|(This is PART 2 of a three part interview feature taken from issue 40)
TARIFA PHOTOS - Jim Gaunt
COMPETITION PHOTOS - Ian Edmondson / Expix.co.
Why do you like living in Tarifa so much?
I moved here from Barcelona with my dad when I was ten. I don't like being in the big city with so many people and Tarifa is so different – all so chilled and relaxed. School finishes at three o'clock instead of five which means I can still train up to four hours afterwards. It's not Brazil with perfect wind and warm waters, but for me it's the best place; it's special. I always miss it when I'm away and lots of people come here for a week's holiday and end up spending the rest of their lives here.
When did you realise that kiteboarding could be a career for you?
When I was six or seven I saw Cindy Mosey and all the girls on the PKRA in a kiteboarding magazine and I knew I wanted to be like them. I started kiting and training at eight years-old, it was a hobby at first but I already loved swimming competitions, so kiteboarding competition naturally followed. I did the European Junior Championships and then tried the KPWT the next year. It worked out well, so I did the whole tour. I realised that I was as good as the girls at the time, and that I could even win.
Can you remember much about your first competition?
Not much. It was close to Barcelona and the winds were really strong, like 40 knots, but I was used to it because I'd spent some time in Leucate in France and Pere Pescador in Spain where the Tramuntana winds can be really strong. All the other girls seems to be scared, so it was good for me.
You told me on the beach that you were going to try and win both world tours this year. No one has done that since Mark Shinn in 2001/02!
I did the PKRA in Germany in 2002 but then they stopped me competing in 2003 because they said I had to be at least 14-years-old. So I did the KPWT instead. People say that the KPWT has a lower level. Yes, the level is lower, but when I went to the PKRA in Fuerteventura I beat Kristin, who was champion. I've now won the KPWT three times and the PKRA twice
What is the difference in the way the competitions are run?
The KPWT want to see powered tricks, like handle-passes, but they also like to see high tricks like kite loops and board-offs. They really try to encourage a mixed style. In the PKRA it's all about having your kite low and powered. They don't care if you make a clean landing really. Better a messy landing than doing a trick with a high kite and flying like a monkey.
And you prefer that?
Yes, I really like the powered style, but I want to win both tours. The PKRA was under ISA regulation, not ISAF like the KPWT, so they could have made it impossible for me to do both tours. Now the PKRA is with ISAF, so I can.
Have you felt yourself getting stronger in the last year?
Yes, I can now pass the bar much easier than before and I can make tricks with much more ease.
You have a very hectic schedule with school and the world tour, can you tell me about your usual day?
I wake up in the morning around seven, go to school from eight until three and then go home and eat something quick before training. If I have no study or homework to do, I can stay and train on the water for three hours, otherwise I can only do two. When I come off the water I do physical training here in the gym, I run a bit, so some cycling and lift weights. I have a session with my personal trainer in the gym each day, but it's my PE teacher from school, so it's nice because I know him well. Then I'll do my homework or watch Heroes, play Guitar Hero or chill with my friends. I'm actually very busy at the moment as I have to do all my exams before everyone else at school as I'm going to do the KPWT world tour in Germany when I should be doing exams.
Your pro training centre is amazing. How long has it been here?
Less than six months. It's going to be a really nice project, not only for me, but also the instructors and people that come and pay for lessons. We have the gym downstairs with the trampoline for training. There's going to be a video feedback area and if there's no wind they can use all this area too. Sometimes I have it privately for training and for trampolining with my friends!
How do you feel when you look around and see all this stuff built up around you?
It's amazing. I don't know what to say. The first time I came to Tarifa I was ten-years-old and lived in a small house. I had to pay for all the competitions myself and now my sponsors take care of all that. I have a big house, a gym, the pro centre and I'm really happy with the way everything is working out. I want to keep working and making this grow, but we know at times like this it's important to take things slowly and make sure everything works well. It's nice to have it here anyway.
How involved is your dad in everything that you do?
He is a partner in the pro centre as well as being my technical trainer. He's always filming me and saying I have to do this or that. He says, “If you don't do this well then you're not kiting any more.” So I do it. It's hard but it's always worth it and it works well. He still comes to all the events because I'm only 15 and cannot travel alone. But I like it that he comes with me.
You must be coming up to the same age as some of the other competitors on the tour now. Does it make you feel more in control?
Yes. It was funny when I started because they were all laughing at me, saying, “Oh you're so small and cute.” Now it's not like that. I'm growing and I win competitions and I think I have the respect of the other girls now. I respect them all too. It's different now.
Are you aware of how different your life is to most girls of your age?
I am. Most girls from school don't leave Tarifa. They just know Tarifa and a little bit of Spain, but I know about more countries and culture. I'm the same age, but I've seen much more of the world, I know that I'm really lucky for that and that I can travel and meet friends and find new places for riding. I understand that other kids would really like to do that.
You seem much older than 15. What do you think it is that keeps you normal?
Going to school is really important because the teachers treat me exactly the same as the others. I don't have special allowances because I'm world champion meaning I can be late to classes. It's all the same. This year I'm champion, but maybe next year I won't be.
Do you almost have two separate lives?
A little bit, but I also have friends at school like Monty, Nico and Forrest who are all sponsored and want to make it as pro riders, too. We all ride and train together and also work hard at school. We all understand that we need to do that, but my life is a little bit different outside of school. Monday to Friday I go to school but then I have a lot of training and at the weekends I might be in Barcelona doing events with Movistar, Red Bull or Arnette. For example, tomorrow I'm going to the Movistar Barcelona Extreme event to compete in wakeboarding.
Girls tend not to get as much coverage or sponsorship as the guys, but you are really successful and probably have more sponsors than any other rider. How did those deals come about?
Guys definitely sell more kites. There are still more boys kiting than girls and they might buy an Airush because of Tom Hebert, or a Flexifoil because of Aaron or a Naish because of Kevin. They don't buy kites because of Gisela, but my father is really good at promoting me. The first time I won a world championship there were a lot of TV cameras from Spain and my dad said I had speak to them all. I must have done a good job because I picked up more sponsors after that. At the time I never really wanted to but I understand that it's really helped me. At first I was a bit shy, now it's better and although I do get tired of it sometimes I like it when it looks good on TV or when people say they saw me and enjoyed it. If you look through a kiteboarding magazine you probably won't see me very much, but if you turn on TV in Spain I might appear from time to time. Just last weekend I was on a TV show with Pol Espargaró the Spanish 125cc MotoGP rider, who's a big deal here. I get a lot of sponsors because of the amount of mainstream work I do. Plus I want to be a sports reporter when I finish kiteboarding, so I'm getting really good experience of how that all works.
It must feel nice as a girl in the sport to prove everyone wrong when you look around and see how well you're doing.
Yeah, it's nice. Most other riders are happy to just stay and ride in Cape Town and places like that. It's easier to do better when you work hard in Europe.
Do you find competition easy?
Not easy, but I really like winning and hate losing. The top four girls are all good and it's getting close but my biggest rival is Bruna Kajiya. I like riding against her. We talk like normal before a heat, we're not best friends but we get on well. We wish each other good luck but as soon as the heat is on we're not friends. If Bruna wins I say congratulations but I really don't like it. Same for her if I win and we're not back to normal for a while after.
It looks like you really enjoy your training and you're always running up and down the beach like a woman possessed!
Ha ha. I do. I only have two hours most days to train and I'd rather train intensely than spend four hours not learning anything really. Learning tricks is fun. I'm training for racing now because if kiteboarding ever makes the Olympics it will be for racing. I like training for racing though because it's really good fun riding with your friends and you can always see who is going the fastest.
Do you think much about your riding in terms of style or is it just about learning as many tricks as you can?
Firstly I just want to learn the tricks, then I'll think about making them look nice.
You're back with Airush now for the second time. Why did you leave them in the first place and why have you gone back?
They started focussing a lot on depowerable kites for waves etc. and I didn't really like the kites. I really want to win and I said that if they wouldn't make a kite that was good for competition then I would have to move. We were all sad when I left as they were the only company I'd ever been with, but I had to go. I moved to Slingshot but then the same thing happened last year; the kite just became so powerful. A lot of the time I was riding the six metre Fuel, was so overpowered and it was impossible to do handle-passes when it got windy. Now I've gone back to Airush because they've brought out the Generator C kite which can be kept low but still provides a lot of pop. Airush really help with the centre here and I'm happy to be back with them. It's a big company and the whole team is really nice. But I like the kites now too, which is the main thing.
You get to go to some big events through your sponsors. Who is the most famous person you've ever met?
I've met Raphael Nadal, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Carlos Seinz, Pugol from Barcelona and I also met the King of Spain at the Laureus sports awards. I went up to him to say hi and he said, “Hey, how are you? I know that you're a kitesurfer and congratulations.” On the next table was Prince Albert from Monaco. I think he'd had some wine because he was so happy. He was funny.
Do you see any similarities between yourself and these famous, successful sports people?
When I meet them I feel good to be around them. I expect them to be friendly and kind and some of them are not. Some think they are god, which is a good lesson for me because I don't want to be like that.
Read more features from the Rhythm and Health series:
Part One: Tarifa intro
Part Two: Alvaro Onieva
Part Four: Jaime Herraiz
Read issue #40 for free online now here