Flying Dutchman rules the waves, the sky

Kevin Langeree

By Steven Verseput

Ten years ago, 21-year-old Kevin Langeree first tried his luck at kitesurfing. Now, he is the world champion.

Kitesurfer Kevin Langeree is an air- and waterborne acrobat. He dances atop waves metres high, pulls off daring stunts in the air and flies over rocky jetties with ease. The numerous videos of his exploits circulating on the internet show him jumping as far as 60 metres, or as high as twenty. When 'The Flying Dutchman' hits the water, spectacle is guaranteed.

Two weeks ago Langeree became the first Dutchman to win the kitesurfing world championships. The honour is bestowed upon whoever wins the PKRA Tour 2009, a worldwide travelling competition consisting of four contests.

This year's edition wasn't settled until the final day of the tour, in Nouméa, a town on the Pacific island of New Caledonia. Youri Zoon, also Dutch, came in second. The English Aaron Hadlow won third place. Langeree had come in second to Hadlow for the last three years.

"It was inevitable this would happen sometime," Langeree said on the phone from the Hawaiian island of Maui where he had just arrived to do a photo shoot for his sponsor and, of course, kitesurf.

According to Langeree, he won the world title this year because he has learnt from his past mistakes. "I was too focused on winning," Langeree said. "This year I was more relaxed."

Living the life he always dreamed of

After winning his title, the kitesurfer suddenly found himself at the centre of attention. He was inundated with over three hundred emails, given a hero's welcome at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and lauded at a ceremony hosted by the major of his hometown Noordwijk. Prime minister Balkenende sent him a personal letter of congratulations, and he was driven around in a limousine for a day. His jaws hurt from all the smiling, he wrote on his website. "These days have been pretty hectic, but I am enjoying every minute of it," Langeree said.

Langeree now leads the footloose life of which he has always dreamt. Spending a mere two and a half months at home last year, he has travelled the world in pursuit of the wind. He has been to Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Brazil and Chile to compete with other kitesurfers. "I have the best job in the world," Langeree says.

Flying over the water, boundless freedom and "playing with nature" are what he likes best about kitesurfing, a sport which has only existed for eleven years and has approximately 10,000 practitioners in the Netherlands. "A 20-metre high jump is the most beautiful thing on this earth. The adrenalin-rush is great, and you can do a thousand of them, you will still keep getting that rush."

Langeree, whose younger sister Jalou also competes on the kitesurfing circuit, was 11-years old when he first took to the sport. He quickly became a fixture at the kitesurfing school in Noordwijk. Jordy Koningh, its onetime owner, recalls Langeree would clean containers in exchange for some free time on his kites and boards. "Back then he already said he would be world champion some day," Koningh said.

According to Koningh, who still teaches kitesurfing, Langeree is not the type of kid to be tied up in school all day. "He is a real surfer dude, always out on the water," Koningh said. At age fifteen, four years after first stepping onto a board, Langeree won the Dutch championships for the first time.

Beach bum turned pro

Since then he has made a profession out of his passion. Beach boy Langeree has become addicted to kitesurfing. The first thing he does after getting out of bed is check for wind. "If I detect even the faintest breeze I just have to get out there and kick some butt," Langeree said.

Spending time indoors because of bad weather gets him grumpy. He spends three months in Cape Town every winter because the Netherlands are too cold for him, renting a beach-side cabin there with a few other kitesurfers. The place is perfect: the waves are high, the wind is hard and it is summertime in the southern hemisphere then.

Langeree does not want to disclose how much money he makes kitesurfing. "Just enough to get by. But I love doing what I do, and that is something no money can buy." One thing he doesn't need to spend money on is a trainer. "We are the first generation of kiters. No one can really teach us anything."

The four-time Dutch champion, who has done nothing but kitesurf since he finished high school, estimates he is good for another eight years or so on the circuit. "I am living day by day at the moment, enjoying life. I don't know what I want to do later in life. Perhaps start my own kitesurfing school."

In a week Langeree will return home to Noordwijk. He won't be staying long, however. He will be spending the holidays in Cape Town out in the surf, practising tricks for the new season.

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