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Nicolas Goyard won the PWA 2021 slalom rankings after a convincing win in Israel and one of the most talked about victories in recent years. John Carter caught up with the 2019 PWA foil world champion to learn more about his life and windsurfing. 

WORDS: Nicolas Goyard  // PHOTOS: Carter / pwaworldtour.com, J. Houyvet / Phantom Windsurfing. 


I began foiling five or six years ago. Straight away I loved it because I come from a sailing background. I was raised on a boat and did a lot of Optimist sailing when I was young, then windsurfing on Techno and RS:X boards.
I have always loved going upwind and downwind. The foil is just so quick at every angle to the wind. I can go anywhere I want on my foil. I also love pushing the limits of this new discipline further and further. I love all sides of foiling, the high wind, the light wind and I just want to be more efficient in every area. I have a bit of a technical background, so I am concentrating on improving every single detail I can to make me more efficient on the water. You must understand how it all works to push the sport further. This is a really technical sport and you have to understand the physics behind it and how it is supposed to be working to make it work the best way possible.  


My plan was not necessarily to foil all the time in the Israel PWA event. I was not sure I could race on the foil in that strength of wind. I knew I could foil in high winds, but I did not know I could foil so efficiently in that wind. I found some new settings right before the event that were working really well, so that helped me be more confident to foil against the fins in stronger winds. I felt comfortable so decided to give it a try. I knew against 7.8m it could be close, but I never expected to be so far ahead as I was on the first few days. In straight-line speed we were all really close, and with the gusty and shifty winds I was able to keep up in the straights, but at the gybes I was making 20-30 to even 50 metres of an advantage. Then it was done! On the foil if you have the same speed as the fins, with the advantage you have on the gybes…it is over! We are used to seeing different strategies in racing on the fin at the gybe, but with the foil there are other opportunities that you can have. It is hard to make the same gybe radius on a foil as a fin; you can’t go as tight. But as you have so much ability to point upwind afterwards, even if you have a wide gybe, you can still overtake and have good speed. You can point upwind almost with the same speed as going downwind. This is super efficient in any conditions. Even after the first day the job was done for me. I am just trying to push the limits of foiling further for the sport. I am happy to be winning, but even more satisfied to have shown the world that this is an option to go for and maybe we can take it even further. I was aware that this event was very tricky conditions for the fin. We must keep this in mind. It was gusty and shifty conditions, so that played into my hands. Some reaches were really upwind and so on the foil it was super easy. I felt efficient all the time. But maybe in perfect fin conditions I think it would have been much closer. I don’t even know if I would have been in the winners’ finals. We just have to see how it all works and where we can take the foils.  

In the races I used the 7.0m and 550 wing just for once race on the second day because it was still a bit light. Otherwise, I was on my 6.0m and my smaller wing, the 430 Phantom. It is a smaller sail compared to a lot of the slalom guys. I feel like the sail can create drag. As soon as you are on the foil you don’t need so much power to keep on foiling and to be efficient. At the gybes, the small sail allows you to be more agile and to be fighting and closer to the fins. I have my GPS watch on to keep a record of how fast I was going. On the first day in the last race, I hit 35 knots on the foil at top speed. Matteo passed me on the first reach. I think he was going 37 knots on the fin. The fin is still faster when you have to push hard for it. As soon as it is long distance or upwind though, the foil is so much easier to keep foiling at speed. On the fin you have to push, push, push. It is harder physically.   


I was born in France, but my parents were living on a boat and they sailed it to New Caledonia when I was really young; we also lived in Tahiti for four years. I lived on the boat until I was 18, until I came to France to study. I have been living in France now for around seven years. When I was young, we lived on the water. I learnt to sail and windsurf when I was very young. When we moved to New Caledonia my brother Thomas was the first to start windsurfing, while I was sailing Optimist dinghies. When I was eleven, I started windsurfing as well. I got into RS:X and Techno racing as I felt they were quite complimentary to each other. As a sailor you get to know how the wind works, what the clouds are doing and when the next gust is hitting. This all helps in racing, understanding the wind and the weather. Sailing is a super complete sport. I love sailing more than I love windsurfing. I love windsurfing for the feeling you get from it, but I am just a fan of sailing in general, any sort of sailing! When foiling came along it was a way for me to combine all my passion for windsurfing and sailing. You are flying, you are fast on the water and you can be very tactical with foil racing. Tacks are efficient and foil gybing is easy, so if you have a big downwind leg you can foil gybe ten times if you want. Foiling opens up all the opportunities to be strategic when you race, which I love! You can use the wind and do so many things on the foil it is amazing. These things are not possible on the fin, or at least hardly possible. Foiling is just opening up a new way of sailing. 


Fin windsurfing does not really appeal to me much anymore. I like the feeling of windsurfing with a fin. But I feel so much more efficient on the foil. As a sailor, I like to be on the fin and fast on the reaches, but when you want to point a bit or the wind drops, you feel the foil is so much more complete. It makes it frustrating to be on the fin anymore. I want to point but I can’t! Foil is just opening doors that were not possible before. That is what I love about foil.   


To be honest, I don’t feel I am such a competitive person. I am competitive just against myself. I want to improve myself. If at the same time it allows me to improve the sport, I am super happy about it. I don’t care about beating the others! I just want to do the best I possibly can. If I finish in 30th and I gave my all, I am still super happy. If I know I improved and tried my best I am happy. This is the philosophy I want to have in everything I am doing. This is the direction I want to go. I feel like I need to go to the next Olympics. I think that will be the best way to push me further and find new ways of improving. It will also give me another view of the sport. I think the iQFoil and the PWA are not opposites, they are complimentary. I think we must be able to work with both. So, I am not so competitive. I like to win, everyone likes this. If I don’t win it is ok! I just want to improve myself.  

I don’t really feel I have had bad moments. I have had some bad races like everyone. But as long as you learn from your mistakes it is not bad anymore. You just grow from your mistakes. I don’t feel like there are any really bad things that have happened in my career.


A few months ago I was almost only training on the water. I was just sailing on my wind foil or having fun on the wing or slalom sailing. I was just doing the sports I enjoy and that are complimentary to my foil sailing. I was not doing any gym at all. That was my way of doing it. But a few months ago, I felt there was some improvement to be made by being a bit fitter and stronger. I have tried to increase my cardio fitness by working in the gym. If I have to average my week’s training I would say I have three or four cardio sessions a week and then I probably sail five or six times a week! When I say sailing, it is not only windsurfing, it can also be wing foiling or anything else depending on the conditions. I am on the water five or six times a week.  


If I had to give only one tip, I would say try your settings. Don’t be afraid to lose a good setting. You will never lose it. You can always come back to a good setting if you don’t like the new one. You have to experiment to find out if there are better settings out there. How can you know if you can go faster if you never try? You have to try and be open-minded about new settings. You need to enjoy your sailing and then be able to experiment to find out for yourself what you can improve. 


During a couple of races in Israel I did feel a bit of pressure. I felt like my legs were shaking a bit before the green flag. Then when I was in the race, I did not think about it anymore. In the finals I felt relaxed. I knew it was important but I was just enjoying my sailing. There was one final they cancelled because the fins could not make the finishing line, but I guess it was unfair so I had to do it again. I was a bit upset, but just went out and won again! In general, if I give my best then that is fine. Sometimes I feel stressed and it is hard to deal with pressure. In the first race at Israel I had nothing to lose and it was just about doing my best. Of course there can be pressure if the points are tight, but that is natural. The first day of Israel I felt no pressure, I was just enjoying my sailing and doing my best.  


The thing that makes me the happiest is improving. I like to understand what I am doing and making sure I try to improve. Once I reach a certain point with my settings, I am continually looking to find out what else I can do to reach that extra performance. I read a lot of scientific articles and do a lot of research to find out what can make me go faster. Increasing my knowledge makes me happy.  


I have been riding for Phantom for two years now. I am used to the equipment now and love the way we all work together. I have been riding Phantom foils since 2019, but I just changed to Phantom sails and boards also. I am now designing the boards for Phantom, which is cool. I can improve my own equipment this way. This is a great opportunity for me to be able to do this. The sails are amazing also and the whole combination together is working really well. We have been working with engineers to make improvements to the wings etc. and deciding how we are going to evolve in the sport. I am on the team with Alex Cousin (the 2019 PWA foil vice world champion) and my brother Thomas and we all discuss the direction we want to go together. It is teamwork. It is all an extremely rewarding process.  

I think it is an advantage for sure that we make our boards, sails and foils to all work together. I feel also all the components are great on their own merits so you could use our equipment combined with other brands. But all together we have it all tuned the best we can and it is working really well. If you put a Phantom sail on another board, or Phantom board with another sail, they will still be efficient because they are great products. Alex Udin, the boss of Phantom, does a lot of the work on the sails and he has done an amazing job and I feel I am not too bad on the designs of the boards. I feel like I am quite efficient at designing, so all together we are constantly improving the product. I also have my brother by my side and Alex Cousin, with whom it is super easy to discuss any issues and share ideas. We all work well together. Both my brother and I have engineering backgrounds, so we understand each other. It is demanding, but rewarding and efficient. 


I think one of the big advantages with Phantom is the fact myself and my brother both have engineering backgrounds. Alex Udin also has an engineering mindset. It is easy for us to calculate and understand the numbers behind the theory. We can match the feelings we have on the water with the theory background that we have. This makes it much more efficient to improve the foils and sails. We know where to put the centre of pressure of the sail and we understand all the theory. We can also make improvements with the glide of the gear and all the other aspects to go faster. I think now this is my biggest advantage over the other riders and that is why I am ahead. To date, I feel like I am a step ahead of all the other foil racers. I understand some things that they have not worked out yet.


I am just windsurfing and working for Phantom with the board designs. I also help Phantom deal with the factory and the communication with the guys that build the products. For the most part my job is windsurfing, but anything to do with the boards I help with, including the PWA registration etc. I design the boards, check with the factory they are being produced correctly and check the quality also. I am also involved in the iQFoil class on the executive committee. I feel as a rider I try to never take decisions to improve the situation for myself. I want the sport to be better for everyone. I have experience as a foil racer and I can give my feedback to make the sport improve without thinking about myself. I feel this is good for the class and I am just pushing to improve the class.  


Going 40 knots on the foil is one of my targets. I am working with Phantom to achieve this. We are getting closer and still improving the wings to do this. I feel like speed sailing on the foil allows you to reach some limits that you would not be able to do with slalom. As soon as you are confident at 37-38 knots, once you are back at 33-34 knots you feel at ease. Going 34 knots is still demanding, but I was not afraid of being at 34 knots on a reach. This is the benefit of going faster. I took some big crashes trying to hit 40 knots on the foil. Last time I tried I crashed at 39 knots in Corsica! You gradually learn to crash more efficiently as well. This is super important to me because on the course, if you are not used to crashing on the foil, it is quite different to crashing on a fin. You have to learn how to crash. For the safety of other people, it is good to know that you can hold on to the gear and maybe steer out of the way so as not to hurt other people. 


We all know for upwind work, foiling is a beast! For reaching across the wind, I think it will still take time for people to accept that it is more efficient. For big boards it is already done! All the riders agree foiling is faster than big slalom boards. To be faster than a medium slalom board on a 7.0m in every condition there is still a big step to go forwards in terms of control, stability and speed. It will take a bit of time. I think foiling will go further. I feel normal everyday riders also like foiling because it is less demanding than slalom to reach the same speed and is more comfortable. You can go upwind and just enjoy your sailing without so much constraint. For many sailors who are not in such good shape, foiling is easier. So I think foiling will gradually grow in the market! Foils are getting easier and more stable, so they do not scare people the way they did five years ago. I think in a few years we will have some beginners who will be quite quickly able to foil before they can learn to plane on a fin.  


The Olympics is one of my goals. The French team is really strong so it will be tough to qualify. It will be a battle until the end. The qualifications will be in about two years time so it will come quickly. At the same time, I feel like my goal is to be able to do other things at the same time – like improving foiling, my work with Phantom and all the development side. To get to the Olympics is a long road with a lot of challenges. I just want to enjoy the different steps. I want to have this focus and aim ahead of me. I want to see and experience what I must do to get there! Everybody will be on the same equipment, which will be interesting as well. I will need to improve my sailing with that same gear! When I get back to the Phantom gear, I hope to have learned things form the iQFoil. And the same when I go from my Phantom gear to the iQFoil equipment. Maybe there are small things I can change to go faster. I don’t train so much on the iQFoil, only when I am working with the French team. I feel I will keep on doing my thing this way for at least two or three years. Maybe later I will focus on the iQFoil for the Olympics.  


As a person who likes to improve the sport, I like to share my information. I share a lot! I am not giving away everything of course, but I am probably sharing too much! But I do keep some things I know to myself. I like improving and I like to see everyone else improve also. I want to push all my friends in the right direction so I get them to try some of my settings and ideas. I am helping my opponents, but at the same time the fact I am helping them allows me to improve as well! It is like teamwork! 

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