SINGAPORE – Kitefoiler Maximilian Maeder celebrated his 15th birthday by winning the men’s Open title at the 2021 Formula Kite European Championships in Montpellier, France on Sunday (Sept 15).

And to cap off a stellar week, he tucked into his favourite Thai dishes – green curry, pad thai and basil chicken – cooked by his mother a day later at home in Switzerland.

The Singaporean teenager had gone into the final with an outside chance of winning, needing three match points to beat two-time defending champion Axel Mazella of France, who had two points carried over from finishing first in the qualifying series.

But Maximilian was not about to let his rival claim the one point needed for victory, as the Singaporean held his own to take all three bullets and secure the gold. Mazella had to settle for second while compatriot Benoit Gomez was third.

Maximilian said: “It didn’t feel real standing up on the podium, it felt like it was too good to be true. There are a lot of synonyms – ecstatic, elated… but they don’t even come close.

“It has sunk in quite well and it’s a pleasant, long-lasting feeling. I gave myself the best birthday present I could.”

Maximilian, who has been training in Croatia since the start of the year, said he has learnt not to focus on the results after a disastrous first day on Sept 6, when he got too excited while leading a race and eventually finished third.

He said: “I was really happy to make it into the final and I didn’t have many expectations so I poured a lot of mental energy into staying calm and collected and focused on racing.”

Ong Rong Quan, vice-president of the Kitesurfing Association of Singapore, said Maximilian’s progress bodes well for his dream of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics, where kiteboarding will feature for the first time.

Ong, 40, said: “Everyone’s pretty excited and I cannot downplay the feat that Max has achieved. The fact that he’s able to do that in a relatively new sport as a very young guy is a great achievement for himself and the wider community.

“It generates hype and interest in the sport and we would like to continue on the same path. With it being an Olympic sport as well, we’re hopeful that more people will be interested in it and we can develop a pool of talent that can push each other on and hopefully achieve great things for Singapore.”

Last Sunday’s victory, along with┬áthe youth world championship title he won in July,┬ástands Maximilian in good stead as he prepares for the world championships next month in Italy and December’s World Sailing Youth (Under-19) World Championships in Oman.

He is pleased with his progress so far, adding: “I’m slowly reaching the level where I can do the basic skills I learnt quite well and now I’m starting to refine the details and perfect the little things. It’s way more fun and rewarding now.”

He has not finalised his training plans for the upcoming weeks yet but he knows what he will be doing soon after spending over a month away: eating homemade curry puffs.

“I need a taste of Singaporean food again.”

Kitefoiling: Singapore’s Maximilian Maeder, 14, wins Under-19 World Championships

SINGAPORE – Going into the finals of the 2021 Formula Kite Youth (Under-19) World Championships, Singaporean kitefoiler Maximilian Maeder knew he needed just one more win to seal the title.

The 14-year-old had already earned two crucial match points from placing first at the end of the preliminary round, where he put on an impressive performance – winning 13 out of 16 races.

However, a slither of doubt still managed to creep into his psyche ahead of his first finals appearance at the World Championships.

Speaking to The Straits Times in a Zoom interview, he said: “There was confidence because I just had to pull off one win but the flip side is that my biggest competitor only had to get two wins for him to win the event.

“So it was a constant flipping between these two states (of confidence and doubt).”

He also found himself in a somewhat unfamiliar position at that stage of the competition, adding: “I was expecting to be leading, but not by such a big margin.”

But he managed to cast any doubt aside and sealed his first World Championship title by winning the first race out of a potential six in the finals on Sunday (July 18) at the Hang Loose Beach in Gizzeria, Italy.

With his win, Max beat a field of 25 competitors over the five-day event, and ultimately finished ahead of Italy’s Riccardo Pianosi (second) and Netherlands’ Jis Van Hees (third) in the finals race.

Competing against a field of kitefoilers who were mostly older than him did not faze the Singaporean one bit.

“In the open classes, I would compete against adults so having to compete against U-19s actually makes me feel better than usual because it’s against youths now,” he said.

“It’s really amazing to win my first World Championship, especially against very good competitors. I was unbelievably happy to have won it.”

But it was not all plain sailing for the youngster either, who had to bounce back from an equipment malfunction in the 13th race of the preliminary round, where he was unable to complete the race.

“Once I finished the first upwind leg, the instability of the kite started to show so I had to rush back to the beach and scramble to replace it for the next race,” explained Maeder.

But he regained his composure quickly and finished strong, winning the remaining three races of the preliminaries.

Max added: “In my previous competition, I had actually experienced the same thing so I wasn’t stressed or panicking when I got back to the beach.

“I was just thinking of ways to get back to racing.”

Max’s love affair with kiteboarding started when he was six, after his Swiss father and Singaporean mother introduced him to the sport.

After taking part in his first competition at the age of 10, he has not looked back since, and has gone on to win many competitions over the years, including the 2019 Formula Kite Asian Championships in Beihai, China.

Currently, Max is based primarily in Croatia, where he trains five to six times a week, and for 11/2 hours each time at least.

Funded primarily by his parents, he is the Republic’s only kitefoiler who competes regularly in competitions overseas as the sport is still quite new here.

But the Kitesurfing Association of Singapore (KAS) is hoping that Max’s World Championship win will inspire more youngsters to pick up the sport.

Ong Rong Quan, KAS’ vice-president, said: “It will get more youths in Singapore interested, whether they are younger sailors or people aspiring to pursue an unconventional sport.

“It sets a precedent for others to follow, and shows them how they can potentially get there as well.”

And with kiteboarding set to make its debut as an Olympic sport at the Paris 2024 Games, Max has set his sights on qualification and representing the nation.

“It is a goal of mine to represent Singapore at the Olympic Games, alongside my aim of becoming the best in the sport,” he said. “I have always loved the idea of racing in sports and I want to become the world champion in kitefoiling.”