The story of how Daniela Moroz became the United States’ first Olympian in women’s formula kite – a sailing event that makes its Olympic debut in Paris this summer – is a blend of serendipity and sacrifice, fueled by a level of drive and determination that only elite-level athletes truly know and understand. 

The story starts with her parents Linda Moser and Vlad Moroz leaving communist Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s. Vlad escaped by cross-country skiing across the border to Austria, where he spent some time in a refugee camp before seeking asylum in the United States. Linda escaped during a school trip to Yugoslavia after hearing about a refugee camp that could help her get to the U.S.

As fate would have it, both ended up in the San Francisco Bay area and took up the sport of windsurfing. One day Linda overheard someone talking Czech just down the beach, so she went to investigate. That’s when she met Vlad. The rest is history. 

The two began racing together, embracing a passion that knew no bounds. Remarkably, Linda raced in the San Francisco Classic while pregnant with Daniela. The race is renowned for its challenging 20-mile zig-zag course, meaning few entrants managed to finish the race. Linda, however, was among the top eight who did. 

Daniela practically grew up at the beach. She remembers sitting on the front of her parents board as they cruised the coastline and took a liking to playing in the water from a young age. 

She took up a bunch of sports as a kid, including swimming, but it’s no coincidence that once she was old enough to try sailing, around age 12, she asked to try the sport. 

However, Daniela decided to take a different path than her parents by choosing kiteboarding over windsurfing. By 14, she competed in her first international event. At 15, she raced in the San Francisco Classic – the same event her mother raced in – and finished fifth. 

“As soon as I got the opportunity to try competing in kiting, it was something I really wanted to do,” Daniela said. “The first time I raced I fell in love with it and it was so cool to be doing the very thing my parents had done for so many years. I don’t think we ever saw it was going to turn into what I’m doing now.”

The sacrifices of an Olympic dream

Ever since winning her first world championship at 16, Daniela has taken the kiting world by storm – winning six consecutive world titles from 2016 to 2022, a gold medal at the Pan American Games in 2023, and four U.S. Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year awards. 

In that time, kiting gained enough momentum for a place on the Olympic program for Paris 2024. Daniela started hearing the rumors in 2016, but by 2018 it started to feel more like a reality.

“It was a constant chatter in the back of my head and it was always on my radar that it could happen,” Daniela said. “Once we knew it was in, I was like, ‘Ok this is something I for sure want to go for.’” 

In 2022, she decided to take a leave of absence from her studies at the University of Hawaii (where she studies marketing) to chase her Olympic dream full-time. 

Throughout the last decade, the sport has taken Daniela all over the world. In fact, for the last five years, she has spent the majority of her time training and racing in some of the most breathtaking locations in Europe. 

To outsiders her life may look glamorous, but Daniela insists there is more than meets the eye.

Although she calls San Francisco home, when Daniela returns it's more of a quick trip to say hello to family before hitting the road once again. With most of her competitions abroad, plus factoring in travel expenses and time zone changes, Daniela says it makes more sense to stay in Europe. 

“It's tough to always be moving places every few weeks and not having one apartment to go back to and have all of my stuff,” Daniela said. “I kind of make my home on the road.” 

She last visited home in February of 2024 after starting the year training in Mexico. She then moved to Spain in early March to prepare for two pre-Olympic regattas. In mid-April, she made a quick trip back to the States for the Team USA Media Summit in New York and then was back on a plane – this time headed to France – where she will be living in Airbnbs until the Games begin. 

The constant travel, training, and striving to be at the top also led to burnout as the end of 2023 neared. Looking back, Daniela realizes she could have benefited from taking a break after the 2022 season, but was so laser focused on qualifying for the Olympics, she ignored the warning signs of burnout. 

“I kept overtraining because I was like, ‘I need to qualify this year and check all these boxes,’ Daniela said. “I was too focused on trying to hit all the boxes instead of listening to my body. The more I was forcing myself to go on the water, the more icky it felt.”

Ahead of her seventh world championship in August 2023, Daniela was at one of her lowest points. 

“It was taking everything in me not to completely break down before I needed to go on the water because I just felt so miserable,” Daniela recalled. 

Daniela finished fifth, snapping her streak of titles, but still managed to achieve her goal of qualifying to the Paris Games. Yet that wasn’t enough to stave off the feeling of burnout and exhaustion. 

Partially to blame she feels is the pressure athletes face to keep training, even when times get tough. 

“There’s this messaging that tells you, ‘You should feel a little burnt out. That’s the time to grind and really push.’ I think I took it way too extreme,” Daniela said. “So then I had to go to the other extreme to recover and actually be ready to push again for the Olympic year.”

Daniela felt lost in her sport and ultimately decided to take a break following worlds. She spent six months away from the water, aside from racing for gold at the Pan American Games in late October. She otherwise spent her time strength training and playing tennis and golf. 

The break was exactly what she needed to shift her mindset and fall in love with her sport again. By December, she was missing the feeling of being on the water and was eager to resume training as the countdown to Paris continued. 

“It took me a long time to remember why I started kiting in the first place and I realized I missed that feeling of reward I get from improving and working hard and seeing the results,” Daniela said. “So that’s what I try to remind myself of now.”

All eyes on Paris

Daniela returned to the water in 2024 feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. She won a silver medal at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia regatta in Spain and was feeling good leading up to her eighth world championships as the No. 1 kiteboarder in the world. 

When all was said and done, Daniela finished seventh. While it wasn’t the result she was looking for, she continues to learn lessons each and every time she hits the water. 

“Thankfully, there were only three people that are also going to the Olympics that finished ahead of me, so I feel like I’m kind of on track with where I want to be,” Daniela said.  “It’s just a reminder that you can’t take your foot off the gas.”

Daniela has since settled in Marseille – the venue for sailing in Paris – and was joined by her mother in early June. Some teams have chefs that cook for their sailors to ensure they are getting the proper nutrients, but in Daniela’s case that’s her mother – which of course she is ecstatic about. 

The focus from now until the Games is getting comfortable sailing on the water in Marseille. 

“Each venue we go to is really different in its own way, so you have to spend a lot of time at the venue to learn the different weather patterns and how the wind is and how the water is,” Daniela said. “There’s all these external environments that you have to learn and the only way you can do that is by spending time there.”

Her training regimen consists of two weeks of practice – that includes an hour gym session in the morning and then two to four hours on the water analyzing weather patterns, doing practice races, working on her speed and testing out which equipment she wants to use in Paris. 

Then she gives herself a four or five day break to completely disconnect and “not even think about going on the water,” Daniela said. 

Her favorite ways to disconnect are playing tennis, swimming, reading or playing Mario Kart.

“I try to stay away from the doom scrolling on social media as much as possible,” Daniela said. “I really like playing Mario Kart, so if I’m staying with friends we’ll do a Mario Kart tournament in the household.”

As her first Olympic Games nears, the feelings are a mix of excitement and nerves. She’s nervous for the competition, which requires her to be at the top of her game for over a week, but she’s also excited for the challenge. 

“At this point I feel like the hardest work is done and it’s just spending time at the venue and enjoying my time on the water,” Daniela said. “Once race week comes, go shred 'til dead!”

Daniela knows few sailors win a medal at their first Olympics, she says that often comes with experience and age. But she also knows there is a possibility that at 23-years-old, she could enter the history books as one of the first Olympic medalists ever in formula kite. 

That’s a thought that causes her to light up. 

“I know if I perform at my best, I know I’m capable of winning,” she said. “ I like to think of myself as one of the ‘OG’s’ in the beginning; one of the first that really got into it. To stick through it and be on the podium all the way through – that would be everything to me. It’s also the result of so much work, not just from me but my family and friends and my whole support system – my sponsors and donors – everyone who has been a part of the journey, a part of the village. I’d love to do it for them.”