Windsurf caught up with Kai Katchadourian who is safely at home in Finland with his family biding his time until the lockdown is over and it is safe to travel. Kai tells us what he has been up to at home and also mulls over his favourite conditions and what the future beholds!
Photos: John Carter and courtesy of Kai Katchadourian
WS: Have you been at home in Finland?
KK: I have been in Finland since late January where I am normally waiting for Cabo Verde to fire and stayed put during the first opportunity as was waiting for something a little more substantial and then everything shut down abruptly. I have been here for much longer during a time of year I am normally in Maui, Cabo Verde or California.
WS: How have you been staying fit and keeping mentally positive?
KK: It has been a great time with my family to be together – more so than ever! I have been taking full advantage of our Summer home out in the Archipelago in Finland which is where I learned how to windsurf back in small kid time. I’ve been on the water when we’ve gotten storms and fronts, it’s very cold about 5C water or less! I have been regularly getting out there, I was out at 5:30 in the morning the other day during a morning wind blast. Over here, the days are getting much longer now and that was a beautiful session free riding around our bay watching the sunrise. I will be getting my new Simmer Style Foil kit soon and then will be able to session in nearly any condition.
I have also been fishing, flying my remote-control planes, clearing and cleaning the property, chopping wood for the sauna, playing with the family, and also playing my electric drums a fair bit. I have been working on lots of projects, sending files to my friends, even to Mark Angulo, whom I’ve had some great long talks with. Lots of time looking up at the planets through a telescope on these clear Northern Nights. From here you can see The Rings of Saturn, Jupiter and its Moons, the whole Galaxy out front my house, is amazing. The bird watching is also world class. Soon it will not get dark any longer and we will have these ridiculously long days – around 21 hours of daylight!
WS: Has the lockdown been much stricter in Finland than other countries?
KK: Finland has shown a bit of a reactionary policy. At first it did not seem strict at all, then when Italy’s situation got serious quickly the government went into action cancelling schools and closing the borders, even closing some local borders in the vicinity where I live in which was a very strong move. Finland will re-open their schools in the middle of May for the last two weeks which has been met with mixed reviews.
WS: Are you allowed to sail or surf?
KK: Yes, I allow myself to sail and surf whenever the conditions allow – my beach is open 24/7 for locals only which includes myself and that is it. I have got some occasionally solid spots out here – slabs which magnify the power of wind swell as we’re right on the outskirts in the Gulf of Finland. I have not heard of any major restrictions at the public beaches but keep in mind this is Finland and the season for the most part is just starting now as it’s getting warm enough. They are banning groups of 10 or more people, so in a place like Helsinki people need to be spread out.
WS: Do you hope to travel to places like Maui again this season?
KK: I could have gone to Maui in the Spring! I am a dual citizen, yet deep down felt that it was my responsibility not to go. I just didn’t have the heart. I really didn’t want to leave my family during this situation either. I understand wholeheartedly people being grateful for being able to use the ocean there and I missed some very good sessions of course but nothing that I haven’t had before in my 33 years on Island. I didn’t end up going to Maui because I care about the people there too much! I would have quarantined and done everything I needed to do, but it just didn’t feel Pono (right). I hope everyone missed me as much as I missed them. I will return under the right circumstances; it is my part time home.
WS: Why do you love windsurfing?
KK: Windsurfing is freedom defined, you have these breakthroughs in technique and equipment, even at my age, that open up the boundaries of the sport continuously. There are so many aspects branching off over the years and Windsurfing remains at the core along with Surfing. Being here at my summer home in Finland really makes it hit home as to where windsurfing can take you, effortlessly and safely cruising around all these little islands, wind swell slab spots that I can surf, and windsurf at. One just feels like so connected to the elements anywhere I’m doing it but especially here.
It continues to be my passion more so than ever it’s more and more rewarding and the equipment is getting better continuously which just makes it improve all the more – it’s getting better with age. That is a sound statement for a sport that’s been around as long as windsurfing has. Riding for Simmer Style my whole career, I have very much to be thankful for and appreciate those who are supporting the brand so much during these challenging times.
WS: Do you prefer competition or free sailing?
KK: At this stage can safely tell you that free sailing is preferred more! I was never all about competition defining a career trajectory anyways. I have had some great success in the contests in which to be proud of. It seems that competing was a very necessary aspect earlier on in terms of proving market value to sponsors and finding a place amongst the order. What set my career apart a bit more was prioritizing being in the best conditions and helping pioneer some very historical locations which is clearly still a priority.
WS: What are your favourite conditions and why?
KK: My favourite conditions? Any amount of wind that can make a tree move. It all comes down to the wind, and how much of it is blowing in a given direction. Of course, it is an intricate equation! If allowed to blow uninterrupted the wind will begin to generate swell, wind swell at first and then at 10 second intervals it becomes groundswell. Groundswells are my absolute favourite conditions to Windsurf in. I will cherish any opportunity to ride Pe’ahi during a 20 second period swell watching the majesty of Jaws open the portal to another dimension entirely. It is there on Maui where there have been several transcendent experiences.
The spots I ride in California like Waddell and Davenport can provide golden opportunities to harvest long period South Swells which arrive from hostile storms all the way in the Southern Hemisphere, and I am able to track their arrival a week more in advance. These long-distance trains of swell arrive to the various points and beach breaks which lay square in the path of the Northern California Wind Machine, some of the steadiest wind there is. It is an amazing and familiar combination of elements which represents the first environment I ventured out to with real Waves.
I live to witness the absolute miracle of sacred Cape Verdian Waves such as Ali Baba or Ponta Preta. When firing on all cylinders, well-groomed lines of sheer perfection reel down the jagged, shallow points. These types of sessions have provided me with lifetime memories which regularly keep me awake at night recalling certain waves in which a certain approach was taken for distances and that defy comprehension.
WS: What do you think will be the new normal after lockdown restrictions ease?
KK: Things are going to change, again. Things changed after 911 and they are going to change now in terms of travel specifically. Just like you cannot travel with liquids etc now we’re looking at a situation where you’re probably going to need to be certified Covid free to be able to get on an airplane. It may or may not be enough. Any fragile ecosystem, like Maui or anywhere really, should be respected and protected to the utmost in terms of preserving the nature of the place and protecting the vulnerability of its population. We don’t need cheaper tourism, we need sustainable levels of freedom to travel and a means to honour the elements of what makes each place so special, instead of cheapening it or even endangering it.
WS: Tell us about any highlights of the past winter big wave season?
KK: Maui in January had many fine moments; however, the highlight so far has to be a session at my local slab called Snaggers here in Finland. It was a firing Winter storm and I was out for about two hours when I noticed the horizon went black. I caught one last wave and was running thru the forest on my way home when a full-blown blizzard caught me, crazy snow and wind, trees falling the whole survivor experience. Was so relieved to make it back to my cosy cabin. What an incredible feeling of adventure, that was unlike anything I’d ever imagined!
WS: Can you give us three words to live by!
KK: Never Give Up!!!