WORDS - Jim Gaunt
|(This interview was published in Kiteworld issue #50 in April 2011)
Along with his best mate, Aaron Hadlow, Ruben Lenten is one of the biggest icons in kitesurfing. In a completely different way to Aaron, he's exciting, gung ho and an extreme extrovert. Just hearing his name brings up images in our minds of mega loops and crazy high-wind antics.
I've spent some time with Ruben in the past and it's always been fun. He loves DJing, throwing parties and making sure everyone has a good time. He's incredibly warm and fun loving, but I wanted to spend some time with him outside of the party scene and get inside his head a bit more when we were both sober. So I spent a typical day with him, starting with a huge smoothie, bowl of fruit and grenola and we hit the gym to do his standard daily routine.
Ruben has been off the water for over four months with his most recent injury and, over his career he's had to spend a lot of time on the sidelines, nursing various ankle problems back to health. In spite of this his name and popularity in the sport just keep on growing. Probably because his enthusiasm is infectious and his love for kiting is genuine, both of which come through in each of his online videos.
Although he doesn't seem to take anything very seriously, his rehabilitation from ankle surgery this time seems to have taken on more severity. In the past his patience has run out and he's gone back on the water too early, causing him to ride in pain just a few months later. Now he goes to the gym five or six days a week for three hours a day, focussing on his core and doing balancing exercises as well as weights.
His levels of strength and fitness are incredible, I was aching for days after trying to match him, but his mind seems to be gaining in strength, too. His focus and determination are huge – he's given up drinking and smoking, but inside he's hugely frustrated. He would frequently move to the corner of the studio and batter seven bells out of the punch bag with an angry yell while I was trying and failing to master balancing on a semi-circular ball and throwing an oversized beach ball at the wall and then trying to catch it.
But he always quickly switches that big smile back on and we all start having a good time again. I for one can't wait for Ruben to get back on the water again in June. The sport is a lot better with him involved.
|Before you got injured, would you go to the gym a lot?
Yeah and I had a personal trainer from Red Bull that I worked with at times, but if you're not injured and you're kiting then you put all your energy into that. Now that I'm having to chill I find it good to do the gym in the morning, take a little break and then do some internet work, which fills my day up nicely.
Have your workouts changed in nature?
Before it was all strength, now it's all about core and balance. I don't really want to get big because the muscles will get in my way for passes, but it's good to get strong and flexible. I've worked with a lot of personal trainers and physios over the years and have just developed my own programme from that for what I think I need. I focus on my legs three times a week, do weights five times a week and balancing exercises each time. It burns a lot of aggression and energy for sure and that's what I need otherwise I get super-frustrated. It's good to feel fit, it really benefits you in everything when you have a healthy body and clear mind.
What's in your usual daily diet?
I cut up some fruit with granola and yoghurt every morning as just a light meal for some energy. Then I hit the gym and do a good workout for three hours. I'll make a massive sandwich and smoothie with some protein for lunch. I also take pills, such as glucosamine for my cartilage. I've been taking it for two years now and I can feel the bones and joints are more supple. Then for dinner I'll have some pasta or some meat on the braai. I can eat anything but I eat as healthily as I can.
You've had a few ankle problems during your career. Can you tell us about them?
Just before the start of the 2006 PKRA season in Venezuela I hurt my ankle during a bad crash. I'd done four kite loop handle-passes in a row on one tack and as I did the last one my foot come loose in the foot strap and I twisted my right ankle. It healed pretty well and after two months was able to ride again without any pain, which is when I started to really enjoy the strong winds. Soon after my left ankle became a chronic problem because I have flat feet. The stance of my ankles is wrong, collapsing to the inside because there's too much pressure on the outside of the ankle on the cartilage. The cartilage wore away so much over the yeas that I was just left with a bone on bone situation. It's really painful with every landing without cartilage. I decided to have it operated on out here in South Africa last year. I found a doctor that was good with keyhole ice-picking surgery and had the cartilage renewed. Two small holes were drilled in my joint, which releases stem cells that fill up the gap. Stem cells can either become bone, cartilage or ligament, depending on the type of rehab you do. If you hammer on stem cells they became bone, stretch them and they became ligament and if you rest them it turns into cartilage.
How long was the healing time after surgery?
I had On The Loose, my TV show planned and all this other fun stuff and after three months I really couldn't hold myself back any more. I went to compete in the Ragnorak snowkite event in Norway, but it was just too early and a stupid decision. I thought I was okay, but my flat feet hadn't changed and I'd made no adjustments to my foot pads because I wasn't really aware that my flat feet were the problem. I should have had six months off, but I had production for On The Loose to be getting on with.
You were riding again by the summer, weren't you?
Yes, but always with pain and it wasn't the right thing to do. I had Mystic and Slingshot photoshoots planned as well as the Triple S and a road trip with On The Loose. I did get some photos done but it was so frustrating not being able to ride how I wanted to ride. I just want to be out there doing my best. I went to the Wind or No Wind event in the Philippines and I just couldn't hold back. I knew it was going to be a legendary event, with brilliant riders. I wanted to ride with the boys on the rails but on the second day I bust my ankle from going too big.
Will you need more surgery?
Maybe, but I don't really want a second surgery. I'm on a good training programme now and just want to get strong.
|It could have been easy for you to lose sight of your goals in the sport being out for so long. What is it that's kept you really focussed?
I guess I've grown up as I've been carrying this injury for about three years now. I basically came to a cross-roads in the Philippines where I could either take it or leave it. I really felt like that, so I made a decision not to smoke or drink, but to train and get as strong as possible. My biggest frustration is not being able to ride. It's my passion and in my heart and in my blood. I know I still have a lot to contribute to the sport. So I said to myself, 'Hey Rubes, focus on it. You're 22 now and this is the time to go for it and get it over and done with. Whatever happens you just have to deal with it.' I spoke to my sponsors and let them know I was going to take some time out and they were super keen. I've been going around the world and meeting people and putting my game face on for years now. So I've been taking some time, focussing on my own mind and getting really comfortable. I will also be going to see some of Red Bull's sports psychologists in Austria to help sort a few personal and professional things out in my brain. I've seen them already and they seem to think they can have me straightened out in a couple of weeks.
How hard is it when you're living with other kitesurfers and when the wind picks up the house empties?
Very, that's why I try to leave the house at ten in the morning and focus on my own thing. I've been hanging out with Aaron way too much to worry about not being able to ride. I just watch him and I'm happy for him. He motivates and inspires me a lot. Sometimes it's so frustrating when he goes for a session, but I've learnt to take it. It's still a good life and I'll just help him have an easy session.
He doesn't talk about his sessions too much though does he?
Yeah he does. Ha ha! No, only if he's done an epic move.
I know Aaron seems to only do shorter, focussed power sessions on the water. What about you?
It depends. If it's a 50 knot sunset session, then obviously the sun is going to eventually go down, but I'll be out there until the last bit of light for sure, however long that is.
What do you think about when you're training in the gym? Can you just switch off? You don't seem to switch off very much.
Which brain, mate? There's two sides; on the left side there's nothing right and on the right side there's nothing left. No, most of the time I have my tunes and I just fully go for it.
What about when you're riding on the water?
It's all about feeling, I never think on the water. Sometimes I will land a move and I won't even know what I've done. I'll know it was a big fucking back mobe or something, but not specific. I know the feeling of tricks, but I don't really think about them. Aaron really thinks about them and it's good to visualise tricks but I think I do that automatically. I just ride for the feeling.
|What specifically is going to have to change in your gear for you to be able to continue riding?
I would love to get Slingshot to make me some kite specific bindings for when I get back on the water in June. They need to be much stiffer inside the boot. Obviously there needs to be padding on the bottom as well, but it's really hard to position your heel right because you're always moving around. There needs to be some damping, but that makes it unstable. So it's hard to make but one of my missions over the next month is to get a 3D picture of my foot from the foot doctor and send it off to Slingshot and Mystic for my boots, pads and straps. But they've got to be really good in the end.
You've been with Slingshot and Mystic for a long time and have been involved in the products for a while, which must have been interesting?
It's been awesome to have so much involvement. I've been riding the Fuel kite for nine years now and it's a kite I fell in love with from the beginning. Tony Logosz really understands what I'm looking for so working with him is always a unique experience and it always comes out good. Obviously with a kite that's been around that long, we've only been making minor tweaks in recent years, but there's still development going on and it's fun. You can really feel it. That's the reason why I don't ride hybrid or bow kites because the tip of the kite is actually what catches you after the loop. The bow kites make more of a circle and only catches you when they come up again. So a C kite like the Fuel catches you a bit earlier and has a more direct feel through the whole window.
Any plans for development of the Len10 brand?
I really want to develop my own Len10 kite for strong winds and wake-style. The RPM's good for wake-style for sure, and the Fuel's good for strong wind riding, but I really want to make a storm kite. A range of 4.5m, 5.5m and a seven metre and just have them specially made for that. The current five metre Fuel is so quick and you can ride it in 50 knots, but it doesn't really catch you too well after a mega loop. The speed is good, but we have to lower the AR to create more lift, otherwise it's too small and doesn't really catch you. Slingshot are all about helping the sport grow in a hardcore way. Even though they don't make money with hardcore freestyle kites, they still invest in me because it keeps the sport hardcore. There are still some changes to be made, but how many days do you get to test in 50 knots? It's a big mission.
You have an older brother, Sander, who is a pro kiter and your cousins are Kevin and Jalou Langeree. What is it about your family and kiting?
Everyone is just motivated and loving the sport. Kevin started three months before me, we used to hang out a bit back in the day but we're not really close now as a family. I started flying kites on the beach at 11 and moved onto the water when I was 12. It actually took me three or four months to actually get up on the board and I'd get so frustrated with my kite falling out of the sky. Eventually I got it riding on an island in the north of Holland. My dad was riding on his bike alongside me and we went on a big downwinder.
What is it about the Dutch? There are so many good riders from Holland.
I think we have a good training ground. The North Sea can be really rough, and if you can do it there you can do it anywhere.
You have such a warm personality. Does that come from your mum and dad and your upbringing?
My parents got divorced when I was six, but before that they always used to go windsurfing and cruised around Europe in their camper van. I've moved house 12 times, but when I was 11 I decided to stay permanently with my dad. It was just easier for me because he lived closer to the ocean at the time and I just wanted to kite. My dad and I are now like twins, but just with a 30 year age gap. It's hard because I love my family so much, but as I travel so much I also have to always meet new people. I suppose that's where my open personality comes from.
When did your pro career start?
I got into the Philishave Cool Skin team and did my first comp in 2002 I think at the KPWT event in Belgium. I had to go up against Christopher Tasti and he was busting out some gnarly one-footers. I used to get asthma and was stressing out when I lost my board and had to swim to get it. I started hyperventilating. I lost it completely and all my family were on the beach. It was funny because I was so nervous looking back on it. It was such a good event though to get to hang out with those guys.
Did you ever enjoy competing?
I guess at some point, but I really just enjoyed hang out with everyone. I got so bored by the end of doing the same moves a million times within a small box. I don't know how the guys still do it. I got injured just before the start of the 2006 season and couldn't complete the tour that year, so I didn't see the point and just started freeriding back home. The tour isn't improving anything. There's more to my life now than kiting and all anyone ever talks about on tour is kiting. If it's a good conversation about kiting, then it's fair enough, but I like other stuff in life as well. Just talk to me as a normal person and that's what some people don't get.
| What's your best moment in competition?
Winning the Red Bull King of the Air in Maui, definitely. I love going big. Wind from the right, massive waves in Ho'okipa and Robby's back yard. There were shit loads of riders out there and I was all nervous to go up against Aaron but Aaron completely fucked it in the big waves. Yeah, that was a pretty cool competition just winning that against Robby Naish in the final.
Was it hard to carve out a career as a freerider? Andre Phillip was probably the only one at the time who'd successfully managed to negotiate a career with Cabrinha as a full freerider?
I was just different by going bigger than anyone without really thinking about it, it just happened naturally. Slingshot were happy because they never really wanted me to ride the competition circuit, they just wanted me to go out there and push the sport. That's what it's all about and that's what I enjoy.
There's always that thing between the different styles of kiteboarding – high or low and technical. I remember being in Tenerife when we did the guest editors issue with Aaron and Mark for issue #30 and I was standing on the cliff and saw yours and Aaron's kites with the Red Bulls go up. There were a lot of kiters out at the time and everyone came in and stood on the beach. You guys were doing kite loops, but you were taking off at one end of the bay and landing at the other. It's the thing that makes normal people go wow, but it's also something that makes kiteboarders come in and stand on the beach in amazement. They don't come in and stand on the water when someone's doing some wake-style tricks.
True, it just doesn't work. Wake-style moves you do for the vids. It's fun for sure, but I just like going big and flying. Who doesn't like flying, you know? So if you can do that and control yourself in the air, your having fun.
Does it still feel dangerous when you do a mega loop?
There's risk, but I've been doing this for ten years now, so I have the control. My heart beats hard for sure, but that adrenaline rush keeps me out there and grasping for more.
Can you explain the feeling you get from a mega loop?
Bam! (Followed by a lot of other enthusiastic noises that there are no spellings for.) My heart is always pumping when it's blowing super hard anyway, but hitting the perfect lip of a three metre wave and then boosting out is amazing and I always try to go as big as possible and get the kite as low as possible. But first of all you need the right take-off speed, then if you want to make a rotation you have to organise yourself for that. I don't know how I do it. It all kind of goes in one move. If you catch a gust on take-off and feel yourself go higher than you expected you can slow the kite down a bit by pulling less hard. Then the kites comes lower and that just gives an epic feeling. Each loop is different. You've got to feel your way through it. Most people just loop it hard, but I can make lots of adjustments, like looping the kite in a square. It's funny.
To get to a stage where you're thinking about looping the kite back the other way, as you do for your S loops, is pretty crazy.
You can steer it however you want. The S loop is still something to get my head around. It's a pretty sketchy move, but I just need 50 knots and a big fuck off wave and to jump as high as possible – like 20 metres high and we still need to develop the right kite for it.
What do you think you bring to the sport?
I try to organise a lot of things behind the scenes and to connect people. But I guess if you tell someone you're a kiteboarder, you don't show someone course racing, you show someone flying and looping like a crazy man. Promoting the sport is one of my biggest goals as well as inspiring kids.
Watch episodes of On The Loose at: www.ontheloose.tv Otherwise, hit up www.len10.com
This feature is in issue #50