Filmmaker and kiteboarder Laci Kobulsky has a passion for telling stories and capturing the most insane freestyle action out there! In his latest project, he teamed up with Gianmaria Coccoluto for a six week sojourn in Brazil to document his pursuit to become Freestyle World Champion. Go behind the scenes of the project in this exclusive article!
My name is Laci Kobulsky. I'm a 34-year-old from Slovakia who loves kitesurfing and snowboarding. I currently live in Sicily in the summer and Switzerland in the winter. While I am still an active athlete on the kiteboarding scene, I am more passionate now about my work, which is filmmaking and photography. I do a lot of work within the kiteboarding industry but also outside of it. My big dream is to work on longer documentaries, sports films, and some science-related projects.
For now, I have two projects to my name. The first one is TWENTY with Aaron Hadlow, which came out in 2019. This 36-minute film documented Hadlow's incredible 20-year career as a pro kiter and was filmed over a whole year in multiple international locations. My latest project is ALL IN, featuring Gianmaria Coccoluto tackling his lifelong goal of becoming a Freestyle World Champion. ALL IN is available to rent or buy on Vimeo on Demand. While TWENTY was a bigger project due to the long filming period, ALL IN is my best work so far, as I have improved a lot in technical aspects over the years. There were a lot of mistakes in TWENTY that I can see when I watch it back... not that I don't still love the film, though!
How did the project come about? Gianma and I both live in Sicily, so we are in regular contact on and off the water. The inspiration was simple: I wanted to work on another passion project and make the best freestyle kiteboarding video possible, and Gianma wanted to become a World Champion. We decided to travel to Brazil together for six weeks, and I think somebody said as a joke, "Perfect, and we go all in!" and the name just stuck!
There wasn't a clear ending or storyline in the early part of the project. Of course, I had a list of possible things I wanted to shoot, but I mainly wanted to follow Gianma and see what happened. I wasn't sure if we should include the GKA competition in the movie because his odds of winning weren't very high. But how can you not when it's his driving force? No matter the outcome, ALL IN would still showcase the best freestyle action on the planet. After all, you win some, and you lose some, and not all movies have a happy ending. This one, however... ;)
Why Brazil for the shoot location? That is pretty clear! It is the only place in the world where I never have to watch the forecast, and the açaí and Brazilian funk music are pretty great, too. In Brazil, it is simply windy every day. It's not always perfect, sometimes too busy and occasionally a bit gusty, but it is still the best place if you want to shoot the best freestyle tricks.
The ease of the kiting lifestyle in Brazil is unmatched. You come to the beach, pump your kite and ride with the world's best riders, which is really motivating! But it can be frustrating sometimes, too! I remember one evening session with photographer Andre Magarao. We were riding for some photos with Gianma and Maxime Chabloz, and I was a bit upset about my riding since I was struggling with my grabs. Both of them were flying, but then I realised, damn, you are riding with the top two ranked riders in the world! Be happy that you are on the level that you can even share a session with such legends!
Working with Gianma, Maxime, and Noè Font made the six weeks of filming fly by. It's interesting to watch the dynamics between these different riders. With Gianma and Noè, it's pure friendship and passion, with both riders trying to do innovative grabs, combinations and mega-stylish moves. With Maxime, there is a friendly rivalry and some "trash talk" like "Hey man, you need to send your kite lower!" It's fantastic for him to have two friends at opposite spectrums of freestyle. While Noè is pure style, Maxime is a competition machine, and Gianma is, thanks to them, in the perfect sweet spot between the two.
Naturally, I spent most of my time shooting with Gianma, as this project was all about him. He's the best person to shoot if you want the most technical and stylish tricks out there. I love his tricks, and his riding is the vision of how I would love to be able to ride. However, perfection comes with its difficulties. Gianma isn't the type of person that you boss around. He is very focused on the mental side of his riding, and when he is pushing at the highest level, you have to leave him alone, which makes it more difficult to plan how to shoot. You have to imagine him as a wild beast and simply hide in the bushes and capture him in action. But when he delivers, it is so worth it! I am not talking about the easy tricks, though. If you want KGB5s and mobes, he can do them on demand, however, and wherever you want. But if you want NBDs (Never Been Done moves), you must follow the rules of the jungle and be patient.
From the artistic side, I loved to film during the sunsets. They are magnificent in Brazil, so there is also a long sunset section in the movie where I just let them play out in slow motion. It was also really fun filming from the water because we were both super stoked whenever Gianma landed something big and could share that moment in the water. From the whole project, the most memorable moments were behind the camera during the GKA quarterfinal round when he had the highest scoring heat in GKA history with two 10s and two high 9s; he was in absolute beast override mode, and it was great to see his stoke and domination first-hand.
One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to tell a complex story with only one camera. People imagine a multi-camera set like you have on Netflix Drive to Survive, but this was a one-man show! I was downwind on the long lens, but luckily, during the GKA event, I had some extra shots from Julien Leleu who was working for the GKA. I gave my second camera to Kinas to capture some reactions off the water, but all of this is not enough to tell the story, so putting it all together to create a flowing film at the end took some creativity. This is why I inserted myself into the beginning of the movie. First, I wanted to add some "comedy" elements, but I also wanted to narrate the story as it was needed from the editing room.
When you put your soul into a project, you are hyper-aware of any feedback, positive or negative. I can address some comments that I heard from people online. First, there was some criticism about how the end of the GKA competition was portrayed. In the final, there was quite an interesting situation when Gianma had finished all his tricks, and Maxime had one more try. He would win if he managed to get a decent score, something like an 8, which is very achievable for him. The title outcome hung on Maxime's performance, and he went for it but landed with his kite too high, so ultimately, Gianma won. I didn't include the events as they played out because it seemed like a weak ending for his movie, and really, the film was not supposed to be about the competition; the win was merely the cherry on top. You'll have to watch ALL IN yourself to see how that GKA World Championship win played out in the movie!
The second comments were about the decision to have the movie behind a paywall. It's on Vimeo on Demand, and people can either rent it to stream for 48 hours for USD 5.99 or buy and download it for unlimited watches for USD 11.99. We are all used to free content online, and one part of me would love to have ALL IN available for free so more people can enjoy it, but the other part would love to make more movies like this, which led to that decision!
If we want to see more high-quality independent film projects like this, they must be financially viable. My time is not free, my gear is for sure not provided for free, and travel is not free. So, the release of ALL IN is sort of an experiment. If the community wants to see more projects like this, this is how they can support it. If not, then message received, haha!
Our goal was to make a serious freestyle video. I grew up watching rollerblading and snowboarding movies that were trick after trick, and not much else. This is what I wanted to do: a pure kiteboarding freestyle movie. Simply put, if you don't enjoy watching freestyle kiteboarding, this movie is not for you. But if you want to get hyped for your next session, this should be the one to watch!
I would love to do a big kitesurfing movie with even more riders for my next project. If this film gets enough support, I can fund my next project. Of course, if an investor comes on board, it would be possible to put my next movie out there for free for the world to see, and that would be the best scenario! I hope you enjoy ALL IN, and I look forward to sharing the next action film with you...
Click here to see ALL IN on Vimeo on Demand!
By Laci KobulskyProfessional kitesurfer for CrazyFly Kites, his passion is wakestyle, but also video & photo production. Currently he is helping Alby Rondina to manage his kite center in Sicily.