I’ve surfed since I moved to Bordeaux at age 16. In 2000, I moved to Boston and I brought my surfboard, but what a disappointment – surfing in Boston felt like airline plane instead of fighter jet planes. Boston’s waves looked pretty boring to me, with not many fast and powerful actions. In April 2001, I drove to Nahant ( about 15 kilometres north of Boston) and saw Dave and Pascal, respectively the teacher and the student doing kitesurfing. That was the revelation that kitesurfing would be my next passion.
My name is Johnny Hujol and I am a French-American living in Bordeaux in the south west of France. I am a Senior Data Engineer at Siren, an Irish company founded by 2 passionate Italian and French people. Siren develops an investigative intelligence platform which allows companies to simply dig into complex relationships between disparate data sources at scale through a few clicks. The intelligence part is the bread and butter from decades of academic research.
After a year as a lieutenant of the air-ground defence section in the French Air Force, I went back to the University of Sciences in Bordeaux to do Pure Mathematics studies. I decided to become a mathematics teacher, as I was quite good at that and I loved maths; that felt like a good new journey to embark on. Ultimately, maths and I were not compatible, at least to become a maths teacher. As I was a surfer at the time, I also realized I needed to be a little more nomadic. Being a teacher, I would not be able to just leave the office and say I need to catch some waves … or I would have to teach maths on the beach (Why not?). Instead of doing an applied mathematics bachelor, I finally signed up for a bachelor in Computer Science. The administration knew me pretty well as I was the guy spending 7 years figuring out what to finally do – it was like, ‘Hello Mr Hujol, what are you going to try this year?” But no, this year was it. I found the perfect career path. In the summer of 2018, I learned to become a Data Engineer, and that’s how I ended up at Siren. And if this was not enough, Siren just happens to have offices 100 metres away from where I graduated with my master’s degree in 2000 – how odd is that?
My life is filled with a triangle of technology, action sports, and art, but I live for kitesurfing. In 2001, there were not too many kitesurfers in the Boston area and the gear was also like a car without ABS, power steering, or a handbrake. Pretty much all the things that could go wrong flying those stupid kites would eventually go wrong. Speaking of extreme sports, it was as extreme as it can get in 2001, and I think that got me excited even more as I would be one of the pioneers around Boston.
The very first time I went kitesurfing in April 2001 was really cool. I had practiced on the sand to master the foil kite called a Yoyo: steer it left, then right, up and down, loop the kite as these loops generate the maximum of power, especially during jumps at 10 meters high. I had to practice how to self-land safely, self-launch safely, self-rescue myself and rescue fellow kiters. Also, I had bought a special surfboard for kitesurfing made out of a sandwich carbon core and plastic around called Wikipa Fusion 180 with straps on it. I sat in the water and threw the kite down to lift me up a bit off the water, and there I went! The feeling was just amazing, even though I was falling every 2 seconds, or I walked back upwind hundreds of metres as I did not know yet how to keep upwind with the kite and the board. But, it did not matter – I was a happy kitesurfer. I knew I was in for a long run because that feeling of freedom, surfing the ocean pulled by a kite, the wind on my face and the power that the kite generates when it wants to pull you off the water for a jump – it was all pumping up my adrenaline and asking for more sensations.
I have been a team rider for CORE Kiteboarding since 2015 because I love the brand and the gear. I also use a harness and a 3/2 suit with a hood when I venture in winter in Bordeaux after Brazil. I ride a 130 cm twintip board: it’s like a skateboard but wider, thinner and longer – a surfboard with my kite. For light wind conditions in Bordeaux, I also have a Flysurfer 18 square metre foil kite for the summer session, as there is always an 8-14 knot thermal wind and the Flysurfer allows me to do a cool trick called the Jesus Walk.
Kitesurfing is considered as an extreme sport, as knowing what a kite is doing 20 metres away from the control bar requires certain skills. 20 metres does not seem much, but when the wind picks up strongly (like 20 knots) and one does not pay attention to the kite, bad injuries or death can occur. However, when one masters the skills and practices the craft, doing a Dead Man over 10 meters off the water is just incredibly exciting and the adrenaline pumps down the brain like crazy as you are hanging upside down on a thin piece of rope. Surfing a wave, then pulling a Jesus Walk on it and putting back the board to finish riding the wave is just very fun, technical and awesome – it feels like walking on the water!
Kitesurfing is a solo sport where it’s one kite and one kiter, as we call the practitioners in the kitesurfing jargon, but it’s also a community where we help each other out. When a line breaks and you are out there 1 kilometre away from the coast and you have to come back swimming, you better choose who you ride with. As a matter of fact, I always have a mate I ride with when exploring new spots or cruising 5-6 kilometres away from the coast. My kitesurfing style is respectful of the places I ride, the people I ride with: very precise, clean, technical, and always landing any trick whether planned or not so I can keep moving to the next trick or wave.
My kitesurf style is a mixed with Old School style, freestyle and freeride style. Old school is about the tricks that were trending in later 90s and early 2000s, right when I started. The Dead Man, board-offs, one foot off, and Jesus Walk are Old School tricks done usually with a twintip. Freestyle is jumping high enough to have enough airborne time to spin the board around, do handle passes, and do kiteloops in the air. Freeride is just riding relaxed, changing direction with little tricks like 360 frontroll, and switching riding the board toeside – for instance, to be frontside on a tubing wave, doing a 360 backroll to spin a the wave, etc. I love to mix these 3 styles with smoothness, precision, radical moves and always landing on the board no matter what happens. I am like a cat in the water: you throw me up in the air and I always land on my feet (well on my board, of course!).
For my most memorable experience, I took a trip to Los Bariles in Baja California with some friends. At one point, my friend and I were kitesurfing about 4 kilometres away from the shore in the middle of dolphin schools; hundreds of dolphins swimming south and passing by the coast. They were jumping all at once as if they rehearsed before and we were just cruising along them to admire the show they were putting before our eyes. It was the most memorable and beautiful thing I had ever experienced.
My #1 favourite spot for kitesurfing is by far Taiba in the north-east of Brazil in the state called Ceara. I live there 2 to 6 months a year depending. What I love the most about kitesurfing is the feeling after a nice warm session in Brazil with my friends. It is one of the best feelings to land the kite on the ground while the sun is still up, your body is just exhausted, you go inside a pousada to share a beer or a caipirinha (a popular Brazilian cocktail made with cachaca, sugar, and lime, spread over crushed ice) with friends.
I truly believe that kitesurfing is my motivation and has kept me up with my career. When my body asks for an adrenaline shot, I can hardly concentrate on anything else until I ride the wind that comes to trigger my blood. I believe having a passion pushes someone in directions where personal skills are developed and can be integrated at work. With kitesurfing, you have to take risks to explore new ways of doing tricks – I better have it tested well, or the consequences could be bad if I don’t land the trick the way I supposed. Same as for bugs in the way data engineering is done.
I think the main thing for taking up kitesurfing is a dedication to the sport. I advise taking lessons with a certified IKO instructor to learn safety first, how to fly a kite, launch/land a kite and self-rescue. Once one has taken lessons, you should buy used gear as it will crash often and ripping a brand new kite would be heartbreaking. Keep trying and get on the beach anytime you can; make room for it as you need to make yourself available so you can improve at riding or learn tricks, as these all take time to master.
I think what Otia does is simply fantastic for not only the technologists, but also the companies who are very innovative in letting people balance their passion and their work, as they feed each other in energy, motivation, creativity, and innovation. Companies understand more and more the need to have people well-balanced in their life. Being able to practice my passion wherever I need to and working from wherever I want to will make me more focused and concentrated on my work. It’s worked out very well so far, and I know Otia will keep this up, as it makes people lives better and shows how companies have awesome employees. Plus, a nice Dead Man picture in a PowerPoint deck always makes for a nice intro for a presentation!