain experiences that would prove to be invaluable when applying for my first job.


German surfer Kat Kern surfing a big wave Surfer girl on the beach


#3 Follow your heart (do it for the right reasons)

Once my marks stabilized after a bumpy start at varsity, I surfed before class, often missed class, and returned for the PM surf, only for a stiff onshore wind to destroy my hopes. Weekends were synonymous with surf trips, camping up the East and West Coast, surfing sometimes perfect, often scary, and rarely crowded point-breaks.

I almost always surfed with my back-then-boyfriend. When paddling out at our local, I was greeted with plenty of friendly smiles on familiar faces. The best for my surfing was to surf with people who were much better surfers than me. While my first boyfriend tried the push-her-by-scare-her technique, he also left me out crying in the massive surf, way beyond my skill set. My later boyfriend was much more successful in improving my surfing rapidly, by precise coaching and pep talk (thanks Josh!). Whether it’s learning to surf the board you really should be surfing (no, it’s most likely not the same board Steph Gilmore has under her feet!), or being pointed towards the key-hole that’ll save you from wrecking your feet, surfing with experienced people is guaranteed to make you a better surfer, quicker.


#4 find a crew that pushes your surfing

Find a surf crew

The surf crew

#5 Compete

In addition to being determined, I was always ambitious. As soon as I noticed I was getting to a level that justified comparison with other girls in the water, I could not not sign up when walking past the university surf club registration, as my 2nd year on campus was about to unfold. Strategic surfing to win heats required a different approach in the surf but I actually liked the idea of performance compulsory, rather than optional, because it meant I had to catch waves from the get-go. No more getting used to conditions first or passing up on set waves. Essentially, competing accelerated my surfing once again, and while I surely did not win all my heats and got upset when I got knocked out, I made the team first try and came 4th the next year at the South African university championships.


Competing in surfing Surf events competing


#6 Make it your life

I realize I’ve been extremely lucky to have had both the financial and emotional support from my family, with the decision to study overseas. While I probably would have been happy momentarily opting for a life as a beach bum, I also realized that directing my vision towards a new goal would lead to a more sustainable and happy future. With that consciousness came the recognition that I will most likely not join the ranks of Carissa, Lakey and co. in this lifetime and I therefore started to feel okay with looking for a plan B. Although I truly love surfing and what it entails with all my heart (and am fully aware that there might be a lifestyle out there that is not mutually exclusive), I’m proud to say that I managed to direct my life to a space that is allowing me to experience other diverse perspectives on how to pursue happiness. For now, this space remains in this place – my semi landlocked home, Germany.


Nelson Mandela inspiration in South Africa

#7 Realize you will not actually turn pro in this lifetime!


#8 Laugh about it and keep pushing your surfing


Surfer girl, wearing The Seea surfsuit in The Maldives
Kat in The Maldives by Alexa Hohenberg


Falling in love with surfing truly is one of the best things that ever happened to me. It taught me to go with the flow, practice patience, and seize moments as they occur. I continue to push my surfing and I’m sure I’ll never get tired of getting in the ocean. So sitting here, contemplating how much joy and happiness the ocean brings me, here are 8 realisations that got my surfing to where it is today:

#1 Truly WANT to become good at surfing

#2 Fail and persist anyway

#3 Follow your heart (do it for the right reasons)

#4 Find a crew that pushes your surfing

#5 Compete

#6 Make it your life

#7 Realize that you will not turn pro in this lifetime

#8 Laugh about it and keep pushing your surfing


Get out there as much as you can, it’s worth it, I promise!


Follow Kat on her Instagram @KaterinaKern


Read more great how to surf articles to keep the stoke levels high!

Don’t make these 6 mistakes when learning to surf
You ain’t paddling right – Surf tips to paddle stronger and surf better
Surf training out the water – Paddle fitness
Surf tips for girls – Because all these things will happen to you!
Best Surf Bikinis – Review of top active swimwear brands + discount codes
Best Surf Sunscreen – Full review & breakdown of top brands


Feel free to share in the comments below, any other strategies that you’ve found useful, or just say hi to Kat! Sharing is caring ladies x


Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream. I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)


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