When you purchase gear through links on our site, we may earn a small commission. Here’s why you can trust our tests and our affiliate partner.

TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 20 1200x800 - A New Chapter

A New Chapter

Acclaimed photographer Ydwer van der Heide has been a perennial favorite here at TheKiteMag since the magazine’s inception, and we have featured numerous shots of his over the years, including some of our most iconic covers. When life changed drastically for him after a serious accident, he didn’t let it stop him pressing that shutter. His methodology for taking photos had to change though, resulting in something different to his previous style but, as you’ll see here, equally epic and succeeding in truly getting under the skin of the world of kitesurfing…

WORDS: Kimmy Gustafson
TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 26 - A New Chapter

“It’s absolutely not the same anymore. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome or I can’t have an awesome life,” says Ydwer, grinning as he shifts in his wheelchair. He clumsily reaches out to take a bite of his pizza  while cracking a joke about the mess his girlfriend might have to clean up after. The camera was pointed at his shoulder for most of the video interview. Which was fine because that’s kinda how things are in Ydwer’s life these days. A little off-kilter, but happily making it work, striving for the extraordinary.

Since 2011, when he started photographing kiting professionally, Ydwer van der Heide has been one of the leading artists in this sport. He has shot for almost every major brand in the industry. His pictures have been on the cover of every magazine in this industry, including this one multiple times. He has been a team photographer for the GKA World Tour and part of the core media crew for King of the Air since it returned to Cape Town.

In February of 2021, that all changed when he suffered a spinal cord injury due to his surf foil striking the sand and sending him headfirst into the water. In a split second, he lost something he never knew to value – freedom. Everything Ydwer used to be able to do for himself, now he needed someone to do for him. That meant sitting up, eating, using the bathroom, moving around, or even sleeping comfortably. Doing things for himself would now involve lengthy physiotherapy, and the mobility outcome was in question.

As soon as he could after the accident, Ydwer started taking pictures again. He took pictures of everything that he could. At first, he was determined to do things the way he always had. Less out of stubbornness and more out of familiarity, he had a mentality that adjustments weren’t really going to be necessary.

Eventually, no matter how determined he was, doing things the same didn’t cut it. About a year after the accident Ydwer was invited to shoot Lasse Walker and Janek Grzegorzewski for Red Bull. Ydwer took his wheelchair tank deep into the dunes to a spot he thought would have the best framing. Even though his tank afforded him more mobility than a traditional wheelchair, he recognized that moving like he used to to get the shot wasn’t going to be an option. The few other adjustments he brought along were a monopod for the camera and a bigger shutter switch he could hit with his whole hand because of limited finger mobility.

It was as windy of a day as they come. Just how he has always liked. When other photographers would typically stay inside, Ydwer has always ventured into the elements ready to do his job. This day was no different. Sand and foam were flying around. Bundled up in a beanie, thick sailing pants and goggles to protect him, he was as stoked as ever. This is what he truly loved. A day like that one would have been enough to make any photographer struggle with the conditions.

He could envision the composition of the finished product before the shoot even started. As the kiters took off, years of experience meant Ydwer knew when Lasse or Janek would jump and pull the loop. As they flew through the air he realized his reaction time just wasn’t there. Between focusing the camera, activating the shutter, and following the kiter, it just wasn’t working. He scaled back his camera settings to try and make it easier but even that didn’t help. With a lack of core strength and dexterity, he kept falling over and missing the moment. The shots he was getting were out of focus or without the kiter altogether.

TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 25 - A New Chapter

“Trying to step away from the usual was the biggest goal. In the past I tried to change my perspective every year but sticking with what you’re good at is so easy, it stops you from learning. Getting the same angle and the same perspective didn’t cut it for me anymore.”

Ruben Lenten

“Shooting in Cape Town for the first time after my accident ñ I had a different vision but whilst shooting I caught myself trying to do what I always did. It quickly made me realize that with the challenges I was facing it didn’t work anymore. I wanted to capture more than just action.”

Lasse Walker

TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 22 - A New Chapter


TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 2 - A New Chapter

"Unseen" book presentation

“I couldn’t have asked for more. The ambiance, the setting, and the genuine interest of the people in my story were overwhelming. I donít know if I can match this connection somewhere else but maybe Iím able to continue and share my story in a similar way. Itís an extraordinary gift to inspire others just by being yourself, pursuing passions and embracing who you are.”

Returning to Cape Town after my life took an unexpected turn overwhelmed me with a range of emotions. Confronting sadness, frustration and disappointment, while also encountering happiness, surprise and curiosity, drained my energy. Seeing so many likeminded friends gain and trying out new things for the first time also gave me energy as well. Whether Cape Town offers me the same as it did before, I donít know yet. Maybe thereís more to explore in this world.

TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 33 scaled - A New Chapter

Finally, he asked for help. He could aim the camera, but doing that and pressing the shutter at the same time more than a couple of times became untenable. Thankfully he had his girlfriend Marije by his side that day, and together, they devised a system where she would trigger the shutter when Ydwer would tell her to. It was far from how he imagined the day would have looked, but it worked.  

At a typical photo shoot, pre-accident, he would have been satisfied with the heaps of high-quality pictures to choose from. However, this time, there were disappointingly few, and only because he had been shooting kiting for so long that he knew how to follow the kiters and anticipate their tricks. As rough and discouraging as that day was, it was a turning point and a chance to move forward. Despite delivering excellent shots, he knew the gap between what he used to be able to do and his new limitations. Frustrated, he chose to change his perspective. It was time to do something new, perhaps even better. 

Many of the shots that came out of that day, and days since, are filled with motion, emotion, and intrigue. Often they are out of focus, intentionally or not, leaning towards the abstract. The perfect cover shot is no longer the goal. Taking pictures for the sheer joy of it is. Imperfection abounds and has opened space for viewers to find their own interpretation in the photos. The end product is an experience for the photographer and audience alike. 

Instead of epic shoots for major brands in far flung locations, today’s shoots look a little different. Ydwer’s face lights up when talking about a recent sunset where he wasn’t able to get into position for the perfect shot so instead he just sat back and enjoyed the colors and silhouettes, soaking it all in. No one will see what he saw that day, something he used to be able to share all the time pre accident. But now, he was enjoying the beauty. The goal is no longer the perfect captured image but to love what he is doing at every moment.  

Other projects of late for Ydwer have included his book, Unseen, published this past winter, which is a celebration of kiting and his desired love for the elements. He also spends time riding his adaptive bike, racing it even. And he co-founded Amongst Friends, a creative agency, with Jason Broderick where he is helping other visual creatives in the kite industry excel at their craft.  


Ydwer has changed the narrative for what life can look like post-accident. Rather than dwelling on the loss, he has a persistently positive outlook with a focus on what he can do. He has accepted this new challenge head on and found a way to create moving art, advise top creatives in this sport, and be an encouragement to anyone who has had a similar setback. Everything is possible to Ydwer, it just takes a little adapting.

King of the Air – Being a spectator instead of a photographer was actually a refreshing experience. Through the cameraís viewfinder you often forget how high and extreme they go. The Big Air discipline has developed so quickly in the past year, I was speechless. Nevertheless I couldnít resist bringing my camera to the event, immersing myself into the crowd and showing a couple of shots from my perspective.

TheKiteMag Feature A New Chapter Ydwer van der Heide 18 - A New Chapter

Want More?

You can get the latest goodness from the world of kiteboarding by subscribing to our print edition. You'll get 5 packed issues, plus a free tee and free digital access. And you'll be directly helping with our sustainability efforts too!

Check it out now
Subscribe Today