Champion kitesurfer Lewis Crathern is fast becoming a household name. With a hoard of kitesurfing medals to his name, including the 2012 Redbull Megaloop and 2015 Canadian Open Big Air, not to mention his jump over Brighton pier back in 2010, the Brit is at the top of his sport.
However it was his crash during the 2016 RedBull ‘King Of The Air’ in Cape Town – of which left him in a medically induced coma – that made headlines this year. After returning from Egypt’s El Gouna Orascom Grand Slam, Crathern spoke to us about his love for gale force winds, bouncing back from injury and why Egypt is the ideal destination for kitesurfers.
[divider]How did you first get into Kitesurfing?
“I was brought up right on the beach in Worthing, West Sussex. I first noticed windsurfing on the beach when I was about 16 and soon after kitesurfing hit the shores of the UK. As a child I really loved anything where I could put my body into strange positions – diving boards, trampolining and that sort of thing. The appeal of kitesurfing was that you could jump really high; I was fascinated by that when I first saw it. It looked like the perfect sport to combine my aerial awareness into and I started at 18.”
Kite surfing must take you to some fantastic locations, which has been your favourite so far and why?
“I have seen some incredible beaches and interestingly I have come to love the complete opposite of what most people consider ‘paradise’. Warm, blue skies, palm trees, golden sand and turquoise ocean does not do it for me. My favourite sessions are in locations that have gale force storm winds. Throw in driving rain and black clouds and you have the most intense exciting challenge ever. My hometown of Worthing in the UK provides these conditions and I am blessed that this was my introduction to the sport.
“If I had to choose somewhere else in the world it would be Cape Town. The wind is very strong and the place has a feel of home to me. English is spoken, they drive on the left and even the geographical sense of position feels right ‘on the south of the country’ like back at home for me. Cape Town is my second home.”
You first sprung to fame when you jumped over Brighton pier in 2010. How and why did this come about?
“In 2009 I flew over Worthing Pier with my friend Jake Scrace so naturally in my mind I started to focus on the bigger more well known Palace Pier. Simply put, I believed in my lifetime I would see somebody go over it, I wanted that person to be me, I felt I had the skills to do it safely.
“As kitesurfers we often ride with the wind and travel great distances. This is known as a ‘downwinder’. On these downwinders you pass all sorts of places and landmarks and on many occasions I have passed the piers. When you jump you can clearly see over them and I guess that’s why I went for it. I knew I could jump twice as high at least and that is what you need, not just a small clearance.”
This year you also took part in the Kitesurfing Armada in Cape Town. Tell us a bit more about this.
“I have been a proud ambassador of the Kitesurfing Armada since the first event back in 2013. We started something special then and our idea of bringing the kitesurfing community together whilst raising money for charity and breaking a world record has spread fast. Now that the event has gone worldwide we chose Cape Town as an ideal location this year.
“415 Kitesurfers completed the ‘Worlds Largest Parade of Kitesurfers’, which involves as many of us as possible passing through a mile course. The real challenge is to launch this many kites but amazingly we did it in under 3 hours!
“We are back in the UK June 17th-19th in Hayling Island for the UK event hopefully we can take the record back home.”
You suffered a major accident a few months ago, what happened?
“Whilst competing at the 2016 Red Bull King Of The Air in Cape Town I landed hard and backwards which lead to an instant knock out. I swallowed water and was placed in an induced coma for a week so my lungs could recover and then I spent a further six days in hospital before I was released. It’s the biggest crash I have ever had and was quite an experience for me, my family and friends. I’m relieved that I am making a great recovery and there is no lasting effects.
“I’m very positive about the accident and really see it as a bit of bad luck. The King Of the Air is the most prestigious event in kitesurfing, 10,000 people come to watch riders go as big and extreme as possible. I made it to the semi finals and was riding so well it was a shame to go out like I did but I’ll be back next year.”
You have returned to training, has it been hard getting back?
“I have been kitesurfing already a few times and found that I felt good. I’m just quite stiff and there is a lot of work to be done to regain my flexibility and core strength. The biggest challenge I have is to mentally accept that I am not as fit as I was.
“I love to play football a lot and take part in all sorts of other activities and at the moment I can’t do them to my best. It will take time but in the long run I am grateful that I can make a full recovery.”
You were commentating at the El Gouna Orascom Kitesurfing Grand Slam. What did you think of the tournament and what makes Egypt such a great place for kitesurfing?
“The first round of the World Kite League was held in El Gouna recently. It was a real success with riders coming in from all around the world to compete. Egypt is ideal for kitesurfing due to the consistent warm weather and steady winds. When you have an event like this you need good wind statistics and El Gouna is up there with the best wind in Europe. It’s not just for pro’s either, Egypt offers a great environment for beginners and intermediates. As the sea depth is never to deep so riders feel comfortable.
“The Red Sea also is amazing for snorkeling and the towns are full of great people. Another reason why Egypt works so well as a kitesurfing destination is that it is very close to Europe, there is no need for lengthy flights and long travels. To me there is nothing worse than arriving and having hours of shuttle rides. El Gouna is just 25 minutes away from Hurghada Airport.”
Tell us a bit about your training regime. What does it take to stay at the top of your sport?
“I really believe to stay at a high level you need to be practicing and experiencing as many conditions as possible. It is like an airline pilot, the older you become the more flying hours you have and wiser your decisions become.
“The top riders are now 25-35 years old but things are different in the freestyle discipline. Younger riders that are very agile and quick to adapt are beginning to dominate that area of the sport. The ages of 16-22 are really the ones to watch.
“The gym has never been the place for me, I like more natural things like playing football and racquet sports for cardio, and swimming to keep flexible. The act of kitesurfing itself is like a real work out pulling and pushing the bar out and using every muscle in your body for optimum riding position. When you’re up in the sky it really works your stomach!
“I do watch what I eat and try to get something in me via the Nutri Bullet after each session (i.e Natural Pea Protein, Dates, Strawberry’s, Milk).”
Have you got any more competitions coming up soon? If so, how are you preparing for them?
“I will take part in the rest of the World Kite League big Air events this year which are scheduled for France, Morocco, Turkey & China. I follow the tour as well as commentate for the Freestyle discipline so I can usually arrive earlier to get some training in. This really helps me adapt to the conditions and be ready.”
You are also a coach, what advice would you give to someone who wants to take up kitesurfing?
“I remember watching the sport before I tried it and thinking “it just looks so amazing it must be so hard”, but actually it isn’t. I recommend a full weekend’s course with a certified kite school, you’ll be sure to get the bug.
“Don’t be put off if you don’t get going straight away, kitesurfing takes time. To start with you will feel the kite has complete control over you but in time it changes and you begin to dictate where you want it to be and when.
“Kitesurfing is a 99% kite flying sport. Without good kite skills you cannot ride the board. Put as much time as possible in to flying the kite. Even flying a small 2 line trainer kite (1-2 meters) is great practise and they are cheap to purchase (under £100).”
Photos: Lewis Cathern