Continuing our “Mark of a champion series’ from our November / December issue of Windsurf Magazine, we roll out the big gun from Italy, slalom maestro Matteo Iachino. The 2016 PWA slalom world champion is a constant fixture on podiums and narrowly missed out on the 2019 title after a thrilling battle with Pierre Mortefon in the final race of the year in New Caledonia. Read on as Matteo gives us an insight into his success.
Photos: John Carter and PWA/Carter
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To be the best racer is very important to me. Windsurfing is my life; it is what I have been committed to for more than a decade. I just give my all to this sport. Winning is my main focus. To be my best when it comes to competition I work as hard as I can. I like to think nobody can train harder than me. Doing that makes me feel safer and that I have done everything possible. I know how hard I have worked, and I know my potential. I know if I train properly, I can be at the top.
For me it is not about excellence, more just the achieving the best I can. If you excel, then it means it all came together. I think all the top athletes in all sports give their best. We were talking the other night about talent. I think winning is a mix of talent and then how hard you work to use it. Your mindset is also important. If you want to excel in something you just need to put the hours in and have a certain amount of natural talent to work with too!
When I won the European IFCA in 2012, this showed me that I could actually win an international event, which I had never achieved before. I really remember, as if it were yesterday, my first PWA victory in Korea in 2015 when I won an elimination. In the same year I won a PWA event in Costa Brava. Both times I was crying because there was so much emotion associated with winning. I knew right there that I wanted more of that. I wanted to experience more feelings like that. I guess those two PWA wins were defining moments.
I keep making decisions in my life. Either to travel somewhere or not. Taking part in an event or not. Lately I opened my centre in Tenerife – www.surfhubtenerife.com . At the end of the day your decisions just bring you where you are, I don’t know if they are good or bad. It is kind of philosophical what I am saying, but I really believe that good or bad moments make the person you are. If you are happy about who you are and what you do, then there are not really any bad decisions. Last year I almost broke my foot doing an aerial in Margaret River, I could have lost the season. Maybe that was my bad decision! On the other hand, I had time to think while I was recovering. I had a bad event in France, but that was because of the weather and not my foot. I came back strong in the end. Hopefully all of my decisions have been good ones!
I try to have fun every day of my life. I am living the life I was dreaming of when I was a kid. Partly by luck, and partly by hard work. I feel balanced now! Some days I don’t feel it; but I still enjoy every day and do what I love. Right now, for me, life balance is being a professional athlete. I have good people around me and good company let’s say. Life balance is not something you go after; it just comes when you go after your goals. When you achieve some of them and wake up feeling content maybe you have it. Life balance is important but not something you go after I think.
My motivation comes from thinking about winning. I want to win. I want to be the best I can be. I want to be the best on the water. This desire pushes me all the time. When I go to the gym or I go to the water, this is what I am thinking. If I didn’t have this push, then I would not go to the gym or the water so much! In my head I just keep thinking about victory at the end of the tunnel. I want to win. This is the goal I have in my mind all of the time. This pushes me like nothing else.
Stress has been a tough one for me to deal with. It is much harder to train the mind than the body. The body is a machine in the end. If you have a good training programme, like I have with my coach, have a good plan, eat well, and do everything properly, the body will respond to all of this. The stress of competition at our level in our sport is actually pretty tough because you are on standby on the beach and you don’t know when you are going to compete. You are travelling, and nobody is helping you because you are alone a lot of the time. The stress gets so high, that to deal with it you need experience. So as far as stress goes, I never really learned how to deal with it, I just got more experienced at having it. Now I can deal with it a lot better than before.
HEAT OF THE MOMENT
I like the feeling. I like being under pressure and when competition is in the heat of the moment. The point of it is that it makes me feel alive. Even if the moment is bad stress, afterwards I have great memories of it. Probably the highlights of my life have been those moments under pressure. I didn’t necessarily enjoy them at the time, but I felt alive. Some of those moments changed my life so much. In the end I suppose love the pressure.
THE TOP LEVEL
The level of adrenaline you gain on a racecourse during a world cup final in high winds is unmatched. So when you are in Fuerteventura with your sail full power fighting with the top guys the feeling is insane. I guess this is a similar feeling to what all top athletes get in their sports. Slalom gives you so much speed and adrenaline it is unreal. From the outside people may not have the same perception of it. But from the racecourse this feeling is really hardcore. I love it.
Being a sportsman, you are both an athlete and a person. So, at the end of the day what you learn from your career on the water, you can bring to normal life. It works the opposite way around too. What you learn in life you can bring to the water, to your career and to the events. I think my strength is that I perform under pressure. I actually sail better during competitions than out of them. I get focussed, I get my mindset switched on, I sleep better, and everything comes together easier when I am competing. This comes naturally. I was a swimmer when I was young and always performed better when I was at a race than in training. I am also kind of steady mentally and don’t have too many highs and lows. This helps me to train and keep focus and a direction. I see many guys that are super talented, but they struggle to keep the same direction for more than two weeks. I can keep it for years. I guess this brought me to where I am now as well.
I try to steer clear of my main rivals and I don’t really like spending time with them. It is something that comes naturally, it is not something that you decide. I have an incredible respect for all of them, especially Antoine, who is older and has won so many times. We can only learn from him. During the event I try not to share too much. After the event we all talk, and it is no problem.
I think this has a lot to do with who is with you in that moment. You need to be with somebody that talks about something different than the competitions. We need to escape from slalom sailing and racing talk. It is fun and cool to talk about windsurfing, but it is really important to switch off. It is also important to do other activities as well. Do a tourist day, go surfing or something else. Like this you switch off your mind and you come back stronger and more focussed.
WINNING OR MONEY
If you put it this way, I would answer money, but I think at the end of the day if I get a lot of money from a sponsor and I don’t win, I get so pissed that in the end I would want the best gear to win with.
I eat a lot! I always loved eating anyway. I am Italian! Maybe it’s because of that, I don’t know. I eat a lot at breakfast. I had an eating plan for a couple of years, but it was really tough to keep up with it on the road. We are in different locations all the time where finding the right food is not always possible. I try to integrate proteins mainly when I train a lot. I don’t want to lose muscle, that is the main goal. From all the years’ experience I know more or less what to eat. I don’t have a special power food. I don’t have any special diets either.
I think I have a mix of natural talent combined with hard work. Every rider has his own perception of this. Talent can be a natural thing, but it can also grow with the right mindset. If you work harder than the other guys you can improve. So, what is talent in the end? I think you need a certain amount of talent to excel in the sport, otherwise everybody could be there if they train hard enough. This shows where we have two or three guys fighting for the title every year. That is talent, I guess. If you have talent without the hard work, you don’t go anywhere. In the end you will go further if you work hard without talent than if you have talent and you don’t work! If you mix the two then you win! If you want to win you need both I think.
I don’t run much anymore because of my knees and potential problems. I prefer to go mountain biking for fitness. I go to the gym two or three times a week. On the water it depends. In the winter in Tenerife I sail a lot, nearly every day on the water. We probably sail four hours a day; seven hours in a wetsuit with the breaks. The days we don’t train we still go wave sailing or we do something different.
I think the year my friend Alberto Menegatti died was tough for all of us. That year I trained harder than ever and I won my first final and event. Last year when I got injured, I was alone thinking about my foot and knew I had to work hard. I knew I was not going to be at the top of my performance. I started the season with a 26th in France. It was not easy, but I just switched off my mind and knuckled down. I went to Korea and I won the event. I guess that was another good moment for me. At every competition you can have a bad moment and the way to cope with it is to switch off and go back and do it right for the next race.
WORDS TO LIVE BY
I would say, “Go for it!” At the end of the day you just need to try and if you want something you just have to go for it. If it is training, holidays or competition I go for it! Things have to be done, you do it and you do your best! If you go for it all the time you will probably excel!