Inside the mind of a serial thriller – KW 80


A look inside the minds of two of the sport’s most extreme riders – Nick Jacobsen and Jessie Richman


In KW #80 neuroscience columnist, Dr Jason Gallate, pulled two of the sports true ‘hell man chargers’, Nick and Jessie to one side and asked them why they do what they do. There’s more to these guys than you might think. They’re meticulous, measured and mettled and that’s what makes them capable of the insane feats they pull off! Here’s just a slice of that multi-faceted feature:


Photo: Terry Way


Jessie’s story

For the first five times I kited Jaws I didn’t crash and it annoyed me so bad, because I just kept on thinking, ‘If I’m out here, I am going to need to deal with this. If I’m going to ride this wave, I’m not doing it right if I am not crashing’. I need to push it that far; because if you’re not crashing, you’re not pushing hard enough, especially at Jaws.

I can’t just be out there and ride the wave so perfectly that I never crash, that isn’t possible. What’s really happening is that I am riding the wave so timidly that I never get to that really risky critical zone. So this year I got to the point where I was able to go, ‘Alright, let’s do this thing properly’. I pushed myself really hard this year and it was such a great feeling because it was so intense. It is so relieving to pop up and go, ‘I can get pounded by a wave like that and survive. I didn’t die, that is really cool, it’s all good’. 

I see guys out there that get pounded all the time and they’re okay, so I can do that, too. It’s pretty amazing how your attitude changes. When you are getting pounded, you do not think it’s character building because you are getting worked so bad and you think, ‘Fuck! I don’t want anything to do with any of this right now!’. But it’s so cool because right after you go, ‘I just did that! I just survived that! Right on, good job, good work, you did that’.

For me, this is one of the differences between freestyle and waves. When you crash freestyle it hurts, it usually really hurts. It’s not that much fun and it’s not some crazy experience. When you crash in big waves you get pounded; it’s like instant. You don’t pay for it over time you pay for it right then, instantly. It’s just nice because then you get it out of the way – boom, debts paid. Like, ‘I tried to ride that wave, the wave kicked my ass and that’s the way it goes’. 

The first time I got barrelled out there is that shot on the cover of Kiteworld 79. That period was after I started crashing out there. A lot of people ask me about riding out there, I ask, “Are you prepared to take one on the head?”, ‘cause if you’re not you shouldn’t be out there, at least not in my eyes. You have to want it bad and be willing to pay the consequences. You simply cannot half-arse it. If you go in with a half-arse attitude you are likely to also be like, ‘Well I don’t really need the flotation vest and I don’t really need to train, maybe not five days a week anyway, maybe just three, and maybe this second rate jet-ski will work…’. You start cutting the corners and in my eyes you aren’t then following the system; you’re not taking it seriously. That’s when you can get hurt. However, if you set your system in place, like ‘This is what I need to comfortably take a beating out there and I need to follow these steps and then I can do that’ – then I’m all for it. I’ll encourage anyone.

It’s such a special wave, place and experience. It’s out of control how much power there is. This last year I started paddling into it. Lying on a surfboard and paddling into it. That’s wild. You’re looking at it and going, this is just way, way, way, WAY too big. It’s just WAY too big, like, ‘What the hell am I doing here right now?’. It’s just so ridiculous that you sit out there for an hour or two without catching anything. Then maybe you get to the point where you decide to go for ONE. You start paddling and as soon as you look over the edge you are like ‘Hell no!’. You pull back and you are like ‘Absolutely not!’. You paddle over to the boat and then you finally get to the point where you decide, ‘No, I am going’. You’re not looking at anybody else on the wave, you are not looking at anything. You have to get to the point where you say, ‘I’m putting my head down and I’m paddling; I’m either flying over the falls or I’m going to ride this wave.’ That is the only possible scenario. Pulling back cannot enter your mind because it is not even remotely an option. It’s just THAT moment when you come to a decision and then it’s like, ‘Shit! here we go.’


Nick’s story


This jump you see here off the roof of Richard Branson’s house on Necker Island was the result of long-term planning and risk assessment by Nick. The next opportunity to do something like this was off another of Branson’s properties but, even with Larry Page of  Google,  former astronauts, dozens of starlets and many other luminaries watching, Nick decided not to do it in light of it an unacceptable level of risk. There’s more to Nick than you might imagine and, like Jessie, he’s not just some wild-eyed lunatic.


I love to search for new things, I love to push my body to extremity but, with that, in order to do it, I need familiarities and support; a sort of safety net. I know I can always call my mum if I’m in danger, or my dad or my sisters. That’s part of my familiarity. They are always there to support me. 

There is an element where you have to standout to make it in this industry. That is simply a fact you have to accept. However, I am not this crazy dude who throws himself off buildings and stuff, well… I am, but it is well thought through. I am not reckless. When I am home I just like to be normal, you know?

My life was crazy last year, I got on 75 planes and I became kind of ‘rootless’. It was too much. I need a solid base and my family provides that. The public really only sees one side of me. I’m actually a quite reflective kind of guy. Given the opportunity I will stare at a blank wall and ask searching questions of myself. ‘Am I stoked? Am I happy? Am I satisfied with how things are going right now?’ And if not, I’ll change it.

However, you can’t change things that you are not on top of. So, just like my kiting, I like to master all the aspects of my life. Of course you can’t do that all at once, but I consciously and continuously make small adjustments along the way. 

I don’t do what I do for the people, I don’t do it for the public. I don’t have to jump from France to Ireland. I don’t feel that pressure, I do it for myself, to fill a gap inside of me. What I want to do more is inspire people; not for them to do what I do (I don’t want them to do that to be honest). I’d just like to show people that you can do different things with a kite. I found my passion in kiting and I would like other people to find their passion, too.

It’s a strange thing, but in a way I feel like I have to do it [the next challenge], for myself. It is an internal thing. I am a very safe person. If I think there is even 1% doubt in me, I won’t do it.


This feature first appeared in KW #80 in April 2016. Subscribe to the magazine for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, and get inside the minds of the legends of in kiteboarding every issue.


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