There is life after Paralympic Sailing...

Farewell to the 2.4mR

There is life after paralympic sailing ... "I had my farewell letter written only when I knew that it was feasible to learn kite surfing", reveals former Paralympic sailor Thierry Schmitter, a day after returning from an experimental kitesurf trip to Aruba. He won twice Paralympic bronze, he was three times crowned IFDS World Champion in the 2.4mR and in 2011 he was elected Disabled Athlete of the Year in The Netherlands. Meanwhile he traded his boat for a board and a kite.

Together with Bart Bressers, physiotherapist of the Delta Lloyd national team, he started after the 2012 Games to learn flying with a kite. "I first had to learn how to fly a kite before going to the next step" said Schmitter. Thanks to the generosity of different friends in the kiting World, I got refurbished material. Schmitter adapted an old buggy with hand control and he took a sit ski suspension frame to fix on an old wakeboard. All with the idea to spend as many hours as possible trying to fly the kite and ride the wakeboard.


On the Internet, he found a prototype of a sit kiteboard for people who are wheelchair bound. The owner ran a kite surfing school in Brittany and thus Schmitter traveled early December off to his homeland for his first meters on the water. "Originally I had the idea to take over the mold and the Board and to develop it further in the Netherlands. But I found the design too bulky and not really appropriate to launch from the beach. Finally, in Scheveningen Schmitter found the board designer Bram Hoogendijk. He appeared to be the ideal partner to his own concept work.

First tests

The duo flew to Aruba late January with a first board, adapted from a twintip series kiteboard. "We tested in advance the board in a swimming pool in The Netherlands. We had to make sure that I was staying afloat while the kite would pull me horizontally through the water. We did a simulation with a rope pulling contest across the pull. Also the extra flotation volume in front and some lead in the back were validated". All tests were passed and so could Schmitter, thanks to the help of the Aruba Active Vacations instructors, learn the basics of seated kitesurfing.

Only then followed his official farewell to high level sailing in a letter to NOC * NSF and coach Ronald van Vianen. Schmitter: "First I wanted to know for sure if I could learn seated kiteboarding. I'm just not so good at doing nothing."


Schmitter could again be found last week on the Caribbean. This time with his specially designed board, a little bit wider, with a slimmer nose and longer fins. "I noticed the difference immediately and could go higher upwind than with the first board I had in January. The board was also lighter."

After a few days on the water, Schmitter felt confident enough to try the third dimension: jumping. However, his airborne efforts merciless exposed the weaknesses of the construction. Ultimately, the board broke on three places! "That's part of the process. I spent many hours with Henk, owner of apartment complex Paradera Park, in repairing the broken pieces. Fortunately I was able to kite every day. "

The highlight was his trip to Boca Grandi on the other side of the island, where the onshore winds and nice waves rolling over the reef make it a nice spot for kiteboarding. "Before my accident 14 years ago, I used to windsurf a lot in Scheveningen. This was the last time I rode a wave. It was great to be able to do it now again," concluded Schmitter with a satisfied smile.

And whether he was not a little bit jealous not being part of the Sailing World Cup competition Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma de Mallorca, he replies: "No, when I see the strong wind they had the first few days, I only think I want to go kitesurfing..."

Thierry is team rider for Peter Lynn kites