Many kitesurfers aspire to be able to ride like a pro, and not only that but they want the free kit and kudos that comes along with it. In reality few of us will ever reach the dizzying heights of fame like Hadlow and Lenten, but if you think you’ve got a talent there’s definitely things you can focus on to help you rise as a kite star.
Having been lucky enough to spend some time with some of the world’s top pros, as well as those that are hoping to make the pro circuit, I’ve made a few observations that I wanted to share. On interviewing Philipp Becker of North Kiteboarding, he backed up my thoughts so here’s what he said and our guide for wannabe pros:
Interview with Philipp Becker – International Marketing & Communications Manager, North Kiteboarding
Are there certain tricks you look for that a potential sponsored rider needs to be able to land?
We’re not looking for special tricks, it’s more the whole repertoire of tricks or capabilities, depending on the style the rider is specialized in.
When considering a new rider recruit, what percentage of the attraction in signing them up is their actual kite ability?
Kite ability and performance is really important for us: contest results to prove that are a bonus. But these days good communication skills and being humble in self-marketing helps a lot too.
What else do you look for?
It’s the overall picture. The rider has to fit to the brand, has to have good communication skills, good social skills and always has to be aware of being a role model for many people and especially young guns. We already had to have some hard decisions in the past when behaviour doesn’t fit.
What might put you off signing someone?
Behaviour, arrogance, drug or alcohol abuse, criminal record.
Is there a time of year where you particularly look at signing new riders?
No, the team is basically complete whole year round and we’re not actively searching. Our idea is to grow up our own youth and bring them to the top. Young blood camps that started 10 years ago were a good start. In their countries they can prove what they can, then go to European or US events and if they’re good enough, go to the trials for the world titles. But also to be fair, if an opportunity like Aaron comes along, who also offered a lot of technical background additionally to his broad skills, then we don’t say no of course. Already it feels like Aaron and NKB always have been and just belong together.
Where do you look or do you expect potential riders to come to you?
Our riders are most of the time already really closely connected to schools, shops or distributors from the very beginning of their kite career. We believe in kids who love the brand and grow up with the support of the brand. But we’re getting a great amount of requests from girls and boys from all over the world, wanting to be in the team and asking for support. Unfortunately we can’t support everyone, but at least we’re taking a close look at every email to see what we can do or where to connect the rider to a school, shop or distributor for a start.
Do you always sign new riders aiming to put them through competitions or are there other options for sponsorship?
There’s a lot of members of the team who are not actively competing in competitions anymore, but doing a great job as brand ambassador and are sometimes even more important than pure competition riders. Having a name already or being super humble as an opinion leader helps. We’re trying to be very loyal to our riders and so over the past 15 years many of the them swopped into the company in different positions, became sales agents, distributors, etc.
What to focus on:
- Enter competitions, even if not your style or standard as you’ll gain experience
- Attend events even if it’s not a competition you’re entering as meeting people in the industry or just networking with other kiters is key
- Get involved in the scene – make sure you’re known
- Get seen at events – for example Ozzie Smith & Hannah Whiteley kited before the heats for the recent Red Bull King of the Air event. Everyone backstage was watching and talking about them as well as other less known riders out there.
- Get involved with youth schemes like the fantastic academies Jo Wilson runs in the UK – see video below:
- Brands like to see their products represented on and off the water so showcase them in inspirational and lifestyle videos
- Start making videos even before you get to pro level to get yourself seen, inject some personality and become experienced at editing and marketing yourself.
- Noè Font is rising as an up and coming kite star and part of his success comes down to his enthusiasm for producing kite videos, even if they’re showing off other kiters rather than himself – and don’t forget English is not his 1st language but he’s grasped that too in order to be successful!
Focus on using Social Media and Getting Publicity
- Use social media well – put the brand in the picture and inject your personality but act with integrity too.
- Build your own online community which means engaging with others in conversations and sharing information, not just sending out your own content.
- Discover what magazines look for, make contact and partner with them
- Think of yourself as your own kite ‘brand’ and make your vision integral to everything you do. Look at how much attention Ruben Lenten gets from his Len10 streams and how inspiring he is to anyone involved it the sport. He’s made himself into a very successful kite ‘brand’ through a lot of hard work over the past 10 years.
Do your Research
- Know the rules – you don’t just need talent but must also be able to play the game when competing, and that means knowing the rules and scoring systems inside out.
- Know the competition – if you don’t know who you’re up against, how can you play to their weaknesses and work at trumping their strengths?
- Know the kitesurfing industry inside out – the history, the inventors, the key industry players, the riders that have come and gone, the pros you look up to, the equipment and locations and everything that’s going on in the sport day to day.
Watch and learn through our Progression Kiteboarding Professional video series
- Push yourself in freestyle with Aaron Hadlow taking you through 23 pro level tricks.
- Learn and perfect your unhooked style via broken down step by step techniques.
- Pinpoint and improve on your mistakes.
- Download the free app and get the instructional videos via iTunes or Google play
Find your talent
- Pro doesn’t have to mean competing on the VKWC circuit, there’s plenty of sponsored ‘pros’ that you could say serve as brand ambassadors like Tom Court
- Start off aiming to become a local ‘pro’ or team rider for a school or kite store.
- Find a unique way to improve your style – Lewis Crathern has a strong grasp of knowing where his body is in relation to the water, the timing of tricks and rotations through his involvement in high diving as a kid.
- Pro also doesn’t need to mean freestyle as there’s lots of opportunity for racing, big air and wave riding so develop your skills to suit your talent.
Love love love what you do (but take it seriously)
- Spend every second you can on the water
- If you are truly passionate then it will translate into your riding – look at how much Kevin Langeree loves his sport and career and his social media shows just how much
- Remember that being a pro kiter is actually a ‘job’ and you need to work seriously hard to be privileged enough to be paid for what you love. There’s a lot of competition and you have to stay top of your game without complaining and sponsors will expect a lot from you. Hell, some of the top pros don’t even drink at some of the kite parties as they know they need to be in peak condition the next day!
Have a Great Attitude
- Be positive not negative and act with integrity (think of the brand!)
- Be supportive of other riders even if helping a beginner to progress
- Have great sportsmanship & if you need to critique then don’t get personal
- Collaborate together (collaboration often brings opportunity and innovation)
Don’t forget the whole of the kitesurfing industry wants to see the sport progress and test the limits. Aim high as we’re all looking to you to take us there!