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Yentel Caers entered the final event of the season in Sylt as the Freestyler World Tour leader and had his sights firmly set on a second world title. However, things didn’t exactly go to plan with a surprise early exit in the single elimination leaving him with a mountain to climb and his world title hopes potentially in tatters. We caught up with Yentel to hear his side of a colossal comeback, both mentally and physically, which saw the Belgian maestro win eight consecutive heats to deservedly earn his second Freestyle world title.

Words: Yentel Caers // Photos: John Carter / pwaworldtour.com


This is my second Freestyle world title and I think this one feels even better than the first. This year I won the event in Fuerteventura, which was a dream come true for me. The world title was not my main goal for the year, I really wanted to win in the Canary Islands and managing to achieve that put me in pole position for the title coming into Sylt, which is such a hard event to do well at. For my first world title I didn’t actually win an event… I was just the most consistent sailor over the course of the season, which is also part of the game. This year we only had two events, so the pressure was really on to perform at your top level as there was basically no margin for error – especially if you wanted to challenge for the podium positions.


I lost against Lennart [Neubauer] in the second round of the single elimination, who eventually went on to win the entire event. I think he really deserved to win, but after an early exit in the single I was also stoked that I managed to fight all the way back in the double elimination to face him in the final.


Lennart may have been a dark horse in terms of the rankings, but that doesn’t tell the full story as none of the freestylers were counting him out of challenging for a world title. He is that good. The problem for me was that Lennart didn’t have a seeding this year as he was injured for the whole of last season, which meant he had to sail against the top seeds straightaway – AKA me in Sylt. That problem will be solved for next season after finishing 2023 as the vice-world champion, so he will have the correct seeding moving forward.


After losing to Lennart in the single, I had to pray for more conditions to be able to complete the double elimination to have any shot at mounting a fight back for the world title. I had to stay mentally strong, which is not easy when it is so hard to predict the wind, and what conditions, you are going to compete in in Sylt. With the title race out of my hands at this point, there was nothing I could do but sit and nervously wait, while also hoping that if the conditions were suitable that the PWA would choose to run Freestyle, rather than Wave or Slalom as Sylt in a multi-discipline event. Thankfully, we ended up being extremely lucky with amazing freestyle conditions – especially for Sylt – and it was epic to have the chance to comeback through the double, which I managed to do. I ended up sailing 9 heats in the double with 8 of them all in one day!


Physically for me, sailing that many heats wasn’t really a problem as I train a lot both on and off the water, so fitness was not the biggest issue. The main challenge for me was the mental side as I had to be absolutely ready for all of those heats. At some events you just get in that flow where everything is working for you. Luckily for me, this was one of them. I have been going to Sylt for 10 years now and these were the best conditions that I have sailed in there. Sylt has always been an event where I have struggled a bit, but it is tough for everyone. However, with these conditions we were really able to show what we are capable of as freestylers. We were nailing all the double power moves and big jumps on the outside reef, so it was really cool to be able to show off the best of freestyle to both the crowds and the media.


I often start my heats with the same move. In Sylt I was usually doing a double culo or an air funnel burner depending on the gust and how the swell was. Sometimes it was easier to go switch stance down the swell. I am really confident with my starboard tack sailing, so even if I mess up one attempt, I know I will be able to land three or four of the double moves coming in. We had to land our best three tricks on both tacks from seven attempts on each side and I was usually able to discard two or more high scoring moves. For me, with the conditions we had, we could have been counting four moves on each tack instead. When you sail so many heats in a row you can lose track of which moves you have already done in each heat. Sometimes, I was not even sure which moves I had performed. On the way out I was landing a lot of air chachos… I love that move and there are only two or three sailors, who can land them consistently. It is a move many sailors can perform, but to land it really clean and dry makes it a lot more risky – especially if the wind is strong – but that is the style of move that I like. I also threw in a double forward in one heat – I can land them quite easily if I have enough power, but I didn’t think the risk reward of going for more doubles was worth it when I could land less risky moves for similar scores.


The heat against Adrien [Bosson] was the most important one, but for some reason I was not really stressed and I was feeling confident. I had sailed so many heats in a row and I knew I was in the flow, which I think gave me the advantage. I knew the competition area and where the best ramps were after sailing for an hour already. Adrien came in fresh, which can help, but I felt like I had the momentum and he could see me coming back strong. Adrien is mentally really strong and he is an amazing sailor, who doesn’t normally fail, but I think he was in the harder position.


I like to be around my friends in between heats, but I didn’t want to speak about the title or what would happen if I won the next heat! I took the approach of sailing heat by heat and I didn’t even know what the consequences were. By the time I was facing Bosson, I knew that it was an important heat and that if I beat him that I’d have a strong chance of winning the title.


In the final against Lennart, the wind dropped off a bit, which made it harder to nail the good moves. By this time, I was a little tired and didn’t have quite the same power as earlier. Perhaps I didn’t have quite the same focus also as I knew I was already world champion by this point and it wasn’t like I sailed a terrible heat as I still only lost by point 1.5 points against Lennart. I am so stoked for him to win an event as he is the up-and-coming talent and it is so good for our sport and for freestyle to see the young guys stepping it up. It has been a while since we have had a new talent at this level. Back in the day there was Amado [Vrieswijk], myself and guys like Youp [Schmit]. We were the young guns, who shook things up against the likes of Steven Van Broeckhoven, Jose ‘Gollito’ Estredo and Kiri Thode at that time, so it is great to see Lennart coming in and shaking things up again.


I never did any gymnastics, but I always loved to play a lot of different sports. I skateboard, snowboard, surf and I run around the dunes performing flips. I have always been busy playing sports as a kid and still now I am not one to sit around and wait for the wind. I keep performing all the flips I can do, while a lot of the younger guys I know, who used to do them, have quit and they are now scared to throw themselves around. Landing a backflip on the sand gives you an awareness in the air and you have to land like a cat. Every extreme sport can help you in one way or another. In freestyle you are really using your legs a lot to help pop and execute the moves. You have to be strong, but also very explosive and I think that is really important.


I think we really showed the world what we can do in Sylt with freestyle. If we have amazing conditions like we had, we can show the world the biggest power moves, while we are also pushing more now with foil-style, which opens things up even more as in light winds we can still provide a spectacular and explosive display. We also have the tow-in for when there is no wind… I am not a huge fan of tow-in, but I still like to do it for a show. Now with freestyle we can show so much with zero wind, all the way up to the most extreme of conditions, which means we can not only guarantee a result, but also provide epic action and awesome media output.


The ambition now is to keep going and defend the title. I don’t really have a specific plan right now. I just want to enjoy my windsurfing for as long as I can. I think that this is really something special that we are doing and as long as I can keep freestyling and being a professional windsurfer, I will enjoy it as much as possible. I will not be sitting around at a desk and I am not really into teaching, however, having said that I do enjoy motivating kids at young guns camps etc. I like to sail with the kids and get them into the sport, but I am not the guy to teach a new person the basics of windsurfing.


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