Kristin Boese: Beyond the Iron Curtain
Posted Friday August 17th, 2007
When I met up with the team last October in Brazil, I had the chance to talk to Kristin at length about her life, growing up behind the Iron Curtain, how she got into kiting, and why she decided to leave the PKRA. At 29 then, and the oldest girl on the tour, Kristin had just successfully defended her PKRA World Champion title for the second year, and was exhausted from a year of nonstop traveling, competing, and promoting herself and her sponsors. Kiting just wasn't fun anymore. This year, with a more relaxed competition schedule, and a focus on promoting the sport on a whole new level ... book releases, kite films, girl's clinics, and a cover on the September Issue of German Playboy ... life hasn't gotten any less busy, but she seems to be having a lot more fun. Here, a candid look at the life of Krisin Boese. ~ Stacey
After the end of WWII, Germany split into two sections: West Germany (the zones occupied by the French, British and Americans) developed into a western capitalist country, and East Germany (occupied by the Soviets) continued under communist rule. Although East Germany become one of the richest and most advanced countries in the Eastern Bloc, many of its citizens were lured by political freedom and the better quality of life offered in the West.
To stop the flight of the East Germans, which was a huge drain on labour and economic output, East German troops sealed the border between West and East Berlin on August 13, 1961, and began to build the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, a barrier between the East and West, was twelve feet high and four feet wide, and from the time it was erected in 1961, until the time it fell on November 9, 1989, about 5000 people escaped, and another 231 people were shot dead by border guards while trying to cross.
It was into this political and economic situation ... on June 1, 1977 ... that Kristin Boese was born.
What was it like growing up behind the Iron Curtain?
When you're that young, and you don't see anything else, you're happy ... perhaps more happy than other people. I had a nice childhood. Everyone had work, and enough to eat, and enough to live. Only a few people owned things, and all of the mothers and fathers worked. The children went to school, and after school, we all went together to an after-school program, where we learned team stuff (sports).
All in all, it was a poor life, but I was happy. I had cats, a hamster, a bird, and friends. We played outside every day, and we didn't have anything special to eat. We'd watch West German television on a black- and-white TV that took 15 minutes to turn on, and we'd see ads for nice chocolates and breakfast cereals, but since it was something we could never get ... and since I never had it ... it never bothered me.
Everyone made the same amount of money, and we ate a lot of stuff out of the garden, and good bread. Everything was government-owned and there was only one supermarket chain where we could only get one kind of milk, bread, etc. There was a cinema, but the only thing we could watch were films made in Eastern Germany, which weren't very exciting.
I was 12 when the wall broke down in 1989. I keep telling everyone that, from a timing point of view, everything went very well for me.
Where exactly did you grow up?
I grew up in East Germany, close to Berlin, in a town called Werder, which only had about 15,000 people. We lived in an old house ... in a little apartment. I was lucky, living so close to West Berlin. While we couldn't go there, we received all of their tv and radio channels, and got to see something other than what we saw on a day-to-day basis. People who lived farther away didn't have the same access and didn't see anything else.
What did your parents do?
My dad was an overseer for an LPG (a large, government-owned farm), and my mother - although she'd never been to an English-Speaking country – was an English and Russian school teacher. There were a lot of Russians in East Germany, and Russian was the first language in school.
What were you taught in school, about the rest of the world?
In Geography class, we learned things like where each country was, but not too much more than that. We learned about all of the socialistic countries, like Cuba, Asia, and Russia, but the government didn't want us to learn about Western World countries, out of fear that they'd like to go there.
Talk a little bit about the role of sports in the schools, and in your life ...
(I think) as a way to show other countries how good the East German way of life was, the government put a big emphasis on sports. East Germany was famous for putting a lot of money into sports ... Katarina Witt, for example, was from East Germany. So sports had always been a big part of my life. There were special sports schools that children could decide to go to, and I played competitive handball since I was 9, and at the age of 11, I was given the opportunity to choose to attend one of these schools and play handball professionally.
However, this would have meant leaving my town and my friends, and I didn't really want to play an "inside" sport five days a week with the stress of competing in weekend tournaments. I was a kid ... I was 11 …. I wanted to be a kid and have fun.
After my parents divorced, my mother remarried a sports teacher, who loved the snow. I started snowboarding. We were allowed to travel to other Eastern Bloc countries, and Czecheslovakia was inexpensive. After the wall broke down, we started traveling to Italy to ski.
What happened after the wall fell?
When I woke up the next morning, my parents told me what happened, and I couldn't believe it. I went to school that day, and only 3 people were there - everyone else had gone to West Berlin. We were allowed to leave early, and went to West Berlin too. Because the wall was basically built over night, families got split too, and where the wall was built, it was sometimes right in the middle of the village, so families couldn't get together anymore. The first thing we did was visit my aunt, who showed us around. We went to the Ku'damm, the biggest shopping street in West Berlin (kind of like 5th Avenue in NY), and to all of the places we'd only known from pictures.
Life pretty much changed over night. Things had to change so quickly. The money changed, and what little they owned suddenly had much less value, and some people had trouble adjusting. West Germany tried to make money out of East Germany, and while we were happy because we were now free, some East Germans got tricked by West German strategies. They could now buy whatever they wanted in different supermarkets, and a lot of people ended up getting credit cards they couldn't afford and ended up being really miserable.
My parents, however, were smart, and didn't buy more than they needed. Once the wall fell, I started traveling, and went with my father to Italy. School had an exchange program with West Germany, and I got to experience some different places.
Another thing that changed after the wall broke down was the school system. Before, in East Germany, you went through Grade 10, and it you did well, you could do 3 additional grades. But in West Germany, you had to decide after Grade 7, if you wanted to continue onto Grade 13. When it came time for me to chose, my best friend had decided to stay, which was most important for me and it made my decision much easier: I stayed as well.
What was your first job after graduation?
After graduating from school, I began my professional education. I worked for a company for 3 days a week, and went to school for 2 days a week, which was good because I was sick of just sitting in school. The company I worked for was the biggest mobile phone company in Germany, and I worked in marketing, sales, finance ... everywhere. I got to experience the reality of the workplace, while learning the theory and principals behind it at school, which was a really good mix.
I graduated half a year early (after 2½ years instead of 3) then continued working for the company for another 8 months or so, in sales, driving around trying to sell the product, which I didn't like very much. All in all, I learned a lot about the working processs, how to market myself, and how to handle my finances. I also learned how to work as part of a team.
But you didn't like that job so much ...
No ... I wanted to do something other than working in an office, so I started studying journalism. Bu I only did this for a year and a half, because that was when kitesurfing came into my life.
It was 1999, and I was living in Berlin at the time, with two flatmates, working evenings for a bank call-in center to pay for school, and I had just started windsurfing. There was rarely any wind, but I really enjoyed it, and decided to get my windsurfing instructor's license, so that I could make money doing something I enjoyed. That summer, I started teaching, which is when I met the first kitesurfer in my life, Dirk Effler, who was a kiting instructor. Dirk was the person sent in my life to save me from sitting in the office working, and studying. He saw me windsurfing, and thought I would be good at kiting.
How did you learn to kite?
One day, Dirk let me tag along with the three students he was teaching. We had a little ground lesson (theory, with no trainer kite), then put me into the water, launched my kite, explained what to do, and said, "When I come back in an hour, I want to see the kite still in the air."
And it was. I didn't dare do much ... I just steered it back and forth a little ... but when Dirk came back, the kite was still in the air, and that was the only thing that mattered.
Something about his method of teaching ("make sure you keep the kite in the air") reminded me of my old handball trainer, who was always very strict and straight. But I liked that ... it was a very East German way of teaching, and when Dirk did the same thing, it gave me so much motivation. I felt so good that kite was still there when he came back that it gave me even more motivation to learn.
All my life I've been trying to be good at things, and would wonder for what reason. When my strict handball trainer ... who never said anything good ... said something good, it made me very happy, and I was always working to make him happy and get his attention. Until thinking about it now, I really didn't think handball had affected me so much, but it's probably the reason I've pushed myself to do so well in kiting.
So that was your first lesson. What happened from there?
That was my only lesson, at the end of the summer, and I knew that if I wanted to learn to kite ... and I did ... I had to do something about it. I decided to take a semester off, and went to work at the Pro Center Rene Egli, in Fuerteventura, as a windsurf instructor, where for two hours a day, I could borrow the school's kite equipment for free.
But since the "keep the kite in the air' was the only lesson I ever had, I had a lot of trouble, and after 10 rescues, the school didn't want to let me go out again Every time the school had to rescue me, it cost them money. My boss came down to the beach, and told me he didn't want me to go out anymore, and that I could only kite in the lagoon, where I wouldn't need to be rescued. Problem was, during my 2 hours off, there was rarely any water in the lagoon, so I became very motivated to improve. After that, I never had a rescue ... and they still like to tease me about it, when I go back to visit.
So, I did that for four months, from January to April 2002, and then went back to Berlin. There was a kitesurfing competiton the next weekend, and I went with a friend and borrowed his Naish kites. There were only 2 girls there to compete ... me and Silke Gordlt ... and they made us compete with the guys. I came in last, but Silke and I became very good friends and we would meet up to kite together.
To improve, I started working for a kite shop, which was based in Berlin, in the summer of 2002. I'd travel around teaching people to kite, and spent every hour that I wasn't teaching on the water myself.
That summer, an event called the Fischland Darss Tour took place where I was teaching. I worked for the event being a judge ... they gave me a little "judging lesson" before it started. We had so much fun until the next to the last day. It had been such a good event, perfect. During a freeride heat (where everyone got judged at the same time), Silke was heading out, and someone else was coming in. The guy hadn't looked back to see the other kite coming, and their kites tangled.
Had they let go of the kites at the same it would have been fine, but the guy let go of his kite immediately, so Silke had two kites looping and pulling her through the water. With the pull of two kites, she couldn't unhook, and had no quick release system on her bar. She should have had plenty of time to release the kite, but she just couldn't. There were some big posts sticking out in the water, and she hit one with her chest. The event was stopped immediately, and a helicopter came to pick her. It wasn't until late that evening that we heard the news of her death. Everyone just kept crying and crying. It was so bad.
At the time, I had all of Silke's clothes in my van, and her father and brother came the next morning to pick up her things. They didn't blame anyone .. they knew she loved kiting, and they were very supportive. I still keep in touch with them.
Cabarete June 2007, Silke Gordlt Memorial Downwinder at LEK
Silke and I had been planning to go Cabarete four weeks later, for the PKRA competition. Silke had really motivated me to compete and travel, but after her accident, I found myself at loose ends, and didn't know what to do. Everyone was really sad, and we were all just asking ourselves if we wanted to continue kiting ... we were scared, wondering what might happen the next time we went onto the water. I talked to a lot of people, and it's what she would have wanted, so I went to Cabarete. It was so touching being there ... it was the first time all the girls came together after Silke died ... to see how many feelings were going on, what a special person she was to have made us all feel this way.
I don't think it would be like that now. The girls aren't such close friends anymore. We'd be shocked, but that sad? There was a spirit then, and I don't think there is one now. Now it's more cut-throat, about wanting to be the best, but before it was about having fun, cheering for each other. We all went out partying, and still did the competitions, but then, it wasn't so tiring. We did big board-offs, and we did it with friends, and we had so much fun. If there was no wind, we spent all day together.
Kristin with Laurel Eastman
Talk about the changes in the PKRA, how it was then, and how it is now, and what do you think happened to cause it.
I think the big change happened when Aaron came into the tour. Before then, we'd all been doing it because it was fun. We'd done something different in our lives ... we'd been working ... and this was a part of life we appreciated. We all came to compete and have fun. When Aaron started it was to become the World Champion ... and did everything he could to become the champion ... and that was a first for us.
A few of the "older" riders ... Jaime, Martin, Jeff, and Will .. came out with a proposal at a big riders meeting in Austria, and wanted to change the format so that it wasn't just freestyle. This was when all the HP tricks were so famous, and they realized these weren't tricks everyone could do, and what if people liked to do something else? The proposal was to have five divisions ... waves, big jumps, etc ... and you had to do all of them, and the overall winner would be the World Champ, to make it more interesting for everyone and for the sport and for the public. Mauricio Toscano, the president of the PKRA, had contracts with all organizers for that year, and they couldn't be changed, but it was something we could think about for the next year.
Anyway, there was a big fight over changing the format ... committees were formed, and there were many meetings, with the "freestyle only" people fighting the people who wanted to change the criteria. Then the younger kids started coming in, and didn't really know what was going on, so nothing ended up getting changed, so now it's just the kids competing. The older guys just gave up and stopped competing. But it had been so much better before.
Kristin with Dave Tyburski
What's it like behind the scenes on the PKRA, and why did you decide to move on and do something different in 2007?
It was a big soap opera, and I wasn't happy any more. We were having so much fun, when we were all over 23. But I wasn't having fun anymore. I'm much more professional about kiting now ... I kite because it's my job. I love kitesurfing, but the competitions were just not fun anymore. It was a lot of work, and stressful, and it was making me more tired. There were also some political issues with the PKRA, and I got tired of fighting for what I believed was right and not getting anywhere with it.
The vibe had changed, and everyone was so much younger, which was also one of the reasons Cindy Mosey left the tour. She came to the event in Austria 2 years ago, and there was no wind until last day of comp. It was just me and Cindy ... the old girls. The younger girls were dancing and flirting and hitting on guys. We both realized it wasn't the same thing anymore. She was supposed to do a shoot with a photographer at 7. She showed up, and all the young girls were there, and the photographer was taking sunset pics of them, and missed his appointment with Cindy. Then it was too dark, and she asked him if he'd forgotten her, and then she walked away. She was the World Champion 3 times. She left the next day, the day before the wind came.
What was it like to be the defending World Champion and the oldest girl on the tour?
It's harder to stay there, once you're number one. Once you're World Champion, it's harder to become World Champion the second time, and to keep up with all the pressure. The first year was much easier, when I was still the one beating people, not the one that people were trying to beat. After Cindy left, no one was really there, and it was quite easy for me then.
Did you have any advantages over the younger girls?
I have very few advantages compared to the younger girls ... they don't think as much, don't get as scared, don't get hurt so quickly, they have more energy, recover faster, and are motivated and fresh. My advantages would be that I ride more consistently, have more experience, and can land more consistently, not just while free riding, but while in competition.
If it was so difficult, why did you decide to compete for a second time?
I knew it wouldn't be easy. But I'm always working hard for the things I wanted. If it were too easy, it's boring. I wish it would be easy, but if were easy it wouldn't be much fun. And in the end, it was fun. It wasn't so fun during the process, but when you get what you worked for, it's rewarding and fun.
Where would you like to eventually end up? After kiting, I'd like my own little space to live in, to make it cozy for myself. I'd love to have a job where I'm close to the water and sill kiting and working at the same time and making a living.
Could you date someone who wasn't a kiter?
No. He wouldn't understand my passion for it and why I need to travel. I couldn't talk to him about kiting, and he wouldn't understand.
Who are the biggest influences in your life?
My handball teacher, Dirk, and my mother.
What is one really thing about your life that people may not realize?
How tiring it is to travel so much. Having one week in between the competitions and trying to get from one place to another in such a short amount of time, and suffereing from jet lag. Being on the road for months on end and not being able to remember where you are when you wake up in the morning. Having to keep a diary, so you can remember where you were yesterday, a week ago, a month ago. How much it drains you and makes you so tired.
What sets you apart from other riders?
Some of the pro kiters don't really work. Maybe their parents support them, whatever. They don't really care. Then there are the people who try to market themselves, but most don't. This is what makes me different. I work hard and I work a lot, and I'm always working closely my sponsors and with the magazines, always emailing them, being online. I'm sponsored by LTU (the airline) and Maui Magic (for harnesses and wetsuits) and I send them pictures and press releases, and have photo shoots, and make sure they get what they need on a regular basis.
How much time do you spend working?
Working is kiting, competing, and doing everything else, which is basically 7 days a week, 8-10 hrs per day. If I get sick of it, I put my laptop away and take a walk. But sometimes I'm up until 3 in the morning. I have a list of "to dos," and I've learned to take time for myself, and put more of a priority on myself ... otherwise I'd be dead.
Other interests besides kiting?
I don't have that many other interests.
Some simple advice for the common folk?
When you're having problems doing a trick, you're thinking about the trick too much. But as soon as you start to add other things to it, like a landing (to revert, blind, wrapped) or a grab, you start concentrating on those other things, and the main trick gets to be so natural that you don't think about it and stop having problems doing it.
On Being a Sex Symbol
I never worried about how I dressed. I liked being at the beach, sweating, more like the boys. So it's funny when people are telling me to look sexy. No. No. I'm not like that. I'm not one of those girls who likes to walk around in tiny bikinis.
Once the buzz from appearing on the cover of the September Issue of Playboy dies down, I'll talk with Kristin and see if any of her ideas on being a sex symbol have changed. Stay tuned ...
To read more about Kristin, visit her team rider page www.bestkiteboarding.com/Kristin-Boese.