An interview to the kitesurf world record holder Francisco Lufinha of his experience kitesurfing on deep water and long distances from Azores to Portugal
In 2013 you did around 500 km kitesurfing from Porto to all the South of Portugal. In 2014 you did 300 km between Islands. In 2015 nearly 900 km from Lisbon to Madeira. This is insane! But then two years after you decide to go from Azores to Portugal! WTF!! You’re competing against yourself beating your world record marks! How you do it to maintain this constant pushing?
All of those 4 challenges were part of my project “Kitesurf Odyssey”, in which I wanted to connect the whole Portuguese territory kitesurfing. In order to give me motivation and to get sponsors, I had to define challenges that would push more and more. The only exception was in 2014, because it was an important connection to the most southern islands of Portugal – the savage islands, in Madeira Archipelago. This challenge was “only” 300 km, but it was a very tough upwind fight against wind and a big swell.
I am a sailor since my parents took me to a sailboat when I was 2 weeks old, so I love being at sea and I get very comfortable in open ocean without spotting land. Starting to do these kite challenges offshore made sense for me, so I tried and it worked very well so far.
How was it with the wind forecast? Knots rate? Was as expected?
Forecasts at open ocean are never very accurate. Also you have to plan in advance, so you cannot decide to start on the actual day, you need to decide 2-3 days before and at that time the forecast is even less accurate.
I always look for more than 20knots of wind, coming between side and back.
Can you give some tips how to kite on deep water and big distances?
To make the crossings easier. But I always end up having some hours with very few wind or sometimes no wind at all. For example in the Azores > Portugal mainland challenge we stayed 4 days waiting for wind. Nothing.
You need to prepare very well. A support boat is mandatory when you lose sight of land. Problem is that motor boats that go fast, don’t go far. Engines can also fail. So you need to prepare a whole expedition, not only kitesurfing but the whole thing to make sure you and your team get back safe and sound.
Things that you must have always are gps, online gps tracker or EPIRB, vhf radio to call ships if needed, lots of water due to dehydration, specific food that you test before with a nutritionist, several kites/boards and a good/tough team.
If you get into trouble at sea, where nobody sees you the chances of being rescued without the proper communication and positioning systems are very low. And the time that takes for a navy boat to reach you and spot you in the middle of the Atlantic can be very high.
Besides all the safety and planning (plan from A to D at least), you need to be in shape to handle many hours of kitesurfing. That’s where my physiotherapist comes in with specific training and exercises that I must do whilst kitesurfing during the actual challenges to keep the muscles operational.
One thing that is crucial for these challenges to count is that I am always on the water/board. So indeed, when the wind dies I stay on the board like a surfer waiting for the waves. It is the worst, because the muscles start to compress, you get cold and you start to lose your head (motivation goes away, uncertainty shows up).
Yes of course! Before continuing, would like to get back to the point of no wind from Azores to Portugal. Hope you didn’t need to stay in the water 😨
How many days did it take? The whole Odyssey
In the Azores, I was with the german kitesurfer Anke Brandt – we did it in a relay due to such long distance – and we stayed those 4 days changing shifts with the boat stopped and always one on the board.
The whole challenge took 10 days.
It was the most stressful because the wind changed completely from the forecast and was pushing us south towards Africa, and up till the day before arriving we had no idea if we could reach mainland Portugal.
On this challenge we had to take a sailing yacht as a support boat, because the motor boat could not handle such a long distance.
How was a normal day of training? Which were your conditions? Breath holding, cardio,… What is necessary to be a world record holder?
A strong and motivated mind is what you need. The rest comes with resilience. The more you work on a challenge, the more motivation you will raise to get it done. The minimum time I prepare for a challenge like these is 1 year. In the azores it took me two.
The physical training normally is 1h running + 1h bike + 1h swimming + kitesurfing + 1h stretching muscles. Problem is time to do all of that, plus getting the logistics, sponsoring, media coverage, equipment testing, etc…
It is like running a company, where you need a good team. Actually, I started my own company due to the Kitesurf Odyssey project.
How was the team made? How many members? Equipment?
It was different each year, but in the last one – Azores – we were 15
9 at sea, 7 on the boat + 2 kitesurfers changing on the water and 6 in land to assure the departure, arrival, communications, media, etc,…
We used several kites, from size 7 to 14 from Flysurfer, “Stoke” model (which I am selling in case any reader is interested!), with a hydrofoil from levitaz, directional and race boards. We had 5 boards and 10 kites.
Water clothing was from Zhik, the Australian brand
What is looking a sponsor from an athlete? Or in other way, What is needed for extreme sport lover to be sponsored?
First you need to get proof that you are up for the challenge. Do something without sponsors before, record it, get in the news. Invest in yourself. Then, gather all those media and news and starting arranging meetings with all the marketing directors of companies that share the same values as you and your challenges. It is the worst part for the motivation because you get “No” 99% of the times. You must use the resilience to find the 1%!
Great advice Francisco!
It always seems that motivation is the key to achieve goals of people like you
Before going to other things on the interview I would like you to share one anecdote of the Kitesurf Odyssey project. Do you remember any?
There are always cool moments, and we laugh a lot, but I don’t know an anecdote about it…
You have studied engineering and you’re also involved in many projects, some in tourism related. Could you please tell us about it?
Yes, I have a master degree in Industrial Engineering and Management that helps me a lot in developing new projects, logistics and problem solving.
I have founded my own company LUFINHA – check www.lufinha.pt – from which I organise the extreme challenges, sports events (like www.waterkings.pt), produce documentaries (you can check the latest one from the Azores available on Vimeo on Demand), do motivational talks in companies and also charter a 45ft catamaran in Portugal.
I’ve seen some of your documentaries they are incredible
Where can people see them?
https://www.lufinha.pt/documentaries you can share this link with readers, they will enjoy I guess. That page has links for all of them.
Which is your connection with the Azores? What can be done in Azores? Costs, food, sleep places, spots,…
I have sailed around the Azores a few times, and kitesurfed in all the islands. It is not a place for kitesurfing because of the huge cliffs and gusty/shifty winds. I was completing my kitesurfing goal of connecting the whole Portuguese territory, that is why I kitesurfed there, but it was tough I confess. The best things to do in the Azores are: canyoning in huge waterfalls (specially in Flores island and São Jorge); going out on a boat to watch whales, dolphins, sharks, mantas and snorkel/scuba; climb up to mount Pico (highest peak in Portugal) in Pico island and watch the amazing view of the central group islands. The further you go into the West the more natural and wild the islands will be. In the East there is more “civilisation” which in the Azores, in my opinion, you want to avoid. You can check 3 videos that I made about the Azores, one per group of islands, which show some of the nicest activities that you can find there: http://www.outdoorstories.co/azores
Your favourite spots to kitesurf in the world?
I have to say that most of my kite travels were to Brazil when I was training freestyle back in 2005s. The Northeast Brazil has the most consistent wind and temperatures that I have found so far. However, nowadays I am more into waves and mixing kite with good snorkeling, so my favourite way of travelling is by chartering a sailing catamaran in different places to kitesurf with a group. Mozambique, Mauritius, Sumbawa/Indo and the Grenadines were some cool places where I have travelled to. The place that I love most is of course Portugal. We have lots of swell coming in and different beaches to kite or surf foil. Now I am exploring foil surfing in ocean breaks near Lisbon.
Other sports that you practice?
My thing now is foil surfing. I am using a RRD SH Flight foil with a surf board and I love being towed by a small dinghy into big boats waves where I can enjoy a cool surf. Also surfing big swell out in the ocean with the foil is what I will focus this winter. I also love sailing, as it is my background, as well as wakeboarding and windsurfing.
Ok, it was really interesting all the tips that you have shared. Last thing before finishing the interview. Where can people find you? Do you have any future projects? Some crazy new challenge 😅? Would like to promote something more or share something to the community? Any advice?
Advice for people wanting to kitesurf is don’t do it by yourself. Get at least the first lessons in a good school, on a constant wind day. It will save you a lot of pain, gear and time. It is an easy sport, but a dangerous one also.
I am now planning to take my challenges to a whole new level, to ultimately go around the world. In order to achieve that I am developing a new way to travel by kite for several days in a row without any support boat.