Cabrinha team riders and master coaches Christian and Karine have been ambassadors of the sport since the early days. Running improver to advanced kitesurfing clinics all over the world since 2003 and being known as technique editors of Iksurfmag's popular “How to” pages, Karine and Christian established their reputation as innovative, motivating and passionate kite coaches. We asked the two kite pioneers about coaching techniques, the future of kitesurfing and their life doing clinics at the planet's best kite spots.
Hi guys! How did you two start off 2018?
C: A lovely meal and some bubbles… Work wise and on the kiting front, our first clinic of 2018 was in South Africa. We had an absolute blast, the wind gods delivered, we stay in a beautiful spot, the locals are wonderfully welcoming and great hosts, the food is exceptional and the wine is great. We had a fantastic crew and a lot of fun on and off the water. And for any of our Cabrinha needs Grant is just down the road in Cape Town. Doesn’t get much better. Since then we’ve had several amazing clinics in Cabo Verde and Dakhla and soon we’ll be off to the wonders of Sri Lanka.
What are you looking forward to this year?
K: Getting back on the water! Unfortunately, I broke my ankle quite badly last autumn, I’ve had a couple of operations and rehab is going well. Suffice to say I’m absolutely gagging to get back in the water once the physio gives me the green light. Other than that, it’s always exciting to go back to the various spots that we visit. In many places it feels like home and going back to family, so returning, seeing how the locals have improved, the groms have grown up and even our favorite animals are getting on. We also have a new website that we’ll be launching soon and we have a series of CK Performance videos and blogs that we’ll be rolling out in the 2nd half of the year. And of course, we always look forward to the clinics. We have a very high return rate, it’s like catching up with friends and many of our guests know each other too, so the social side as well as the coaching is always fun.
What’s your favorite riding style and what Cabrinha gear do you currently use?
C: That’s a tricky one and there’s no definite answer. If the conditions are right our hearts still lie in Freestyle. Perhaps it’s a throwback from our windsurfing days, but we both love learning new tricks. As such we’ve always been Chaos fans, but to be fair give us a Switchblade or an FX and we’re equally happy. Board wise for this it’s got to be an X-Caliber wood or XO and a pair of comfy H3. However, the Switchblade is so dependable that it makes learning easier as we can just concentrate on the move and almost let the kite fly itself, whether freestyle, old school or just general tomfoolery. The Ace matches the Switchblade well and we enjoy foiling with this kite too. We both love a bit of strapless, carving the waves and trying to learn some of the the tricks that Keahi and Matt make look so easy. Then it’s the Fireball to help with toeside and comfort and of course a Drifter. Being able to depower so easily certainly makes everything from getting out over the whitewater, throwing the kite about whilst riding waves and keeping the board near your feet in the air so much simpler. Board wise we’ve both been using the Spade.
Karine, there are more and more women getting into the sport with women of all ages on your clinics. How do you feel as a role model and what do you think is the main difference since the early days and now?
I think it’s important for women to know that technique conquers strength. A female guest will believe me when I suggest the next step, there’s a trust. When they see that another female is able to perform a certain move or trick, or challenge certain conditions it is definitely motivating and demonstrates what is possible. The beauty now compared to the early days is how the gear has evolved. Little things like footstraps that fit or much bigger benefits like reachable trim on the recoil bar allow us women more comfort and give us more confidence. Kites themselves have really changed with the ability to depower in gusts, so you can cruise confidently, launch without getting lifted onto your toes. In the early days that constant need to edge like a lunatic to get the kite around to the edge of the window could be so tiring. And although kiting will always have inherent dangers it’s so much safer than it was. We had no safety systems, no way of ejecting, we’ve come through a lot of progress, from nothing, through Velcro releases, push away reckon bars, to the simple, reliable systems like the Quick Loop we have now. These get-out-of jail-cards give everyone more confidence.
What are your thoughts on the new XO collection?
K: I love the XO collection, as I was such a fan of the original concept. Having a board designed, shaped and sized specifically for the needs of the female is fantastic. This year’s collection is wonderful as it’s very feminine but without being too obviously girly.
You have been doing kite clinics and training for over 15 years now. What is your philosophy on coaching?
C: Our tag line has always been “coaching is not just for professionals”. Everyone needs coaching! If you want to improve at something there are ways to make it easier and that’s where we come in. It’s not just the how, but the why. How is instruction, which is an important part of learning. The idea of coaching, the why, is to give an understanding, empowering and encouraging the student to continue the learning long after the lesson, course or clinic. From here on in it’s about communication. People learn in so many different ways, it’s a matter of evaluating who needs what and taking a personalized approach from there. We learn so much from our guests, what works, what doesn’t, what makes the difference. However, you need to start somewhere, and we spend a lot of time discussing new ideas and theories and methods to help people understand how to tackle the unkown for the first time. We’re both inquisitive and fascinated by learning, coaching and building skills and passing them on. In bite size chunks, anything is achievable! Even if people have had coaching before, it’s finding the spark for that Eureka moment, when the penny drops and the understanding becomes innate. That said there is no magic wand, we don’t promise anything as it has to come from within, and there is always an element of guided discovery time. Learning is an amazing experience, whether it be sport, a language, or music, but you must get the fundamentals down. We’re not greatly into the Gung-Ho idea. Sure it can work, a toss of the dice, but if the next trick or challenge is just one step out of your comfort zone it’s so much more reachable and less likely to end in tears. It’s the reward, feeling comfortable or stomping a new trick. As an adult these emotions are not exactly an everyday experience and as such are what make one’s passion. At the end of the day though, it should be fun, keeping the mojo alive in a positive and safe environment.
What are the benefits of video analysis?
K: Crikey it helps so much. As a student you can really believe that you’re doing something, but the camera never lies. As a coach there is so much that you can’t see in real time, but you will see when you go through the video and slow it down. As such you can give much more to the student and explain things in much more detail and in a much more relevant way. Also, when you’re learning something and you can’t do it, that’s what you think – it’s a negative. When you look at a video, you might often see that it’s just one little thing that needs to be changed and that’s extremely motivating, it swings it fully 180 and drives you on in a more positive fashion. And finally in a group environment it’s very positive and motivating for everyone to see that regardless of your level and experience, we’re all in the same boat – struggling at times to learn something new, falling and repeating this process.
Do you video analyze yourself? What are your personal challenges?
K: For sure, 100%. We’re very different but it works for us both. As well as seeing what’s missing, what’s needed and what should change. Christian for example finds the video motivating in the way that he’ll push himself that little bit further out of his comfort window, it makes him focus and as such gives him confidence and lessens his fear. I find it helpful to see the move broken down into small steps so I can work on a move in a given order, set a step into muscle memory before moving on and concentrating on the next bit. Then whoever is filming can review a clip, slow it down and share their thoughts. For us the easy bit is that we trust each other, so if one of us says “try this”, we’ll try the tweak and give it a go. Our challenges are most likely the same as everyone’s. Eventually you know what you need to do, you understand what you need to do and you can even see what you need to do, but it’s actually making yourself do it that’s the hard bit. Even for our magazine technique there’s always something new to learn and this process certainly keeps us fresh.
What’s the best destination for new riders to advance their skills? What set up do you recommend?
C: Pretty much any skill will be easier to accomplish if you’ve got steady wind and flattish water. You’re effectively removing the random variables of gusts, lulls and chop. You also need confidence, feeling safe in a bay or lagoon, knowing that if you can’t relaunch or get into trouble that you’ll still be fine. Falling and crashing are an unavoidable part of improving, so knowing that there is a boat of progress and having water deep enough (we’ll say this a lot) so you can fall without fear. A lot of kiters will feel more confident if it’s warm and sunny too. And of course having a coach, instructor or friend, happy in the knowledge that someone is watching out for you. Fortunately there are so many spots like this around the world. That said if you’re keen, anywhere without dangers is good enough. The key is to focus on what the conditions allow to keep frustrations down. If it’s strong, gusty and really choppy it probably isn’t the best time to try unhooked raleys! Kit wise it’s simple. If you’re aiming to improve you’ll be concentrating on enough without having to worry about the kite and board. Foot straps have to fit, kite should be easy to fly with a constant pull and bingo you’re halfway there. It’s no coincidence that we recommend so many of our guests to try the Switchblade – you get incredible feedback from the bar, you know where it is which really helps whether it’s your first jump, rotation and beyond. It really takes the complication out of learning but as Nick Jacobsen readily proves it’s fast and certainly doesn’t hold you back either.
Big surf is one thing that intimidates lots of people. Do you have some tips on how to get comfortable in the waves?
K: That’s actually a very relevant question as we recently returned from a series of clinics in Cape Verde. The biggest issue with kiting in waves is that a kite allows riders to get out in and amongst conditions that might not yet be suitable, so it’s easy to be in over your head. In general, other sports such as surfing or windsurfing are more self-regulating, your level decides if you’re able to get out or not. By far the best thing you can do is to get comfortable in smaller waves, or even flat water. If you can’t carve, gybe or chicken gybe on the flat you’ll find it even harder in the surf. Comfort breeds confidence. Better to throw it about in small waves, learning about your board and kite, improving your skills and adding ways to get out of trouble. On our Cape Verde clinics we did a lot working on different types of turn, with different ways to practice them. Much more achievable and easier to go for it and practice, throwing some spray if you’re not worrying about eating it and getting worked. So for sure friendly conditions will make one more accomplished in the surf sooner. And then there’s the question of kit. It’s funny to think back to when we first got the Drifter. We suddenly got better in the waves, as did any guests who tried it. 100% the rider makes things happen, but having the right kit for the job certainly helps. Other than that, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of water confidence. Swimming around in moving water and currents is very different from splashing around in pool. Knowing your spot, where to avoid and having an exit plan if it all goes pear shaped, along with the ability to swim and not panic in certain situations is an absolute must.
Foil boarding is a big new discipline in the sport, how do you like it and do you have any tips for foil beginners?
C: We love the way it opens up new areas, new spots, and is yet again a different way to enjoy the wind. Our local spot can become very choppy, there is a small window for freestyle on the flats at low tide. Now with the foil even if the wind is only there at high tide we can be out, having fun, turning the brain off, learning. It’s still like other forms of kitesurfing, you can choose to try new things, or just cruise and switch off – but the sensation is really quite something, unbelievable, floating on air, like riding powder. We have to say hats off to the early adopters. We learnt on the Double Agent and for sure it made life easier, but it was still terrifying watching each other. Funnily enough we will have some foil tips out soon, but the things that helped us the most are definitely core kiting skills such as being able to control the kite with one hand, knowing how to water-start in light wind and understanding how to set your kit up to make life easier. And for sure knowing how to ride a directional or surfboard has its advantages as you already understand weight distribution. Other than that, the shorter masts are the way forward, better baby steps rather than jumping onto a 90cm mast and scaring yourself senseless.
Your life looks like a dream to any kitesurfer! Working together as a couple, following your passion, traveling the world and sharing your knowledge during your clinics and online. Honestly, what is the hard part of your lifestyle? What motivates you to keep going?
C: To be fair we travel more as a business partnership rather than a couple and kitesurfing pros. We’re always together, working with guests on clinics or shooting technique. We share the same responsibilities, deadlines and commitments, we have the same priorities and at the end of the day we earn our living together. For some couples 24/7 wouldn’t work, but we’ve managed to form and evolve a great professional working relationship too. We share the highs and the lows, enjoying great experiences together, and helping one another through the not so pleasant moments. As a working team injuries are the most challenging problem. Being self-employed if you can’t work you can’t earn. Our office is always sunny and we get people at their best, on holiday and enjoying their passion, so saying the hardest part would be overstating things. However, when we’re clinicing we’re not on holiday, we’re working, it’s our job. When we’re not coaching or giving advice we’re reviewing video or on logistics, planning the next session, a trip away, a dinner, booking future clinics. As such during clinics we very rarely get out on the water, other than to demo a move and we won’t have spent any time on us or our relationship. After 6 weeks coaching it’s a dream to get back on the water, and it’s a total joy to spend some quality time together. For us this is normal, we’re professional coaches, but just like anyone else’s job it requires a great deal of time, commitment and effort. We wouldn’t change it for the world though.
Whenever there’s no wind, what’s the ideal workout to support your riding skills?
K: We’d perhaps describe ourselves as active rather than into workouts. Christian has a dodgy back from his windsurfing days so he has a little Pilates routine that he follows when it’s bad and we’re both quite religious about stretching, staying subtle and hopefully keeping the injury count down and energy levels up. Other than that we love to surf, play tennis, throw a rugby ball or Frisbee about, walk in the hills, use the bike instead of the car – any excuse to be outside in the fresh air and enjoying the great outdoors really. Sport is as much about state of mind as it is physical condition, and we certainly enjoy smelling the roses along the way. Landing a move is fantastic whilst being in the ocean is just as much of a thrill – it’s important not to lose sight of this. I have a lot of Monty Pythonesque silly walks to do now for my rehab too.
With almost 20 years of kiteboarding experience you have seen the sport evolve. Where do you see kitesurfing in 20 years time?
K: That is the million dollar question! The great thing about kiting is that is has become so achievable and there are so many ways to enjoy it, from cruising to going totally crazy. We’ve penned about 300 moves of technique so far and although there are variations on landings, grabs, take offs, most of them are within the reach of a hobby kitesurfer if it rocks their boat. Foiling is obviously the most futuristic element at the moment, you can really startle people who haven’t seen it before. Our late grandparents struggled to understand what we were doing beneath a kite when we started, the foil would have totally blown their minds! Kiting will keep opening up with more possibilities, fads will come and go but as a sport in general the one certainly is that it’ll keep that addictive feel. It’s one of the few sports where you can really forget about everything else whilst you focus on the job and fun at hand. With kit constantly improving so will all of us…
You have been kiting all over the world. What is your favorite destination and is there any spot in the world you’re still dreaming to kite at?
K: Another tough one! As so many people have and will have, we’ve had an absolute plethora of fantastic experiences both on the water and through travelling with kiting that it’s impossible to pick a favorite. And there are still oodles of places that we haven’t visited. They each have their own magic and it seems unfair to compare them. Some spots are visually amazing, whilst others give you a perfect constant wind or butter flat water, perfect long peeling waves, crazy wildlife, an unbelievable welcome, some spots are spookily empty and serene. For us we’ve had a lot of incredible trips cruising on boats. We have driven many miles along the beaches of Brazil in unreliable buggies and have epic and emotional memories from our early days in Sri Lanka, whilst Venezuela was home from home. A long time back we did a camel safari to a then unknown lagoon in the middle of nowhere. We camped out under the stars, ate nothing but tomatoes and kept our energy levels up with copious amounts of sugar in local tea. Unsurprisingly we just had to stay longer and managed to find a Bedouin who let us use his Nokia which he kept charged under a tin roof so that we could rearrange our pick up. Each trip and place has its own story. Nearer to home it’s fun enjoying a session and discovering new spots. Europe has an unimaginable number of truly mind blowing places and we really enjoy spending time in Portugal. As for Dream Spots, some of the pacific looks unbelievable and who doesn’t froth at the thought of a leg burning South American point break, we certainly wouldn’t sniff at that, or perhaps a trip to Mauritania.
For clinics we need places to tick certain boxes. If guests are paying for coaching it helps if there is wind, even though we have a lot of very helpful theory sessions. Hence we try and follow the wind. For anything other than waves, the flatter the water the better as it makes learning easier, as long as it’s safely deep enough. If we can add some butter flat sessions that’s a real treat. And of course we need to be able to communicate with guests easily and they need enough space to practice. And finally, nobody wants to lose 4 days of their holiday travelling, so places have to be reachable. Add to this that a lot of people enjoy good food and a comfy room! These criteria lead us to the spots that we regularly visit on our clinic calendar.
When will we see you guys on Maui!?
C: Oh boy it’s been a while! Just shout and we’ll be the there..
Karine & Christian's overseas clinics prove to be a popular mix of energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, coaching, progression and fun.