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A Weekend With Youri Zoon (by Patrick de Man)

It all started with an email to fellow Dutch native Youri Zoon saying, “I am a Dutch guy in Puerto Rico. Would you be interested in coming over to give clinics to the kiting kids here?” A quick reply with a positive answer and it was only a few weeks until he was here.

In the kiting world, Puerto Rico seems overlooked. This island is beautiful and has perfect year-round weather with several excellent kiting spots. Combined with friendly people and a high standard of living, Puerto Rico is an ideal kiting location. By exploring the island with Youri, I hoped he would share this assessment and put Puerto Rico in the spotlight.

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My second goal was bringing together young local riders and their parents to connect the kiting communities across the island. My first initiative was to have Youri work with the recently formed Amateur Kiteboarders Association, Inc. (AKA), a not-for-profit organization that has started with a single chapter in Dorado. The AKA has organized regular weekly practices and monthly competitions for its members. In just a few months, the AKA has already visibly improved the kiteboarding skills of its young riders under supervision of head coach, Andy Hurdman. The organization aspires to expand into multiple chapters in and outside of Puerto Rico so its youth members can compete with a larger pool of riders and gain experience in different environments. I thought the clinics with Youri would be a good start to make great things happen.

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Day 1
Youri’s first clinic on Friday was scheduled at Goodwinds at Dorado Beach. Despite the wind not cooperating, the group made the day as productive as possible. There was a video presentation followed by Youri answering all questions about practical topics such as equipment maintenance as well as about questions about his progression to the top and life on the pro circuit. Youri stressed the importance of working out to strengthen legs, core and arm muscles. The group then spent time on the balancing board and challenged Youri on the slack line. The workout continued as he took the group out paddle boarding until finally, late in the afternoon, the wind picked up and a few participants were able to go kiting while Youri trailed them on a jet ski shouting out kiting pointers. The day concluded with a beach BBQ where kids and parents could mingle and meet Youri and reflect on the amazing and inspirational day. Impressed by the setup at Goodwinds, with the facilities and amenities available on and off the water, he remarked that there were few places in the world, if any, that could match the overall experience of this location — that’s a lot coming from the man who’s been around the world with his kite.

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Day 2
The next day, we were on the road early to drive to southwest Puerto Rico in search of wind at La Parguera. This spot is a local favorite where a bay dotted with mangrove cays ensures flat water and an unparalleled kiting experience. Scoring with a nice southeast wind blowing at a perfect angle through the kiting zone, the kids were very excited to kite in front of Youri and show him their skill level. Youri was equally engaged giving individual feedback and pointers. Next came the weekend highlight; Youri’s own practice session. He performed unbelievable tricks with the crowd going “oooh” and “aaah” for a solid 45 minutes. Afterward his great kiting experience, he told us how blessed we are to have such a world-class spot on our doorstep.” Professional kiters,” he added, “travel far and wide to find places like La Parguera.”

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Day 3
Unfortunately, on day three, the wind failed us again. Nevertheless, we made it a fun Sunday on the water with a “classroom” session under the shade of the mangrove trees and a wonderful opportunity for the kiter kids from across the island to get to know each other as well as Youri a bit better. Participants, parents, bystanders, and Youri himself all had a terrific time during the entire three-day event.

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Our goals were fulfilled: Youri was impressed with Puerto Rico as a kiting destination and the community built among the kiters surpassed everyone’s expectations. What an inspirational weekend it was! After having the honor of spending a few days with him, everyone agreed that if there is a role model for our kiteboarding youth, Youri is it! Humble, approachable, friendly and an all-around nice person, we all anxiously await his return next year!

 


Patrick de Man is from the Netherlands and, since 2013, has been living in Puerto Rico with his wife and two small children. After obtaining an MBA and PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT, he started a career in finance in NYC, which he currently continues as an independent energy trader and as an investor in PR. Patrick grew up doing gymnastics, swimming, playing tennis, doing aikido and occasionally windsurfing. He picked up snowboarding while living in New York, but once he moved to PR, was looking for a sport to enjoy in the Caribbean. A year ago, during his first visit to La Parguera, he discovered kiteboarding. His home base is in Dorado at Goodwinds and he tries to kite La Parguera whenever possible.