Snowboarding, kitesurfing, snowkiting: Frenchman Guillaume Chastagnol does it all. And with talent. After winning almost everything there is to win on the snowboarding scene, he went on to win two world snowkite titles. Is he really from planet Earth?
The Chasta is not an easy bird to catch. Be it in a competition or in everyday life, it’s hard to keep up with him. Say you want to interview him. OK, first you have to spot him. Easy, theoretically. Summertime he’s in Tahiti—Moorea in French Polynesia, to be precise. Wintertime you’ll find him in the French Alps. But it’s not that simple. He’s always on the move, and one of those rare people who doesn’t have a mobile phone. Professional as he is, he will reply to an e-mail quickly, but only to tell you he’s on the go to discover a new spot. He’s the kind of guy who checks up to seven weather websites every single day to determine his program. To say he is passionate is a huge understatement.
When one turns 30, after many years as a professional athlete, motivation often starts to fade. Well, that isn’t the case with Guillaume Chastagnol, who literally relaunched his career a few years ago. After tremendous feats as a snowboarder, including participation in the Olympic Games, he didn’t have anything left to prove. And so he got into kiting, although everybody around him was more than skeptical about this new career move. Yet there he is, on top of it, like he previously dominated the snowboarding arena.
Not only is he already a two-time world champion in snowkiting, he is highly respected for his skills as a snowkite freerider. No one uses and masters the mountain the way he does. No one dares to go where he goes. His closest friends don’t have many words to describe him, but the words they do use speak for themselves:
A living legend.
He literally invented a new sport.
From snowboarding to snowkiting
Back from his spot-hunting adventure—which seems to have been fruitful—we can finally get to know him a little better. This was a spot he wanted to find out more about: “[My wife Titaua and I] have finally been able to score this incredible wave, a beautiful right-hander that we had spotted for a while with southeastern wind. Not an easy one to control; it’s a channel, a little point break shaped by the reef, so you really need the right conditions to play with it. Anyway, there we go, one more on our list.”
Guillaume already knows a lot about the ocean, and he’s not afraid to venture out to find out more. But fundamentally, he’s a keen expert on the mountain. He was only two years old when he first skied in the French resort Les 2 Alpes. Fourteen years later, in 1991, he traded in skis for a snowboard. And from then on, as he says, “Things went very fast. In my second year of competition, I ended up fourth in the World Cup freestyle rankings. Then I was three-time French champion in the halfpipe discipline. I once got a second place at the X Games, and I ranked fourth at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games.”
Just a few lines hardly account for such achievements, but the man doesn’t drag out the subject and prefers to remember epic sessions around the globe. Yes, on top of his competitive activities, he also found time to satisfy his soul-tripper’s aspirations. He got to know Chile and Argentina, where he paid an annual visit for nine years. But Alaska has particularly left its mark on the him.
“We were shooting film with Mike Hatchet,” Chasta says. “I got to go down the most insane slopes you can ever experience in a lifetime, totally freaking out, but so good.”
Not the kind of guy to boast about something, he admits, “I think I can say, without sounding too pretentious, that I got to try pretty much everything you can go for in snowboarding: all kinds of tricks, sick jumps, cliffs, the best trips ever. And I’m probably the luckiest of men, because I never got hurt. I’ve never had an accident, never broken a bone. I can thank my lucky star and ask it to keep up the good work. Because this definitely ain’t the end of the story.”
It’s true. It’s absolutely amazing this daredevil never got hurt. He must be the only snowboarder who can say this, although he probably took more risks than most. This just proves how much he controls and calculates his moves.
“Nobody really influenced me in my life. Everything I do, I do instinctively, just feeling the situation according to the wind,” Chasta says. “Of course, you sometimes meet people whom you respect a lot, and you inevitably follow some of their ideas, even unconsciously. That’s what makes you move forward, what helps you mark out your own path. I guess I did all right so far.”
The people who know him best, like photographer-cinematographer Régis Labaune, concur: “Guillaume never followed anyone. On the contrary, he’s ahead of everybody else.”
An ever-positive personality
Asked about his friend’s personality, Labaune has a hard time finding words, but he soon reveals some interesting aspects:
“Guillaume is one of those rare persons you can spend a lot of time with without feeling the need to speak, and yet feel perfectly Zen about it. He doesn’t talk much. Most importantly, he doesn’t speak for no reason. He has his own vision of the sport, in every dimension, and he sticks to it. Also, I find it extraordinarily rare that an athlete of his calibre doesn’t have a single enemy and is so highly respected by all.
“I like the fact that he made his own choices in life, simply by listening to his heart. He wants the best, so he organizes his life accordingly. That’s why he lives in such stunning places as Tahiti and the French Alps.
“He is the kindest of people, but there is somehow a little bit of punk in his attitude. He’s the only top professional athlete without an agent or a mobile phone. Some people like to be on the covers of magazines and display their private life and let the world make a fuss about them; others protect themselves and stay out of the limelight. Guillaume definitely belongs to the second category. He doesn’t need people around him to excel in what he’s doing. He’s definitely not a show-off. He methodically avoids the spotlights. When he kites, he goes way out in the open sea. When he snowkites, he goes alone around the mountain. He sure loves to share his sessions with his wife or a couple of friends, but not everyone can follow all the time.
“I’ve witnessed some of this independent-rebel way of living when stacks of money were at stake. If Chasta doesn’t want to wear a logo or attend an event he doesn’t feel comfortable with, he’ll simply decline the offer, no matter what. You can never force Guillaume to do something he doesn’t want to do. He only trusts his own feelings and makes no concessions—or the minimum, just so he can afford the lifestyle and family life he wants. It’s amazing how in this kind of sport some are ready to do anything for almost nothing, and Guillaume is solicited for those things that he refuses anyway. All he wants is to live the natural way. He only takes what’s best. He’s lucky enough to be able to afford that. Well, he takes good advantage of it.”
A professional attitude, but a totally cruisy lifestyle
“Once, as I came down my mountains,” Chasta begins, “I came across Titaua. And she’s the reason why I ended up splitting my life between Serre Chevalier and Moorea. We spend around six months in the Alps, and the remaining time in Polynesia. My wife and I share everything. I taught her how to snowboard, and she’s also a good kiter. We’re inseparable. As soon as the snow melts in Europe, we pack and teleport ourselves to the islands, where we wait for the snow to show up in the Southern Hemisphere.”
Sounds like a nice program. A regular day in the life of Guillaume can be summed up as such: “Kite, snow, surf, sex. And believe me, it takes a whole lot of time, a real full-time job.
“We train hard, be it on water or on snow,” he continues. “It’s very complementary. But we never forget to treat ourselves right. Every session ends up with fresh beer and raw fish. Exquisite.”
Even though Chasta is a top athlete, his life doesn’t merely revolve around a precise training program with harsh constraints and sacrifice. He is a pro at managing his career, his performance, his image and promoting his sport. But he has a laid-back personality and even seems dilettante when you see him around, totally stress-free. The island lifestyle may have reinforced this aspect of his character.
A photographer friend of his testifies: “As combative and focused as he can be during a contest, he’s never worried in everyday life.”
And Chasta’s not one of these lonely, selfish champions. He is a family man who grants a lot of time to his relatives. He shares as many sessions as possible with his wife, Titaua. And they have a five-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Kailea, “who obviously is part of every bit of the adventure. She has her own surf and kite sessions.”
Pushing snowkiting to the limits
Chasta has been snowkiting for six years now. He was the first one who succeeded in combining style and efficiency. While others were hanging in the air like sausages, he imported his unique snowboarding style. He managed to adapt his snowboarding skills with a kite in his hands. While others thought the snowboard was acting like a parasite in kiting, he drew off the essence of each sport to blend them in a whole new discipline. He bluffed everyone. He invented a new style.
The former pro snowboarder is totally stoked about his encounter with the kiting scene.
“I can ride the same mountains, but in three dimensions,” he explains. “There’s almost no limit. My reading of the environment I play with is constantly improving. I can fly. I can freestyle. I can go from one mountain to the other. Above all, I can move at an astounding pace, go up valleys or a slope faster than with a chairlift. Then I fold my kite in 53 seconds, and I go down. Freer than a bird.”
Chasta hasn’t lost a bit of his freeriding skills as a snowboarder, but he really is into snowkiting now. Only if there is zero wind will he leave his kite at home. But those days are rare.
He’s proved twice that he’s the best freestyle snowkiter in the world, but competition isn’t really his thing. It sure is technically challenging, but it’s always the same thing, simplistic compared to the potential that the mountains offer. It isn’t in a contest that Chasta can fully express his commitment. This commitment, this way of going big no matter what, but always in control and with enough safety margin, wins him great admiration from his peers. He explores places no one else will.
His great knowledge of the mountain makes the difference. He can read the playground properly and anticipate the wind reactions. That’s one of the main reasons why he dominates in competition. But he predicts that things will change when “real snowboarders” get into snowkiting.
To Chasta, snowkiting is about going fast everywhere, jumping, flying, sliding, simply going for a ride in the open, experiencing the adventure. And everybody can do it, according to their personal skills.
“Norway and North America, with their wide spaces, are particularly appropriate for the discipline. No need to search for a big mountain; you just go around wide open spaces, pollution-free. Don’t forget your GPS in those kinds of areas.”
So speaks Chasta, a true believer who intends to keep on having fun playing around with his kite and convincing others to do the same.
“Everything I do, I do instinctively, just feeling the situation according to the wind.”
“Kite, snow, surf, sex—and believe me, it takes a whole lot of time, a real full-time job.”
“I can fly. I can freestyle. I can go from one mountain to the other. Above all, I can move at an astounding pace, go up valleys or a slope faster than with a chairlift. Then I fold my kite in 53 seconds, and I go down. Freer than a bird.”
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