Engineering the future of performance with Fernando Fernandes

Cabrinha headquarters, Maui, Hawaii. Fernando Fernandes and his crew flew in from Brazil to meet with Cabrinha's Research & Development team to talk board development and shoot some sessions on the new 2020 gear.

If you haven't heard of Fernando Fernandes yet, chances are high this article will leave you deeply inspired. Fernando Fernandes is one of the most inspiring human beings you will come across. His energy and positive attitude is infectious and his determination and goals in life and kiteboarding makes you question what’s physically possible by a human being. In 2009, he was involved in a car crash that turned his world upside down. His rehabilitation was an immensely physical and psychological challenge, but testament to Fernando’s ‘anything is possible’ attitude he signed up for the Sao Paulo Silvestre 15km race that was to take place just 3 months after the crash. Through grit and determination he completed it, to be met by his loving family at the finish line. This would set the tone for a life of overcoming barriers, reaching new physical and pyschological limits and accomplishing goals in a sport that presented many obstacles.

The learning process of kiteboarding carried with it risks as well as challenges for both Fernando and instructor Gustavo Foerster, who helped Fernando with adapting regular kite boards for Fernando to use. Since setting his eyes firmly on kiteboarding, Fernando had a fierce determination to succeed at all costs and often had to have his enthusiasm curbed by Gustavo to avoid potential injury as they formulated their learning process. Unlike normal kite tuition there aren’t many resources out there for adaptive learning. “The initial difficulties were understanding the concepts of kitesurfing and adapting them to my world," Fernando reminisces about the learning process. "It needed a great control of body balance and flying the kite without pulling the bar so much. It also took me a while to correctly understand where the kite should be so I could ride. All kiteboarder’s face their kite while riding, but I am sideways to the kite so have to physically turn to see the kite. One particular aspect of the process was that it was impossible for me to do bodydrag, something Gustavo insisted a lot, a part that is fundamental in any students learning process. But as soon as he tried to do the same without using his legs he saw that it was impossible. Gradually we created our own way, our method tailored to my body, and we invested a lot of time into kite control in shallow water, that made a big difference.”

For Gustavo on the instructor side, safety was the biggest challenge as there aren't many references or information out there about adaptive kiteboarding. "Fernando is well known in Brazil and if I killed him, I would have a lot of problems to deal with from the people! Haha.", Gustavo looks back. Finding the best possible equipment, board, harness, control system was also difficult. "When we came across the Cabrinha Fireball system it was a great revolution because Fernando also uses his abdomen to control the kite and the freedom it allows his body when turned away from the kite is better than any other system we tried.”

Fernando’s drive to challenge himself and his ability has led him on a global journey. Maui, home to some of kitesurfing’s best known surf breaks and kite spots was a chance for Fernando to test his limits, away from Brazil, where he trains and spends most of his time. There were two main goals. Firstly, to challenge his skillsets and put himself into new situations in wave conditions where the risks get exponentially higher for adaptive kiting. And secondly to come together with Cabrinha’s R&D team to identify areas where real progression could be made possible. Not content with simply ‘mowing the lawn’, Fernando aspires to be the best he can be and views his progression in the sport the same as any aspirational kiteboarder does. Megaloops, freestyle, wave riding are all firmly set in his sights, but with these goals comes new challenges.  With virtually every board on the market designed for the rider to spread their weight evenly along the centre axis of the board via two fixed points Fernando encounters great restrictions when attaching a sit chair.

Lars Moltrup, Cabrinha Product Development Manager, who was in charge of designing Fernandos custom signature board elaborates, “The challenge in developing a product that allows for a sit-down rider is vastly different from a conventional board. The centre of gravity is lower and the leverage that you can exert on the rail is vastly different. We started with the Stylus production board and made some modifications based on this shape. The first point being the mounting of the chair and the reinforcements that goes with it. The size, the laminate, the core configuration and even the fin position, we’ve tailored to the specific needs of the sit-down user requirements. Fernando puts more stress on the board than most other kiteboarders, not only because he rips and is going for jumps and kiteloops, but the forces are increased even further by the absence of shock absorbing knees. For this, we worked on having a rocker and flex that will assist in this and provide the relief on impact that is needed. The flex was a big challenge as the board needs to be extremely strong due to the load on the chair mounting surfaces, but still provide enough flex to make the ride comfortable. It also needs to have enough pop and to be able to absorb the impact of the landings.”

Strap or binding placement distributes a riders weight evenly and allows the centre and tips of the board to flex at the same time. Seeing Fernando being able to ride for around a maximum of about 15 minutes per session before he had to come in and let his forearms recover highlighted a key factor that was made part of the design brief. Product Design Engineer Brodie Sutherland explains further: “Most of the work I do as a designer can be based around my personal experiences and others feedback from using the product. With this project I had to rely entirely on Fernando’s experience to decide the best way to mount his chair to the board and the loads he puts on his gear. Fernando was nice enough to let me go out and try his board. I was blown away at how hard it was to ride, even with the use of my legs to balance. Fernando makes it look way easier than it actually is and the fitness needed to stay out, even for a few tacks is incredible. This is an area where specific board design will play a big part.”

With safety rich developments in kites and their control systems, the sport has opened up dramatically, inspiring people of all facets to take up the sport. Fernando is at the forefront of adaptive kitesurfing and it’s easy to see after spending time in his company why he will pave the way for others to follow. Developments in new areas of the sport, like hydrofoiling and Wings are also opening up new avenues that are blurring the lines between all the sports with ‘surfing’ as part of their name.

Gustavo Foerster adds: “When I started developing the equipment for adaptive kiteboarding with Fernando, there was so much love in the process that I couldn't imagine where it all would end up. When I saw inside Cabrinha's office with their designers and engineers all committed to improving the equipment we had created It was a very special and rewarding experience. Besides the development side, Cabrinha is actually a family that lives and breathes board sports. I believe there is much more to come, and for now we are just scratching the surface of what is possible.”

It’s hard not to enjoy riding in Fernando’s company. Riding in shorter length sessions than most kiteboarders means Fernando packs in a lot of action to each ride. The classic Maui wave kickers provide the perfect ramps heading out and fun waves on the way in. On any given day you can find a wave somewhere on the island to ride if windy so it’s one of those places that if waves are your thing it needs to be high on your hit list. 

Fernando adds: “Kiting on Maui is every kitesurfer’s dream. The conditions are extreme and I really wanted to show myself and the world what I’m capable of. Getting in and out at the same point, staying upwind while jumping and riding waves was sensational. The team took me to some of the secret spots and I was able to feel all the power that Hawaii emanates. I still have a lot to learn about kiting, and the different ways to approach the wind. Freestyle is my favourite part of the sport, but I've been enjoying the waves too. I want to be recognized as one of the best riders in the world. Not because I'm in a wheelchair, but because I have skills in and out of the water that make me who I am. I want to do handle passes, mega loops and rotation tricks. I'm training a lot for this season and I have a long list of tricks I want to try.”

"Pushing boundaries is what gets the Cabrinha design staff excited," adds Pete Cabrinha, "Fernando pushes past limits and breaks barriers. His drive and ambition is perfectly balanced by his warm and open attitude. He gets everyone around him pumped up to ride and somehow the sessions with him were a new level of fun for the whole team.”

Fernando's physical activity and a regimental training structure puts Fernando in incredible shape, but this goes hand in hand with his clear views on performance in all walks of life. If you want to be the best, everything you do on and off the water leads you to the upper echelons of success. From how you eat, work out, to the choice of your equipment. There are gains to be made everywhere. This is something synonymous with international level sport and something Fernando picked up while training for the Olympics in para-canoeing. Fernando Fernandes has 4 Canoeing world titles (2010/11/12/13) and has represented brazil as an ambassador for the Paralympic games in 2016. Amongst everything else, he is now a die hard kiteboarder and lives for the wind and waves. You’ll probably find him on the water somewhere…

FOLLOW FERNANDO FERNANDES ON INSTAGRAM @fernandoflife





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