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First world title victory ‘more than a trophy’

Legendary Italian waterman Francesco Cappuzzo’s emotional win in FreeFly-Slalom discipline realised a ‘life-long dream’

Italy’s Francesco Cappuzzo won the GWA Wingfoil World Tour’s FreeFly-Slalom world title at the final stop of the year in Cauipe, Brazil. Cappuzzo, 26, a renowned waterman who also counts kiteboarding and windsurfing among his many competitive pursuits, treasured winning his first world title after a “life-time” trying. On his return from Brazil to his home in Italy, he talked to Ian MacKinnon about his year and his hopes for the coming wingfoil season.

Question: What does it mean to you to win the FreeFly-Slalom world title?

Francesco Cappuzzo: It’s my first world title. I was close to winning titles in the past. For example, I come from windsurfing. When I was a kid I went to a lot of junior world championships. I had two vice world championship places. When I was in Surf-Slalom, as it was called then, I was second two years in a row. So, this is my first win ever, finally.

Finally everything came together; all the work I put in over the past 26 years of my life. I’ve been pushing since I was a kid. My dad put me in the water when I was three years old. Since that time I’ve never stepped back, so I’ve no words to describe this. All the work I’ve done, it all comes down to one trophy. For me this trophy is not just a piece of wood or a world title. It’s the result of a really hard and long journey.

Hopefully, this will just be the first and it’s the push that will help me break my limits. I’m not forever second. I just need to believe it and hopefully many more will come.

Q: How did the FreeFly-Slalom season go for you?

FC: When I look back now at the start of the year, I’m definitely happy. At the first stop in New Zealand, Bastien Escofet was winning and I was really worried about him, because I was really, really on form—especially the first two stops. At the second stop in Leucate, France, I struggled to be with the guys and finished fourth overall.

‘Tied on points’

My hopes for the title were not that great. Even over six tour stops, you have to win events to win the title. In the Canaries, I knew Titouan Galea would come back. He’s really good in strong winds. I knew Gran Canaria was going to be hard. I’d a couple of bad crashes and got second overall. Then Titouan, Bastien and me were tied.

In Fuerte, I knew if I won I’d go back on top of the rankings. Everything came down to the last elimination round. But I lost out to Titouan by about 10cms and came second overall by 0.03 of a point.

By Denmark I was feeling fast and consistent. There were 10 elimination rounds and it’s not so easy. It was very close and Titouan and I were tied on points. But I won six to his four, which meant I got the win.

In the overall rankings we were equal on points, but he had the lead on count-backs. So at the last event in Brazil I had finish better than fourth place to win.

After the first elimination round I was fifth. I was so stressed. I went back to my room and I said to myself, I can’t finish the year like this. I’d felt at the previous three events I’d been dominating. So I said to myself ‘Francesco, just focus on the world title.’ I didn’t care about anyone else. I just had to get on the podium.

That was my mission on the last day. I got four good results and when the race director told me there was no more competition, all the pressure was off and I saw Tom Hartmann [GWA tour manager] coming to me with the flag to say I’d won. I was really proud of how I handled the pressure.

‘Second so many times’

My father came as well for the first time. He’s been watching regattas for almost 20 years. He was there helping me. He had put me under the water when I was two weeks old and on a windsurfer for the first time when I was three years old.

Q: What are your goals for the future, now?

FC: I’ve been second so many times that winning has given me more motivation to know I can do it. ‘Last year you did it, next year you can do it. Next year you can do it better.’ I’ll try to win again.

When I won the Italian championship, one of the hardest things I did was come back the second year to prove it was not just luck to prove yourself again.

I don’t want to be the guy who wins just one time and disappears. No one remembers them. I’m here to win more and prove myself.

I’m definitely not at the end of my career. I feel really young. In the last three events in Surf-Freestyle I did good events. I was top five all the time and in the last event I lost to Chris MacDonald [the new Surf-Freestyle world champion] in the semis. So I just have to put everything together again. I have been on my way in the last six months. I’m looking forward to getting there and maybe get some podiums, even if the kids are pushing really hard.

Right now I’m just enjoying the last days of 2023 being world champion. Next year we’ll start from zero again. Winning is my goal, no matter what.

images: Svetlana Romantsova

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