‘Making it’ as a windsurfing pro with Kurosh Kiani

Words: Kurosh Kiani

Pics: John Carter/PWA

Kurosh Kiani has been a long-standing competitor on the PWA’s slalom circuit. Kurosh, however, is a realistic racer when it comes to life as a pro. He’s not one for putting all eggs in one basket. Getting straight down to the nitty gritty we caught up with KK to get the story on how it these days to be a PWA pro slalom racer.

A sport like windsurfing involves a lot of passion. To me, it’s more of a lifestyle than a profession. It’s a lifestyle we all love and live for. We daydream of fantastic trips or great sessions. The little support we get and hard work often is outweighed by those great experiences, friendships, successes, special moments and your own personal development.

The sacrifices are big, if you really want to be a player in today’s windsurfing pro scene. It’s something I only realised recently. When you are up-and-coming you will have to sacrifice the steady life and risk your income. Once established you realise friendships slowly fade away, and that you will have to work harder to maintain them. And in today’s very competitive environment you will have to live and breathe the sport, which takes your time and focus away from many ‘ordinary life’ things.

I used to make a living from windsurfing 100%, and it was great for a few years. Then I shifted my approach. I made changes which allowed a step back from being 100% reliant on windsurfing. I built more diversity into my life with other projects. In the end I found out that having more than one thing to focus on was the way forward. This has had a positive impact on my performance.

Sponsorship and support comes from different corners of the world with great partners. But especially in the winter, where there isn’t much going on, I now work as a freelance IT consultant. I´ve also had a hand setting up scoring systems for all of the PWA’s disciplines. I build websites, databases, provide technical web solutions, create banner ads, design cartoons and videos – you name it, I can do it all. Furthermore, I´ve worked on personal projects using GPS tracking. I use my technical approach to improve training.

None of my sponsorship contracts are based on podium results. Of course, if I can perform at podium level the support will be greater, but it’s not what is expected. It’s obviously what I strive and work for, but the focus is equally on how much I can help my sponsors with exposure. Be it through videos, magazine articles, events or competition results. To set up contracts which solely focus on your performance, in my opinion, can impact mental health negatively.

‘Soul sailors’ can be found within windsurfing. And it’s not unheard of for soul windsurfers to be on better deals than competition riders. It’s what you make it. If you only focus on results, your sponsorship deals will end up reflecting that. I would prefer a space in the middle.

Being from Denmark I had to move around all of the time in the past to find optimum training grounds. It was very hard to make it work. Sometimes I didn’t see friends or family for nearly a year! That’s why, in the end, I decided to relocate somewhere I can focus, and be able to train daily, while still being involved in other things at the same time. It’s not a must to live at a premium wind spot but it sure does help! Since moving to the Canary Islands I´ve had much less hassle having to travel and have a peace of mind. It’s still hard being away from home sometimes but it’s relatively easy to go back, and I´m finding a nice balance.

Missing out on birthdays, weddings, family events and so on is pretty hard. And it’s now something I try to take more seriously. It IS possible to find that middle ground between normal life and top level competition. It requires sacrifice, hard work and dedication, but it does work. You definitely have to make a bigger effort for family and friends.

I focus mainly on long term relationships with sponsors. It’s stressful changing equipment repeatedly, and in my opinion this is an indicator you are only focusing on short term goals. To me, it’s important to build a relationship where both parties are benefiting, and strengthening over the years.

My current situation now allows me to focus on what is good for me. Over the years I have worked hard to please sponsors, and sometimes had my fingers burned. I concentrate now on my performance, and sharing my experience with others through my passions for writing, teaching and being on the beach in general. You never properly let off the gas, and will always keep an eye out for opportunities, and keep networking your way forward. Nevertheless, the consensus now, unfortunately is, that you can have cheap labour or advertising through riders, and I am not interested in following that trend.

The people I work with are great, and our understanding of each other is great. Moreover, if any new opportunities should come up, I will welcome them. In my opinion, it’s great to be involved in R&D. It teaches you a lot about equipment. In addition, having equipment that suits you is very important in our sport.

The potential for windsurfing to reach a wider audience is there. The only thing I would recommend is to break the typical 80´s windsurfer stereotype, and come up with more interesting angles. If you are serious about it. You should do some research. Have a look at your own personality, and what is different about you, and try to build a story around that. Stay open-minded and brainstorm every now and then. And improve your networking skills.

Now I am training daily. I am trying to improve my racing game, which has seen lots of weakness during the last few seasons. I am focusing solely on these points now, and eventually I will shift back to my gear, making sure I´ve got the board speed needed to be at a top level.

I try to sail as much as possible. I wave sail when I can, and I’m trying to improve my surfing, which I admit is not very good. Living in the Canary Islands I have the opportunity to get better at these things. I keep it all as fresh as possible!

I do a combination of rowing, biking, circuit training and weights. I would like to be strong enough to sail long days without my performance level suffering – it’s not an easy task. I am not sure if I will reach my goal anytime soon but I will do my best.

Having strong legs and back definitely benefits my performance on the water in terms of speed. However, my endurance level is getting higher which I really enjoy. Being able to breathe and stay relaxed in racing is something that your fitness level truly helps with.

I started working on my diet a few years ago. For me, diet has been a life changer. I have introduced more greens and root vegetables. More fruits as well. In general, I take greater care of what I put into my body. I found out that diet was affecting me in many ways, one of them being on the mental side. We are all different, but staying healthy has done wonders for me and thus helps me perform better in all aspects of life.

Life as a pro athlete is hard regardless. Nevertheless, we are so lucky that once you have gone through all of these things, which might seem hard, you still get to plant your feet in the sand on tropical beaches many people only dream of visiting. You get to glide effortlessly over blue/green waters and enjoy endless Vitamin D. Sharing experiences with friends will create memories that last a lifetime. Living a healthy lifestyle, where you get to be close to nature, is fantastic. While there is hard work involved, the rewards are great.

I would categorise windsurfers as some of the best party people on the planet! Most of us do love to cut loose, and sure, in the older days, this was more acceptable – in some cases expected. It’s part of our sport and lifestyle. Today it’s on a more tempered level. We do smash it sometimes but we are at a place now where performance comes first with ‘athletes’ who are hard working and have specific goals.

I admit it’s a bit boring at times, sure, but the focus is on the water now. The need for socialising is not what it was some years ago. I personally think there should be a solution somewhere in between. Windsurfing is a social activity after all. I am not saying we should party hard, but I think we shouldn’t forget one of the pillars of windsurfing, which in my opinion, is the social aspect.

I will take the freedom to say there is still a core group of (mainly) sailors from an older generation who have the balance just right. While they perform at the highest of levels, they combine it with attending the odd party. In fact, there is a saying: ‘if you´re struggling on the race course a night out helps you’.

To ‘make it’ within windsurfing a smile, talent and the right attitude help. Talent only brings you to a certain point, and from there you will have to work. Some people work harder and some less. You will have to find a balance which is just right for you. Being a person brands see as interesting, which ultimately helps them sell more products, is key. Stay positive, and keep your goals a priority. You could have a bad season sure, which is why you should have back-up plan. Have a look at where you are right now, and where you want to be. What is it going to take to get there? Plan it out, and remember, sometimes you may feel you are going nowhere, but in fact you are. We keep learning session by session. Find your niche and remember, in the end, after all of this back and forth, it’s just windsurfing – enjoy it!

Shouts to my family, friends and sponsors who are all super important to me. They have believed in me through many difficulties. When I first started on the world tour the boys took me in, they loaned me gear, helped me get tuned up and introduced me to life on tour. Sailors such as Ross Williams, Ben Van Der Steen, Gonzalo Costa Hoevel and Arnon Dagan all gave me a hand, and I doubt I could have kept at it without their support. I have great gear from Point-7, Maui Ultra Fins and Starboard. Thank you!

To all of the people I have met around the world, I am thankful for great friendships and relationships over the years. I see great passion for our sport across the globe, and it always puts a smile on my face – wherever I end up.

 

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