In his quiet but pioneering way, NoÃ¨ Font has earned universal respect across the kiteboarding landscape. NoÃ¨ is both a creative force behind the video lens while also staking out progressive kiteboarding riding in those very same frames. The demanding role of camera operator and backend producer often derail athletic careers before they start, yet NoÃ¨ Font has remained an innovator of style both in his riding and in the films that he has produced. What strikes me the most about NoÃ¨ is the way his riding and creative work lands at a level of perfection, all while seemingly casual and relaxed. With an idiosyncratic perspective layered with retro textures and witty hints of mainstream criticism, NoÃ¨’s work routinely re-frames kiteboarding’s well-worn paths with novel camera work, progressive sequences and the highest standards of kiteboarding action.
In a quest to learn more about the man behind the camera, I catch NoÃ¨ on a paragliding trip during some downtime in Mexico City. He’s taking a breather with his dad, casually sending 50km cross-country paragliding missions, which to anyone who follows this crossover sport, 50km is no small feat. Paragliding relates to kiteboarding in so many ways, except that it is aviation; it happens in the sky, over hard land and the consequences are often fatal. I mentally mark another notch of respect in the NoÃ¨ file: impeccable freestyler, edgy filmmaker, accomplished aviator.
We often watch kite prodigies storm the scene as if they just learned last year, but it’s more often the case that pro-caliber riders have been training for much longer than we collectively acknowledge. NoÃ¨’s generation was coming into the threshold of kitable age just as the first rounds of commercial kiteboarding gear were being released into the market. When I type NoÃ¨’s hometown, Empuriabrava, into Search, rather than zeroing in on a town, the map pins in on a giant marina on the Mediterranean Sea tucked up on the northeast coast of Spain. As NoÃ¨ explains, his hometown was built in the 1970s from scratch. Basically, it was a swamp before a friend’s grandpa developed the biggest residential marina project in Europe, to which NoÃ¨ points out, it’s only the biggest if you don’t count Venice. As he describes it, every house had a street on one side and a canal on the other; it was mostly high-end, big bling second homeowners, but for the few local families that lived there year-round, there was no shortage of things to do. NoÃ¨ spent his marina-rat days messing around on friends’ boats, and ironically, this is where he first learned to surf. Long before wakesurfing became a popular upper bourgeoisie pastime, seven-year-old NoÃ¨ and his friends discovered shoulder-high waves behind the bloated wake of a fishing boat on the Mediterranean Sea.
One of the biggest influences in NoÃ¨’s early years is clearly his dad, a pilot by trade who used to fly over Spain’s seasonally packed beaches while pulling giant sky billboards. NoÃ¨ recalls his dad flying a lot for aerial photography, but that was in the days before drones. Font senior had an appetite for adventure, flying microlights and hang gliders, and when kiteboarding arrived, he operated a school with a friend for a couple of years. NoÃ¨ recalls learning to kite at the age of six or seven. “I can still remember the 5m Windtech; it was made by a Spanish paragliding company and the brand had a funny logo of a falling man.” His first kite was a convertible””a relic that existed between the abandonment of two lines and the innovation of four-line depower; you could roll up the pointed wingtips, secure them with zip ties and attach a second set of lines to get four lines and a negligible amount of depower. NoÃ¨’s dad built him a custom bar with an improved safety system, and since he was so small, he would swap his 21-meter lines to a shorter pair of 17m lines when the wind climbed over 16 knots.
When asked about the transition from a childhood filled with kiteboarding to his status today as a career-track kiteboarder, NoÃ¨ explains that it was a natural transition guided by a simple rule, “I’ve always done what I enjoyed doing.” Like a slippery slope, NoÃ¨ points out, “first you go to the Junior Nationals for fun, and all of a sudden, you are nine years old and standing at the top of a podium. Then the autopilot flips on, and the next step is the Europeans and the Junior Worlds; the path seems really obvious and natural when you are doing it for fun and getting better. You’re just doing your thing, competing and nothing else counts.” Despite his early climb through the European contest scene, these days, NoÃ¨ has earned revered status among his peers for his riding outside the confines of competition. While he has long abandoned the freestyle tours and has made a significant name for himself in the park riding scene and freestyle progression, NoÃ¨’s success is as much about his riding style as it is his creative kite-centric videography, which turns my questions toward his gravitational pull towards filmmaking.
Given the sophisticated textural layers of NoÃ¨’s video work, I had always assumed he grew up watching the kiteboarding classics, films like Elliot Leboe’s Ten4 and early Tronolone movies. But NoÃ¨’s dad wasn’t the kind of fanatical kiteboarder that obsessed over the latest DVDs and culture. Instead, NoÃ¨ was heavily influenced by a personalized YouTube diet, devouring every video from the UK’s Freeride Project featuring Aaron Hadlow, Tom Court, James Boulding and Sam Light. He watched everything from the North American scene to whatever Yuri and Pastor put out. As NoÃ¨ noted, “Kite videos were cool. I wanted to be like what I was seeing in the videos, and I wanted one of myself.” As an isolated young gun far from a major kiteboarding hub and without much money, NoÃ¨ asserts, “You can’t just hire someone to make a movie, so you do the next best thing; save up your money and buy a crappy camera, start filming and start learning how to edit on Moviemaker.” From the beginning, for NoÃ¨, it was not just about showcasing his riding; he was also driven to make videos that were interesting to watch. NoÃ¨ recalls his goal was never a conscious thought like, “I am going to get a camera to make videos and get sponsored.” Rather, he explains, “When you are young and having fun, nothing can stop you except for school and a rigid schedule,” so instead, he was guided by unconscious goals, like ”˜what would be fun today’ or ”˜this summer.’
I asked NoÃ¨ about his first video of note, and he pointed to his inaugural trip to Brazil’s Taiba lagoon. Growing up in a seasonal kiteboarding town, NoÃ¨ would progress during the summer’s three months of steady wind, and then winter would come and shut everything down. “As a kid watching all the videos, it was obvious that Brazil was where you needed to go. It was simple: people go to Brazil, get really good, make a video, and that is what you do.” For his first trip back in 2012, NoÃ¨ worked with a friend, trading off behind the camera, and from those days came a series of three videos that NoÃ¨ labored to cut separate edits that were more than just a bunch of tricks. Looking back at that video, NoÃ¨ notes, “Maybe you see it if you watch it, but maybe those videos hold the spark that started the rest of it.”
Often the athlete that has creative skills ends up spending more time behind the camera at the expense of their personal riding. Yet, in NoÃ¨’s case, he’s been prodigious in his video output while his riding progression has remained equally impressive. When asked, he attributes his progression to a simple fact. “I’ve always tried to do what I have enjoyed the most in the moment.” According to NoÃ¨, “Although kiting and filming are two completely different things, they are parallel in that I can justify both of them as productive activities that are working towards an objective.” After extended stints behind the camera, NoÃ¨ often finds inspiration to push himself on the water, and because the physical demands of freestyle riding can wreck your body, he can break that up with filming. If NoÃ¨ is having a rough day on the water or the conditions are bad, he doesn’t feel the need to beat his head against a wall to land a trick. Instead, he can pick up a camera and it can feel equally rewarding. “When you have two things that complement each other, you never feel guilty; either of these things works,” he says.
NoÃ¨ has been a creative force within the freestyle movement, always aiming to push kiteboarding in the direction of the original boardsports. Taking inspiration from surf, skateboarding and snowboarding, NoÃ¨’s contemporaries often find that the core boardsport disciplines within kiteboarding are underrepresented, or worse, diluted by excess coverage of what they consider ”˜average riding.’ NoÃ¨ is quick to remind me that we do this sport to have fun and that he doesn’t see the various disciplines as warring factions. Instead, he insists, “We all want the same thing, to be a bigger and better sport with more people,” yet NoÃ¨ would prefer the world be exposed to the best and most skilled versions of kiteboarding rather than low-grade viral videos and silly social media stunts.
With NoÃ¨’s creative work distributed through platforms that stamp every video with a statistical view count, he knows very well that AI algorithms pander to click bait material. In a commercial world where the obsession with micro-targeting rewards virality rather than creativity or authentic boardsport culture, NoÃ¨ laments, “There are a lot of people that deserve so much more credit than they get because they’re doing all the right things that matter, yet the world we live in won’t let them shine.” NoÃ¨ makes a fair argument for more contrast, more inclusivity among underrepresented groups and ultimately more niche riding and core boardsports culture in kiteboarding media.
When you begin deconstructing success or achievement, the big question is ”˜how does both an athlete and a creator handle motivation, self-criticism and the quest for perfection?’ Perfection, or the pursuit of something close to it, often comes from passion, and while by all appearances, NoÃ¨ takes a kicked-back approach to life, I suspect his success falls somewhere between effortless natural talent and insanely hard work. Reflecting on his workflow, NoÃ¨ admits, “I’m pretty hard on myself during the process; I always fixate on the frustrations in the filming or the editing, but then once it’s out there, a couple of months go by and I tend to see it with different eyes.” It’s as if all the little imperfections like missed hits and the moments that could have been logged but weren’t recorded weigh on the creative mind toiling in the trenches. Yet eventually, with some time and space, those limitations can be forgiven, and the filmmaker can judge the work by what it is rather than what it is not. It’s clearly a labor to get to the endpoint, and as NoÃ¨ points out, “self-criticism and learning is part of the process; hopefully ”˜you only trip on the same rock once.’”
When I ask about the tools and his approach to creative work, NoÃ¨ lists off a couple of cameras which include 8mm and 16mm film bodies but admits a general gravitation towards low-tech cameras that capture crap image quality. “I’m always trying to get my hands on anything that looks different, whether it’s a lens that has a weird flare, or maybe it looks like absolute shit, but you can always find a place for it in certain videos.” With the race towards high resolution having long surpassed the small screens that the average Joe views the bulk of their video content on, NoÃ¨ seems to suggest that endless super slow motion and insanely crisp shots can inject a monotony that takes away from the value of what is being watched. “Maybe for National Geographic you want to see animals nesting in 8K or whatever, but when you are capturing something funny or trying to get certain feelings across””you don’t need an expensive camera to tell a good story.” NoÃ¨ aims his sights on finding contrasts across his subjects by using music selection, camera handling and color-correction styles to amplify the visual experience. Speaking about the importance of ”˜leaving your mark,’ NoÃ¨ assaults the idea of originality in creative works; “No one invented anything,” he says, “Yet, you shouldn’t copy what others are doing; you can take a little bit from here and there and always make it your own. For me, that has always worked out.”
As the conversation winds down and we hang up, I’m left thinking about how NoÃ¨ has made an indelible mark on the freestyle and park disciplines, using his unique perspective to showcase and preserve the roots of boardsports culture within kiteboarding. Turning to the riders of tomorrow, I undoubtedly believe there will be a future generation inspired by NoÃ¨’s vision, and with any luck, the next crop of Fonts will continue to set the visual bar higher, even if social media remains hell-bent on lowering it.
This article was featured in our winter 2022 issue, Vol. 18, No. 4. To read more, click here.