Progression. One of the most important words in kiteboarding… and life! And a major theme in Issue 88 of IKSURFMAG, which just came out! We’ve dug deep, taking a close look at some of the top progression tools available to us as kitesurfers. We chatted with Leo Koenig, the CEO & Founder of WOO Sports, who shared what progression means to him.
Leo, thanks for taking the time! What does ‘investing in progression’ mean to you and the team at WOO?
Progression is often just seen as something that happens on its own, and it’s just part of doing something. I’ve learned over the years that it is quite the opposite. A key requirement is the right mindset.
You’ve got to be willing to leave your comfort zone over and over again, up until being out of the comfort zone almost becomes your comfort zone. It’s something that applies to many aspects of life, and in kiteboarding, it’s the key ingredient for constant progression.
Then, there is the activity itself. Setting yourself up for progression is actually something one can do. I am 41 now, so to be able to progress, I need to take good care of my body and make nutrition, rest and good sleep a higher priority than something like a party and a few beers. Last but not least, there are many things you can work on from a technical standpoint.
A good example is that whenever I haven’t been kiteboarding for a while, my edge angle at takeoff tops out in the low 70s (measured in degrees off of the water). After one or two weeks of stretching and focusing on maxing that angle out, I usually end up in the low 80s and jump height results are improving accordingly.
I’ve also started foiling recently. It’s very rewarding to see your gybes as a clean round shape with orange and red colours (meaning decent speeds) in the WOO GPS Map more often than not. Lots of failures there as well, but you get up and try again. Of course, we are trying to take this to the next level with the upcoming WOO Worlds competition, but more on that later.
What was the inspiration for developing the WOO and the WOO app?
Three things collided at the right time. First, there was the constant bragging on our local beach in Boston, Pleasure Bay. “Did you see that jump? I looked down at an airplane, it must have been 30m at least”. So, here’s a clear customer need – check.
Second, I was at a stage in my career where I knew doing something on my own was my next step. I had worked as an engineer in a smaller company, fulfilling tasks without a lot of insight into the why’s and how’s. Then, I worked in a big software company, thinking that I’d find more room to be creative there, only to realise that politics can get in the way of that, and my rebellion against that eventually got me fired. So, I knew I wanted to do something myself. I had already started on an unrelated side project a year before, so I had some experience. Luckily, I was able to find my then two co-founders, and at that time, the market for wearable technology and quantified self was quite bullish, so securing investment was a doable task. Business case – check.
Last but not least, I had read up on a bunch of books around gamification. It was a topic that fascinated me during that time. You think about football and what a boring activity “kicking the ball” is. If it wasn’t for teams, games, leagues, championships, and so on, no one would care about football. The same applies for moving your thumb in the digital world (e.g. playing Candy Crush). So, games have shown the ability to drastically alter human behaviour, and the thought of using them to actually get people off their couches and back outside was something. Is this something I can pour my heart and soul into? Yes – check.
The first two – customer need and business case – are what get you going. The last one, making this more than just a business venture, is what keeps you going in the long run, even when things get tough.
How do you think that it is helping the kitesurf community? Have you heard or seen any success stories that excite you?
Oh yes, there are many. There are a few highlights, like Leigh Titman writing us a two-pager on how the WOO changed his life. Or many of the now pro riders that popped on the radar of the kitesurfing world by posting big WOO scores. But mostly, it’s the stories you see every day. The 30,000 PR’s (personal records) we have every year means there are 30,000 moments of happiness and 30,000 success stories.
I think we have over half a million session images in our database now, and 95% of them are very happy and excited faces. Each happy face is a success story in itself. So, bringing that kind of joy and sense of connection to the kite world, I think it’s an amazing story.
Overall, one of our goals since day one was to make the sport of kitesurfing popular outside of its boundaries. Right now, only kiteboarders care about kiteboarding. The Olympics change that a bit, but there’s a lot more that can be done here. So, we are far from done with our ambitions.
In your kiting experience (and before the app existed), what tools did you use to progress your riding?
It’s a very short answer – not much beyond going riding with a friend that’s on a similar level and pushes you, and watching videos online. Success back then could only be measured in tricks landed.
Do you have any funny or memorable moments to share about your own kitesurfing progression?
Perhaps the best way is to start right at the beginning. I had never touched a kite and was up in Langebaan with a friend of mine. We were both studying Mechanical Engineering at a bone-as-dry German University and had met at the local outdoor pool during lectures, asking each other why we weren’t attending them.
So we had to get out in the winter of 2005/2006, flew to Cape Town, and ended up in Langebaan with an old F-One C-Kite. The lagoon at Shark Bay was dried out, so it was cement sand. My buddy Robert already had some skills, and we were playing around in very light winds with the kite.
After a few minutes, I asked him, “So, how do you jump?” “Run this way, and pull the other side of the bar hard.” I did just that. Wobbling around under the kite in the air, completely out of control, I heard a loud thump. That was the kite crashing into the cemented sand. A few moments later, I ate the cement. My buddy was rolling on the floor laughing, and two South Africans who were digging for crabs were asking us if there wasn’t a license needed for this kind of activity. That said, I did learn how to fly a kite that day and was infected with the kitesurfing bug, which ultimately leads us to where we are now.
With the launch of the WOO Worlds, how can amateur riders use the WOO and the WOO Worlds event to stimulate their own progression?
The interesting thing is, they use the WOO by not using it. 🙂 With our recent app launch, all kiters can now log GPS sessions 100% for free, without the need of a WOO device. It works with Apple and Android phones, but more importantly, with Apple Watches. So, all you need to do is download the WOO app on your iPhone, bring the Apple Watch on the water, and start the WOO app in GPS Only mode. We’re working hard on making this available on other watch platforms as well, and Garmin is next on our list.
Anytime you focus on a goal, progression is fostered. So, in putting the goal out there with our 10 disciplines (padded by $25k of cash prizes), we’re inherently driving progression. And particularly for those disciplines where endurance and dedication matter (e.g. Total Height, Total Height Team Challenge, Total Distance Team Challenge), you’ll be out there riding A LOT, and that in itself will make you a better kiteboarder.
Lastly, we’re putting together quite some innovative formats. Drawing a perfect heart on the water is going to require a different skill set and will force riders to evaluate and improve different areas of their riding technique. And all this is accessible to all kiters, for free.
Of course, this is the first go-around for us, so we’re excited to observe and learn. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that will come up and inspire us to do more in the future. But for now, we’re all super amped for the WOO Worlds 2021!
Read more about progression tools in the Invest In Your Progression article, featured in Issue 88 of IKSURFMAG!
By Crystal VenessEditor at IKSURFMAG, Crystal Veness hails from Canada but is based in South Africa. When she isn't busy kitesurfing or reporting on the latest industry news for the mag, she is kicking back somewhere at a windy kite beach or working on creative media projects.