Q&A with Sensi Graves: Kitesurfer and Bikini Designer

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Sensi Graves is a kitesurfer, bikini designer with her own label, and writer based in Hood River, Oregon. Fortunately, she’s had a few moments to catch up with us and share a bit about what she does and how she manages a life of travel.

Hey Sensi, thanks for stopping by. Do you mind telling us who you are, what you’re up to, and where you live?

My name is Sensi and I’m a professional kiteboarding and swimwear designer of Sensi Graves Bikinis. I travel the world to attend kite competitions, participate in photo and video shoots, produce media and write content for magazines, blogs and my sponsors. In addition I run my eponymous swimwear line which is designed for active women! It’s frustrating to use a product that doesn’t work for your lifestyle and my bikinis solve the problem! I live in Hood River, OR.

You live an incredible lifestyle of kitesurfing, yoga, writing, and bikini designing. How did this all fall into place? Has this been a dream since childhood or did it come more as an adult?

I started designing swimwear right out of College. I was living in North Carolina at the time and in the water every day. Therefore my bikini was my go-to outfit. I quickly became fed up with what the market had to offer. At the time, there wasn’t anything that was designed or marketed for active women. There were a few older, frumpier brands but nothing that identified with what I was; a young, fashion-conscious athlete that wanted to look flirty and fabulous but also be able to rely on my wardrobe for when I was doing all of the fun sports that I loved (namely kiteboarding and surfing at that time).

I’ve always wanted to do something entrepreneurial and with the urging of a few older women who had started their own businesses, Sensi Bikinis was born! The brand developed in response to a niche I saw in the marketplace and a need that I identified with. Therefore it wasn’t something that was a dream (although running my own business was!) but that developed as I grew up.

I’m lucky enough that my kiteboarding career has grown simultaneously and the two work to support and enhance the other.

What would you say to someone else seeking an unconventional lifestyle. Did/do you ever have any doubts about paving your own way?

I’ve most definitely had doubts. Owning your own business is never easy and in fact last year I was close to giving up. Oftentimes the challenges can feel overwhelming and it can be difficult to constantly stay motivated. The thought “Oh wouldn’t it be great if I had a steady paycheck” has often crossed my mind. But that’s not who I am and I’m thankful that I get to build this life around things that I love. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to live, as you say, an unconventional lifestyle. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself of that.

For those seeking a route off the beaten path, I’d say identify what your top values are. Personally for me those are: freedom, family and friends and health.  The freedom aspect is fulfilled by my business and how I control my schedule. This serves as another reminder of why I do what I do and gives me motiviation when the going gets rough. The second piece of advice is to avoid comparison. One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy”, attributed to Teddy Roosevelt. It is so true. In order to blaze your own trail, you must absolutely avoid comparing yourself to those around you. You will never be content, happy or fulfilled if you continue to do so. Write that shit on your mirror.

Where did your idea for Sensi Graves Bikinis come from? What make and model is your go-to bikini?

Swimwear has always been a passion of mine. The pieces are just so fun and flirty and I’ve certainly spent a lot of time in them.

I wanted to start Sensi Bikinis when I discovered a niche in the market. I had trouble finding sport-specific swimwear that stayed on but was also chic, stylish and fun. I couldn’t find what I was looking for and I knew that other women felt the same way. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and started designing asap. For awhile, all I did was research, sketches and reading as much as possible about the industry and business.

We just launched the 2017 Collection and I have so many favorites from the new line!

The Deb top I’m really excited about because it incorporates this really chic printed elastic and the sports-bra outline ensures it stays really well. The Kyla reversible bottoms are one of my favorites because they’re super comfortable, just the right amount of cheeky and they’re seamless. The Katie top has been a real hit so far for it’s unique design and we also just launched one pieces.

What made you take up kitesurfing? 

I first learned to kite in 2007 when my father brought my brothers and I to North Carolina to learn at Real Watersports. I had never even heard of the sport and was like “what are we going to do?!”. After those initial lessons, we kept in touch with Real and did a few kite expeditions in the Caribbean with them. In 2009, they were looking for new coaches and I got recruited. I immediately jumped at the opportunity and soon my life revolved around kiteboarding. Once I graduated from college, I started following the wind full time.

Kitesurfing is an intimidating sport for so many people. Any advice for beginners or those of us wanting to take kiting to the next level?

Most definitely start by taking a lesson. Working with a professional will minimize any risks involved. As you progress, always go out with friends and make sure you have a safety buddy/back up plan if things go wrong. You don’t want to traumatize yourself early on. Otherwise relax! Kiteboarding is really not as intense as some people believe it to be and it will open up so many doors! Need further help, give me a shout! I’m happy to give individual advice.

Women are often sexualized in action sports – where our appearances are commented on more than our skills at times. Is this your experience within the kitesurfing industry?

I think this has been a struggle for women across most action sports and really been at the forefront of the conversation for women in action sports especially in the last two years. Kiteboarding is certainly not sheltered from it. Personally I’d like to simply switch the conversation to something else. I think at this point we all realize that the overly sexualized woman is an old and outplayed marketing tactic. Let’s start a new discussion. A diatribe around what’s new and exciting, what women are doing to push their individual sports and what things are inspiring us. If we keep sharing this type of content, hopefully the other stuff will fall to the wayside.

That being said, I do struggle with this a lot in my bikini business. I’ve built my brand by focusing on women actually doing something and one of our core values is supporting women in watersports. However, I continue to share women looking “hot” in bikinis. Women’s bodies are beautiful and a there’s no doubt a great looking woman in a suit does “sell”. I believe the important thing is the intention behind the image, not limiting yourself to only sharing those types of images and building an inclusive and inspiring ideal rather than an unattainable one. My new mantra is “you do you”. Meaning, let’s stop the judgements, express ourselves how we want and build positive communities that are empowering and inclusive. High vibes only please!

Where’s your favorite place in the world to visit and why?

Great question! I don’t know that I can identify a true “favorite” but certainly one at the absolute top of my list is Maui, Hawaii. The island holds a special place in my heart. We (my boyfriend and I) lived there for a winter and have visited for a few months (lately it’s weeks) at a time almost every year. It’s an absolutely lush, breathtaking environment with unbelievable views. There’s amazing, albeit crowded, surf, good kiting and tons of fresh food. I always feel rejuvenated upon visiting and infused with a fresh dose of what I like to call zest-infectious enthusiasm for life!

Thanks, Sensi! You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter