Cozzolino finds ‘mental focus’ to regain crown

Published 5th January 2024 by Ian MacKinnon


Italian athlete shrugged off several tough years and now feels at his ‘strongest’ with more titles in his sights for 2024

Multiple world champion Airton Cozzolino got back on top of the podium in 2023 when he landed the Qatar Airways GKA Kite-Surf World Championship title. The Cape Verde-based Italian explained to Ian MacKinnon how he regained his mental focus that he is sure was a key element in his renewed success. At 29, Cozzolino is hungry for more in 2024 and believes he is in a good place to do it.

Question: Obviously in 2023, you got your Kite-Surf world title back. It was quite a year of ups and downs. How do you look at it now?

Airton Cozzolino: I’m super-happy I didn’t quit, because it was all a bit too much. Mentally I wasn’t prepared because of things that happened in the past. And I was saying I don’t want to give up. I want to keep trying because I’ve been winning since 2011. In the past years, I was winning every event—every single event. But then I said, I did it in the past, why can I not do it now? So let’s keep trying. But I was mentally out of place.

Before [the last event] in Brazil I was working a lot in my mental focus. I was thinking about the training, but I was over-training. Then I stopped training and focused more on my mental health. Then everything fell into  place and I understood I don’t need so much training. After Covid and then when James [Carew] won his for the first world championship, after that, I was training like crazy. Every week I was booking tickets to go training. So, now I’m super happy.

Q: But you didn’t really get to defend your Big Air world title because of because you got injured. Was that a tough one for you?

AC: In Tarifa before the Big Air comp I went to a spot in Africa for training because there wasn’t wind [in Spain]. We’d been one week waiting for the wind. Then I booked this magic place and for sure that was the best Big Air trip of my entire life. But on the last day an unexpected gust came and I did a big jump and the kite stalled. I came down like crazy and I fell so hard on my ribs. I broke two ribs. I had some tests and they showed I had nothing wrong.

I booked the ticket back to Tarifa and then the day after I started my heat. And as soon as I put my kite up, I said it’s impossible. I started to feel a lot of pain. I tried to do one jump, but it was impossible. I didn’t compete because I was in too much pain.  For sure, that was a tough one. Then James [Carew] won what I wanted to win. But he deserved that for sure. Next one, then we’re gonna see who’s the real Big Air world champion.

‘Me against me’

Q: Is one title or the other more important to you? The Kite-Surf or the Big Air, and or are they both the same to you?

AC: For me Big Air is like another thing. It gives you extra power back, a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion. When you win it, it’s something special. Something hits you really hard because with all that adrenaline, and you’re winning—happiness. It’s something crazy when I go to Big Air I feel something different from wave riding or strapless freestyle. Most of my air tickets are for Big Air. But I enjoy them both, as soon as I’m in the water, whatever the discipline, I go for it.

Q: You were in South Africa, in Cape Town in Red Bull Kota last year, how was that for you?

AC: It’s really difficult to get into [the comp]. For me to be there with the strapless, against all the Twin-Tips is tough. I was a bit unlucky with the conditions. In my heat I got tangled with the with Edgar [Ulrich] and that was three minutes gone.

Then, when I started again, there were no kickers. All the emotions came, all the time. You need a perfect state of mind, perfect conditions, all at once. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.

Q: During the year it seemed you were struggling to get in the right frame of mind in during the Kite-Surf season. You felt that you’ve been struggling with it for a couple of years?

AC: It’s my personal life. I had a few things in the past, that I wouldn’t talk about. But when you’re winning every year and then you start to lose, then you are trying to find the problem. I thought my problem was the training and I started to train more.  I put more pressure on myself.

Then after Morocco I sat down and I said I don’t want to keep going like this, something is going wrong. If I keep going like this, maybe it’s better to quit because it’s not healthy for my state of mind. Then I travelled somewhere, with no kiting, nothing. I remembered those days in the past, with no pressure, and winning every event. So I said I’m gonna go Brazil not caring about the world championship, but I still wanted to win one event. So, I won one event with no pressure. It was just me against me. Thanks to Brazil, I understood enough to keep going.

‘Feel so calm’

Q: And do you think you’ve got it figured out now?

AC: Yeah, I’ve got it. I had  a lot of stuff that I was doing wrong: little things, little problems, like arguments. Any bad news can make you lose all the focus. Then, I learnt to ignore the social media. When I was in Brazil, I checked the interview with me, Matchu [Lopes], and Pedro [Matos]. I heard stuff that I didn’t like. My mind was so focused on that, I almost lost my mental focus. Then I closed all the media. I put my phone down after that, and I didn’t touch it again.

Q: So looking at the coming year, you suggested somewhere that you were having difficulty finding motivation. You’re going to compete this year?

AC: Definitely. Yeah. Something has changed in me. For sure, I will compete. I’m feeling I’m at my strongest. Now, my mental state is there. I feel so calm. I got my motivation back. For anyone to win the world  championship, they’ll have to beat me. I won’t make it easy. I would love to win again because it might be my last one, you never know. So, now that I’m at my strongest, I have to keep going. It’s not about more training but it’s about being happy in life. I feel more than ready for next year, to tell you the truth. I can’t wait for it.

Q: At 29, do you still have the competitive fire?

AC: When you feel good, you’re ready. You want to go as long as possible. But now it wouldn’t be bad to have like a full year off, to travel or whatever, and completely disconnect from everything. Because all my life has been pressure, since my first competition in 2007. Since then I was under pressure until this day. But now I’m calm, I’m good. I think I can go for it again. But one year off— one of those years—would be good. Maybe take one year off and then come back.

images: Svetlana Romantsova

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