Words: Laurent Nevarez
Pics: Fanatic/John Carter
With his rasta haircut, a permanent smile and his boundless energy, Airton Cozzolino is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable and charismatic riders you can meet. Apart from being among the best kitesurfers in the world, the Cape Verdean prodigy is also a very talented stand up paddle rider with a radical and committed approach to waves. At 22, the showman of Ponta Preta, is more impressive than ever and brings fun and creativity to the sport. Laurent Nevarez caught up with AC to see what makes him tick.
Age : 22
Size : 1.68m
Weight : 70 kg
Born in : Cabo Verde
Lives in: Ponta Preta, Sal, Cape Verde (winter) and Capo Mannu, Sardinia, Italy (summer)
Stance : Goofy
Sponsors : Fanatic, Ion, Redbull, North Kiteboarding
5th SUWT La Torche Pro 2014
13th SUWT Tahiti 2015
Results Kite :
World Champion Kite Surf KSP 2011
3rd KSP 2012
4th KSP 2013
1st Tarifa Strapless 2015
Could you tell me little more about your background and journey so far?
I was born on Sal, Cape Verde, and I grew up spending most of my time surfing. I come from a pretty poor background and I found through this passion a lot of joy and a way to live a better life. One day, I met an Italian kitesurfer named Libero Cozzolino, who took me under his wing and then adopted me when I was 12 years old. He really introduced me to kitesurf and gave me this passion that would change my life. I went to his home in Sardinia and he trained me to compete and then one day in 2011, I won the world title in waves. Since then positive things keep coming and I have had the chance for several years to do it as a job – it’s an unbelievable journey.
When did you discover SUP?
I think it was in 2011. I tried one day when the waves were small and I was immediately hooked! This new way to approach waves really brought me something different. I then asked Fanatic if it was possible to get a SUP board and I started to ride it and train. I got better so they integrated me into the international team. SUP was firstly an extra sport for fun, but for the last couple of years, it’s really become my second discipline. I really want to progress to the highest level. I want to be one of the top riders and maybe a world champion. This is one of my dreams.
We have seen you in some big SUP events, do you manage to compete all year against the other top guys?
I would love but it is not easy to deal with kitesurf trips and a dual contest schedule. It’s really tricky. I have competed in a couple SUWT events and have learned a lot every time, it was really intense. I was riding boards with too much volume and not surfing 100%. In October 2014 I competed at La Torche in Brittany and finished 5th. This result gave me confidence and proved that I can have my place on the tour. With hard training and even better boards I could probably do something more.
Are you interested and involved in the development of boards with your sponsor?
I work on boards with Fanatic and their great shaper Sebastian Wenzel. We have tested different prototypes and made adjustments as needed. I really love the new boards this season, I feel super good on them. They’re fast and precise. For everyday wave conditions I have a Prowave 7’6 x 27.5 (80L) and I also use a custom 7’4 for certain conditions and contests. I also use a Carbon 100 Paddle which is really great.
How would you describe your approach and the way you ride?
SUP is still a very young sport and I try to have a modern and radical approach, I like to push to the maximum, try new tricks, sometimes go a bit crazy and complete hard lip hits. Every time I go in the water I try to enjoy myself, push the limits and have fun launching big air, shove its, 360’s and so on – the sensations are crazy. I have also worked hard on my backside riding because I feel I can get more power in maneuvers at the top of the wave. Stand up paddle really offers a lot of possibilities, whatever the conditions, and I never get tired of it.
Does this pretty radical approach have something to do with your kitesurfing background?
All I do in SUP comes from surfing, which gave me good base for stand up. Both sports have the same roots and work the same way, except the paddling part.
Do you continue to surf?
Yes, I try to keep surfing often at home when it is good, it gives me a different feeling from kite or SUP, which I ride a with a more professional approach. Surfing, for me, is just for fun – pure personal stoke. I also do a little windsurfing. It’s nice and I have a lot to learn, I really like it. When there is a lot of wind and I can borrow a board and sail from a friend I don’t hesitate!
Arthur Arutkin told me that you are a super active and always doing something the whole day and spending a lot of time in the water. Would you agree this statement?
Yes, I think it’s probably true! I love being in the water, I feel so comfortable in it. It’s my natural element. I really think my life is in the water. If I stay too long out of the water I start to get a little crazy. It’s not a joke! Even when there is no wind and no waves I paddle my SUP race board. I like to go for miles and miles. I love the feeling. I would probably never be a real SUP-racer myself, but I use it for cardio training – it’s better than being locked in a gym, don’t you think?
What does a typical day look like when you’re at home?
In Cape Verde, my normal day begins very early in the morning. I try to go for a shortboard session at dawn and then I go back in SUPing for another two hours. When the wind increases I go kitesurfing and then go back to SUP when the wind drops in the evening. I don’t really have a lot of time to get bored with all these different sports.
You seem to have pretty much the same approach as Kai Lenny. Is he the kind of athlete that inspires you?
How can anyone not be inspired by such a complete and talented rider? We did a lot of SUP together in Hawaii a few years ago. He is really impressive in big waves and has a crazy style. I learned a lot with him. There is also another Hawaiian rider who inspires me. Zane Schweitzer has a really new school approach and does a lot of tricks. I like the way he surfs, it’s very progressive and radical.
When you go in the water do you think about training and focus on specific technical aspects?
It depends but I generally try to work on something..
How would you describe the potential of Cape Verde and more precisely your island of Sal, for SUP riding?
This place is famous in windsurf and kitesurf circles but not so well known for surfing and even more so for SUP. Only a few guys practice it regularly. There are different reef breaks and we often have some great wave conditions, especially in the morning. It’s important for me to represent my island, I’m proud of my origins and I love bringing other SUP riders to discover it. Zane (Schweitzer) sent me a message the other day and seems really motivated to come here – it could be fun!
Is there a young generation of local riders coming up?
A few kids are ripping and getting better. I really try to encourage them, give them advice and I hope to be a good influence on them. I have a nephew who is 14 and wants to be exactly like me. He spends a lot of time in the water and trains super hard, he’s going to be very good I think. I really hope to see more guys coming through but in Cape Verde it’s not always easy..
How can you describe what travelling brings to your approach?
Kitesurf and SUP allows me to meet many different people and to go to many different places, it is impressive when I think about it. I feel all these travels teach me a lot and help me to grow as a man, becoming more and more aware.
What are your favorite destinations you’ve traveled to?
I love Bali and Indonesia, it’s really magical out there and the waves are so perfect! Another place is Mauritius. I go there every year and I think I will never get tired of it. The landscapes are beautiful, the people are so friendly and kite or SUP conditions are always amazing. One Eye, on the Le Morne peninsula, is certainly one of my favorite waves. It’s perfect and so intense.
What about Hawaii, is that a standout for you too?
I have been to Oahu. It is very special and the atmosphere is unique – the mecca for surfing. Last time I went it was good but really big. It’s intense but a little bit frustrating when you cannot do any maneuvers. You make big drops on huge walls and try to keep control and have the right line at full speed. I was the only rider with a small board (8’0) while everyone else had semi guns around 9’0 or 10’0. I also love Maui. I find the potential for SUP there is even bigger because there are fewer people. There is an incredible level out there, the world’s best SUP riders live on the island. It’s always good to surf in Maui.
Do you often think about future? How do you imagine your life in 10 years?
I hope to be in Sal with a wife and children playing. I could have stopped doing the competitions but I would love to keep being a free-rider, do some trips, and make videos… I also wish I could travel with my family, show them the world while sharing unforgettable experiences together. That would be nice.
What are your goals this season? Do you any new plans?
I really want to become kitesurf world champion again. In SUP I want to compete in more big international events and do my best to get on the podium! One thing is sure: I will always give it 100% because I don’t know any other way.