ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team’s Katja Salskov-Iversen is one of the female athletes blazing a trail on the F50 as part of the groundbreaking SailGP Women’s Pathway Programme.

The Olympic star-turned-SailGP strategist has – alongside Anne-Marie Rindom – become a key part of the ROCKWOOL Denmark team as it climbs the SailGP leaderboard.

ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team | Katja Salskov-Iversen

And when Salskov-Iversen isn’t on the F50, you’ll usually find her on a coach boat – helping to drive female participation, develop talent and build clearer pathways to the top of the sport, through a never-before-seen team collaboration with the Waszp class.

Having formed the Danish Waszp Clinic in collaboration with ROCKWOOL and the Royal Danish Yacht Club last year, Salskov-Iversen has been coaching and mentoring the next generation of female foilers – and is now focused on the ROCKWOOL Waszp Games 2024 in Norway this August, a Danish team initiative which will see a record number of female racers compete in Sandefjord.

We caught up with Katja to get the scoop on a powerful collaboration that is seeing new levels of female participation into foiling.

The ROCKWOL Denmark team has partnered with Waszp to help deliver a record-breaking Waszp Games in Norway this summer – how did that come about?

It’s all part of our work to help develop the next generation of foiling talent, in Denmark and beyond. We know that the Waszp class is currently the most effective entry point into high performance foiling, and we’ve already seen the likes of Tash Bryant and Maria Cantero come through that class and be successful female athletes in SailGP. It’s exciting for me, as the Waszp class is very diverse with a lot of female participation – so we see that we can break boundaries by powering up that class and helping to join the dots between the entry point, and the top of the sport, like SailGP. The ROCKWOOL Waszp Games in August will be a perfect showcase for that – the biggest fleet ever seen at a Waszp Games, with 180 competitors from more than 20 countries, and a record-breaking female fleet too, so it shows that our work over the past year is having an effect and I’m looking forward to being there and meeting the competitors.

You have become the first professional sailing team to set up a long-term collaboration with Waszp. Why did you make the decision to partner with the class in this way?

I think that SailGP’s Impact League, which we won in Season 3, helps to focus the mind around some of these key topics, like diversity, inclusivity and youth development. As a team, we discussed before the season where we would like to focus our energy in Season 4, and we were all aligned that we really believe in the Waszp class as a platform. It’s an opportunity for young talented sailors to try foiling, and see if they enjoy it. In my experience, once you get up and flying on one of these things, there is no stopping you and most of the sailors are instantly hooked! SailGP Inspire has been partnered with Waszp for some years, and we’ve seen a steady pipeline of talent coming through that programme, so we wanted to do something more powerful as a team, to try and accelerate that process by adding our support both from ROCKWOOL and Denmark SailGP Team side. It’s a pretty groundbreaking collaboration and I am excited about where it could lead in the long-term.

You mentioned building a pathway for Danish female talent. How do you combine classes to build a diverse mix of experience for young sailors?

Our mission is to create a pathway for young females to get into foiling boats like the F50, and of course, we want to drive that participation and development in Denmark, as we have a duty to build our legacy at home, as a team. We have been hosting ROCKTheBoat academies in Copenhagen for the past four years, and last summer, we had a new intake of young female sailors looking to try foiling for the first time. I spent a few days showing them the Waszp, and giving them an intro to foiling boats. We have since set up a Danish Youth Foiling Team, and in the past 12 months, the ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team athletes have been coaching the youth on our foiling training boats (ETF26) and they have even been racing some regattas in our 69F boat – which is a foiling monohull. We’ve seen crazy progression so far since starting the project, so we believe that being able to learn on different platforms is a benefit. Additionally, I’ve been hosting a Waszp Clinic in Denmark, in collaboration with ROCKWOOL and Royal Danish Yacht Club. We’ve had heaps of young athletes come through that programme already, and it’s been engaging a lot of young female sailors, so the future is bright for Danish sailing.

The ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team athletes get hands-on in terms of coaching and mentoring the young foiling athletes. Why is that so important?

It’s one of my favourite parts of this project. Our team is passionate about equipping the young sailors with the tools to grow and develop their experience in foiling, and all of the SailGP athletes are engaged. We’ve delivered close to 50 days on the water this year for the youth foilers, and we have had SailGP athletes on hand in either a sailing, coaching or mentoring capacity for all of those, so it isn’t a small time investment, but one which we see the impact of and is rewarding to be involved in.

How are the opportunities for young female athletes to get into foiling different now to when you were growing up?

It’s totally different – there weren’t really opportunities to foil when I grew up. In fact, I didn’t sail a foiling boat until I was in my mid-twenties. The only real option to get into sailing when I was growing up was the Olympic route – which I did, and obviously went on to compete at Rio in 2016. I loved my time in the 49erFX class, but I do think if I had the opportunity to be part of a programme like this, or SailGP Inspire, when I was a teenager, it would have been a very powerful development tool for me.

You mentioned you came through the Olympic scene, racing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in the 49erFX class, where you scored a bronze medal. How is the transition to a league like SailGP?

They are almost two different sports. Sailing has taken a big shift in the past few years. You use data a lot more, and I’m not used to that. My background in sailing has always been about feelings, what you see, smell and hear – whereas now, it’s more about what you can measure, data-wise. I think the next generation of female sailors will have a new skill set, being able to combine data and what you see, which is very unique and different to how we learned to sail. As Women’s Pathway Programme athletes, even with a lot of experience in the Olympics and other classes, many of us are still learning how to adapt and integrate these new elements into our way of sailing. We are getting there – but if you can learn that at a young age, you will have a big advantage.

Your team gave an opportunity to a local Inspire Racing candidate, Grace Poole, to jump on the F50 in at the ROCKWOOL Canada Sail Grand Prix. Why did you do that?

Our collaboration with Waszp is very much internationally-focused, and we wanted to mark the ROCKWOOL Canada Sail Grand Prix by doing something unique in partnership with the Inspire programme. So, we gave Grace Poole a chance to live a day in the life of a SailGP athlete. Grace is someone who has been in contact with our team since last season, when she came to visit our base in San Francisco. I know she has been doing a great job in the Waszp class since then, and will be racing at our big ROCKWOOL Waszp Games event in August, so we wanted to show that it is absolutely possible for young female foilers to make the jump from that class to the F50. Grace did a great job, and I think she had the time of her life – from my conversation with her, it has really lit a fire within her.

You have a background in STEM, having graduated university with a degree in Civil Engineering. How does that technical background help you as a female athlete in SailGP?

I think there are many transferable skills to be taken from a science-based degree. For instance, we use a lot of technology in SailGP, like simulators, to help us accelerate our learning, and data is a huge part of our daily life. At the ROCKWOOL Halifax Sail Grand Prix this month, we invited three of the local Canadian Inspire girls to join us in testing out the new SailGP simulator, which is still in development. It was an amazing opportunity for them, as it’s so new that even some of us SailGP athletes haven’t been able to try it yet! It was cool to see how they tried it for the first time, but got the hang of it really quickly. It’s really fun to have the chance to give those kinds of opportunities to others – you can see the drive in their eyes, they want to be here and do this. And I think that they will, very soon.

Why is the simulator so important in terms of development for competitions like SailGP?

It’s invaluable to have this technology to take time to practice on shore. All boats are different, so it’s really important that the simulator is F50-specific. The boats in SailGP
are super difficult to sail, so the chance to take your time on shore in a safe environment, and to be more confident when you finally do get on the water, is really a gamechanger for female athletes stepping into this league.

If I had had this opportunity to “play” SailGP when I was a little girl, I think it would have opened up another world for me, much earlier, and to be honest, I think my level would be far higher than it is now. This kind of technology will definitely increase the level of the female athletes in just a few years. It means that hopefully in the future we are going to have a far bigger pool of people who can jump on the F50 and perform immediately.