This story printed in January 2021 in Vol. 17, No. 3
When Maxime Chabloz originally joined the Next Generation kiteboarding camp at the age of 13, he landed in Tarifa for the first time, relatively confident with a mixed bag of tricks featuring double S-bends, raleys and raleys to blind. At that time, these were fairly advanced moves for a 13-year-old hailing from a small mountain town in the heart of Switzerland, but right off the bat, Maxime noticed two glaring deficiencies. Unlike the other kids, he didn’t know the names of his technical maneuvers, and all of the other kids seemed to be able to do these tricks in both directions. Maxime was shocked—it never occurred to him that tricks could be done to the left, as well as to his right.
Having graduated from F-One’s early Next Generation camps, Maxime has been on a tear, and over the past few years, has steadily climbed the leaderboard of the GKA Freestyle World Tour. However, he is not just a master of technical handlepass riding; this year, Maxime competed in foilboarding, big air and wingsurfing events as well as jumpstarted a big mountain extreme skiing career. Having won the first and only tour stop of the 2020 kiteboarding freestyle season, Maxime is reaching the height of his career. Yet, despite his precision technicality for freestyle, he’s a dangerous wildcard of natural talent, unwavering control and targeted focus in just about any discipline he steps into.
Raised in the alpine playground of the Swiss Alps, Maxime got an early start with action sports. Born in Engelberg, an iconic mountain town surrounded by high altitude lakes and ample ski resorts, Maxime started skiing at the age of two and consequently spent much of his youth driven by the rigors and discipline of competitive alpine skiing. Maxime was only seven when his dad switched from windsurfing to kiting, but Maxime followed suit and quickly became obsessed with the sport too. Maxime recalls traveling with his dad to Bordeaux on the west coast of France, driving 45 minutes on rutted roads to remote beaches where he would help his father inflate gear, rig up lines and spend hours flying trainer kites on the beach. “Back then, gear wasn’t that great for kids, and it was hard to get into kiting because there were currents, the wind was often too strong or would die unpredictably.” When Maxime was 10, he finally got his chance to take a kite onto the water. Having played with a trainer kite on the beach for years, he landed his first backroll before learning how to stay upwind.
While deeply entrenched in the junior alpine racing scene, kiteboarding quickly became Maxime’s passion. Notably, he recalls wanting to be a world champion from an early age. The sport didn’t matter so much—for him, the focus was the drive of competition and the glory of winning. In this respect, kiting has never felt like a hobby to Maxime; from the beginning, he has wanted to be the best kiter in the world. Over the next few years, he built some solid kiteboarding skills at his home lake, and a friend in his dad’s kiteboarding network set him up with the Swiss importer for F-One, who granted him a partial equipment sponsorship at the age of 11. Two years later, in 2014, Maxime joined his first F-One Next Generation camp in Tarifa, where under the coaching of Etienne L’Hote, a group of aspiring young kiteboarders learned the fundamentals of freestyle competition. Having opened up Maxime’s world to the basics of competition and executing tricks in both directions, at the age of 13, Maxime entered his first competition, the French Junior European Championships in Saint-Pierre-la-Mer. For the next two years, bounded by the constraints of school, Maxime’s focus remained on alpine ski racing in the winter with intermittent summer afternoon kite sessions on the crystal blue waters of Lake Uri by his house, or the occasional long weekend to Leucate with his dad. The highlight of his kiteboarding year continued to be the week-long training camp with F-One’s Next Generation team. Maxime was getting significantly less water time than the other kids at the camp, so in 2015 he dropped conventional schooling and spent three months in Brazil, where he began focusing on his goals.
Coming from a background in ski racing, Maxime was accustomed to physical training sessions five times a week and the guided training format of coaching. While kiteboarding represented a well-needed change from the confines of alpine racing, Maxime structured his time in Brazil for competitive success and connected with Fabio Ingrosso, one of kiteboarding’s first professional tour coaches. “I needed a babysitter,” recalls Maxime. “It’s really hard to be so young, to travel and stay disciplined on training, and not just go for fun.” Looking back, Maxime was probably one of the first of his generation to have a kiteboarding coach on tour, yet for him, he was so used to the structure that coaching provided, it just seemed normal. Over time, others would join in the training, like Italy’s Gianmaria Coccoluto, but for the most part, Fabio remained focused on Maxime and the young up and coming female world champion, Mikaili Sol.
For most kiteboarding athletes, the Brazilian training season is an informal routine of hanging out at the lagoon and socializing before and after casual riding sessions. While there’s progression in this open environment, it doesn’t reflect the mental, temporal and physical pressures of competition. With Fabio, Maxime acknowledges that he and Mika would train in ways that they would never do independently. For instance, they would go to the lagoon with a set start time for a heat. From the moment they arrived, they’d have to watch the clock, moving through a set routine of rigging and mental preparations before their heat window and then perform tricks within the format of a regular contest. The three would then score each session, tearing apart everything from the trick list, order of tricks and the exhausting details of execution. As Maxime explains, “Going to the lagoon with friends, riding a bit and crashing a million times—that’s not training—that’s just going to a lagoon to kite.” Typically in the pre-season, Maxime gears his training regimen to improvisation, learning new tricks and integrating new grabs because there’s more time for creative riding with more repetition, but in the run-up to competitions, his training sessions are shorter with lower reps. “Before a competition, I’ll do five set tricks, and if I don’t land them on the first try, then that means I’m not ready for the comp.” In his experience, if he spends another three hours on the water crashing, that’s not going to help him perform in the contest. Leading up to his first event win of this year at the Ilha Do Guajiru competition in Brazil, Maxime’s training sessions typically lasted 15 to 20 minutes, and everyone seemed to notice. “People were looking at me weird, saying ‘he isn’t training.’” Contrary to appearances, Maxime was training, teaching himself to perform flawless heats in which he nailed every trick on the first try.
Having steadily climbed the GKA freestyle rankings over the last few years, Maxime’s investment in kiteboarding has finally put him in contention for the world championship seat. Yet, during the years when skiing took a backseat to kiteboarding, he began to miss the world of competitive winter sports. In 2019, his final year of eligibility for the Freeride Junior World Championships, Maxime saw an opportunity to get back into big mountain skiing and signed up for a series of qualifying events where he racked up enough podium finishes to get an invitation to the Junior World Championship event in Kappl, Austria. Having skipped one qualifier event due to a scheduled training session in Dakhla, Maxime came close to getting knocked out of contention, but with some luck, his points were sufficient to keep his seat. While many of his fellow competitors knew his name from kiteboarding, pretty much out of nowhere, Maxime surpassed the top junior skiers in the world with a winning run that showcased big, high-speed mountain carves, 360 airs, massive cliff-drops and perfectly stomped landings that claimed him the winning run. Having added skiing to his list of kiteboarding junior world titles, Maxime fully intends to continue his freeride skiing career. With his earlier years split between his two passions, the freeride ski season now fits nicely into his kiteboarding schedule, and he’s achieved a level in both sports that doesn’t force him to choose. Maxime’s success has as much to do with his drive and discipline as it does his natural talent. Scrolling through his Instagram, you’ll see Maxime is wired for success in a wide array of boardsports.
Beyond skiing and freestyle kiteboarding, Maxime has displayed an instinctive talent for wingfoiling, foilsurfing and foilkiting. With the launch of the new GKA SuperFoil division this fall, Maxime entered the freeride foil and wing contests, taking the podium in the wingfoil division and squaring off head to head in a kitefoil semi-final with ‘foil Jedi’, Fred Hope. Maxime’s freestyle approach to foiling turned heads, landing a perfectly executed foil handlepass that sowed temporary doubt in Fred’s eventual climb to the win. According to friend, competitor and filmmaker, Noe Font, Maxime deserves extra credit for his quick rise to the top of competitive kiteboarding. “He is probably one of the most multi-talented guys I know; obviously, he’s very good at kiting and skiing (having gained junior world champion titles at both) and everything else he does.” Whether it’s playing tennis, skating or even surfing, Noe gives Maxime credit for picking these things up super quick despite coming from a landlocked country like Switzerland. “It’s almost annoying how many things he does at such a high level.”
With the pandemic putting a halt to last year’s freestyle tour schedule, Maxime started the 2020 competition season with a win at the GKA Distance Battle, a virtual video contest with pre-filmed heats from each athlete’s home waters. With extremely fluid tricks, Maxime performed perfect rotations with solid amplitude and super clean landings that gave him the win over Adeuri Corniel. Shortly after the Distance Battle, the GKA announced its first real event in Ilha do Guajiru, Brazil, putting Maxime on track towards his ultimate goal, the Freestyle World Title.
With a candid assessment of the playing field, Maxime acknowledges that changes in the judging format have turned in his favor. “Last year, it was hard for me to compete because it was all about power—the biggest backside 7 would get the points. You didn’t need to be technical, you just needed power, and I’ve never been the most powerful rider on the water.” The old scoring favored athletes like Gianmaria Coccoluto, who took aim at speed, height and extra rotations, which also translated to knee-snapping landings. “We were just destroying ourselves,” says Maxime, who fears that having to go that big for a championship makes for short competitive careers. This year’s shift in judging rewards more technical riding and that has played to Maxime’s advantage. Instead of going extra big or adding an extra rotation, grabs and more precision in technical moves are encouraged. Maxime acknowledges the groundbreaking days when Carlos Mario landed a triple handlepass but celebrates that the focus on spinning to win has finally passed. “These days, people would rather see a KGB 7 with a stylish grab than a backside 10,”says Maxime as this is just another logical step in the freestyle evolution. Maxime also welcomes the other modifications to the freestyle format, like the hybrid big air component that shifts the scoring to big air tricks rather than handlepass freestyle when the wind goes over a certain threshold. “Some of the riders don’t want to learn big air tricks, but my opinion is that it’s good for the spectators and good for the sport.”
Despite Maxime’s hyper-focus and success in the freestyle category, he’s proven to be a very talented contender in all windsport disciplines. Part of that he attributes to his career-long sponsor F-One, which makes high-quality performance equipment in every category, from freestyle to surf, foil and now wingsurfing. “Without F-One, I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing.” Maxime credits his early success to the F-One Next Generation camp because it was the perfect format for a 13-year-old to get a leg up into the competition world. From day one, F-One has continuously supported Maxime’s rise with advanced products, amazing travel opportunities and above all else, a family vibe that prizes tight relationships and loyalty.
The goal for this next year is to win the World Championship, but when asked about his biggest obstacle, the confidence in his Swiss accent takes a pause, and he admits the challenge is his mental strength over a longer season. Maxime acknowledges that a shorter season would play to his favor, but a more extended season allows for setbacks and missteps against close rivals that could unwind his mental confidence. “I told myself at the end of last season that I just want to ride my best and have fun competing.” Part of that is taking a strategic and measured approach to training and mixing it up as much as possible. Indeed, Maxime is mixing up 2021 with the freeskiing season underway and a quiver of surfboards, wings and foilboards in his kiteboarding travel bags. From all appearances, it seems Maxime has all the tools to keep himself motivated, inspired and at the top of his game.