Focused Van Iersel in pole position for crown

Published 21st May 2024 by Ian MacKinnon


Unique team helped Dutch Big Air rider restore her mental focus to win first GKA Big Air tour stop after comeback from injury

The Dutch athlete Pippa van Iersel won the opening stop of the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Kite World Championship tour. Her comeback win at the GKA Lords of Tram event in Barcarès, France, followed a tough two-year break with injury. Going into the next round in Gran Canaria, Van Iersel, 24, told Kitesurf365 podcast of her fight back to fitness and how she slayed the demons from her knee injuries supported by her unique team. Her doctor, physio, mental coach and athletic coach were crucial to putting her back on top of the podium.

Question: Congratulations. How are you feeling?

Pippa van Iersel: Thank you man. I still feel super good. My smiles are very big.

Q: I want to go back to just before the comp. I was talking to you and you said ‘I think I’m going to pull out’. Tell us why you were thinking that way?

PvI: When I went out with my injuries, the mental part was super hard for me. Before, I was so fearless. When you haven’t been kiting for a year, it is obviously very difficult to come back.

But to be able to take all these hard crashes again and not being scared that you crash so hard that your knee gets too much impact. Or that you have in your mind all the time ‘OK, I hope my ACL is gonna be fine. I don’t want the surgery again. I don’t want that year out again.’

It was basically because I had a bit of a trauma from the from the crash two years ago. Every time I got out of rotation, I could literally feel my crash again. I had a lot of a mental coaching. It completely got rid of that fear.

But then two weeks before the comp, I had an uncomfortable crash where my my knee went all the way back.

In the shower [later] all of a sudden I could feel the swelling going in my knee again. I called my doctor who did the surgery on me two years ago and he said we needed to make an MRI.

They could see the swelling. But my doctor said from Austria, your ACL is intact. So then I had super-good news that it is some liquid in the knee. I was talking with my mental coach again to see if I would be ready or not.

‘Mental block and fear’

I only rode once at the spot [Barcarès], just 10 minutes up and down to feel if my knee was stable and it felt good. But still I was not sure.  The team around me, my physio, my doctor, my mental coach work with me from a distance. It is insane how they got me ready. And physically, I was perfect.

Q: You’re probably one of the most professional kiteboarders out there in the way you’re approaching the sport. I want to talk about the team around you.

PvI: I said up front that I don’t need help or whatever. Now I have the whole team. I have a doctor who talks to my physio [Bruce Fritz] . I have my mental coach who talks to my physio, so she knows exactly how to mentally prepare me. It’s my mental block and fear, and I need to control that.

It’s financially pretty expensive. But I really hope that kiteboarding is going to that place just because it’s going to be also very healthy for the athletes and we want a long-term career. I wish that for everyone and not just being in there for two years and then your body is completely destroyed.

Q: How does your sports coach fit into the team around you?

PvI: My physio and my mental coach are very experienced, they have worked with tonnes of athletes. Loïc [de Coninck, athletic coach] is insane with teaching tricks. We just need one word and I understand what he says.

But on the emotional part, a ‘coach coach’ can really take all my insecurities away. Loïc can do that with tricks. But I think in the mental part, body-wise and everything, I’m still really glad that Bruce is there and I hope they can work more together as well, and [Loïc] can learn a lot for my mental coach, and from Bruce as well.

Wrestling on the beach

Q: Before your heat you were wrestling on the beach. Where did the wrestling technique come?

PvI: That came from Bruce. I’ve been not only doing my physiotherapy with Bruce, but he’s my mentor as well. We train a lot together. Every time I’m in Holland I just train with him in the gym. When I’m a bit tense, he’s like, ‘OK, we’re gonna go boxing or wrestling or whatever.’ That’s great. It gets me out of my head.

Q: Let’s talk about the final. You must have been super-happy? What would you give yourself out of the old classic ABC?

PvI: I was really happy but also I was really enjoying it. That’s what I was most happy with. I’ve been waiting so long to feel that adrenaline, to feel this competitive mindset again. I’m also proud of the decisions I made with listening to my body and that has been the biggest learning since the past few years that I have had. I would give myself a ‘B+’, because I know there is more to come.

Q: Looking forward to the next stop in Gran Canaria, with the possibility of Brazil, maybe very different conditions?

PvI: But that is what I really want to be able to do: be the best in any sort of conditions. I think if you are the best rider in the world, you need to be able to be good in waves, in chop, in gusty winds, in light winds, you need to train in everything.

edit: Ian MacKinnon
images: Samuel Cárdenas

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