“On the water, you don’t win with your body, you win with your mind and your soul”

“On the water, you don’t win with your body, you win with your mind and your soul”

Nikolaos Kaklamanakis talks about perseverance, and the joys and difficulties that new athletes face.

One of the most popular athletes in Greece, Nikolaos Kaklamanakis is a three-time Mistral class windsurfing world champion and a gold medalist at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Sailing. He won silver at the 2003 World Championships in Cádiz, Spain, behind Przemek Miarczynski of Poland. In the 2000 Summer Olympics he took 6th place, and in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Kaklamanakis won the silver medal, finishing just behind Gal Fridman of Israel. Four years later, in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games he finished 8th in the RS:X Men Sailing Race.

In addition to full-time watersports, Nikos has recently taken responsibility for fellow Greek windsurfer Byron Kokkalanis’ bid for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He also is a sought-after motivational speaker and leadership trainer for executives, community groups, and organizations.

We caught up with Nikos recently to hear his thoughts about the joys and difficulties of starting a new sport, and how athletes learn to persevere.

As an Olympian, what advice can you give to aspiring athletes who aim high? How can they meet their goals?

Before someone asks ‘what’ and ‘how’ to do something, its better to ask ‘why’. Understanding our deepest internal motivations is the biggest factor in achieving success, and, likewise, the strongest force that keeps us going in the face of difficulty and failure. Knowing ‘why’ is the most important tool we have as competitive athletes – why do you love this? Why does it make you happy? Why do you expect to change your life (through this sport)? We will represent our country all over the world, and the bigger the ‘why’ is, the better we can stand up to the challenges we’ll face and meet the goals we set.

Was there a time during a race or a training session that you faced a dangerous situation due to weather conditions?

There were lots of times that I felt exposed and at risk in the water, especially since I rarely had a support boat or a team alongside me during the years I was training for the Olympics. Most times I relied on my wits and self-confidence to get through the tricky spots; the truth is you never win in the sea with your body, you win with your mind and your soul. There are a lot of locations that are known for their difficulty – Australia and South Africa are notorious for their wicked currents. I remember getting caught completely alone in a 30-knots wind – there was no room for error because even one broken screw or torn line would mean the end. Talk about being at the edge! I never felt that training was easy. Its dangerous and scary, but the fear is something that can drive you forward provided you don’t let it take control of you or panic. More than once or twice, fear has been my good friend and guide – through the danger, rather than into it.

To what extent can a windsurfer conquer the wind?

I’ve heard a lot of people say the weather wasn’t with them, or they were unlucky – but I believe you make your own luck. Of course, sailing and windsurfing are probably the most difficult to control for, and that’s the beauty of the sport, that those ever-changing conditions mean no day is ever the same – “everything flows.” There’s no other sport in the Olympics like sailing, nothing else compares with it. To win at sailing you must become ‘one’ with the natural environment, you can’t go against it. I’ve tried to explain this so many times, both in the Safe Watersports campaign and in events and talks I’ve given, how important it is to understand yourself in relation to the sea. You can’t go against the wind – you can only go with it or stay alongside at a beam reach or a broad reach. For me sailing teaches us about greater things in life, and that’s why it’s so unique. Sailing has helped me develop both my IQ and my EQ – its made me a better human being. Presence of mind – clarity – and the ability to adapt to highly variable conditions opens up your horizons and allows you to confront the unknown. For athletes of other sports, the conditions are far more predictable and fixed – the bar is a specific height, the lane in the pool is one length, 100 kilograms is always 100 kilograms. Sailors don’t know what we’ll confront, maybe a hurricane came through a couple of days ago; maybe there’s a full moon and the tides will change suddenly; maybe a swell I’ve never seen before (and never will again).

Presence of mind – clarity – and the ability to adapt to highly variable conditions opens up your horizons and allows you to confront the unknown. For athletes of other sports, the conditions are far more predictable and fixed – the bar is a specific height, the lane in the pool is one length, 100 kilograms is always 100 kilograms. Sailors don’t know what we’ll confront, maybe a hurricane came through a couple of days ago; maybe there’s a full moon and the tides will change suddenly; maybe a swell I’ve never seen before (and never will again). On the sea you have to live totally in the ‘here and now’ – that’s the biggest lesson of all. Beyond that, a sailor has to be humble, flexible, and above all understand that the sea is always bigger than you, and unless you can live in the moment with complete respect and all your senses open, you won’t find the answers you need. You have to adapt – you have to have all your senses tuned to the environment. Nature never makes mistakes – and we must always be listening and following her lead. They say, in order to ‘master’ a sport, you need more than ten thousand hours. It took me five years to hit my first ten thousand, and I’ve been in the sport for more than thirty years now! But ten thousand hours is the break point – it’s enough to finally understand how the ‘invisible’ forces of the world work – the wind clock, humidity, barometric pressure, warming currents – and to really absorb those forces into your senses. When you reach a point where you hear, taste, feel, smell and breathe the forces of nature, that’s when you can really attune yourself and become ‘one’ with the land and seascape. The word ‘attune’ is easy to say but harder to actually do – and sailing forces you to live with your senses wide open to nature. A rain cloud, a slight change in barometric pressure, a shift in the currents from the waxing moon, can alter someone’s place in the Olympics or any other race. You can go from sixth to first – or the other way around – in a heartbeat. It’s not the strongest or fastest athlete that will win, it’s the one who knows how to read the signs of nature and understand where they are taking him.

Describe a day where you’re training for an important race?

On an average day in the theoretical leg, I’ll get ready for the day by setting out my course, and reading work by other athletes – not just surfers; I have a big collection of stuff that helps me focus and prepare. I also take a long look at the parameters, and draw up my objectives and criteria for the event. Then I’ll get ready for the water and start a warmup – it could be intermittent, or a speed test, or some combo of these. Sometimes I use video to review also. I’ll spend between 3-5 hours in the water and then another 2-3 hours at the gym, so it’s a full 8-hour day of practice. But training doesn’t end there with the physical part, because I have another 2-3 hours of reading and prep – studying the aerodynamic and hydrodynamic rules, maybe watching more video – in order to correct some small factor that might make the 1,2,3,5% difference towards Olympic excellence. If you throw in time to sleep and eat, you’ll see that it’s really a full time job, no joke.

Based on your experience, what are the most challenging things for a beginning windsurfer – what factors hold them back or cause the greatest difficulty?

I think the most inhibiting factors for new athletes are the lack of intrinsic knowledge of the sport and its conditions. The feel of the water and wind, like I said before, take time to absorb, and if you don’t have this gut-feeling its hard. I think a GoZone device can really help people who want to start a sport like windsurfing (or sailing or kite). No one can build a thousand – let alone ten thousand! – hours of experience into one or two weeks in order to get a basic level of comfort and competence, and in the beginning you need some kind of help and stability to learn the signs, and the feel of the wind. You need the right person to coach you, and some kind of objective source of instruction – like GoZone – for when they can’t be next to you. In my opinion that’s the most crucial thing – because some people will be scared in the water, and some won’t understand the wind. It’s super important to start with the very basic stuff – just like in school. You don’t start with fifth-grade, you start with first. Everybody has to take the chance to learn and grow.

How do you see the IoT industry affecting watersports and windsurfing in the near future?

I think of technology as my partner in the sport – my senses combined with technology are a winning combination. We are all learning more and more – via technology – every day, and I’m on the internet all the time to discover new ideas and new developments and new strategies. Sailing has taught me that you should never stop learning – never stop digging inside yourself and asking new questions. So I try to find the answers from my world and from technology both.

Nikos Kaklamanakis is OLYMPIC GOLD  [  Atlanta 1996 ] and SILVER [ Athens 2004 ] MEDALIST. 3 times WORLD CHAMPION [1996,2000,2001 ], 2 times VICE -WORLD CHAMPION  [1995,2003 ] 1 time Bronze medal at the worlds [1992 ]. He took part in 5 Olympics [ 9th in ’92, 1st in 96, 6th in 2000, 2nd in 2004, 8th in 2008 ].

He was also at the top 6  at the World Championships for 12 consecutive years and from  2004  he holds "the Record ‘’ of BEST OLYMPIC WIND-SURFER OF ALL TIMES [olympics and wORLD championships combined ]up today  [based on the results above ].

He was the FLAG-BEARER for Greece in 2000 [ 1st athlete to enter the Olympic stadium of Sydney ] and last but not least the LAST TORCH-BEARER  LIGHTING THE CAULDRON AT ATHENS 2004 OLYMPICS.

Today he feels equally at home talking to the highest business leaders as a Motivational speaker-Leadership trainer or young school children as a social responsibility.

He is recently in charge of Windsurfing Greek Olympic Campaign for Tokyo 2020 of Byron Kokkalanis .

Ιn 1997 he sailed on his Windsurf from Sounion to Crete in 2 days, in order to support Athens olympic Bid 2004 and to promote Greek Turism.

Ιn 2011 he sailed 300 miles in the Aegean sea on his windsurf, to inspire Greeks and especially kids at schools to act upon their dreams.

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