THE INSPIRING JOURNEY OF NILS FREIFROM SAILING ENTHUSIAST TO AMERICA'S CUP
In the world of competitive sailing, the America’s Cup stands as the pinnacle of achievement, an arena where the most skilled sailors and cutting-edge technology collide. For Nils Frei, a professional sailor since 1999, this prestigious event became not just a dream but a reality that has shaped his life in ways he could never have imagined.
Join us on a captivating voyage as we explore Nils’s remarkable journey from a budding sailor on Lake Biel to a key member of the Alinghi Red Bull Racing team in the America’s Cup. Discover the passion, dedication, and challenges that have propelled him through 22 years of professional sailing, and learn how he now coordinates a diverse team of specialists, striving to conquer the high seas of competitive sailing.
But Nils’s story doesn’t stop there. Beyond the America’s Cup, he shares a deep love for kitesurfing, a passion that offers a unique perspective and influences his professional life in unexpected ways.
CHARTING NEW WATERSINSIDE THE WORLD OF NILS
HOW DID YOU BECOME A MEMBER OF THE RED BULL ALINGHI TEAM FOR THE AMERICA’S CUP?
I have been a professional sailor since 1999, and I joined Alinghi as an athlete in 2001, which has now become Alinghi Red Bull Racing. I’ve been with the team for 22 years, primarily sailing on board the yachts and now serving as a coordinator among the sailors.
My role as a coach involves working closely with various specialists within the team, including those focused on performance analysis, technical aspects of sails, and foils. My responsibility is to coordinate these different aspects and plan daily training sessions. I also oversee the coordination of activities with the designers because the America’s Cup is primarily a technological challenge, and collaboration with designers is crucial to develop optimal solutions based on feedback from the sailors and the theories of the designers.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE WORLD OF SAILING AND, IN PARTICULAR, THE AMERICA’S CUP?
My passion for sailing began on Lake Biel when I was a child, and I progressed to Olympic classes like the 470 and the 49er. Sailing has always been my favorite sport. The opportunity to turn professional arose when the Swiss America’s Cup team was looking for Swiss sailors with experience on smaller boats.
Participating in the America’s Cup was a dream due to its rich and prestigious history, being the oldest sporting competition in all sports. My entry into this world largely happened by chance, but once inside, I established relationships and took on exciting challenges. While I have been part of other professional teams, I have always been closely associated with Alinghi over the years.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN YOUR ROLE AS A COACH WITHIN THE AMERICA’S CUP TEAM AND THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE?
My primary role within the America’s Cup team is overall team coordination. There are numerous challenges. One of the major difficulties in the America’s Cup is that, despite having two or three years to prepare, time is always insufficient to achieve all our goals. The challenge is, therefore, to set the right priorities, deciding which elements to test and which aspects to abandon, even if some may be interesting in the long term.
Furthermore, the conditions in Barcelona, where we train, are highly variable. There can be significant waves, strong winds, or almost no wind at all. Therefore, we must design a versatile boat capable of performing well in all these unpredictable conditions, which involves making challenging choices.
Another challenge lies in team coordination. With a large team, it’s crucial for the team spirit to be strong, and all departments must work together collaboratively and efficiently.
We also face an additional challenge due to our absence in the last America’s Cup, putting us behind teams that have continuously worked since their victory. We had to catch up by recruiting early and rebuilding our team, which was a race against time. Despite the challenges, it’s an exciting and stimulating experience.
IN ADDITION TO SAILING, YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT KITESURFING. CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOU DISCOVERED THIS PASSION AND HOW IT INFLUENCES YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE?
I have been passionate about kitesurfing for a long time, although I unfortunately don’t have much time to practice it.
I discovered this passion when the former CEO of Gin Kiteboarding contacted me when I was in Valencia. At the time, I was just starting to get into kitesurfing, and she asked me to be an ambassador for Gin Kiteboarding. That’s how I got introduced to the world of kitesurfing and started practicing it more and more.
I have been following the evolution of this sport since then, starting with a twin-tip board like most beginners before moving on to kite foiling about ten years ago. My learning of kite foiling paralleled our experience with foil boats in 2015 when the GC32 became the first multihulls to foil as a team.
What fascinates me the most about kite foiling are the sensations and the performance it offers. As a former professional sailor, I have always been focused on performance and finding the best course and angle. Foiling is incredibly efficient at all points of sail and allows for impressive angles, which has always fascinated me.
Moreover, living in Switzerland where wind is scarce, kite foiling has allowed me to sail even in 7 to 8 knots of wind, opening up new possibilities. Compared to traditional sailing in Switzerland, I would even say that we sail more thanks to kite foiling.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO PRACTICE KITESURFING WITH A CATAMARAN?
A friend of mine, Yves Detrey who is also a member of Alinghi Red Bull Racing, and I were fascinated by the concept of kitesurfing on a catamaran, eliminating the need for a mast on the boat. This approach offers many advantages, including the absence of the cost of rebalancing and heeling, as is the case with traditional boats. So, we embarked on a project called SYRA, aimed at towing a boat with a kite and achieving good performance. Although we couldn’t fully realize the project due to time constraints, we achieved interesting performance with a small boat. We had a traveller to control the kite’s lateral movement, as well as a rudder at the back and a very innovative canting foil in the center of the boat. The concept worked well, but it would have required more time and resources to develop fully.
As we navigate through the waves of his story, we are reminded that the pursuit of one’s dreams, be it on the open sea or under the kite’s embrace, is a journey worth celebrating. His inspiring journey serves as a testament that with determination, teamwork, and an unwavering love for the water, the horizon holds endless possibilities.