Victor Fernandez is one of windsurfing’s good guys. His third PWA wave world title may have come in strange circumstances in 2018, but it was thoroughly deserved nonetheless. Known for his unassuming demeanour on land, but a complete competitor on the water, his windsurfing skills are testament to both a unique talent and a relentless work ethic. Victor normally lets his sailing do the talking, but we managed to get an insight into his life with these candid words from the man himself.
Words Victor Fernandez // Photos John Carter & Klaas Voget
My third world title was kind of unexpected last year. I started the year in a poor position compared to my normal results. In the previous eleven years I have been first or second in Gran Canaria but last season I finished in fourth. Two weeks before the event I had some lower back pain so I could not sail much. I made it to third in the single, but then ended up fourth in the double after Ricardo sailed an amazing heat against me. I was relaxed and comfortable in Tenerife and managed to take the victory there against Jaeger Stone in the final. So everything boiled down to Sylt, which turned out a bit crazy.
I was on the beach after my heat with Traversa and if I won that heat I would be world champion. I did not want to celebrate until it was official, then the judges tower gave me the thumbs up. So all the cameras were around me while I celebrated. Five minutes later the results changed on the live stream. There had been an error or something and Traversa went through to face Campello in the final. If Ricardo would win then he would be world champion and he had two attempts to beat Traversa. I went to the judges tower and was told there was a problem with the system and sorry but you are not world champion. I could not do anything about it. My emotions were all over the place after celebrating and then the disappointment. At least I was guaranteed second. I just went home and took a shower. I had to get away from it all. I didn’t want to watch how it panned out. I was cold and had sailed quite a few heats. My phone went after I came out of the shower and it was Klaas Voget telling me I had won. Traversa had beaten Ricardo two times to save my day. I knew Traversa in those conditions was dangerous, but to beat Campello twice was a tall order. It was special in the end to win my third title. After the first one, anything else is a bonus, especially as I am getting older and the competition is so tough.
My first goal is just to sail as well as possible these days. If I win obviously that is better, but I like to be happy with my sailing. I am training to win and sail my best and that is important to me. I like to try and improve in events that I have not won before and just become a better all-round sailor. I would like to do better than 4th place in Hawaii, that is one of my goals. I have been coming to Hawaii every winter and training a lot at Ho’okipa. Obviously winning more titles would be awesome, but like I said I am happy to just keep making podiums and improve my sailing.
I have a green card for the US now, an athlete green card, I applied for it and it took two years to get it. You have to present your career curriculum to the US immigration and why you need to be in Maui to train, it was a lot of work. I hired a lawyer the same as Brawzinho, Polakow and Robby Swift who all have the green card as well. I spend so much time in Maui that it made sense. With the normal visa it becomes a hassle every time you come in and out of the US. I enjoy the training and testing in Hawaii and I like the lifestyle. It is the perfect place for me in the winter. You can make a great programme in Maui, go to the gym, eat healthily, surf, sup and windsurf, all the activities that I like. I now spend five months per year in Hawaii.
I have been organizing a junior event back home for the past few years. It is something I did not have when I was a kid. We have competition for all ages of juniors in slalom and waves at my home spot in Almerimar. We are in a location where the waves are not so consistent, but it can be great wind, so with slalom we cover all bases. I just wanted to give the opportunity to a lot of kids from my local town that have all taken up windsurfing because of my centre. It is an opportunity for them to learn how to compete at that age. Then hopefully they will be prepared for the PWA if they ever reach that level.
Home for me is still Almerimar. My family is there but I only manage to spend two or three months a year at home. The other few months in Europe I am in the Canary Islands and at events like Sylt and Denmark. This year I will be doing a few new trips. I already did Cape Verde in February for the first time since 2011. It was amazing, three weeks with perfect waves for surfing and sailing. In May I also went to Sardinia with my girlfriend to sail and explore.
There is Koester, Campello, Stone, Traversa, Brawzinho and all these guys who are all on another level and chasing their own title dreams. I just have fun and let them push me as well. I see young talents like Antoine Martin and Marc Pare coming through, but in the waves the older you get the more experienced you become also. We have spent so much time in the spots. I know what gear to use because I have worked on this a lot. All this knowledge also helps. I don’t spend as many hours in the water as when I was twenty. I have just turned thirty-five, but I am older and wiser now. I work more on my equipment and I know what I have to use and make better decisions than when I was younger. When I was young and the wind dropped I would stay out there on the gear under-powered, but now I will come in, even two or three times during a heat. It is tough with all this competition. They all are super fit and ripping and they come to the same spots to train. Guys like Brawzinho are coming to Pozo one month early and you can see how much it has paid off. Philip lives there so he is a beast at his home spot. And all of these guys are now very good on both tacks, which is also important. They are complete sailors too. If I see a guy like Campello nail a huge stalled double at the beginning of a heat I know I am up against it. He can beat anybody once he is on a roll and in the flow. Campello can also have some bad heats and his mental side can drop away. He is stubborn and will only sail the way he wants to. Koester is also very competitive and likes to win. He is an amazing talent too and still super young. I am friendly with all the guys, but on tour there are certain people you speak to more than others. In the water everybody wants to win but outside I am fine with everybody. We are all just wave sailing most of the time before competition, which is usually fun out there on the water with everybody pushing each other.
BOARD TALK – ONSHORE SETUP
In lighter onshore winds I use my Stubby board with three fins in locations like Sylt and Denmark. Places with a lot of current and stormy. The Stubby on a 5.3 or 5.7 is my go-to combo. The Stubby goes upwind very well. Places like Sylt the current is so strong that if you can’t stay in position and you don’t have the speed, then you see the ramps going away from you because you get sucked downwind. Without speed you won’t get any lift in the jumps or have power for your riding. On this board I feel really fast and with speed everything is much easier. Speed with control is the key.
For cross offshore I usually go to my quad setup. I have tried thruster in down the line, but I usually don’t like to be so ‘slidey’ on my turns. I like to have a lot of grip and quads grip way better. I ride more front foot on my quads in hollow down the line waves. I can trust the board when it is big and can be much later on the bottom turn. On a thruster I would have to bottom turn earlier and sometimes I miss some sections of the wave. In onshore it is the opposite in light winds. The thruster has a wider tail which helps to keep the speed. Sebastian Wenzel still makes all my custom boards from Fanatic, although I use some production boards in competition also. In Sylt I use the 82 Stubby and also the production Grip in Pozo.
“I like to have a lot of grip and quads grip way better.”
SUPER HERO M.PLUS
The Duotone Super Hero M.Plus is just a very light version of the Super Hero. The membrane materials are stretchier and it feels much lighter. The draught and push of the sail is more forward. So I think I can improve my jumping in lighter winds with this type of sail. Also when you are riding Ho’okipa in no wind at all this sail is amazing and you catch so many more waves. The 5.0 feels like a normal 4.5 in comparison. It is pretty light and still strong. I will use this on tour this season from 4.2 to 5.3 and then the small sizes will be normal Super Hero’s. That will be my secret weapon this year! Kai Hopff is designing my sails and for the most part I use production sails for competition. I used some prototypes of the M.Plus last year in Tenerife when I felt I needed it.
I would like to learn the push forward, that is the main jump I am missing. I have to try them this year a bit more. I’ve also been trying stalled doubles at the end of last year. I just received a very nice impact wetsuit from ION and that makes such a difference to train these jumps. It is much less painful when you have this wetsuit. I have also landed some table top double forwards, so that could be another one for my quiver. This wetsuit has really helped with the super high jumps and I feel more prepared for the impacts. Hopefully I will have these secret weapons to unleash. If I can get these three extra jumps I will be ready to fight against anybody in the air. The push forward is just a mental thing. I have also been focussing on other moves so it is a jump I have not tried so much. I spent a lot of time improving my wave riding in Pozo. In the end it is not just landing a push forward that lets you pass a heat. If you don’t ride the waves very well you are out! I just try and be a complete all-rounder. I don’t get frustrated if I can’t learn a move. People have told me I need the push forward, but some guys don’t do double forwards and they have been in finals. I don’t think you need to do the craziest things. With doubles I have done so many in my life that I know where I am all the time during the rotation. That is a move I can rely on at the beginning of a heat to open my scoring with a bang. I don’t fear anything with them, unless it is an exceptionally windy day. On a small sail super powered it is a different game. You can over rotate doubles and that can be scary.
“I would like to learn the push forward.”
For the past three years I have been trying to achieve more height in my jumps. I really like to jump high, it is very technical. I love it, I like to float and control where I am in the air and to see if I can land from the apex of huge airs. If you have the technique so you use the sail to help your landing the impacts are not so hard. But if you go just up and then you open the sail when you land that is going to hurt. You need to float with the sail, it is kind of fun. You also need to know subconsciously when to let go. I love stalled forwards, I know how to get a lot of lift and maximise my air time. Sometimes I find it harder to land a huge forward than a double. If I am not in control I usually know it, but if I am in control, no matter how high, I can go for the forward. It depends on the take off. If you hit the wave late then you go high but you are not in control. That’s when you need to know when to let go.
I signed with Fanatic in the summer of 2000, so I have been with them for nineteen years. They are the only production board brand I have been with, so it is a very long relationship. I was signed up in Pozo and started competing for them in waves and freestyle in the first years. The team is awesome and every rider has his own position. Gollito is our top freestyler, although Adrien is on fire too, we have Pierre Mortefon as our top slalom sailor but also Jordy is really coming through the rankings. In the waves I work well with Adam, Klaas and Alessio. I also have a great relationship with Craig and Karin Gertenbach. They tend to grow their riders and keep them. So they look for young talents and once they are on board with Fanatic they stick to them. They make a smart move. The brand creates an image with their riders and they have been doing this for years. Craig knows the business inside out. He was on tour himself so he knows the score. He expects you to work hard and he also knows that you are trying your best and things don’t always go your way. If you train hard and you are professional, that is all he asks. If you lose because another guy sails better than you, what can you do? If you show up late for a heat or have been out partying then he will know about it for sure. Luckily that is not my style. They provide us with everything so we just have to be ready when the time comes.
I train in the gym, surf and also do a lot of sports like tennis. I do a bit of yoga also and plenty of stretching. I have a programme at home with my trainer. It is really important because they teach you how to train before events. When we get close to an event it is a different style of training. With these jumps we need to be able to handle it physically when things go wrong. You cannot recover from injury so well when you are not in top shape. I don’t party. I like a few beers with friends after a good session. I am happy with that. When I won the title I had a few beers, champagne and a crepe. That is what I like.
I am a very calm person, but in the water maybe not so much. In the water is where I release all of my energy. I disconnect from everything when I am sailing. Off the water I am easy-going with everyone. I don’t like to make enemies, so I am mostly friends with everybody. All I want to do is keep going with my windsurf life as long as possible. I would like to see new kids coming to the sport from my home town. I still want to explore some new spots and keep having fun. I am pretty happy with my life right now. Every year is a bit different. You start from zero and you have to work towards your goals. I appreciate my lifestyle and what I have. I sail a lot, especially on Maui. Almost every day I go on the water.
I don’t like the fact conditions are unpredictable. You have to learn how to how to deal with whatever the ocean, wind and waves throw at you.
KEY TO SUCCESS
I think the reason I have done so well is because I love what I do. I enjoy going to the competitions, all the training and the testing. I like the competition routine, where you have to be constantly prepared to go and perform your absolute best. That helps. I feel I am quite positive at events. Some guys don’t like competing and they become a bit negative. Sometimes I get nervous when it is a big event and everything is on the line or I am going up against the likes of Koester in a semi-final, but this is a good type of adrenaline. We start the tour quite late in the year, so the first event is always nerve-racking. I train for the first competition in Pozo for one month before the event, so the build-up is quite intense. Once Pozo is done you are more into the season. I don’t watch what other riders do against me. I know somebody like Koester is going to throw down a push loop forward and a huge stalled double, so why waste time watching. I want to keep my focus on the waves I want to ride and not what other guys are doing. I am not going to change what he is going to do. I like to compete against the conditions and not the other guys. I do my own thing. In my head I know if I have landed a good double or not and if the points are in the ‘bank’. But if a jump is in your face then you have to see it. I like it though when other guys are going for it. It can be boring if you are winning all the time. Nowadays there are many guys that can win, they are pushing me to my best and that is more fun and more of a challenge. I like it.
I always wanted to windsurf but I did not know I would be a professional. My dad was always a real avid windsurfer and started a windsurf school when I was young. Now we have built my new centre we have that together and he helps me run it. When I was young I was watching VHS videos and reading all the magazines. I was crazy about windsurfing. At school I was dreaming of going to Maui. I was going to study something to do with sports if I had not become a professional windsurfer. I left school just before university at 18. I talked to my parents and told them I wanted to go to Maui for my first photo shoot and then compete for one year and see what happens. I was on Simmer at the time. I just started with a small local sponsor and a very small budget. My level was pretty bad in Maui when I first arrived. It was another world from sailing at home in starboard tack. The waves were big and it was a whole new level of riding and guys on the water. Then you see the reality of how the best guys like Levi and Polakow in those times were ripping. I went on the rocks on my first day at Ho’okipa. That is how you get better. I admire a few of the guys in Maui. Polakow was my hero when I was a young windsurfer. Also Francisco Goya, they were my wave idols. Robby and Bjorn were the kings of competition. Also Kauli was amazing when he came on the scene and I loved what he was doing. He was super creative and he changed the way of riding with his twin fin and quad boards. When we saw that in Cape Verde it was definitely a wow moment! I also love the style of Brawzinho and Jaeger Stone, they are both ripping. Ricardo when he is on fire is also amazing. Everyone has their own style.
TEN YEARS DOWN THE LINE
Hopefully I will be still be coming to Maui one time a year at least. I am not sure if I will be competing, but I hope for at least the next four or five years I can stay at this level. Until I am forty, if I am still in shape, I will continue to compete. Maybe that will be enough. As for windsurfing I want to windsurf all my life, maybe I can be more involved with the brands and move into other areas of the company. Also stay a bit more at home in my centre and do some clinics there. I am happy doing lessons there. I already work at home with my family running the centre. That is already a backup plan. It is our sixth year already and is very busy in the summer. My dad and my brother run it while I am away, but when I am at home I slot in and help. I do some lessons and I am always involved in windsurfing, one way or another.
“I hope for at least the next four or five years I can stay at this level.”