Brazil’s Bruna Kajiya won the Qatar Airways GKA Freestyle Kite World Championship title in 2023. It was a fourth Freestyle crown and her first since 2017 for the athlete who, at 36, is the most senior woman on the tour. Just after clinching the title at the final stop of the season in Qatar, she talked to Diogo Cardoso about her year and the struggles that have been part her journey.
Question: What a year. You finished up the year with your main goal, the world title. What’s going through your head?
Bruna Kajiya: Yes, I’m feeling super happy. But also super accomplished. This year was a really long year that we started January, we’re in December and so much has happened. We started in January right here in Qatar, where I started with the win and for me that was a perfect start of the year. It gave me so much energy and motivation for the year ahead and then for the second stop we went to Colombia. I made some critical mistakes in the final, and ended up fourth.
I think that was just what I needed at that moment because it gave me that sense of urgency like, hey, don’t play around, keep your eye on the prize and keep working. That’s what I did for the rest of the year. So then I had a first place in France. First place in Brazil, my home country, and then came here to Qatar for the final event, leading the ranking, which gave me quite a comfortable position to be in. But it’s always super concentrated. Now, having my fourth word title means a lot. It puts a title to something that I worked so hard on.
Q: Especially nice was the win in Brazil. How did that feel?
BK: The win in Brazil for me, was by far the most significant one. Not only because it’s my home country. It was a doubly special win because it was my home country and winning in Brazil for my people is amazing and it’s such a dream. But also the spot, the location we had the competition, Cauipe lagoon, that is world famous for freestyle.
That spot is the Mecca for freestyle. It’s just such a special spot and to win there, for me, it was super-special. So, you understand, when I started kiteboarding, I used to train in Cauipe. I was always saying, hopefully one day we’ll have a competition here. It’s my dream to compete in Cauipe. I’ve been competing for many years and it never happened. So to have the event there and win it, it was everything I could hope for.
Q: Another Brazilian, Carlos Mario, also won the men’s title. What makes Brazil so special and why are there so many young riders coming from there and so many world champions?
BK: I think we Brazilians are special people because we, as a country, endure quite a lot and we have such a variety of things happening when you’re young. We have conflict with so much that we become pretty set in a positive way and adaptable and really work hard. But also we carry a lot of joy and life inside of us.
So, I think that combines to create a good recipe for determined people. But to bring this side to life, we also have amazing locations in Brazil for competing and training. The north of Brazil is in my opinion the best place in the world. I’m Brazilian but, you know, it is really good there. I think it’s a combo of many aspects.
Q: You’ve been competing and travelling the world for the past 15 to 20 years. At which point did you realise it was important to have a place to settle down, or at least to have a place to recharge mentally?
BK: Actually, the one in Portugal is not really a place for me to live yet. It’s more like an investment where I go sometimes. So I’m still yet to find a home base, but I do feel like I need one. It’s just that as kiteboarders we travel so much, we basically follow the wind throughout the year. So it’s the wind determining where my place will be. But it is super-important to have this one place where you go back to, and recharge. More and more I’m finding that in Portugal. I feel more at home there. So hopefully soon I’ll have a home base. It’s been 15, 20 years, like you said, without a home base, always moving around.
We just learn. I got to a point halfway through my career where I was, like, I’m so fed up with this. I don’t want to do it anymore. I was in a place where I was in conflict with the situation. But I’ve overcame that and now I just see it as a blessing as well. I’m very adaptable. I find family, extended family, everywhere I go, and I just see the positive aspects of it. So, I’m happy how it is now, but obviously I want a home base.
‘100 perecent supportive’
Q: How do you keep a balance in your life, between keeping going or giving up competition?
BK: It’s really hard to keep a balance. Happily, my family is 100 percent supportive of me. So that helps a lot, but I don’t see them often at all. Like, maybe I saw my family twice this year, which is not much for normal person. Maybe three or four days, which is very little. But we’re close in our hearts. We speak every day, we share, and I think travelling so much really helped me to understand how to stay close to people and I’m very good at that these days.
Despite being far away, I managed to stay connected, stay present and active. Relationships are pretty tricky, but luckily, my boyfriend is also kiteboarder, and he’s also competing. Not on the same tour as me but in a different discipline. But we can go to places and train together and that makes life a lot easier. Also, he understands my life and I understand his, which someone from outside of the sport can have a hard time to understand.
But I did have a phase where I was, like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m tired. I want to see my friends. I want to see my family. Life is beautiful, because right at that time I had a knee injury which took me out for six months. For the six months where I was stationed in one place, not travelling, all of the things that I said I really wanted, I was like what? No, I love what I do. I love kiteboarding and that process helped me re-find my my passion, my connection to the sport. And then I came back with a different mindset and never again complained about it.
Q: It sounds like a hell of a cycle. Does winning the world title close the cycle? Where do you go from here?
BK: From here, I go tonight directly to Brazil, to São Paulo, because I’m expecting a niece to be born any day now. So, I really want to enjoy the time. I’m so happy that the timing of competitions and everything worked out so I can be there when she is born. Then, enjoy the family, enjoy Christmas, savour this win. Because I know now, I feel it’s only when you’re really meet your loved ones that you fully appreciate everything that you’ve done and you get to be 100 percent yourself. So I’m really looking forward to that. Then, in January start full on again, come back to the Tour and keep pushing.
edit: Ian MacKinnon
images: Svetlana Romantsova