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2015 PWA Freestyle world champion Dieter Van der Eyken lets us know some of the secrets of his success.

WORDS – Dieter Van der Eyken // PHOTOS – John Carter / pwaworldtour.com


I think I always try to be the best version of myself, in work or competing, I think it is just a natural path to follow. I am a bit of a perfectionist in that. The best version of myself is not looking at what the other guys are doing; it is more about what I am doing and where I want to go with my sailing. There is no real goal for me at being the best at one specific thing; it is more about being the best overall sailor for myself. That suits me. The key to this is as much water time as possible. The more you can sail then the better you will get. The year I won, I trained the least but spent the most time on the water. I was focussing on waves more at the time and that gave me different perspectives and a different attitude in my jumping manoeuvres in freestyle that might have made the difference for me. Above all else, water time is the most important I would say.


I am quite mathematical in the way I approach things. I always looked at every sailor’s score sheet quite a lot, not just my own. And I did this during a competition. I like to have a feeling of what the judges are looking for. I don’t focus on what my next opponent did in the heat before, but I just get a general idea. I think a lot of the young guys coming on tour forget to go and check their sheets every heat. Whether I win or lose I will go and check the score sheets and I learned a lot out of that. Remko de Weerd in my first year told me to do this on tour. That can give you a lot of self-motivation and self-belief as well.


I don’t look at different sports to be very honest. Windsurfing is my sole passion. I watch a bit of basketball, but I don’t have any particular players I follow. In slalom I think Maciek Rutkowski is quite an inspiration and is a very all-round sailor. He does a lot of training and also I like his podcast. He found his own style of training and he is always energetic. I think Antoine Albeau is pretty impressive to still be at the top and to keep going so long. In the past I always had an admiration for Kauli Seadi in the way he approached windsurfing and how he was to people and how energetic he was. He wasn’t a gym person, but he took everything very seriously. They are the main windsurfers I looked up to.


My high point is easy. That was winning the Fuerteventura PWA freestyle event in 2015 after two double eliminations. I think my low was the year before. I finished 5th on the world tour in 2014, but I was so focussed on staying in the top five that I really didn’t enjoy it. At the end of 2014 if it had been possible I would have taken a year off. I was kind of burned out. I felt I needed to reset from competing, but luckily I didn’t. I did not enjoy training freestyle anymore at that time, so at the end of 2014 I decided to join the wave tour as well and shift my priorities a bit. In 2015 I had more focus on waves than in freestyle. Obviously I still trained freestyle and spent a lot of time on the water, but I needed something new to get that energy and motivation back. When it was all freestyle I was getting burned out. The waves were something refreshing for me. I know if I go snowboarding for instance, I need one day on the skis to break it up and get that diversity.


I think I am pretty good at turning my nerves off during a competition. I have my routine and that helps me. If the wind suddenly picks up out of nowhere I can’t do my normal thing and that is when I usually mess up. I don’t like having to go straight away into a strong heat without a warm up routine. I like to have a twenty-minute warm up, then get on the beach and disconnect from everyone and focus on myself. If I don’t have that warm up I usually don’t do so well. I think stress wise I am better than most. But still sometimes it happens.


I do a bit more training off the water than I did when I was younger, but I am not a gym person. I will go mountain biking if it is not windy. The main thing for me to keep fit is just time on the water. I need to do a bit more off the water training these days as I start to feel my body at some points is getting weaker.


Every day on the water is different for me. Windsurfing is the ultimate freedom to disconnect from everything. Now living in Tenerife I have the luxury to be very close to the ocean. I literally can close my laptop and fifteen minutes later I am on the water. Nobody can disturb me out there. I can be at one with the elements flying through a back loop away from emails and all that stuff. That is something that never gets old. Windsurfing is a unique feeling that can’t be replaced by anything else. You can’t get that sensation in many other sports. Every time I sail it is different. Every gust is different and every piece of chop or wave is different. You are just playing with the elements. Even when it is cold it does not matter that much because it is something that can make you feel really alive.


It is hard for me to disconnect from windsurfing. It is always there. I try at least one week a year to do something non-windsurf related. That is usually snowboarding which is still an action sport. I still check the forecast every day of that trip so I guess I don’t really get away. I think windsurfing professionals are kind of lucky in a way that we can chase forecasts and live this lifestyle. Sometimes you feel like you have to sail the whole time, but then on the other side there is nothing else that you would rather do. I don’t think you can disconnect totally because you might miss a storm or a big swell.


I enjoy those situations where the pressure is on and I am sailing mainly against myself. For me sailing a heat, especially in freestyle, you have everything in your own hands, which is the strongest mental battle you can have. If you crash a few times, you need to stay calm and control yourself well under pressure. I think I am quite good at that. I just enjoy it. That motivates me to go and train. You need to be consistent in freestyle and it is a good way to measure yourself. In the last few years we didn’t have any contests to fuel our motivation, but when a contest comes along it gets you back in the game.


In a way my ‘Rocky’ moment was in Fuerteventura in the year I won the title. I had lost in the quarter final against Antony Ruenes. I think he is the guy I hate losing to most. We have had so many face-offs. After that double elimination I was second, which helped me come back and win the event. I think that was my best comeback. In waves one time I lost very narrowly against Thomas Traversa in the single elimination. He was defending world champion at the time, but then I came back to 9th in the double elimination. They are my two highlights of coming back against the odds.


I would love to make the podium in waves in Tenerife. That is high on my list. It is my home spot and I would love to do well there. Fuerteventura was always an event I wanted to win as I don’t think somewhere like Bonaire really suits my style.


I think I have a bit of both. I have put a lot of hard work in off the water and also into understanding the system and believing in myself. When I won the title I have never been so confident in my life as then. I had to sail against Kiri Thode to go through to face Amado to win the event. During that contest I learned that if I sailed my own style of heat I could beat anyone. I was scoring higher than anyone and after my warm up I came out of the water. My dad was there to tell me I had Kiri in the next heat. I just said to him, “Don’t worry Dad, I am going to win!” I have never got back to that level of confidence again. I think it was a mixture of talent and belief and hard work.


That year was different for me. On the tour we always stay in the hotel in Fuerteventura together. When you get back to eat, all the talk is about the competition. The year I won was the first year I was in my van. I had travelled with my van to the Canary Islands and I was staying in the van. I would see my competitors only during the day. In the evening I would go out to dinner with my parents and my girlfriend at the time. I could completely disconnect. That gave me enough energy to go through five days of intense competition. That was a key difference for me. I think more guys need to find their space and their rhythm. You have to accept that when the contest is on, you need maybe to keep some distance from your competitors. Even if it is your best friend. If you are sleeping in the same room as the guy you are competing against for a world title, I think that is the wrong thing to do. You need to be as far as possible from him and then party on the last night whether you have won or lost. During those five days you have to keep your distance because you need to keep your emotions to the side.


I eat what I like and I drink a beer in the evening. There is no special diet for me. I do try to wake up at a certain time every day in an event so I am awake two hours before the skippers meeting. I don’t do diets and I don’t think I am a person who can follow one other.


Winning! Money is a very nice extra, but for me winning was the important thing. Especially doing the best I could in an event and being the best version of myself. That is something you never forget. I have that title for life. The trophy is still standing in my parent’s house for now until I find my own house in Tenerife, but the money is all gone. I still remember winning the title like it was yesterday. That day you can never take away from me.


I would like to be on a 4.8m nicely powered up, with around hip high stunt ramps, wind from the left and some space between the ramps. Pretty much like Coronations in Western Australia. They are the conditions that bring windsurfing to the next level. Maybe I would not win in those conditions because I would most likely win in 4.4m overpowered winds with massive chop, like dead onshore Sylt for example. I would still love to compete at Coronations one day though.


I think my strength is that I am calculated. I am not the type of guys that is one heat amazing, the next heat not. I am calculated and consistent. Consistency is probably the key to my success. Maybe the top guys can beat me, but in general if someone sails against me they probably need to raise their level a bit above what they can do. Most sailors know I am going to put down a good heat and fill up my score cards. Maybe that puts more pressure on my opponent. They know I will always hit a certain score. I don’t get the highest score, but I am solid and up in the 8’s. In a way it’s saying I will probably never score a 9, but I will always be a solid 8. So some guys might score a 9 one heat and then a 7, whereas I will always be around an 8. Consistency is key!


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