Since the age of six Kiri Thode has dreamt of becoming the PWA freestyle world champion. Perhaps one of the most anticipated world champions in modern day windsurfing. Kiri finally proved that he had it in him when it came to the dramatic and final showdown in Sylt some two weeks ago. The title race was still open even right down to the last heats, three possible people could win, yet as the heats progressed the wind was in nobodies favour and so it was a true test of skill to stick a comprehensive, diverse and stylish heat. This is exactly what Kiri did, not once, or twice but four times in a row! We caught up with him to find out how life has changed since that eventful afternoon.
I knew I had to step it up for the rest of the events to stand any chance and I knew that I had it in me to win
Boardseeker: After the second event in Fuerte this year it looked like it was almost game, set and match for Gollito to take his 6th world title, did you lose hope at becoming world champion by then or did you still think you had it in you?
Kiri: Yeah well actually, I knew for so many years already I was fighting for this title, we (Gollito and I) had close calls in the past but this was probably the closest. The thing I told myself at the start of the year is that I gotta do this, I gotta win it this year, it has taken too many years already.
In Fuerte, I knew I could have won this event, but I don’t know what happened, the judges see things from different angles sometimes and the whole beach, all the riders, were kind of going crazy with the whole situation. So I knew I had to step it up for the rest of the events to stand any chance and I knew that I had it in me to win.
I came to Holland and suddenly the energy was back, the drive was there
Boardseeker: Suddenly in Holland the tables turned, you were holding on to your first event win of the season and Gollito had suffered a setback with his 4th place. Was this the point where you suddenly thought, ‘hang on I can still do this’?
Kiri: Actually after Fuerte I didn’t have the fighting spirit so much anymore, the push kind of faded away after a result where I really felt I should have won. However, I came to Holland and suddenly the energy was back, the drive was there and I said to myself I have to show them who is the best! I remembered how many times people told me ‘man, you are sailing like crazy’ and I always felt like I was putting that into my heats, something was missing. Then whatever that was it came to me at last, I just went out and sailed ‘normal’, like it was just another session, sailing like I always sail and relaxing. All I did was really tell myself just go for the moves, stick them and then you will see, and then when I won and I saw Gollito was 4th there was that last chance suddenly appearing. He already had two wins but now I had one also and all we needed was wind at the last event and for my head to be in the same way as in Holland.
So I was like ok, tomorrow I will show everybody who’s gonna rip...
Boardseeker: It’s not over until it’s over – PWA Sylt appeared and suddenly there was that last chance, however you got unlucky in the single elimination and ended up fourth, how were you feeling when you came down to the beach on the morning of the double elimination when you knew you had to beat Gollito, then Tonky and then Steven Van Broeckhoven twice to stand a chance of being the world champion?
Kiri: Yeah in the single I didn’t really sail good and I saw Steven just on fire! He also had a chance for the title, and after watching him, my fighting spirit was drifting away again. But I knew I had to come back in the double and again the feeling was back, the motivation to win by ‘free sailing’ you know. I was gutted to end up in the losers final of the single, and in the night I was talking to my girlfriend, Tammy and also to Tonky and they both said to me, ‘you know how many years you have left to compete, you can still do it in the future, but why not this year, there is a chance, you just need to win here and now, you got this!’. So I was like ok, tomorrow I will show everybody who’s gonna rip, who’s the boss.
When I came down to the beach I saw the heats were already going on and the conditions looked quite tricky and patchy, it seemed like it was getting lighter so in the end I decided to use my 5.2. Everything was working great, my kit felt good, I tuned into the conditions and Amado was by my side caddying with my 4.8, we were so far from the beach, he really helped me out, even though I ended up staying on my 5.2 the whole time.
I think that is why I won, because I just wanted to stay on the water and keep windsurfing
Boardseeker: Did you already know that the world title was yours before you beat Steven, you actually didn’t need to win against him and you would have still taken the world title?
Kiri: Actually I had no idea, I was just enjoying my sailing on the water, normally after two heats I’m quite tired and don’t mind having a break but after fighting back all I could feel was my enjoyment for windsurfing. All I wanted to do was just stay on the water and enjoy the session, after all that is how it felt for me, like another session, I think that is why I won, because I just wanted to stay on the water and keep windsurfing. I didn’t even care about my ranking I just wanted to keep warm because it was so cold and enjoy my windsurfing.
Boardseeker: You sailed some impressive heats to take the win with backloops and clew first backloops in very very light winds, how often do you practice these moves?
Kiri: Actually as everyone knows I never really train in the waves, I always stay on Boanire and love sailing in the bay there. So for me as soon as I see a small chop already it feels a lot bigger than maybe what other people are used to, so I just push myself to go high off it. Actually I haven’t really trained my jumps much at all but suddenly I could start landing the moves, it’s crazy!
On the flat water most people know that my starboard tack is pretty strong and my port tack is not so good, so I really focused on this when I was training at home in Bonaire and I feel much more confident now.
REALITY SETS IN
Tonky hugged me and told me ‘you did it man, you did it’, and then because of that I couldn’t hold it back. I was so stoked
Kiri: Yeah when I came to the beach and I saw Amado, I said to him ‘I think I got this man’, he said back to me ‘shut up man, you killed it, sure you won’. I knew I hadn’t sailed the best heat ever but for the conditions it was pretty much as good as I could have done.
Then when I returned to the beach after my heat and I had a good feeling about it, everyone was cheering and as soon as I stepped off my board, Gollito and Diony were there, lifting me up on their shoulders, announcing me as the world champion. I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy.
Actually I didn’t have the tears in my eyes straight away, they came when Tonky hugged me and told me ‘you did it man, you did it’, and then because of that I couldn’t hold it back. I was so stoked and so happy I just said to myself ‘thank you for letting me know this sport, it is just insane’. And really if it wasn’t for Tonky I would have never tried this sport, it was these moments that came to me at that time and of course I thank him a lot for this.
Boardseeker: You said on the podium that you dreamed about this since you were 6 years old, you dreamed of becoming the world champion, you had a lot of hurdles to jump on the way, particularly with judging decisions, do you think luck was not always on your side?
Kiri: Umm.. actually I was kind of unlucky with the judging thing, often I knew inside that I had won but I never won physically you know. This kind of affected me and it didn’t always make sense, I would sail a heat that wasn’t so great and win, then I would sail a sick heat and lose, it felt kind of shi* to be honest. It left me feeling confused about what to do. In the end for the last two events I decided to play it a lot safer, go for the more normal moves, the konos, burners, and aim more for diversity than for the big big moves. It really seemed to help me, normally I got for the kabikuchi and other crazy moves but this time I was just progressing with the easier stuff, it was really working out.
Boardseeker: How did it feel to finally stage on the stage as not just the winner of PWA Sylt but also as the PWA Freestyle World Champion?
Kiri: Man it was so special, it was really great to stand there and hear the Bonaire national anthem and it was so so crazy to stand on top. You know everyone was saying to me, ‘you know the world?.. You are the best best best of it’, I was just speechless. However, I didn’t really feel like I was finally there until I got home to Bonaire and I stepped off the plane and hundreds of people were there, I was like ‘woah, this is a dream come true’.
It’s funny, still to this day, I go to the supermarket or I’m walking down the street and everyone is shouting to me, ‘hey champion!’, it’s something I try to get used to now.
Boardseeker: When you got back to the Bonaire it sounds like the whole island had come to see you arrive, what happened when you touched down and for the next days?
Kiri: Yeah whilst, we were on the plane from Aruba to Bonaire, then the people on the plane, the pilot announced ‘we have a world champion on board ladies and gentlemen’. Then the pilot came out and invited me to sit in business class so that I could be first off the plane.
When we landed, literally as soon as we touched down I saw sooo many cars, fire trucks were there and as soon as I stepped out the door I heard the noise from all the people cheering, the fire fighters setting off their sirens, I had to sign loads of autographs, have pictures taken with so many different people, it was crazy, I couldn’t take it all in properly.
Then the next day there was an event I wanted to go to, but I found myself being taken
from one presentation to the next, literally spending one hour at one place and then being moved on to the next presentation, it was so crazy and I was really really busy. In the end I had to turn some down because I was so tired, so the next days were the same, more presentations and more interviews. I still made sure to take some time to relax, go down to the beach, have some food with my family.
Boardseeker: There is a certain young lady by your side, often coming with you to events, how has she helped you progress through the last years?
Kiri: Yeah Tammy is great, she really understand the pressure of competition and knows when she should and shouldn’t be next to me, like when I need to focus, she already seems to know this and leaves me to it. Then on the other hand when I need someone to talk with she is there straight away. Even if I lose, she is supporting me, telling me that next time is better, that I’ve got it, I can do it. She’s always pushing me to the max and helping me a lot, mentally I’m better during events when she is there, that is for sure.
Boardseeker: So what’s your plans now, over the winter, training, any special trips?
Kiri: For now I will stay in Bonaire, I will go over to Aruba for a bit to maybe race with my car a bit and then I also want to stay on Bonaire and promote myself a bit, you know go to the schools and introduce myself and the sport, also the opportunity that these kids can have if they just go to the beach. So many people have no idea what I just became world champion in and don’t know anything about it, so I will grow the awareness to the island even more, both of what I achieved and of windsurfing.
After this, when Philip Koester has finished his competition season, Starboard want us to meet up and do a shoot together somewhere. I don’t know many more details about this now but I know the plan is there.
Other than that I just want to stay in Bonaire, at home where my friends and family are, where the wind is good and I will for sure be here until the PWA event in El Yaque.
Boardseeker: Last question, you are the new PWA freestyle world champion yet when we spoke to you in Sylt you mentioned about training slalom, is there something in the pipeline for you and PWA Slalom?
Kiri: Yeah for sure, I already tried to enter PWA Alacati this year, I feel fast and feel good at keeping up with Taty Frans and we all saw how fast he was in Sylt. It shows that you don’t need to be a big guy to compete in the slalom you just have to be really good at tuning for your personal body weight and size. So this year I really want to enter PWA Alacati and PWA Costa Brava. I hope I get the wild card for them, it would be a lot of fun for sure. I feel I would test some of the big guys, especially in the lighter winds, I think I could really win some races, so of course I want to do it. I begin training in January when I get my race stuff.
Lastly, I just want to say a really special thinks, to my girlfriend, her family, my family and really to Taty and Tonky who have been by my side during events all over the world, always giving me advice, being there to train with, to travel with, they helped me so much. Of course, my sponsors too, they support me a lot and a big thanks to them.