With two world titles to his name already, 16-year-old Greek freestyle sensation Lennart Neubauer is widely tipped as a name to watch. His ambitions are simple, become world champion! From our May 2021 edition of Windsurf Magazine Lennart tells us more about his windsurfing life.
WORDS – LENNART NEUBAUER
PHOTOS – Alex Grymanis / Red Bull Content Pool
I am 16 years old and was born in Germany, but when I was one my mum and I moved over to the beautiful island of Naxos (Greece) without knowing that this island is one of the best windsurfing spots in the world. The consistent Meltemi winds, crystal clear blue waters and the good vibes at the beach make this place ideal for learning and progressing.
My story started around one of my mum’s birthdays, when the owner of the local surf club gave her six beginner lessons as a present, but as she was busy working she decided to let me take the lessons instead. Since I was really light at the time, the instructors advised me to wait one more year! I was so excited; I couldn’t wait to start as every day I was going to the beach and watching the windsurfers cruise around! One year later, when I was 10, I finally started my first lessons and I was addicted right away, sailing up to six hours a day!
Now windsurfing means everything to me, the feeling of freedom is unique in our sport! You are connected to nature directly, you breathe in the fresh air, and most importantly you feel alive. Windsurfing has taught me a lot that helps me in my everyday life! The people you meet, the different cultures and the adventures with friends are just indescribable. Be grateful for everything you have is the biggest lesson I have learnt so far.
One of the most memorable windsurfing experiences I have had so far was the photo shoot for Starboard in Australia a few years ago. I flew there alone at the age of 14 years old and I knew that the guys would take care of me. The first session I had at Margaret River was still to this day the best of my life; the feeling of just charging down the line was unbelievable. Just watching five–metre waves breaking, the noise that the wave makes, the tension on the water, the people shouting and screaming when they see you on a big wave are all incredible sensations. So I genuinely believe this was the best windsurfing experience of my life so far. For the trip to Australia everything was well planned from the beginning. I was a little bit nervous of all the flying because I had never done such a long journey alone at such a young age, but he trip taught me a lot of things. For example I had to learn to think ahead after being used to my mum doing most things for me and make sure I had food for breakfast and lunch etc. The guys were really friendly and it was really cool to hang out together after a long day shooting. At the time I felt like I was treated as an equal like everybody else, which I really liked! You had to organise your own things and be there at the right time for the perfect shots, which I think we managed. At the end of the day we would watch some of the footage back, that was also really nice since it was the first time I saw myself riding big waves!
Of course, things don’t always go to plan. A few months after I started windsurfing I dared myself to go closer to a reef in Naxos where big waves were breaking over. At the time I could not waterstart. I fell in the water and the waves kept sucking me further out into the ocean, I was really in a panic since there was nobody around to help me. After about 25 minutes I managed to pull my rig out of the water and sail away. When I arrived at the beach I almost started crying! That was also one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me. In a situation like this I feel it’s important to stay calm.
It is crucial to train hard off the water as well. When the gyms are open, I train six days a week, but since they are closed due to COVID-19, I have been using a suspension trainer which helps me a ton with staying fit, strong and injury free on the water. Cycling helps me a lot too with cardio. On the water I try to stay focussed as I have a clear goal in my mind that I want to achieve as soon as possible! I would love to be world champion in freestyle. I still think that this is my most motivating factor overall in training.
My top tip is to bring variation into the game! I always try new moves on the water and the feeling of learning something new is unbeatable. I can tell you from experience that not every session will be perfect; some will be great, some not so good, that is completely normal. Try to always enjoy what you’re doing on the water whatever it is. Never give up on something you really want to achieve, whether it is a new trick, new gear you want to get yourself, or to just improve your all-round windsurfing. It is also an idea to have someone to look up to, to inspire your style.
For inspiration in freestyle windsurfing I like the style and mindset of Steven Van Broeckhoven, and in waves it is Philip Köster. These are the riders I always have in mind when I’m on the water. Steven is my idol because of his powerful and effortless style. Also, he has got a great vibe when sailing together on the water, like in Tarifa where we often meet during winter training.
In the waves Philip Köster is the sailor I look up to because on land he is really calm. But when he hits the water he switches everything around and shows what he is capable of doing, not to mention the height he gets on his jumps and the smooth landings afterwards. There is a lot of up and coming young riders; Takumi Moriya is a 14-year-old freestyler from Japan doing really well. He is learning new moves every day and he reminds me a little bit of myself in the sense he sails in not very crowded places but rather prefers to sail and practice his moves mostly alone.
Outside of the water I have been inspired by Muhammad Ali, what he has done for the world is insane!
The equipment I currently use for freestyle windsurfing is the 87 and 93 litre Ignite from Starboard and freestyle sails from Severne from 4.0 to 5.2. My weight is 71 kg and height is 1.86 m. I have been on Starboard and Severne pretty much from when I started sailing. I feel the gear suits me very well since the combination of a stable five batten freestyle sail and a short and compact freestyle board are key for performance in freestyle windsurfing. What is very important to me as well is the communication with the brand, especially in these difficult times. I would definitely love to get involved in the design of gear as well since I really enjoy helping with the progress of equipment. Although the gear is in my opinion the best on the market, there are always things that can be improved.
To be sponsored by Red Bull is a dream come true, when I was small and used to look at magazines and videos a lot, what they all had in common was that the big–name riders were sponsored by Red Bull. For me it’s mainly a motivation knowing that such a big brand believes in me, it makes me believe in myself even more, and I can’t wait for the projects we will do together in the years to come. When it comes to managing my business affairs, my mum helps with the biggest part of that. That is a huge assistance since there are just so many emails to answer and doing that alone would be pretty much impossible for me on top of my schoolwork and training. I really want to thank her for everything she does and has done for me so far.
I would say I am an extremely competitive person! I hate losing, so I’m trying to do my best in all the competitions I enter. My dream is to be world champion at freestyle and maybe in the waves too! I believe our sport has not been pushed 100% to the limit yet and I would like to change that. My plan is simple, train hard, eat well and most importantly enjoy what I am doing.
Of course studying is important also, as one day my peak performance in windsurfing will slowly go down. For the moment I am studying 1.5 hours before school and waking up at 5:30 in the morning, all to enable me to train on the water after school. The after-school sessions I am usually joined by a very good friend of mine, Manolis Orfanos, who is a good freestyler too and we push each other to the limit every time we are on the water.
When I finish school, I would like to start studying sports science or sports marketing management, which are two things that really interest me a lot since they have a lot to do with being a professional windsurfer. To be honest I am going to give it my best at becoming a pro sailor. But as we all know the biggest fear of every athlete is injury, so even if you’re extra careful, do all your workouts and warm-ups, there is always a chance that in an extreme sport like windsurfing something goes wrong. For now, there is no back up plan as windsurfing has become the biggest part of my life!
Unfortunately the windsurfing scene over here is not nearly as big as it could be, which is a little bit sad. On the opposite side of the coin, in the summer my island is full of tourists and people from all over the world who love sailing over here. Most of the time I also train with Stam Promponas, who is a multiple Greek freestyle champion too.
I windsurf most of the time at the lagoon close to the town of Naxos. My house is just seven minutes bike ride away from there and luckily I am able to store my gear at the Flissvos Centre year-round which is a huge help since I don’t have a driving licence yet! North wind is the most common wind direction we have on the island, and since the lagoon offers freestyle and wave conditions, it is where I sail most of the time.
Still in winter we do have quite a lot of south wind, which is blocked at the lagoon. That is when we pack the car and head south to where there are about three or four spots which we check all the time. Summer temperatures can rise up to 38° C., which feels like you’re sailing in the Caribbean, but on the other hand winters can be quite cold too, with temperatures dropping to about 2° C. on the cooler days.
In summer we usually use a 2 mm shorty, more for protection then for the weather! And in winter usually a 5/4 mm wetsuit with a hood and some gloves too. Winds in the summer range from between 10 knots to 35 knots, which is pretty much ideal for foiling, freestyling, slalom and wave sailing. In the winter it is usually either no wind or over 30 knots.
North winds however are always very consistent in comparison to the south winds that we have! In the summer the most common direction is northwest, and in winter we enjoy the very strong northeast winds. In summer we usually go sailing in the morning then we take a break from about 12 to 3 o’clock and then we go sailing after three until sunset again. These are the best times to hit the water over here.
We have two major windsurfing schools in Naxos which both are in the lagoon, one is Flisvos Sport Club and the other is Laguna Beach Park. If you want to bring your own kit with you it is easiest to take the ferry from Athens or Santorini. From Athens the boat takes about six hours to Naxos and from Santorini just 2.5 hours. You can fly from Athens over to Naxos in 30 minutes, but you can’t bring gear as the airport is just a small national airport with small planes that don’t accept big board bags.
The thing I love about freestyle is that you can do it everywhere and in a wide variety of winds, whether it is pumping on your 5.2, or a huge shaka in 3.6 stormy conditions! Freestyle is always loads of fun. Learning freestyle at the beginning is extremely hard and sometimes a bit frustrating but you will get there eventually.
Something else I find interesting lately is foil freestyle. It enables you to go on the water in winds as light as 10 knots and do so many freestyle tricks, whereas I usually need about 20 knots to do full power freestyle on my normal windsurfing gear. I believe therefore that many events with light winds will be saved by the foil and I can’t wait to improve on it.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to travel for the last year due to COVID-19, but I feel like I have improved a lot and I would love to show that again in competition, so fingers crossed everything will go well when we can travel and compete again. A big goal for me is to compete on the men’s wave tour as well; my focus is mostly on freestyle, but jumping around and riding waves is amazing too. I feel like when I’m training freestyle, I’m training wave at the same time because a lot of moves are almost the same as in freestyle.
I have a pretty clear vision in my mind of my ultimate goal and what I want to do – become world champion! That said, I like to always have fun on the water, smile, enjoy nature and be happy with what I have. Another big goal of mine is to encourage young kids from Naxos to try windsurfing. I know they will love it! It would be nice to inspire a new generation here because we have such awesome conditions!