Katya Coelho – India’s first female IQFoil athlete to qualify for Asian Games 2023


It was yet another “India’s first” for Katya Coelho, who became the first female IQFoiler from the country to qualify for the Asian Games 2023.

Katya’s dominance earned her gold in all three Asian Games selection trials for the IQFoil category held in Mumbai this year.

IQFoil is a windsurfing class selected by World Sailing to replace the RS:X for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The biggest difference between RS:X windsurfing and IQFoil is the carbon mast present under the board with the basic structure of having a sail and a board remaining the same. 

Katya’s feat was not a bed of roses though.

She had to step out of her comfort zone and perform in windspeeds regularly above 18 knots (approximately 33 km/hr).

“We had wind up to 22 knots. It was one of the toughest competitions I’ve been in because I had a very bad and high impact fall due to the strong wind condition and high speed,” she told  Sportstar.

Like Father, Like Daughter

Katya has windsurfing in her blood. Her father, Donald Coelho, was a former national windsurfing champion and her brother, Dayne Coelho, is still an active windsurfer.

She began her tryst with waves at the age of four and was already competing by the time she was 11 years old.

At first, windsurfing was nothing but a hobby for her. But all of it changed when she qualified for the Youth Olympics in 2014 as the only Indian female windsurfer. It was then she realised that she could make a career out of this.   

From then on, Katya reached greater heights.

She has won two medals at the Asian Open Championship in Techno 2015 and over 10 national gold medals. The sailor from Goa became the first female Indian surfer to represent at Asian Games 2018 with her brother in the RS: One category.

But an ACL and meniscus tear in both her knees during the competition put a halt to her performance. By the time she recovered, RS:X – the competition she was participating in – was replaced by IQFoil in Paris 2024.

When not in the ocean or at the gym, Katya likes to meditate to de-stress.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

This meant another challenge – to gain muscles for foiling. 

“At that time, most of the training revolved around losing weight because we had to be quite light for windsurfing, and for wind foiling, we need to put on muscle weight,” she said.

The 23-year-old’s perseverance bore fruits when she won a silver Asian Medal in 2022 – the first international medal in IQFoil by any Indian.

Struggle for backing

Despite laurels for the Tricolour, Katya feels neglected by the lack of government support in terms of financial support.

“I don’t get proper funding from the government, and training is very expensive. Despite this, we had a coach called Bruce Kendall, an Olympian from New Zealand, who came to Goa to train me and my brother,” she said.

With wind foiling being a niche sport in India, she struggles for sponsors, too. Recently, she was signed by ENGN, an athlete representation company that works with Indian sportswomen.

“Through them, I’m in the limelight for myself and the sport, and they also help me with the dietitian, apparel and the monthly income, which helps me with my training cost.” 

Katya trains in Thailand with their country’s surfers. The most important difference between India and the other Asian countries – Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, where she has trained previously– is the number of sailors and the fleet of windsurfers.

To understand their angle and speed, sailors tend to train in fleets as comparison makes it much easier to rectify their flaws and improve while racing.  

“In India, it’s just me and my brother who train together, there’s not much scope because we don’t have other people to train with. In a sport like this, it’s very important to pace while training, so we don’t have enough sailors, that is one of the biggest issues that we face.”

Struggles to compete with menstrual cramps

Katya learnt the nitty-gritty of the sport from her father, who has been an active coach at his Goa Beach Sports Academy, which he started in 2006.

Having her own father as the coach came with its own set of advantages, including the fact that she was comfortable discussing her menstruation and cramps with him.

Competing with menstrual cramps is hard enough, but for five days and 12 races, it is physically draining, Katya said.

“I don’t take medication, just a hot water pack and before the races, if I’m training, then I avoid going out in the water.”

When not in the ocean or at the gym, Katya spends time meditating, listening to 90s music, painting or diverting her mind from the stress and performance pressure by indulging in her online start-up of graphic designing.

“It’s a very side small business I run because I am a professional athlete. Whenever I get the time, I do a bit of graphic designing and take up orders mostly on social media itself.”  

Currently, helping at her father’s academy, Katya will start her training for the World Championships – which will take place in July – next month and will take a break before the 2024 Olympic qualifiers in August.

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