25 year old Balz Müller from Switzerland goes by the handle ‘radiculo’ on Instagram, and if you follow any of his antics you’ll know why. Pushing the limits of windsurfing and taking the proverbial are what he’s known for, not to mention the most painful crashes you’ll ever see. But there’s more to this young innovator than what you see in his must watch videos; read on for an insight as Balz talks triples, freestyle foiling and strapless windsurfing.
Words Balz Müller // Photos John Carter
I am a full time landscaper in Switzerland. I am paid by the hour and for the last six years I have been working at the same place. My boss is really supportive of my windsurfing and all I do. In the winter months we can’t work because of the snow. He is happy to give me those three winter months off and for me to go to a few competitions. It’s a good setup, I earn my own money so I am not dependent on sponsors. For me windsurfing and landscaping are both my passions! The landscaping pays for my windsurfing so I am living the dream!
I cover most of my windsurfing costs. The project with MB boards I don’t really earn money out of at the moment. But it is nice to ride your own boards that you are developing. That was always a dream of mine and I think with big brands at the moment they would not be interested in the radical boards we make. We are not professional shapers, but we love to do it. It’s really interesting to see what is coming out of it. Every time we make a new board we are stoked to try it out. Nobody knows if it will work. We don’t expect anything from it and are happy if it works in the end.
The Pegasus board is very different to a conventional windsurfing board. It is much, much shorter, 172 cm. That is a really short windsurf board. You need to realize with these boards that once you stand in the straps you are just hovering over the water. Once you are up it does not matter what kind of board you have. All that matters is where you have your mastfoot position, your footstraps and the foil box. I could have cut this board straight after the mastfoot! I rode a foil board which was 120 cm! Once you are in the air it does not matter what you are riding, you just need to have a comfortable stance. Some people think foiling is only possible on 70 cm or wider boards. My boards are never as wide as a freerace or freeride board. I enjoy foiling much more on narrow boards. I have a centre strap which gives me more of a surf or freeride foil feeling than a racing setup.
Race foiling is vastly different to the foiling I do. The race guys have small foils which are great to go upwind and downwind super fast on, but you can’t actually use them for light wind foil cruising. Most of the guys that buy a foil are just going straight and gybing. They just want to enjoy cruising on a foil. The race foils are too sporty and too crazy. You can’t enjoy them! I am using a freeride foil, which I can almost use to freestyle and do wave stuff with! I am doing pretty much all my moves which I do in normal windsurfing on the foil. We had a discussion if I should be allowed to use the foil in freestyle competition, but the other guys did not agree from what I understand. It is not another sport, it is just another way of doing the tricks. Right now I am the only one doing it, so I guess they don’t want a maverick in the fleet. My brother actually can kick my ass at foiling. He sticks the moves better than me! We are foiling every day at home in Switzerland in the summer! We push each other. At home this year I never sailed as much before because of the foil. That is the craziest part. I was on the water almost every day. There was nearly always the possibility to score a few gusts with the foil. That is a big game changer for windsurfing in Switzerland. It is 50-70% more actual time on the water. In the end that is what counts. With foil or without foil I don’t care. If you want to complain about foiling that is fine, but for me it has changed my windsurfing outlook completely. It now makes sense for me to stay home in Switzerland and sail at home. I agree in windy places you will probably never get into foiling, but for me it is just amazing to fly over the water, even doing no moves. I have a custom Severne 4.8m which I use most of the time and is really powerful. I am using that on my 85 litre foil board in 8-12 knots. In 8 knots I am hovering on a 4.8, but in 12 knots I am fully flying around. You don’t need a 9m race sail to go foiling. The big sails are so heavy that in the end you don’t fly as early as with a super small freeride setup. That is what I like about foiling. I don’t need to get my big gear anymore, I can stay on my freestyle rig and enjoy days when you would normally never get on the water. That is the best part about foiling.
A lot of people think I am crazy trying to shifty or push loop on the foil. They need to realize that I dream about these moves all night long. It is not that I am going out there and trying moves just by chance or luck. In my head I am always thinking about where my foil will be on the landing and what could happen. For sure one wrong crash and you could die though! The other day I was on the water and was actually quite scared. I was not in control on the foil, I had too much sail power. There was a lot of current also and it was not easy to foil. There is always a chance you come out of the footstraps or something, but on the moves I do it feels pretty safe. I have never injured myself doing something crazy with the foil. The only cuts I have are from swimming with my legs next to the foil when waterstarting or getting in and out of the water; that is the worst. So I never try and do a move without rehearsing it mentally and visually in my head. I really think about what I am going to do. Even in normal windsurfing you won’t land a move if you are not able to visualize yourself in all kinds of positions. That is a really important aspect of freestyling.
I am doing pretty much all my moves which I do in normal windsurfing on the foil.
The thing with the shifty is everybody crashed air shakas from day one when they were learning, but nobody thought that it was possible to turn those crashes into a new move. For six years I was thinking about the shifty and trying it on purpose. I think I was the first one to think it could be possible. I was open to the idea at least. The first person to land it clean was Steven Van Broeckhoven. I told him they could be done. It took me so much time to get Steven even to the point of trying them. I knew he could land them easy. I could not even do proper push loops back then. He was already doing push loops off flat water. I told him the shifty is an easy move once you are going for it. Four years ago we did the first good ones. Now in the first round of freestyle there are a lot of guys doing them. Spectators love them; for taking pictures they don’t look great, but in real life they look crazy. It’s a quick rotation and the people at the beach don’t know what is going on. For me it is like a cheese roll, which is also a flip move which goes fast, and the shifty is the same just the other way. There are still a lot of guys struggling with this move, but once you know the trick to them it is not that hard anymore.
I dream a lot about triple air rotations. I tried a Pasco into shifty shaka which would be a triple rotation upwind. Antoine Martin was trying push loops fully over rotated in Tenerife. He has no control on his shifty movement so it is nice to see him trying, but I would love to see him first getting the shifty dialled. Then he would easily land the push loop into shifty. It is not a hard move. The first time I tried this triple rotation was two years ago. I went for it and made a 720 Pasco shifty, then I came out of the straps and landed from 6 metres up with my feet on the board. I had a bruised heel for days. I am not so sure triple backward rotations will be easier than triple forward rotations when you stop. You can always stop the shifty movement. Like a push loop tweak into shifty should not be a hard move. The goal would be to get it down soon.
My dream would be to go somewhere with port tack side-shore winds, two metre waves, 4m fully stacked and an ambulance…maybe two ambulances (laughs) or at least a doctor, with five or six of the best freestylers. I would love to do that. It needs to be Amado, probably Gollito, Yentel and those guys that can be a bit mental and push the limits. Not the top ten from the PWA but ten radical guys and go to a place like Coronation in Western Australia for example. You would need to have a hospital close by because it would probably be bone breaking what we would try. Probably nothing would happen, but you need to have medical people on hand. When we landed those shifty’s four years ago we had a doctor with us on the water supporting us. He was a windsurfer. Steven was actually coughing blood that day. I had pain in my stomach from hitting the water. We were over rotating shifty 720’s and going into 900 spins fully out of control. Then it gets to a dangerous point, but having a doctor with you calms the whole situation a bit. You never think about injuries when you are doing the moves but it is still reassuring. I am so sure this would push windsurfing to another level.
The wave guys, it is nice to see what they are doing, but they are also getting more involved in the freestyle moves. Freestyle wave for me is the main goal I want to push. Why don’t the wave guys do shifty’s in their heats? You can do a shifty forward easier than a push loop forward. Getting height on the shifty is the only problem. I have never been to Pozo yet.
That is a goal for me. Until now I was always mentally scared to go to Pozo. I now have a 3.3m Freak and love strong winds. With that 3.3m Freak I can’t wait to send it. Pozo is a place to go huge. I love push loop forwards and all that stuff, so let’s see what is going to happen! I need to find out where the closest hospital to Pozo is first!
”I dream a lot about triple air rotations.”
Back in Australia Patrik Diethelm actually screwed the straps off my board because I had such a swollen ankle. To be honest I don’t feel I have recovered since then. Right now I also have pain in my knee. I feel like an old grandpa in his seventies. My knees are not that smooth anymore, but when you are doing what you love the pain does not feel so bad. In Australia they took the straps off my board because I did not want to stop. I had to go strapless. It was actually a lot of fun. I would not say sailing strapless is the future but it was nice. I really think I should take a rest to allow my knees to recover but I just can’t.
The helmet started when we were kids. I have two brothers and we all were on a similar level and by ten we were already trying forward loops. It got to a point where my dad had to make us wear helmets otherwise he did not feel safe. There were a few times he had to drag us out of the water after almost passing out doing catapults or whatever. He was more relaxed when we all wore helmets. He told us we were not allowed to windsurf without them until we were 18. I have kept my helmet since then, the one I have is almost twelve years old. As I have grown I have had to cut out some of the foam inside so it will fit me. I feel so much more in control with the helmet on. It makes me more comfortable, confident and able to risk more. In Cape Town I lost my helmet in mast high waves. My gear and the helmet went in different directions. My instant reaction was to swim for my helmet and not the gear. That was Whitsands in mast high waves, the helmet came first! I can’t use other helmets, I have become attached to this one. It is also good to protect your ears.
My goal is to have my own boards on which I am able to have the most fun on the water. I am so happy to be in the sea surfing, windsurfing or foiling. I have so much energy and I need to get rid of it all. Windsurfing is one of the beSt ways to get rid of it and helps me stay fit too, and with foiling I now get so many hours on the water. In the end for me it is also like meditation being on the water. I don’t want to quit this. Competition sailing is not the way I see myself sailing in the future. It does not suit me and I want to travel the world rather than going to the same two or three places which sucks. That takes up all my free time, which I could spend travelling to other places. It would be nice to be world champion one day, but for me I feel that would be almost impossible. I think for me it is more important to go see the world and travel to new places. With foiling I can explore almost anywhere. My goal is to be on a boat, having foils, surfboards and everything with me and just jump off the boat and be able to have fun.
“Competition sailing is not the way I see myself sailing in the future.”