She may not have reached adulthood yet but she has reached the echelons in the Kiteboard Pro World Tour (KPWT) and the Kite World Tour (PKRA). You’ll find her most evenings on the Playa de los Lances in Tarifa. You’ll be gobsmacked when you see the effortless way she can fly like a seagull, connecting the sea and the sky with an incredible pirouette.
A Catalan by birth, Gisela Pulido followed her dream to Tarifa. Her father, Juanma, her persistence and natural gift for kitesurfing did the rest. In this interview she reflects on success, failure, her goals and the things she’s had to give up. She’s the six time world champion, and that’s just for starters.
A: I can only remember two times: One time I hurt my knee. I did a move really high up and landed hard. When I landed my knee got pushed inside and I felt it. It was pretty uncomfortable. The doctors at FC Barcelona did a great job though, specially Ferrán the physiotherapist. The other fall is forgettable, though I did hurt myself pretty bad!
Q: If you had to choose one beach of all the ones you’ve surfed, which would it be?
A: One of the places that has most surprised me was New Caledonia. It’s an island in the Pacific near Australia. It’s surrounded by a coral reef. The colour of the sea looks like it’s out of a magazine. There are some great waves: perfect and never-ending. The temperature is perfect. The ozone layer is thinner there and the sun hits you hard. The wind is inexplicable.
Q: What was the move to Tarifa like for your familiy? Was it a big responsibility for you?
A: My family has supported me from the beginning. It was my fathers decision for us to move to Tarifa to allow me the chance to go professional. It was much tougher on my mother because she couldn’t come with us. Of course it’s a responsibility. My father closed his business in Barcelona when we came to Tarifa. He placed all his bets on me. My dream was to become champion of the world and he said he’d do everything to make it possible. With a lot of hard work we’ve made it. But we can’t stop yet! I’ve got to keep training to maintain my title.
Q: Has being young and a woman been an obstacle at any point in your sports career?
A: Being young was a bit of a challenge. When I was nine I took part in the PKRA (in the kitesurf world there are two circuits the PKRA and the KPWT). That’s when the girls decided that there should be an age limit to enter the competition: sixteen! It really took me by surprise. I couldn’t understand why they let me take part when I was nine and then suddenly I couldn’t anymore. They said it was because I was too young and I could hurt myself. That all changed when I won the KPWT World Championship. I’ve been allowed to take part in both ever since.
Q: How did it feel the first time you let loose on the waves?
A: It was amazing. My father only let me fly the kite on the sand. He wouldn’t let me onto the waves because he said it was really dangerous. You could say that it was forbidden! When I finally convinced him to let me try out the waves I was really surprised. It was the 24th June 2002 in Sant Pere Pescador.
Q: Do you ever dream that the wind carries you for kilometres?
A: When I go to bed at the end of the day, I dream of the trick I’ve been practicing. In the dream I do it perfectly. I wake up suddenly and say out loud: I’ve got it! It’s happened several times that after a dream like that I manage to do a particular move the first time round.
Q: Describe your ideal session.
A: It would have to be in Tarifa. When I leave school and see the blue sky and the poniente wind blowing, my adrenalin kicks into action. The ideal is 20 knots. I get my gear together really quick and make my way to the water. I usually head for the charco, a lake that forms when the River Jara and the sea join forces. The water is totally flat and ideal for practicing my moves. I practice and surf with my friends.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about being amongst the elite in the sports world?
A: The most important thing is to keep up your spirits. You have to train a lot to keep evolving and maintain your ranking. It’s hard because when you win you usually relax while the other girls are still motivated. Now that I’ve won the first couple of tryouts for the world championships I feel really motivated to train and prepare myself for the next stage in the Dominican Republic.
Q: Is it hard to stay in the elite in this particular sport in Spain?
A: Of course it’s hard. Kitesurfing is an elite and minority sport. It’s really young and has been around for only fifteen years.
Q: Who is your greatest enemy when you’re competing?
A: At the moment there are four of us battling to stay at the top. Bruna Kajiya from Brazil, Karolina Winkowska and Asia Litwin from Poland, and myself. But my greatest rival is Asia Litwin. She is a really technical rider. She can do all kinds of moves and she always surprises me. She’s my age.
Q: What is your sports goal?
A: My aim is to be the PKRA World Champion. It’s a hard one, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’d love for kitesurfing to become an Olympic sport. It would be incredible to compete there and get a gold.
Q: Would you leave Tarifa?
A: No. I like my life here: my friends, my kitesurf school… I’ve grown up here. I’ve even bought a house here. But I don’t want to spend the winters here. This winter was hard. It was really cold and rained all the time. We hardly saw saw the sun throughout December and January. I couldn’t train at all.
Q: Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you couldn’t surf any more?
A: I just finished my 4º de ESO. I want to finish school y correspondence and start a career in journalism. It’s something that’s always attracted me. I always get interviewed and I like to put myself in the journalists place. That’s something I’d enjoy doing.
Q: Up until now, it’s been non-stop victory. Are you ready for failure?
A: You’ve got to be ready for whatever life throws at you. Things don’t always turn out the way you want. I think I’m ready and besides, I’ve always got my dad to back me up. Despite everything, I hope nothing bad is going to happen. I’m going to keep working and pushing myself to the limit.