From the outside, the life of a professional kiteboarder can look like mountains of endless fun; and for the most part, it is.
They travel to some of the most beautiful destinations in the world, kitesurf all day, stay in incredible places and compete in front of thousands of people. But, when you push your body to the limits, there is always a high price to pay.
Severe sporting injuries are a not-too-distant reality for many professional kitesurfers. The freestyle discipline, in particular, requires many hard landings. To progress in the discipline, you must go through the crashes. However, it just takes one bad impact for everything to go up in flames. Ligament tears are the most common injuries in freestyle kitesurfing, and unfortunately, they take a long time and many months of rehab to repair.
Freestyle kiteboarding is an extreme sport. If you want to progress in freestyle, it requires many hard landings as you begin to move through the sport and the risk of injury increases. Many athletes have fear in their minds, although they will never know when it is coming. For some, it’s a career-ending moment; for others, it’s a chance to redefine themselves.
We chat to Ramiro Gallart, 2 x Argentinian Freestyle Champion, who recently tore both his ACL and PCL taking him out of kiting for almost a year.
Ramiro explains some of the challenges he faced whilst recovering from his sporting injuries…
How did your injury occur?
It happened at the end of 2021; It was my last day before going back home after a 6-month trip to Brazil. I was riding really overpowered (all the riders were on 9 & 10, and I was riding my 13) trying to get the last clips before leaving. I attempted a Bs317 with a straight leg and twisted hips, and all the impact went to my knee.
@ramirogallart “This one got me out of the water for almost two months; stoked to be getting back on the water. Lesson learnt, don’t push it if your mind is not there. I arrived that session in such a hurry, needed to take a flight a few hours later, and got there with the wrong size kite. I went out and still tried to go hard; I’m happy it didn’t end up in any major injury.”
What has been the hardest part of the recovery?
It’s hard to choose only one, but for the first month, you are so dependent on others which was pretty hard for me. I’m not used to asking for help. I am always on the go and I am very independent. Going through this injury was a big change in that sense. It humbles you and it also messes with your dopamine levels. I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, and what the reasons were, but I still couldn’t change the way things affected me, and my motivation would fluctuate from time to time.
Green Circle: Ramiro’s healthy knee MRI.
White Crisis Cross: Rough drawing of how the ACL and PCL are meant to cross between the femur and tibia bones.
Red Circle: Ramiro’s knee with no ACL or PCL.
How did it feel having to step away from kiting for so long?
I felt addicted to it. I was craving it so much that it would affect all my emotions and perception. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the adrenaline kiting gave me and the ability to express myself. I felt like a prisoner in my own body. All that energy that I couldn’t put into kiting, I tried to put into different projects that, looking back, were key for my career.
What was a day in your life like when you were in rehabilitation?
I would wake up, get breakfast, and take all the vitamins & collagen. Go to the rehab at Olimpia to activate all the tissues, stretch, exercise, and try to earn more mobility. Once I was done, Tomas, my physio, would help me drain all the inflammation with massage and some boots that would apply pressure and cool the targeted area.
After the morning routine was done, I would get some veggie lunch. During the first few months, I changed my diet to a plant-based one to keep inflammation at its minimum. Next, I would go work on some Airush projects, sales, or video editing, where I was able to keep myself involved in the industry in different ways.
To close the day, I would typically go for a paddle with a SUP in the river to keep my connection with the ocean.
How did you feel mentally when you went back to kiting?
It was tricky; it was a challenging game to play to get back. You can do the same tricks again, but you have limits. There is a fine line between being lazy and scared to go for more tricks, and going too fast and ruining everything you have worked on to get back to kiting. It required a lot of self-awareness and understanding of my own body.
It felt amazing riding again, almost like breathing again (I know it sounds cheesy), but I had been waiting for months to get this feeling back, and I had to take a sip. Mainly because I started so early; 4 months after my surgery I was riding surfboards and foot straps. I made sure to have full mobility, strong legs, no pain, and no inflammation, but still, my ligaments weren’t healed yet so I couldn’t do anything crazy as an awkward crash could ruin everything.
Did you feel you could push yourself as hard as before?
I will be able to push hard again soon. I still can’t try the biggest double swaps yet, but it’s there and the progression hasn’t stopped. The experience has made me find new ways to do different tricks and rotations. It seems like every time I go through an injury, the limitation of tools I have only makes me more creative. It is well-known in literature that scarcity drives creativity. I try to be conscious of this and use it to my advantage.
Do you feel it has changed your style of riding?
I have changed my tricks slightly as I do combinations more often to reduce the chances of injury. But it hasn’t changed my general style. Style is something that is much deeper than just the tricks you do. It is something that flows naturally and will never leave you.
Are there any positives that you can take from the whole experience?
So many! I have learned so much about my body, and how to take care of it and enjoy the process of recovery. It has also given me more time to get involved in different aspects of the industry. I also got to spend more time with my family and friends, which is usually difficult when you are constantly traveling.