From being inspired by Bethany Hamilton’s ‘Soul Surfer’, SurfGirl gets an insight into Janina Zeitlers’ life as a pro surfer and her new film, ‘Flow Like Water’.

Photos: JZ Media Productions

Janina, you’re from land-locked Munich in Germany, so can you tell us how you first got into surfing?
Sure! I was born, raised and lived my entire life in the beautiful city of Munich, in Germany. Growing up near the Alps, surfing was never really a thought or an option of a career, being completely landlocked and having no one that had ever been born and raised in the country that could be a reference for this “crazy impossible dream”. I came across surfing only when I was 12 years old by watching the movie “Soul Surfer” that really inspired me and so I decided to give it a try. It was not something so easy to do by not having an ocean and so the only option I had to do so was in a small river wave in the middle of Munich, which was a very different experience to everything I had seen in the movies, but that’s where I started surfing and fell in love with the sport.

Can you give us a brief description of what the film is about?
‘Flow Like Water’ is a film about my unique story as a professional surfer and takes the audience in a journey through my life, through the challenges I had to face to become the most successful rapid surfer ever and the first professional surfer to be born, raised and lived in Germany, and through the transition from river surfing to professional ocean surfing which was a dream that I was always told to be impossible and not worth chasing. I can definitely relate my story and this new path I am creating for surfing in Germany, and in any other landlocked country, with water and how it flows: being frozen in the highest mountains, unfreezing and running down to the rivers that don’t stop until they reach the ocean, even if they have to open their own way to make it happen.

What inspired you to make ‘Flow Like Water’?
That’s a great question! In the beginning I personally never looked at myself or at my story as something that could be incredible or inspiring, since as I am the one living it it is hard to “look at myself from the outside perspective” and I have always been a quite reserved and humble person. But after all the messages and feedback I started receiving over the last years of people that had somehow learned about my background and of what I am doing, having me as their main inspiration to chase surfing or any of their dreams I thought that I should share my story with the world and hopefully inspire a lot of people to never give up on themselves. Apart from that, nowadays I am competing internationally in ocean competitions and most people outside of Germany never really knew who I am, or what’s my story & where I’m from, seeing me as another “normal” surfer girl, which is something that do I take as a compliment for my surfing, but as my career progresses I really want to make sure my roots are clear and that everyone is aware of where I really come from, and at the same time show to the surf community in Germany, or in any landlocked country, that it is possible for them to dream about being professional surfers as well and have me as a reference to help them get there, something that I personally never had.

Can you share some insights into the process of creating the film? Any challenges or surprises along the way?
It was definitely an exciting but challenging project that we never really thought would have the dimension and success it has today. This project was actually done extremely spontaneously, a big Outdoor Film Festival in Germany reached out to me saying that they came across my story and didn’t know that there was a professional surfer coming from Germany, and wanted to know if i could put together a film for their events about my story to combine with all the other “standard sports” they have such as skiing, mountain biking, etc. So we had little over 3 weeks to put the film together and had to do it using images that we had shot over the year but never filmed anything at all with the goal of making this project, so it was a totally different production and just trying to put things together for this film. The first film was done in German, and Mario, my boyfriend and CEO of my Media Production Company, at the time did not speak the language but had to edit the whole film in German which was quite funny and challenging but somehow he made it work very well. We were also only given 7 minutes of time which is why the film is “this short”, which was challenging from a creative point of view, but I am very happy with the outcome since there is so much more to be said about my story and we are already working on a longer version project to really dive deep in this unique journey of mine, so ‘Flow Like Water’ ends up being more of an introduction of what’s to come in the future.

“The most important thing in life is to always be kind to others, spread love everywhere you go, and to work hard, be positive”

What do you hope views will take away from watching your film?
After the film having premiered in over 50 cinemas across Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, as well in Film Screenings in France and Portugal, I already have a feeling about the feedback over the film and what people have been taking out of it, and so I hope that by releasing it online and making it available for everyone to see I can inspire more people to chase their dreams regardless of how crazy they may seem, or if it is something that no one had done before like in my case, and to believe in themselves to take risks and think outside of the box that their surrounding might have them in.
Coming from Munich, did you ever think that one day you would be launching your a film with your own production company about your journey?
Absolutely not, it was definitely never something I had imagined to be possible or even a vision I had, as I said it is hard for me to look at myself from the outside perspective and to maybe see how inspiring my journey can be, and even at times it was hard to believe in being able to become a professional surfer coming from Munich, let alone imagine that my story could be put into a film and touch people all over the world. That is why I am so thankful to have my amazing team at JZ Media Productions that have been with me for a long time now and always felt themselves inspired by me, and believed in this film even when I wasn’t sure myself if it was something that was worth doing, so it is a really beautiful feeling to see the overwhelming positive feedback we have been receiving about this really personal project and truly a dream come true that I am currently living.

Balancing a professional career with a passion for surfing can be challenging. How do you find that balance in your life?
Yes that’s something that can be really challenging at times, I love surfing more than anything in the world but as a professional surfer it is my job to surf, so when I go in the water I am always really committed to it and sometimes it gets easy to be a bit to hard on yourself and forget to have fun in the process. For a regular surfer, going surfing is always an uplifting and relaxing experience, weather you actually have a good session or not, you always leave the water happier. But as soon as it becomes your job and you have personal & outside expectations and pressure on your shoulders, it can be easy to forget the actual passion you have for the sport itself and to simply focus on working. That’s why for me it is so crucial to have a balance in my life, to give myself the time to really focus and dial in my training, but at the same time to have some space for fun sessions where I am not necessarily “taking it so seriously” so to speak, to always keep it exciting, try new things, different surfboards, and to surf just for the stoke of surfing with the ones I love the most, like my boyfriend who can make a surf session in the worst waves in the world feel like it is the most fun session ever of my life, that’s really where I get this balance from which is working really well for me so far and I am truly in love with surfing more than I ever was before. 
Where have been your favourite destinations to surf this year?
This year has been quite intense in terms of traveling for me, mainly in Europe. Living in Munich and not having a ocean at my doorstep means that I have to be traveling quite a lot for all the competitions and trainings in the sea, so I actually drove over 25000 kilometers during the summer all accross the Altantic Coast and also had a few trips to the Canary Islands and Morocco. If I had to chose my favorite trip and destination of this year I would definitely say it was Galicia, it is such a raw and beautiful place, with a breathtaking landscape, a really lovely local community and incredible empty waves, so that destination is definitely one of my favorites ever and I can’t wait to be back next year.
Which surfers are inspirational to you? 
I have always drawn a lot of inspiration from the best female surfers in the world such as Carissa Moore or Tyler Wright, and also by surfers that had to overcome lots of obstacles to be where they are right now like Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo or Italo Ferreira for example. 
What’s next for you? What up and coming goals do you have?
Right now I have a few exciting projects I am working on with some of my incredible sponsors like Volkswagen or Rip Curl. It is currently the “off season” in Europe so it’s the time to work on my surfing, I will be traveling a bit to the Canary Islands and Portugal to train with my team and test a lot of new surfboards as I am currently working with a new amazing brand, Envy Surfboards, and prepare for the upcoming competitions in 2024. I always try to keep my main goal very simple, which is always to become the best surfer I can possibly be and enjoy the gift of this process, and from all that hard work I hope to be able to keep inspiring people to surf, and of course see how far I can push my surfing to achieve some competitive goals that I have such as qualifying for the Challenger Series next year and to represent my country in the ISA World Surfing Games in upcoming years & have an opportunity to fight for an Olympic qualification.
What motto do you live by?
I have always lived by the motto that “you are never given a dream without also being given the power to turn it into reality, but you might have to work hard for it”, and that the most important thing in life is to always be kind to others, spread love everywhere you go, and to work hard, be positive and make it happen.