Old Dogs, New Tricks
In an event that brought together 11 young athletes from across Europe, the first-ever FreeWing Youth Wing Foil Progression Camp took place in Leucate, France. Hosted by FreeWing and under the guidance of pro rider and coach Fiona Wylde, the camp aimed to connect aspiring riders and elevate their skills as both riders and ambassadors for water sports. Amidst the youthful energy, two slightly more “seasoned” men – FreeWing ambassador Kristoffer Living and photographer Robert Almquist defied age stereotypes by joining the camp, embarking on a journey of both professional and personal growth.
Photos: Robert Almquist
I was offered, together with my “partner in crime” and photographer, Robert Almquist, to join FreeWing's inaugural Youth Camp in Leucate, France. We found the concept interesting; youth wingfoiling riders from across Europe coming together to learn more about an exciting and fast-growing sport, guided by other extremely talented young people, in an extreme environment.
The goal was to observe, document, get to know new people, have fun and hopefully learn a few new things – no easy feat, considering we’re both around the 50-year-old mark.
We flew from Sweden to Barcelona, as this was the easiest way of getting to Leucate, a picturesque seaside town in the South of France. We started driving up the Mediterranean Coast in our very, very small rental car (note to self: never choose “small rental car” on a Spanish car rental website again).I felt young, but old at the same time – young, because I was going on an adventure, to a place I’d never visited before (and also, because I was going to be joining a ‘youth camp', and I have a tendency to forget my physical age when not being reminded of it, for better or for worse), and old, as my brain kept telling me that I was going out of my comfort zone trying these new things, in an unknown environment, and that this could potentially be monumentally humiliating…
However, as we drove into the Viglamo camp site that evening – meeting with the other participants and the Dream Team riders – that negative ego uneasiness soon gave way to feelings of eagerness and anticipation. I was thrilled and excited to be there – this was going to be epic!
Good set-up is imperative to make a project successful. And this part is really what impressed me most with this camp. Ok, we were lucky with the wind, but I always felt that there was flexibility and a plan B if the wind should drop or conditions changed.
Located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Leucate provided perfect conditions for wingfoiling, with consistent strong offshore winds and calm waters. The camp took advantage of these ideal conditions, with daily sessions, together with the world’s best riders, who challenged and inspired these talented young wingfoilers. This, in combination with solid, daily theory lessons with Fiona Wylde, whose knowledge, passion and engagement are just world class, made for a camp where young talents could go from “zero to hero” in just a few short days.
I also felt that the team and camp staff created a fun and relaxed atmosphere, encouraging the whole gang to make new friends and enjoy the social side of the sport as well. There was a safe and supportive environment, where the “young guns” could learn and improve their skills on their own terms, in their own way. Something that is not to be taken for granted in this world.
Safety was also a top priority at the camp. I noticed that head coach Fiona, who is way too experienced to let this critical part slip through her fingers, took great care to ensure that all participants were aware of the potential risks involved in wingfoiling in strong offshore winds. The team also engaged the local lifeguards to ensure necessary back up if needed, to minimize risk, giving parents peace of mind that their children were learning in a responsible and supportive environment.
The big takeaway for me from this, is that I constantly got pushed out of my comfort zone, every single day of camp. Although this can be quite hard on your ego at my age, there is no better way to grow and stay feeling young. I came home with a strange feeling of eagerness, wanting to apply what I experienced at the camp in my life at home. It felt almost like Robert and I had visited the fountain of youth and drank deep from its source. This type of camp can definitely change your perspective, if you let it…
I mean, to see what these kids and young adults do with this sport… They approach (or more like attack) these things with an open mind, where nothing is taken for granted, nothing is impossible. In short: The future is theirs and they shape it the way they see fit. They are creating their own destiny in a way…. While for me, it’s a privilege to just be in the presence of this.
I’m confident that youth camps like this one are just what’s needed for the “water sport industry” to thrive in the future. It engages young and old. It builds bridges and communities. It’s an incredible opportunity for young people to learn and improve their wingfoiling skills, make new friends, and experience the thrill of flying effortlessly over the water. Personally, it was an unforgettable experience that has inspired me to continue pursuing the sport and pushing myself for, hopefully, many years to come.