Bodyboarding is the best job in the world.
Joana Schenker is a professional bodyboarder from Sagres, Portugal, known for her exceptional skills and media exposure. She began bodyboarding in 2001 and has since become one of the most prominent figures in Portuguese bodyboarding. Schenker is admired by many and serves as a role model and ambassador for Portugal.
Why bodyboarding as opposed to surfing?
The reason I choose bodyboarding has everything to do with the place I grew up in. Sagres has a tremendous local bodyboarding community, and its history in the sport goes way back in time. This is primarily due to our coastline’s natural ability to produce amazing waves for all waves sports but in particular for bodyboarding. When I was in school, the most fantastic kids would bodyboard, so I naturally joined them. Surfing didn’t even cross my mind.
What injuries have you suffered from your sport?
I have suffered many different injuries over my 22 years of bodyboarding, mostly bruises from hitting the board, the sand or rocks, but also some more serious ones like neck and lower back injuries. Now that I’m getting older, I have started to do Pilates with Uno Pilates, and my mentor Miguel Silvas has helped me immensely with treating my lower back pain and also having a better understanding of my own body.
What is the surfing/bodyboarding mentality?
I would describe us as open-minded, adventure-seeking nature lovers that love to be in the ocean and do not exactly know what’s coming up next. My favourite part about these sports is that you don’t have a routine. Nature will say if, where and when you get to be in the water next, you just adapt.
What are your favourite places to surf?
The world has so many incredible places to surf, but there is no place like home. For me, it’s Sagres.
If you hadn’t become a bodyboarder what would you have become?
Most likely a politician.
You’re competing in the world bodyboard championships; how is the year going so far?
My competition season starts mid-April and goes until November, so right now, I’m in preparation season and will soon be travelling to the first event of the year in Brazil. I feel pretty well and motivated and have a good outlook for this next season!
Your proudest moment?
Becoming the first Portuguese to win a professional World Title in the history of all wave-riding sports in Portugal.
When was the defining moment you realised that you could possibly become a World Champion?
It was after winning the Sintra Pro, the most critical world tour event of that year, it put me at the head of the ranking and made the possibility of winning the tour very real. Obviously, it also created a tremendous amount of pressure leading up to the upcoming events, where I also had to do well until the end of the tour. It seemed like the entire bodyboarding/surfing community was expecting me to win it for Portugal.
How does bodyboarding differ from surfing?
They are both wave-riding sports; the main difference is that bodyboarders have a slightly smaller board and have fins on their feet, as, in surfing, you stand on the board. Also, the manoeuvres and the waves bodyboarders seek to excel in their skills are different. We look for more dangerous, complex, hollow, more barreling and challenging waves as we need them to do vertical aggressive drops and air moves.
Where in the world is a place you are yet to but want to bodyboard at?
That is such a tricky question to answer, so many places I would love to experience, Namibia and Tahiti being at the top of the list, but really….The world is so big, I would love to go everywhere!
Do you have goals for yourself for the new season?
Competitive-wise, I want to finish in the top places of the 2023 World Tour, which is my main goal, but I also like to set goals for my surfing abilities, polish certain technical aspects, and shoot unique surfing content!
Talk us through a normal everyday for you.
Usually, my partner (who is also my coach), Chico, wakes up before me and checks the waves. If it’s pumping, I rush out of bed, have a quick coffee, and then we are off to the beach all day. I usually surf once or twice a day, we train and shoot pictures or film the action. Usually, I only come back home by the end of the day. Then I need to get on top of all missed calls, emails and work I also have to do! Sleep and repeat the next day.
How has your diet changed over the years whilst competing?
I decided to become vegetarian at the age of 10, mainly for ethical reasons, it’s been 25 years now. Since then, I grew more aware of how to eat healthily and in a way to support my performance, but I didn’t really change much over the years; I love good food, and taste is super essential; I also try to eat fresh, local, fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds…I do love to indulge without any regrets; I have a natural sweet tooth and love to have a cold Sagres Mini at the end of a long beach day with my friends.
Being out in the elements, water, sun and wind, how do you keep your skin and hair healthy?
It’s true; too much sun, wind, and salt really does take their toll, especially on your skin and hair. Sun protection is a must for me every day, all year round. I’m lucky to have had my sponsor Eau Thermale Avene for many years providing everything I need. Their sunscreen is the best for surfing while also being marine life-friendly. I also use all their other skin care products in my daily routine for hydration and anti-ageing. For the hair, I rely on a hydration mask and lots of hair oil to keep it moisturised as much as possible. A good tip is always to have water at the beach or in the car to rinse your face and hair after surfing.
How do you prepare for long-haul travelling?
I travel around the world for over half of my year. It’s a routine thing to pack everything I need into my enormous bodyboard travel bag (this will save you lots of money on extra luggage fees), but you need to have strong arms to carry that around yourself. I also make sure I have a change of clothes and essential items with me in my carry-on; too often, your luggage arrives late. I always make sure I have my adapters and power banks with me, comfy socks, snacks, and headphones and that my travel outfit is 100% comfortable. I suggest a stylish tracksuit!
I also like to have all my work, Instagram content with brands or other stuff done before travelling. Nothing is more stressful than doing work while you’re on a trip.
Who is your favourite person you follow on Instagram?
Impossible to mention one single person; my favourite accounts are usually photographers. Instagram can be a fantastic place for inspiration! I spend quite some time on this platform daily to see other people’s accounts and to curate my @joana_schenker
Did or do you suffer from nerves in a tournament?
Yes, I do get nervous; at the beginning of my career, it would be harmful to my performance, but over the years, I learned to channel it into a good thing. I see it as excitement and an energiser.
What would you say to a young girl thinking about pursuing a career as a professional bodyboarder?
If you genuinely love it, go for it! It will be challenging and frustrating at times, but the fun and adventure that comes with it is so worthwhile! Be prepared to encounter lots of closed doors and obstacles, people that will doubt you can do it, but that only makes you stronger. It’s the best job in the world.
So your partnership with Lisbon Oceanarium created the Schenker School Tour; how’s that going?
The “Schenker School Tour” is a project in partnership with my sponsors, the Oceanarium of Lisbon and the Blue Ocean Foundation, with the main goal to motivate the upcoming generation to care and be proactive in Ocean Conservation. It’s a one-hour school talk where I tell my story as an athlete, the lessons I’ve learned, and how the ocean has given me everything. I would say it has been a success! I have been in countless schools all over Portugal, and we have reached over 12.500 children so far.
You were awarded the Order of Merit of the Portuguese Republic back in 2019 in recognition of becoming the first Portuguese athlete to win a world bodyboarding title; how did that make you feel?
I never gave too much importance to these things, but that moment was indeed extraordinary. It was the official confirmation that my life choices have been correct and that following a passion relentlessly does pay off. It made me proud to see my beloved sport get all that attention and recognition coming from that medal of merit and also a homage to all the people that helped and supported me all these years.