“I had almost given up on kiteboarding. I was barely surviving on my sponsorships and I thought, ‘right I am doing something different’.” Unlikely as it may seem, these are the words of world-class British kitesurfer Lewis Crathern as he recalls the pivotal moment that ultimately shaped his career. Surprisingly, this point in time – which left Crathern questioning the direction of his future – occurred after he had already claimed the British Kitesurfing Champion for the fourth consecutive year (2005-2008). Not, as you would be forgiven for thinking, during the initial grind to find success.
It is plain to see in Crathern’s case neither talent nor motivation were the issue. His passage into the sport seemed certain from a young age. Experiencing a meteoric ascension through the sport he was able to boast his first national title at the fresh age of 20 – just two years after he began flying his kite. “I was lucky. I was born close to the beach, I was always into sports…and I would just look out at the ocean.”
He tells me the sport was still in its infancy when he started out, “it had only sort of hit our shores in 2000, so even now it’s quite new”. Therefore, not only did the early noughties see the birth of his athletic career, but also saw the birth of the sport which he would go on to grow and develop alongside. It’s easy then to believe a lack of establishment within the sport, which came as a result of this, would have thrown up as many difficulties for him as it would benefits. For instance, Crathern had to source his own equipment and was self-taught talent for the most part.
The Worthing born-and-bred kiteboarder to this day remains a local boy at heart, despite spending up to five or six months a year travelling. He tells me, in his opinion, Worthing remains “one of the best places in the world for kitesurfing”. A tall statement from someone who gets to kiteboard around the globe in places such as China, South Africa and the Mediterranean!
Then, as if to further champion his hometown and his sport, he tells me kiting is an “easy-going sport to learn” and that the best kitesurfing schools are actually just minutes down the road in Lancing. He says, “you actually just have to lean back like you’re in a recliner chair and you just go around” – simple really, nothing to it! With no competitive titles to his name, 2010 saw Crathern attempt what has perhaps become the most daring and well-known feat to date – particularly with the non-kiteboarding world. This, of course, is the infamous stunt that saw him jump over Brighton Palace pier – just a year after doing the same down the coast in Worthing. “That really helped my career actually. It [the jump] brought kiteboarding into the mainstream, which is quite difficult to do… I think people related to a person flying over a thing. That’s how simplified it was for me.”
Crathern’s break from competitive kiting wasn’t to last long, however. As it turns out, when you’re wired up to compete (and win) it can be difficult to escape your own nature. “I always want to be good at what I do, so that’s always going to be important to me.”
As if to prove this, two years after his pier jumps he returned back to competing at the highest level the sport could offer, claiming a number of titles and records over the following years. Even when he crashed out of the Red Bull King of the Air at the start of 2016 in an accident that left him comatose for a week, he was unable to stay away for too long. Just a matter of months later he wold go on to claim the title of Vice Big Air World Champion, and then set a new British height record, jumping 22.3 metres into the air.
“You kind of have to believe you’re invincible. If you’re worried about anything you’re not gonna do it.”
The battle is still being fought to get the word out about kiteboarding and into the Olympics, while the sport still struggles to gain mainstream coverage. Although, as the most rapidly growing water sport in the world, this soon looks set to change. And why shouldn’t it? The sport, which is in reality five or six separate disciplines each with their own world tour (including slalom, freestyle and big air), is able to offer spectacles unlike anything that can be found elsewhere.
Crathern, who has taken part in Paddle Round the Pier for the last few years now, tells me one way the sport is best spreading the word is through events like Paddle Round the Pier which offer competitions like the Kitesurfkings Big Air, as these serve as great showcases for the sport. Unfortunately, Crathern will be competing in Canada during this event, but he encourages people to take part and get involved all the same – and we can’t wait to see him next year!
Lewis Crathern offers one-to-one and group coaching when he’s in the UK. Send him a message to find out more.
By Kieran Graves