ACADEMY INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS ZARFL
Spearheading the production of clips for the Duotone Academy App, Chris Zarfl has studied sports psychology, competed on the PWA Windsurf World Tour and competed in kite racing events at the PKRA in Podersdorf and also was a participant at the Snow Kite World Championships. The guys at Duotone caught up with him to chat about his latest work with the Duotone Academy.
Welcome Chris, tell us about your background in kitesurfing and windsurfing.
I did some of the competitions, but I was never really focused on competing. I love to learn new movements, new and different sports and I was always fascinated to learn new moves and new sports. When a new sport is coming up, that is the time when a lot of things are moving fast, for example now with wing foiling and this for me is the most fascinating time. This is the time when people bring input from a lot of sports, moves are changing and everything is developing very fast.
So I have jumped from freestyle windsurfing, which was very popular at the time I was doing it, to kiteboarding which came around and I became hooked on that. I then got a little bit into snowkiting and finally, now I have had the chance to try a little bit of wing foiling! I’m only learning the very basic first moves, but it’s a lot of fun.
This is not the first tutorial videos you have produced, tell us a little about what you have worked on and how did the Academy came about?
I was a super passionate windsurfer quite some time ago. In Austria, it’s not so easy, it’s not Maui! We have quite good conditions for freestyle windsurfing, but only for a short few months. I started to learn and train moves by watching videos and this was how I got in contact with video learning. Finally, I did my thesis on how to train with videos and also 3D animations and other media-based training methods, so I did my final university thesis on this topic, which was a virtual windsurf trainer for F2 (one of the first windsurf brands also from Boards and More). I went on to produce ski and snowboard academies and also sailing and paddleboard academies and the last one we have done and one of the most successful ones, is the Duotone Kiteboarding Academy.
Is this the first time it’s been an app on a mobile device?
Yes and no, we had an app with the ski academy where the users could download the videos, so they could use them offline, so that’s not really a brand new thing. What is really unique about the Duotone Academy App, is that you get feedback from the other users and Duotone team riders. You can upload your own moves into the app and you get feedback from the best riders in the world, Aaron Hadlow, Jeremie Tronet, Matchu Lopes, Airton Cozzolino, Sebastian Ribeiro and more. We have three or four world champions giving feedback in the academy. They help you to get your kitesurfing to the next level. I think that is a unique thing you can’t get anywhere else.
Tell us your background in teaching?
I started quite early, I was teaching kids skiing when I was 16 years old. I was skiing and ski racing. I then financed all my studies teaching windsurfing and skiing. After university, I got more into teaching procedures, how to teach correctly and were the fundamentals of teaching. I also focused on media-based teaching, which was my thesis and later turned into my first commercial project with F2. I also taught windsurfing and kitesurfing while I was at university.
When did you learn to kitesurf?
I think I started kitesurfing in Fuerteventura in 2001 in the South, Sotovento. I didn’t read the manual, it was a Wipika two line kite and I mounted the lines backwards and everything was a mess. I think I was maybe one of the first strapless riders, I didn’t have a twin tip, I just used my surfboard. It was a mess, I stopped for a few years and continued, I don’t remember when exactly, maybe 15 years ago and now I do half windsurfing and half my time on the water kitesurfing.
Sotovento for those who may not know is a beautiful location, but can be quite a challenging spot to learn to ride!
Yes! I would have had some kind of academy then! Something to show me the basics as I didn’t know anything at that time. I was the only kitesurfer there at the time and it was just trial and error. More error than anything else!
Let’s talk about body physics and movements. Do you find initiating rotations that the techniques carry across from sport to sport and what things are unique to kitesurfing?
What really makes kiteboarding unique is the kite movement is so extremely important. If you do the kite movement wrong, then there is no chance to get the other movement right. Or if you don’t move the kite well, it will be very hard to land the move. That is why in the academy we start all the clips with the explanation of the kite movement and then in the second part, we explain the body movement and the timing.
The timing also is very important. With regards to body physics, there are a lot of similarities in a lot of sports, like how to initiate the movement and how to start and stop your rotation for example. Kitesurfing has some really unique things, because of the wind and the kite, if you think about strapless kiteboarding, it’s the only sport maybe aside from surfing that you use the angle of the board into the wind so you don’t lose the board, that’s very unique to kitesurfing. There are a lot of examples like this. It’s always a big challenge to analyse a move, but I think a big thing that makes the academy successful is the team we have. We have the best kitesurfers in the world and the best instructors and teachers, Jeremie Tronet, myself as a sports scientist. I think this was also one of the biggest challenges too. You know that we all were agreeing on each point, but that’s what makes the level of quality on the Duotone App. It’s the work of not just one person, it’s the work of the best kitesurfers, the best teachers and a good experienced sports scientist.
It’s the ultimate combination. How important is it to progress with the stepping stones and to correctly learn the fundamentals before moving onto the next move or step?
I think the fundamentals are extremely important, that’s why we remind people at the beginning of the videos which fundamentals they should already know. I think it only makes sense to start to train a move if you know these fundamentals. I remember a ski instructor who coached the Austrian Ski team, which are the best skiers in the world. They went on a training camp and took everything right back to the beginning, from doing the wedge position (snow plough). Even though they were at the top of their game already this turned out to be a big success. They really improved their international rankings and techniques by going back to the fundamentals. I think understanding the fundamentals is really important.
As a judge on the world tour, I would often see incorrect techniques that would make riders struggle to land these tricks in conditions that might be more challenging. Do you think all riders should go back and relearn their fundamentals, if a move is proving difficult to land?
Yes, the fundamentals are super important, I think also going slowly is better and going slowly you improve your style. I think it’s better to do an easier trick stylish than a harder trick without any style. But that’s personal preference and depends what you want, but for sure training, the basic moves will help you progress faster. Also doing different disciplines and sports also helps, you are able to bring something into your riding. I think a variety of sports helps you improve.
Just going off something you touched on there with style, pro riders put their signature style onto a lot of moves to make them unique. Do the key elements remain the same when someone like Stefan Spiessberger performs an S-Mobe when compared with Aaron Hadlows technique? How does style come into play here?
I think the most important thing when you start to train a move is to focus on very few key elements. Then later on when you get better and can land it, then you can work on adding style. The key elements are something that Aaron and Stefan do the same.
It’s very complex and I think, will be the ongoing work over the next 30 years! I think technology is helping us in the future. My idea is to use sensors to help us to really find out the real key elements, because if you use sensors you can track the motion, and if you use artificial intelligence or machine learning then you can track the elements from, let’s say 100 riders and then you will know what are the real key elements. Right now, it’s not super scientific, we watch a few riders and talk about the experiences and feeling with the teachers and that’s how we reach the key elements. I think in the future this can be improved, but that’s quite far into the future. I think for the moment we have a really good set up with top-level riders and a good team.
I was just out with you on Union Island during the first Wing Foil Academy. This is a new sport and new project, how did that go?
I was super fascinated by how fast the sport has developed. I couldn’t believe that Stefan Spiessberger had only been riding, I think for three months and had already learnt so many moves! I think the sport has really big potential and I see it continuing to grow, especially in spots that don’t offer perfect conditions. It’s going to combine the benefits of kitesurfing and windsurfing. For example, if you have gusty winds on your local lake then you can wing there, with kitesurfing and windsurfing these conditions can be tricky but it’s ideal for winging. In my opinion, if the conditions are good I still prefer to kitesurf, windsurf or surf, but let’s see.
I guess it’s so being so early in the sport it must have been a challenge to figure out all the key elements?
What really makes the Wing Academy really challenging, was that winging is a totally new sport and we had to find new ways to teach. Also, the riders had totally different techniques too, so we analysed Stefan (Spiessberger), Olivia (Jenkins) and Jeremie (Tronet) to try to figure out which was going to be the most suitable technique for beginners or for the level which the move fits too. There were a lot of discussions, but I think in the end those are what bring the academy to another level and bring it to, I hope, what is the best teaching tools available.
When will the Wing Academy come online?
I think the plan is to release it in August ‘21, because there are some products which we won’t be able to show until then! So stay tuned for that! The new kite wing will be released quite soon over the next few weeks and months.
How was it to travel to Union Island at this time?
Yes, it was a lot of back and forth with the travelling, but finally, in the end, it was actually quite easy. We booked about 10 flights and had about 9 cancelled! But in the end, we got there and we got back. On the return journey, we had to take a private plane, which was not that cheap and was an old plane, but we managed to come home and brought a lot of good footage home with us for the Academy.
You’ve chosen to shoot the Academy each year at Union Island, why is this location so perfect for the shoot?
I think Union Island is the best place to shoot the Academy, we have Jeremie Tronet there, he is a very creative kitesurfer, he is a very good and experienced videographer and photographer, so if we should break some equipment he has the gear. He always has super creative ideas and he has everything you need to make a great kite trip. He has many boats, knows the spots and conditions, you can’t imagine a better spot.
This article first appeared on Duotone’s website here.