Heineken’s name, blond hair and status as Kiteboard Course Racing World Champion might seem familiar if you have been reading our magazine. We featured her brother Johnny back in October 2011, soon after he won his first world championship in Germany. He’s had another one since, and Erika has earned two more, her latest in China. There are plenty of other people competing to be the best kitesurfer on the planet — hundreds of überathletes from all over the world strive for the title — but the Heinekens, apparently, are just that good. The secret? Erika’s childhood seemed pretty typical. She went to St. Patrick’s, Hall Middle School and then Marin Academy, where she played volleyball and loved skiing and snowboarding. The tooth fairy found her in her home in Larkspur (though sometimes a month late), she liked ice cream and loved listening to music from her parents’ generation. What wasn’t typical was the amount of time the family spent on the water, both in the bay and on their boat at Tinsley Island. We caught up with her shortly after she moved into a home (near her parents) in Larkspur with her boyfriend John.
1. If you weren’t born into the Heineken family, what would you be doing? I’d probably spend more time in the mountains. Backpacking, camping and snowboarding.
2. How often do you train? During the windy season (April to October), four to six days a week.
3. Do you ever worry about losing a finger? Not really. The sketchiest experiences I’ve had are kiteboarding in the waves at Ocean Beach, not while course racing. Surprisingly, I nearly lost my finger ice-skating in San Francisco a few weeks after the world championships in December.
4. Any traction with a Heineken beer sponsorship? They only sponsor events, not athletes. They don’t want to give off the impression that alcohol enhances performance.
5. Is this your job? Nope, I work at the San Francisco Department of Public Works as a mechanical engineer. I do want to thank my sponsors, however: Silicon Valley Bank, St. Francis Sailing Foundation, Ozone Kites, MikesLab (board) and Tectonics Maui (fins).
6. Longevity of your kiting career? As long as I’m still having fun and my job allows me to balance both.
7. Compared to windsurfing, learning to kitesurf is … The learning curve for kiting is much steeper than windsurfing.I spent an entire summer swimming with a windsurfer while learning. After a week of kiting I was able to sail upwind and jump 10 feet into the air.Landing the jump was another story.
8. Compared to windsurfing is kitesurfing safer or more dangerous? Kitesurfing is more dangerous, but the safety mechanisms on the gear have developed significantly in recent years. It’s important to make conservative decisions sometimes so as to not put yourself in a dangerous situation.
9. Where would you suggest a beginner learn? Take a trip to a warm windy place for a week and take lessons. I learned in Playa Copal, Costa Rica, where I went for a few days and ended up staying for a month.
10. What do you do/use for sunscreen? Whatever is “madre approved” as we call it. At least 10 percent zinc and some titanium dioxide for broad-spectrum protection. Mom has even ordered a gallon of Australian sunscreen and stuffed our family’s sailing bag with small bottles of it.
11. Best yacht club food? St. Francis Burger and Lagunitas IPA, best consumed after sailing.
12. Favorite pizza in Marin? Stefano’s chicken pesto pizza.
13. Favorite dinner spot with your boyfriend, and why? My parents’ house, because they do the cooking and clean up.
14. Will there ever be a Team Heineken racing school? I like teaching the juniors to race, but other than intermittent clinics, I don’t think there’s a school in our future.
Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.