A change of Tack

Helena - A change of Tack

We’ve all been affected by Covid in different ways, and most people’s plans have gone well and truly out the window. But if you can make the most of a bad situation and appreciate the silver linings then you’re on to a winner (though maybe not a kite comp winner currently). Naish team riders and podium finishers Helena Brochocka and Christophe Tack take us through how they have got through this weird time.

Photos Justyna Slodyczka

It is safe to say that 2020 has brought a fair share of surprises and sudden changes to plans.

It all started off great – we joined the Naish International team, filled our calendars with competition dates for KPL park events and GKA Freestyle tour stops, and started planning our first trip to Hawaii to shoot the new line of products with the new team. We were looking forward to a busy and productive year of travel and events. Then 2020 started dropping bomb after bomb – global pandemic, Triple S announcing the end of their run, all the freestyle competitions cancelled, and travel restrictions putting a stop to all our travel plans.

While sad about the turn of events, we knew it was the same for everyone; some people have found themselves in much worse situations. So we decided to appreciate the fact that we are healthy, with full plates, a roof over our head, and perhaps most importantly, we were locked down in our favorite place in the world. The only thing we could do was to make the best of it. As they say, when life gives you lemons…

We had just moved to Portugal a year earlier, and if someone had asked me to choose my ideal place to be locked down, that would be it. Of course, the first weeks of quarantine were weird to say the least – we were self-isolating far from our friends and family, water sports were banned, and everyone was afraid of how the situation in the world would develop. Luckily for us Portugal was among the countries where the situation didn’t escalate dramatically, therefore the restrictions were pretty lax. We could still walk on the beach, go for a run or hike, and enjoy the outdoors, as long as we practiced social distancing. The ban on water sports was lifted quite early on (you can’t keep Portuguese surfers away from the waves for too long, unless you wish to have a full-blown rebellion), which gave us an opportunity to experience a spring in Portugal like we’ve never seen before. Without hundreds of tourists swarming the beaches, overcrowded line-ups, and busy lagoons, the place looked completely different.

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The next few weeks saw us forget about the rest of the world, as we began exploring the region more: hiking, surfing, kiting, paragliding, and scouting new spots. The quarantine trapped us in Portugal for nearly eight months, which we realized was the longest either of us has spent in one place since we graduated from school. Perhaps this was just what we needed – this time gave us an opportunity to slow down, re-evaluate our goals, get more familiar with our new home base, and explore the region. And there was definitely a lot to explore! Portugal has over 900 kilometers of coastline full of surf breaks, picturesque beaches, and countless kite lagoons. It is probably one of the wildest and most unexplored countries of Western Europe. It has recently become more popular as a tourist destination, especially among water sports fans and other outdoor enthusiasts, due to its diversity, accessibility, and affordable prices.

We have scored a lot of good sessions in the last few months, both in lagoons and in waves. It has been the perfect time to get fully used to our new setup from Naish Kiteboarding, as we had an opportunity to ride in a great variety of conditions, and try all the different models of boards and kites, as well as different setups and trims. Personally, despite the circumstances, I am grateful for having this time to reset, enjoy the sport to the fullest, and gain a whole new appreciation of our home spot. We can definitely say we made the most out of an otherwise unfortunate time. I now feel a hundred percent recharged, and ready to get back on the road, and back on the schedule. I think it will be interesting to see how the kiteboarding industry will change and adapt to the new situation. We will definitely be facing some new shifts and challenges, but I’m sure we can make it work.

The lockdown has finally given me the opportunity to slow down and take a break from pushing my riding to the limits. Sitting down for a while felt great for my body, as I have hardly taken a break for years, and it helped to heal small injuries that had been getting worse over time: my hamstring that tore back in 2011 that kept bugging me, shoulder inflammations from all the handle passes, and the well-known ‘kite elbows’ from all those light-wind sessions. I saw it as a way to restore my body more than I normally could, when I only have a few weeks off a year. I am now ready to ride as much as possible with my body all healed up.

Spending an entire winter and spring at home in Portugal, meant we could make the most of the best swell period. This gave me a chance to finally work on my wave riding skills. I’ve always enjoyed prone surfing, and getting into wave kiting was on my to-do list for a very long time. I finally managed to get in a few months of practice, and to score my first barrel rides. While I can’t wait for the next winter swells in Portugal, I am now looking forward to getting back to business as usual, and to put all that restored energy into the freestyle season. But what season are we talking about exactly?

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The uncertainty related to the global pandemic is definitely affecting everyone in the industry, as there are so many unanswered questions. How is it going to affect the professional kiting world in the long run? What will happen with the competition circuit? If some of these events will happen then will the riders be able to travel to compete and will we get a representative group, or will some top riders be absent, leaving a bitter taste in the upcoming world champion’s mouth? Currently it looks like the organizers will have to come up with a new way to keep the professional competitions going, so perhaps the biggest question of all is: how we can adjust to the current situation?

To keep the scene going The GKA world tour rolled out a new format called the ‘GKA Distance Battle’. The idea was to have selected riders film a seven-minute heat at their home spot, stream it online with live commentary, and get judges to analyze it – cool! But first we had to win an online vote to enter the contest. Many of the riders went all in, campaigning for votes, creating promotional videos, and sharing their quest on every forum possible. Although the event concept was controversial, everyone seemed excited about the idea, and were stoked to compete, or watch their favorite riders perform after a long break from kiting events. Unfortunately, it turned out the voting system was compromised, and the GKA announced cancellation of the event due to suspicious activity in the voting system.

This is a shame, as it was the only event that actually had a chance to happen at the time. But it has also shed light on the challenges related to organizing online events, as well as basing the qualification processes on social media engagement. Makes you wonder where else bots are used to generate fake traffic, views, likes, and followers… I guess it was a reminder not to take social media too seriously, and a wake-up call for the industry to refocus on the performance on the water, rather than on Instagram profiles. Regardless, the idea was interesting, and it’s definitely good that the GKA at least tried to keep the ball rolling. I think video events are a promising idea, and once the qualification process gets re-evaluated, I will be more than happy to participate, and see what everyone can pull off.

While the first potential date for a traditional event is still a few months away, Helena and I are excited to travel throughout Europe by van, doing demos with Naish Kiteboarding. We hope to get a schedule out at the end of July, and visit a ton of new spots, bring along some test gear, and ride with the local shredders. Stay tuned and if you see us at your home spot, make sure to come say hi!

This feature originally appeared in TheKiteMag #38. To subscribe, head here.

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