Fast as the Wind – Kitesurfing with Ulysse NardinBy Joy Corthesy
Cementing its relationship with the sea and those who master it, Ulysse Nardin brings Alex Caizergues onboard as their new brand ambassador. Currently the KiteSpeed World Champion and world record holder, the French athlete spoke to Revolution about his Southern French roots, his love of competing on the water and his connection to the sea-worthy brand.
How did you get into kitesurfing?
My father did a lot of windsurfing when I was little. He discovered kitesurfing in 1999 and was one of the first to really practise the sport in the south of France. In 2002, I got into it too and just fell in love with the sport. I was studying marketing at the time, and it was during my last year at college that I really fell in love with it. We live in Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, an area where there is a lot of wind so I had lots of opportunity to practise and I was instantly hooked. Eventually I got to a level that was pretty good, and I started competing in 2005, which worked out pretty well. The year after that I got second place in the KiteSpeed World Championships, and I won it the year after. I then started going for world records in kitesurfing, and today I have four championships under my belt, with hopefully a fifth one coming soon.
What records do you currently hold?
I have four kitesurfing speed world records and two world records in the “Absolute” category, meaning any device not powered by an engine on water. Today, I have the official world record for kitesurfing and the second-fastest time in the Absolute world speed sailing record category, with only a boat ahead of me.
What helps you in reaching these records?
It’s a combination of technology and experience; we try to keep pushing forward with the techniques and the materials we use. We try to work on all of these aspects to push them forward together — the sails, the board and physical performance, of course.
What’s your favorite aspect of the sport?
I was always a water-sports fan, even before kitesurfing, but with kitesurfing you immediately get a thrill. And it doesn’t require a whole lot of experience to get started, you can have fun with the sport right away. It’s a high-risk sport, but you can quickly make progress.
It’s also a great excuse to travel. I love traveling — I spend half my year going to different places and adding stamps in my passport; I’m very lucky.
When you first threw yourself into competing, what was the initial goal?
The first goal was to get a sponsor; I wanted my passion to cost me nothing financially. And after that, I became addicted to competing. It is funny because I was never that competitive, but kitesurfing really got to me. The fact that we were judged by the time and not arbitrarily by a judge really appealed to me — our results depend on us and not others.
How do you cope with the stress of a competition?
For me, it’s all in the preparation. If I’m well prepared, I arrive at a competition really relaxed. If I am injured or feel unprepared with a board, or there is some aspect of the equipment that I don’t feel in control of yet, that really stresses me out. In competitions, it’s completely in your head — 40% of my performance is mental, not only physical or technological.
Do you have any rituals or habits to keep you calm before a competition?
In the beginning, I would go to competitions alone, but in the last few years I have been going with a support team that includes a coach who helps me during the competition and helps me debrief before and after. He also looks at what my competitors are doing and gives my advice. It really helps me when I can surround myself with people who can help me get into the right mode; friends who are in the same world as me and who know the competition circuit.
How did you and Ulysse Nardin start working together?
Funnily enough, entirely thanks to kitesurfing! Patrick Pruniaux, the CEO of Ulysse Nardin, kitesurfs as well, and we have a friend in common. She spoke to Patrick about me and we got talking on the phone about kitesurfing and the brand. We met in Le Locle and I visited the manufacture, which made me realize just how much I have in common with the brand. We have a common past with the oceans and a love of the water, sea navigation and a passion for all kinds of sailing. The logo alone speaks to a marine person. It was really exciting to find all these things in common with them and to establish this partnership — I know I can count on them in the future and that there will be a lot of exciting things for both of us moving forward.
What appealed to you about Ulysse Nardin in particular?
It’s a worldwide brand that has a real history with the ocean and is an established name in watchmaking, so you know that it is high quality. And my choice has a lot to do with the people involved. If it weren’t for Patrick it probably would not have happened.
What watch are you wearing today?
The Deep Diver. It’s a watch that, aesthetically, is very beautiful, yet it has this robust design with its hammerhead shark details. I know I can take it along with me to break records without having to worry about it.
What effect has becoming a record holder had on you and the sport?
Getting records really gives me a boost. Before, I was only doing this for fun, I was earning money another way to fuel my love for the sport. And now, I can really live off my passion. I’m lucky to have long-term partners that are loyal, like with Ulysse Nardin, that involve a real collaboration — and that’s because of these records.
What other records would you like to break?
This summer I am going to attempt a new world speed record in kitesurfing. I’m aiming for 110km/h. Right now, my record is 107.36 km/h. I’m also preparing myself for the KiteSpeed World Championship in Oman in August.
If a young athlete wanted to become a professional kitesurfer and came to you for advice, what would you tell them?
Go to a specialized kitesurfing school — they can really teach you the safest way to do it. When I first started, there weren’t any kitesurfing schools, and now, in our little town alone, there are three schools for kitesurfing with a few hundred members and students. We were only four or five to start out professionally, and now there are over 200 of us in the field. But more importantly, I would tell them to stay humble in the face of nature. This sport depends on your relationship with nature. The wind and the water, which are two elements that are powerful — real big guns — and they can change very quickly. Stay very humble, don’t always think you’re going to win, because sometimes, nature wins.