We watched Youri Zoon as he wowed the crowd with his incredible water splashing, mind-blowing moves and were intrigued to know more about his kite surfing journey, being a 2-time world champion and now coaching younger players. Youri managed to overcome his fears and exceed everybody’s expectations and here’s how.
By Mariam Elhamy
So Youri, you came to Egypt a few years ago, how would you compare the level of the riders back then to their level now?
The last time I was here in Ras Sudr was in 2017. This time we ran a super good freestyle event, definitely what I wanted to see and it’s really close to the world championship level so I am pretty stocked on what I see. Hopefully, I see a lot of the riders going into the world cup.
Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get to where you are and what was your path up till here?
I’ve been a professional kite boarder for 16 years and I competed in the world cup for 15 years. I started when I was 12 years old. I just followed my dreams and eventually it took me all over the world winning world championships. Right now I’m not doing competition anymore but I’m doing a lot of demos, coaching and trying to pass on my passion and dream to the next generation.
What got you to start playing?
At a young age, I was always very competitive in everything I do, mostly sports. I just wanted to win a world cup and be the best, that was my drive and eventually, I got to where I wanted to be.
What is it like turning your passion into something you do for a living?
Obviously, a lot of people would like to travel the world and do kiteboarding for a living and I was fortunate enough to be able to do it. But I have to be honest; I have bad days just like everybody else. Youri Zoon
When things don’t go the way I want them to be, the conditions are not how I want it to be, and sometimes it’s busy and stressful, or I mess up a competition but then I realize that I’m doing what I love so I just shake it off and go to the next day.
What are the most interesting spots you’ve surfed at?
Every place has something special, for example, Ras Sudr is completely different than when you go to El Gouna. I enjoy traveling a lot to these unique places.
How is it like meeting and competing with other athletes?
Obviously, in the competition everyone goes for the same reason, that’s to win. We can be very good friends but as soon as the green flag is up there’s only one thing you want.
After the heat whether you lose or you win you’re still friends after all. But on the water, it’s a battlefield. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re friends or not. Over the years I gained a lot of friends but I gained a lot of competitors as well.
Being a father, what do you want to teach your kid when he grows up, do you want him to be just like you or seek other interests?
I would support my son in whatever he does and obviously, I want him to follow in my footsteps. I will pass on my knowledge and give him every single opportunity that I have in my power but he has to choose his own path and follow his own dreams (hopefully it’s going to be kiteboarding).
Actually last week I flew with him for the first time with a little trainer kite and it was a pretty proud moment for me.
If you had one piece of advice to give him, what would it be?
Nothing really comes for free. You have to work hard and a lot for it, there will be many setbacks but they will eventually lead to where you want to be.
Knowing that this is a high-risk sport. How do you deal with the fear of failure?
There are literally thousands of people out there doing kiteboarding who have never had an accident, not even a small injury. And then there are people like me who are looking for the highest level and balancing on a thin line. Youri Zoon
Riding world cups is all about trying to reach the highest level that you possibly can and sometimes it goes wrong and that’s part of the sport but then you have to recover and come back stronger.
What differentiates one player from another?
I would say style. Always stick to your own style, to what you want to show. That’s how I always rode, with a lot of power, speed and it wasn’t always the smartest thing because I lost competitions because of it.
It would have been smarter to just collect points and win but it was not what I wanted to show and that’s what differentiates me from other riders so I’m happy I chose that style.
What’s the most effective way to learn tricks fast?
There’s no fast way to learn tricks, there’s only one way and that’s the hard way. A lot of training, a lot of hours and hard work on the water. There are many videos on the internet that you could play in slo-mo and watch back. And just go out there and train as much as you can.
What was the most challenging thing you’ve ever faced?
If you’re competing it’s hard to stay steady in all the events because every event has a different wind, different reach, different crowd and also where you are in the ranking. If you start the season and you’re at the bottom then you can only go up but if you start in the 1st place then you can only go down so there’s a lot more pressure. I like a bit of pressure it pushes me to perform better. Youri Zoon
Some of the riders would like to know, what’s your number one tip when doing an unhooked trick or a trick with a handle pass?
Keep the bar close, if you have your arm all the way out there it’s hard to reach but if you bring it closer, your passing rotation of the bar is quite easy. So always bring the bar towards the hip and your passing is going to be a lot easier.