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Exclusive Interview with Bruno Sroka

Accomplished French kitesurfer Bruno Sroka completed a 240 nautical mile solo crossing from France to Ireland last week. The expedition, miraculously finished in just one day, is one of many ambitious endurance kite challenges he has planned between now and 2015. Want to know drives kiteboarding athletes like Bruno to do what they do? Read on.

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What inspired you to pick this particular crossing from France to Ireland as a “challenge”?
The idea of the France-Ireland crossing was born after I thought of the New-York to Brest, France crossing. It’s going to be a long way to get from NY to Brest and it would be pity if, for one reason or another, I had to stop or even cancel my crossing. That is when I thought, “why not do a series of crossings that would allow me to test different things and prepare myself for the big crossing correctly?!” So France-Ireland became the first of a three year series. Also — I have been to Ireland many times and kitesurfed and surfed some really majestic spots. Every time I’ve been there, I’m never let down! It offers a big variety of access to watersports at different sporting levels. Ireland also has so many sailing myths, and crossing the Celtic sea felt very exciting to me. Last, but not least, I do love Ireland! I feel that Ireland and Brittany have so many similarities. Being in Ireland feels like being home!  

You are pioneering endurance kite challenges. Why did you chose endurance kiting over freestyle, racing or wakestyle riding?
I have been competing in different kitesurfing disciplines for over 14 years with great success: freestyle, waves, race, speed and slalom! I was the three time winner of the world cup in kite racing, 4 time European champion, 2004 Vice Champion in the waves, 4th at the World Slalom Championship in 2012, etc. I have tried all of it –  but deep in my heart, I was always looking for something adventurous. I started with the 2008 Cape Horn project, and I loved everything about it. In my mind, endurance sports require the spirit of a high performance athlete, and these projects are the perfect way to convey different kinds of messages to the world. It feels very true to my nature to push the limits and look beyond the horizon. 

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Do you have any role models?  Kiteboarders or adventurers who’ve inspired you?
Since I was a teenager, the most important and inspiring person for me has been Arnaud de Rosnay (a french windsurfing adventurer). His exploration of the world and his determination was something I admired a lot. He crossed the Bering straight in 1979 on a windsurfer. Even today, he remains my biggest idol. Also Robby Naish is a great and successful example who has made many people around the globe dream big.

How did you choose what kite and board to ride at the start of the crossing — and how did you plan for changes in conditions as you went? What preparations led to this decision?
Before making an decision before a crossing, I research and absorb all kinds of information about the location – particularly the weather conditions since every project relies on it. I find local contacts for information and always work with the best weather forecast websites. Finally, if needed, I consult with a meteorologist about weather conditions. For the France-Ireland crossing, I had a meteorologist that helped me read the wind and swell before and during the crossing. After all this research, I then decide what kind of equipment I will use — knowing that the right decision is often simply born of experience. During the France-Ireland crossing, for example, I left with 20-25 knots wind, but I knew that once I passed the Isles of Scilly, the breeze would get much lighter. So, I chose a kite size that was big for the first part of the crossing (knowing it would be hard physically) but felt prepared for the second part of the crossing when winds were light.

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What kind of support did you have en route during the crossing? Boats?  Helicopter?  Satellite phone?
The biggest support during any crossing is one’s team members, but I also had safety equipment such as a satellite phone, beacon, flash light, VHF and a boat that accompanied me. I was fully covered against sun, wind and salt. To keep me focused mentally, I had a waterproof iPod. At the beginning of the crossing, there was a helicopter too — mostly so that a photo and video crew could capture some images.

Did you ever stop and rest during the crossing? If so, what did that look like (did you board a support boat or simply sit in the water?), how long did you rest, and what went through your mind as you prepared to continue riding?
I stopped to rest for 2-3 mins every once in a while. Those little breaks were very needed in the last part of the crossing. I made it all the way to the Isles of Scilly with only one stop but the second part of the crossing was  much harder because the wind was getting very light. I approached the boat and had a sit on the side of it as I was changing boards, but I never boarded the boat. During the second part of the crossing, especially when we were 90 miles away and the wind was rapidly dying, it was hard to think about the 90 miles in front of me.  My body hurt and burned, my energy was drained. When I was about 50 miles away from the coast, I had to completely quit thinking about how much further I had to kite and how much my body hurt. Instead, I concentrated on what was directly in front of me and focused on not falling off the board, as each crash was making it harder to get back up, and it was taking a lot of energy.

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What was the most important equipment you had with you- aside from the usual kite, bar, harness, wetsuit and board — and why?
I would say that drink and food were the most important for this crossing.  My GPS also allowed me to maintain my estimated speed, and the waterproof iPod kept me dreaming and took my attention off the long hours.  I had a mask that was protecting my eyes and a VHF that was dedicated to communication between me and the boat. These are the tools that helped me continue physically and mentally.

This summer has given rise to a small number of endurance kite adventures/challenges around the world. Do you think this might be a trend in kiteboarding — long distance kite expeditions?
I think people are looking for more adventures in their lives. Today nearly every person can go and compete but not many of us can commit to the biggest challenge of all: challenging yourself. Not many of us really realize what it means to be surrounded by the eternity of the ocean, or feel how little and fragile you are in comparison to nature. I am glad that people are exploring and setting new goals, but I also worry that some might be attempting projects without really preparing for the difficulties or understanding how bad things can get when things go wrong.

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Did you have any unexpected gear failures on the on the crossing?
I checked and tested all of the gear used for the crossing multiple times so I would not have any surprises. At the very end, however, I did pass too close to the boat when I was already having a hard time coordinating my moves and reacting fast due to exhaustion, and I lightly touched which caused a bump in my board. The last part of the crossing I was using a foil because the wind had become very, very light (5 knots) and even with the race board I could not have sailed much further. I was lucky it happened at the end.

What was the most difficult moment –both physically and mentally — during the challenge?
Physically, the end was the hardest. I think I would have felt a bit better if the wind had been stronger during the second part of the crossing from Isles of Scilly to Cork. Mentally, it was also the end because it was requiring an enormous amount of concentration to be focus consistently just few meters in front of my board. When I tried to look sideways or up, I would crash. 25 miles from the coast was something that I thought would never end. The minutes turned into hours. When you are surrounded by such vastness on the ocean, you have nothing around you and it’s difficult to estimate speed. Sometimes, it feels as though you aren’t advancing at all.

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What’s the most important quality-personal attribute required for endurance kiting? Why?
There is a whole combination of personal attributes that are required for this kind of crossing, but if I had to choose one, it would be determination. Only a determined person will arrive to their final goal — no matter if there be a storm or quiet on the horizon. 

Photo credits: Bruno Sroka, Francois Van Malleghem and Deimantina. Expedition sponsors include: the Tourisme office of Ireland, Team Bay St. Brieuc, City of Saint Brieuc, FFVL, GoPro, Waterfi, iCom, NP, Julbo, TraceMyWay

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