Karen Wang: The Architect of Her Own Destiny

Karen Wang is a well-known figure in competitive wakesurfing. As a Most Successful Women Award winner for 2024, she has not only made waves in the sport but has also redefined what it means to pursue one's passions without fear. With an architect's keen eye for design and a wakesurfer's unwavering determination, Karen has carved her own path to success, leaving an indelible mark on the global wakesurfer community. Her journey from the skyscrapers of New York and Paris to the waters of China exemplifies the transformative power of accepting change and pursuing one's goals.

Karen's journey started with Architecture before she did wakesurfing

Picture this: a young, ambitious architect immersed in the hustle and bustle of New York and Paris, creating breathtaking designs that reach for the sky. That was Karen's life before her encounter with wakesurfing in Taipei in 2018. Little did she know that this moment would set off a transformative journey reshaping her career and life.

As Karen stepped onto the board for the first time, she felt an instant connection with the water, a sense of freedom and exhilaration that had been missing from her life.

"Wakesurfing is one of those sports that anyone can enjoy. It's very easy to feel joy in the water."

The thrill of riding the waves and the rush of the wind against her face ignited a passion within her that could not be ignored. "Wakesurfing took me out of this dark spot of my life," Karen shares, referring to a challenging period after her mother's passing. "I've always associated wakesurfing with connecting to society and friends."

However, she was faced with a choice between the stability of her successful architecture career and the allure of the unknown, so Karen made a bold decision. She traded in her drafting table for a wakesurfing board, ready to embark on a new chapter in her life. With a heart full of determination and a mind brimming with creativity, Karen set out to conquer the world of competitive wakesurfing, ready to leave her mark on the sport and inspire others.

Jessica Ng (left); Karen Wang (right), JESSICA Magazine

Rising to the Top

Karen's entry into the competitive wakesurfing scene in 2020 was marked by unprecedented challenges as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Karen refused to let these obstacles deter her from her goals. With unwavering determination, she adapted to the new normal and continued to train, honing her skills and pushing her limits.

Her hard work and dedication soon paid off as Karen made waves in the wakesurfing community. "I got offered a two-month contract to go to China," Karen recounts, referring to a coaching opportunity that arose after winning a competition in Chengdu. "At the time, I still remember, 'The job is in Hainan,' and I was thinking, 'Is that near Singapore? Where is this place?' I had to Google it, but I just said, 'Why not?'

This leap of faith was a turning point in Karen's career. "I just tried it, and then I loved it. I loved it so much that I signed for another two months, and then I signed for another two months," she explains. "I officially quit my design job and never returned to Paris."

This passion and commitment propelled her to remarkable heights. She became a 10-time Chinese National Wakesurf Champion and clinched the 2022 CWSA Amateur Female Surf World Champion title and the 2023 CWSA Outlaw Female Surf Rank Champion. As one of the few Chinese female professional riders, Karen shattered barriers and inspired a new generation of wakesurfers in her home country and beyond.

Karen Wang, JESSICA Magazine

Her teaching style is about nurturing talent and fostering growth

As a passionate coach, she is also dedicated to sharing her knowledge and expertise with aspiring wakesurfers, nurturing their talent, and fostering growth. Through training camps conducted in both English and Chinese, Karen breaks down language barriers and makes the sport accessible to a broader audience. "I love wakesurfing as a sport, but I find it way more meaningful to interact with better riders whom you can learn from or students who are trying to learn from you… because without this engagement and interaction, you could be doing anything." Karen's commitment to coaching goes beyond merely teaching techniques; she aims to create a supportive and inclusive environment where wakesurfers of all levels can thrive. By fostering a sense of camaraderie and encouragement, she helps build a tight-knit community that celebrates each other's successes and lifts each other during challenges.

Her coaching philosophy is deeply rooted in her architectural background, as she applies design thinking principles to develop systematic coaching curricula via research, iterative testing, and real-life simulation. "I appreciate both careers, whether it is an architectural designer or a competitive wakesurfer," Karen reflects. But I find that I prefer leading a more active and outdoorsy lifestyle while using design-thinking as a method of coaching."

Karen Wang, JESSICA Magazine

Judging and Organizing Competitions

Besides being a competitor and coach, Karen has made significant contributions to the wakesurfing community as a judge and organizer. Her expertise and deep understanding of the sport have earned her the respect and admiration of her peers, leading to her involvement with esteemed wakesurfing organizations such as the Competitive Wakesurf Association (CWSA) and the World Wake Association (WWA).

As a judge, Karen brings her keen eye for technique and her commitment to fairness to the panel. She plays a crucial role in evaluating athletes' performances, ensuring that the competitions maintain the highest standards of excellence and sportsmanship. Furthermore, Karen has been instrumental in organizing notable wakesurfing competitions in China. Her leadership and organizational skills have contributed to the success of these events, providing platforms for athletes to showcase their talents and furthering the sport's growth in the region.

"It takes a lot of involvement, commitment, and participation from all sides," Karen emphasizes, discussing the collaborative effort required to develop wakesurfing in China and beyond. "Not just the rider's side, but also a big part of the community are the instructors, the coaches, and the wake schools who can provide a good environment for people to keep doing this."

Her brand: OOH! EAU!

With her extensive experience and deep understanding of the sport, Karen aims to create products that cater to the specific needs of wakesurfing enthusiasts worldwide.

"I did not start a brand just to be trendy, and I did not want to sell just anything," Karen asserts. I wanted to do the R&D myself and design essential products in the sport from the ground up. For example, a truly good board bag—one that is functional, durable, and lightweight but can carry everything. I want to design a functional product that I need."

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Karen's approach to product design is rooted in her architectural background, as she applies design thinking principles to create innovative solutions. "As an architectural designer, sometimes the work is conceptual and doesn't come to light in reality. But in my case, I'm kind of my own client. So, I am aware of the need in the market as I design the product, and then I test it myself as a user," she explains. "Last year, I traveled to over ten countries, designed many iterations, and kept testing and refining versions of a board bag. We're finally launching what I believe is one of the most functional and innovative board bags, ideal for competitive riders who frequently travel for wakesurfing."

Continuing to Push Boundaries

Karen's story serves as a potent reminder that success is not just about reaching the top but about the journey of personal growth and self-discovery that one embarks on. With her unwavering passion, determination, and creativity, Karen inspires and encourages others to embrace change, chase their dreams, and make their mark on the world.

"I always think of the quote, 'Chances are always there when you're prepared for them,'" Karen reflects. "In my case, it rings true because I could have kept wakesurfing as a hobby and been happy as an architect. But then the opportunity came, and when it did, I had to be at a certain level of wakesurfing and have had some competitive experience to be invited into the role that I was offered."

Written by: Jeremy Chapnick
Photos by: Raymond Chan
Venue: Special thanks to Centurion Hong Kong for the allowing us to use their boat for shooting. Follow them on instagram @centurionboatsHk