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Kyle Cabano 1136 1200x800 - The Mission: Olympic Ticket

The Mission: Olympic Ticket

Roderick Pijls is a talented freestyle and wave rider, but less than two years ago added racing to his repertoire. He tells us how he got into the discipline and is striving to reach the Olympics. Luckily he’s joined forces with his sponsor Appletree to work on developing the best boards possible…

PHOTOS: Kyle Cabano
Kyle Cabano 1225 1440x754 - The Mission: Olympic Ticket

Summer 2021 in the Netherlands was notable for being a summer of warm temperatures, many BBQs and little wind. For most people this sounds fantastic and nothing to complain about. For people who practice kitesurfing the ‘little wind’ part sounds like a nightmare. I frequently found myself on the beach waiting for the wind to fill in. Several times I drove back home with a dry wetsuit, but once in a while I managed to get up on a foil and ride up and down for a little bit.

However, I often saw people far out to sea with massive kites, racing up and down with a boat behind them. One day I decided to stick around and wait for them to get back to shore. I could hear their enthusiastic voices about their session. I took a little sneak closer to their gear and to see if I could recognize anyone from the pack. Unfortunately I didn’t see any familiar faces so got in my car to head home – once again with a dry wetsuit haha. Just before pulling out, a two-meter tall, friendly face introduced himself as Casper Bouman – if, like I was, you’re clueless, he’s an absolute Olympic windsurfing legend. He initiated the conversation and said that he spotted me looking curious. Apparently, he was the guy on the boat chasing the kiters and is the coach of the Dutch federation. He invited me to join their training the following morning, just to ride along and see how it feels like and if I would like it. Of course, after 12 consecutive days with no wind, I was more than keen to get back on the water. He promised to bring me some lightwind gear and so, the next day, I was out on the water with them.

The next morning, the team had a briefing and talked about things that I would never take into consideration such as cavitation on the foil, shifts in the wind, the tilt and rake of their boards, algae in the water and so on. Casper introduced me to the team and asked if they could give me some tips and tricks for getting on the water. At first I was just so stoked to be on the water in such little wind. I decided to keep riding this gear whenever the conditions were light and just to enjoy the ride. But after several weeks I gained more confidence and wanted to keep up with the big boys from the team. Now, two years later, the racing discipline has become one of my main disciplines, and together with the Dutch federation we are competing in the European and Worlds to get the best possible ranking. In 2024 this discipline, Formula Kite, will become Olympic and every country is allowed to send one male and female (if the criteria are met). Obviously this has become one big goal!

The board is incredibly important for a racer to feel the foil as well as possible…

I think, compared to the average fleet, I have a different background. Most of the competitors have a sailing background, which has a big benefit for your tactic skills. However, as a freestyler and wave rider you benefit with your body coordination, mobility and strength. Normally, when we have competitions in freestyle or wave you do your heat, pack your gear and put it in the tent. It doesn’t matter if the kites get a bit wet or if there’s sand on your board. During a race competition however we have to pack down our kites properly, make sure that there’s no sand on the foil (because sand can scratch the foil, creating cavitation), then you also want everything packed together as everybody has exactly the same gear. As this discipline will become Olympic you can only use registered gear, meaning that only a certain type of kite, foil, helmet and so on are authorized. The only thing that is still open is the board.

Well… how lucky is that for me being an Appletree rider! Appletree has been able to create a big name for themselves in the wave, wing/surf foil, and freeride kite foil world by creating spectacularly strong and well-developed boards. Now we have joined forces to step into the racing world to make sure I am able to ride the best gear possible, and Appletree can put their foot in that world too. The board is incredibly important for a racer to feel the foil as well as possible and to translate the force of the kite into that piece of carbon underwater. The challenge to design the most refined and strongest racing board was immediately taken up by Appletree. Many months were spent working on it in their R&D lab and the board is still being tweaked. No half-measures are taken.

Probably in the next Olympic cycle (2024-2028) the board will also be limited to certain sizes, weights and other restrictions that the committee will set. But before that, we will push the limits and try to reach that Olympic ticket together.

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