Pierre Mortefon has proved himself to be one of the PWA slalom tour’s most consistent podium placers, ranking in the top 3 for the last 5 years. In 2019 he has won the opening rounds of both the slalom and foil PWA tour. The fast Frenchman with eyes on the number one spot in slalom gives us an insight into his world.
Words Pierre Mortefon // Photos John Carter, Jean Souville/pwaworldtour.com
It is amazing to have won the first event of the season in France after a very stressful event. It is always exciting to compete at the first event because you don’t know if your training has paid off. You also have no idea if your competitors will be stronger than you and there are a lot of questions to be answered. It was a very tricky event. Most of the week it was very gusty. It took us six days to grind out one round. I think one of my strong points during the week was that I was able to go into racing mode when I needed to and be fully focussed, but then when we were on hold I managed to relax. It was impossible to stay focussed all week. It was not the easiest event.
But it was great to start the season on a positive note and have points in the bag. I would say to win the title you need luck to swing your way and take these victories. It is one step towards the title. I have been making the overall podium for many years, but to take the title you need to win events. That is my plan this year to achieve my goal of a world title.
I really want the world title. I was close a few years ago. In 2016 I was equal points with Antoine at the end of the season. Last year I was prepared and ready for it, but I had my first child, a boy, arrive 15 days before the start of the season and that changed my life quite a bit. This year I feel more ready. Albeau and Matteo are both tough to beat. Albeau has been fighting for 20 years and Matteo is also a great slalom racer and competitor. Matteo had a poor start but this can happen. This year especially there are so many guys that can win a race. In France the level was through the roof. The level really is super high once again.
When it is flat water and 8.4m conditions, we saw that if you make a bad start, it is extremely difficult to come back from. Even the very top guys find it very tricky to overtake. I think we are going to see a tough season and some big fights. With Matteo and Antoine we are all rivals after the same goal. Antoine and I are both French and he is what I would call the old generation and I am the young one. We are rivals for sure. It is ok between us as it has been like this for years and we both accept it. With Matteo it is different as we spend time together in Tenerife and he was also on the team with me at Fanatic and North. We had some close times. On the water we all fight, but on the beach it is all ok.
Every winter I spend time in Tenerife training for the upcoming season. I did fifteen days in January and three weeks in March. Last year I came to Maui at the end of the season to work on the new sails and also train on this year’s equipment. I also went to Tarifa a little bit to dial in everything for strong wind conditions. At home I was also super lucky because March and April were just perfect for training. Not too cold and windy nearly every day. All year round I work towards the title. I am trying to put 100 per cent effort in, to give myself every possible chance I can. I don’t want to look back at the end of the season and think I could have done better. My life at home is also pretty well in place for me to do this. My wife looks after our son mostly while I race and train. She takes the stress out of life at home so I can focus on racing and that is my plan.
“Foiling can offer us some new aspects to windsurfing”
FOIL VERSUS SLALOM
The whole situation with racing is quite tricky at the moment because we don’t really know where foiling is going. I don’t want to miss the train so I need to be a part of that movement if it continues. It could even take the place of slalom, who knows? I don’t really like this idea because slalom has been here for the last 30 years and it is one of the main disciplines of windsurfing. It would be a shame for it to die because of foiling. Foiling can offer us some new aspects to windsurfing as well as new events. You can sail in lighter conditions, but for me it has to stay as a different discipline. They are two different sports to me. There is a movement amongst the sailors to combine the two but I am against this. It is like combining freestyle and wave. It would totally change the hierarchy in windsurf racing. Many of us have trained for years to reach our level. I am not afraid because I have been foiling for a few years. I know how it all works, but at the moment it is not so much skill but more about equipment. It is an equipment war. A big problem with this is that it will be super tricky for the young generation to grow up with this system. I know how tough it is to make it to the top in slalom. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of investment. If you have to do this in two disciplines then you need a lot of money and a lot of time. It will not be easy that is for sure. We are all carrying around more gear already as it stands. But I think it would be good to have a tour in slalom and a tour in foil. If you want to do both then it’s up to you. You can’t force sailors to do both. A football player will not want to do rugby. You cannot ask Victor Fernandez to do a freestyle event as part of the wave title. It is exactly the same thing combining freestyle and wave as combining foil and slalom.
I did not expect to win the first foil race of the season in Japan. It was cool for me to win a foil event. We worked a lot on the equipment this winter, especially on every single detail. I was not the best in Japan but I managed to always be in the mix. I tried to sail easy and not take too much risk at the start. I was pretty fast on the upwind legs and had a good angle for pointing. I was coming to Japan just to see how my level was against the others. I am definitely ready to fight this year. I would still like to keep the disciplines separate even with that result. At the moment I think this is the best solution. The Olympic guys were there to shake things up in Japan. They were racing very well. On the other side, imagine a PWA slalom racer going to a RS:X event with 30 knots of wind, then we can cause them some trouble with their rankings too. Costa Brava will be a good opportunity to level the playing field, especially with 5 more knots of wind. For sure they will be fighting, but with that extra wind it is going to be different.
I am from the south of France close to Leucate. I was lucky to be born in a windy place and my parents were living super close to the sea. They were not into windsurfing but I was lucky to start sailing in a small club when I was young. I switched to windsurfing pretty quickly and grew up sailing at one of the windiest places in France. It was just perfect. In France we are lucky because we have a very strong youth tour. From 13 years old you can start competing. This is why the French guys are so strong on the PWA tour. I am speaking for the young generation, guys like Quentel, Toselli and all the good French tour sailors that availed of this system. When you start racing early you are much better prepared when you enter more serious events.
After school I studied business for five years. It was a deal with my parents. If school was working well then I could sail! It made me work hard at school and now I have something to fall back on. I knew I had to work hard during the week to be able to sail at the weekend. Once I passed all my exams I was able to fully focus on windsurfing and being a professional racer for two or three years. I said after that time I would then re-evaluate where I was. But as soon as I started focussing on windsurfing my results quickly improved. It was ok for me to live from the sport. I was loving what I was doing and also making a living from it. Now I am just rolling with the flow. I don’t want to think about the future. I worked hard enough in the past with my studies to be secure for the future. Now I just want to focus on racing and with guys like Antoine to look up to, I hope I can go on for ten more years.
It was easy to switch from North to Duotone. As a racer I am working with exactly the same team as before, but now I am much more involved with the development with Kai Hopff and Marco Lang. The racing team is very strong and I think it was a good change. We are just continuing what we did before. I have been in the team for nine years and during the last two or three years I have been more involved with the design of the equipment. I have proved that I can test the equipment well alongside others. I think my relationship with Kai has matured and we are used to each other and have a better understanding. Over the last two years we have progressed a lot and improved the sails considerably.
I don’t really feel the pressure too much. The season has started, so now it is just part of the deal to go to events like Japan and Korea and do my job. I take every event individually, show up, be prepared and do my best. There is no special pressure, but obviously you have to go out and compete in all sorts of tricky conditions at these places which is tough. I sometimes enjoy events but Japan and Korea are never easy, they can be complicated, but that’s part of the game. Experience helps a lot with this. Year after year, we have almost the same tour, so you get to know the places. At first these new area events are exciting to discover, but after a few years it is down to a routine. You know the place, how to go there, and all the small tips like where to fly to, stay and eat.
BEST AND WORST
Check-in! For me this is the worst part. Travelling with slalom gear is not easy, especially because we always want to have the best equipment with us at events. The freestyle and wave guys have much lighter and smaller equipment than us. Equipment is a huge part of a racer’s performance so you need to have all the right equipment for the right moments. That means bringing everything as well as spares. It is the part of my life that I am not really in love with. On the other hand the best part is that in racing when you pass the finishing line the result is clear. You know your place. In freestyle or waves it is a judgement call. You don’t really know how you are doing until after the heat. In racing we have a start and finish line and it is easy to understand for the public. When you cross the line in a final in first, you have won and that is it. This point I really like. I also enjoy working on the equipment. You are preparing your machine for battle.
The biggest parts of windsurfing I love are firstly the speed. We go so fast; it is an amazing sensation. The feeling of flying over the water full speed is just crazy, I love it. I love being alone driving my equipment full speed on the water. Windsurfing like this is very individual. It is not like a team sport. You are relying on yourself. If I make a mistake it is my fault or if I win a race it is down to me. I like this aspect of racing. I am doing it for myself. It is great to sail with friends on the water, but sometimes I go out alone and fly, it is a great feeling of freedom flying with the wind out on your own on the water.
“Flying over the water full speed is just crazy, I love it.”