Feature: The Kite Mag #33
Human actions are endangering the largest creatures in our planet’s largest habitat. As many as one million species live in our ocean, and every one of them is in danger – be it from entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with high-speed ships, commercial whaling, ocean noise pollution, marine plastics or climate change.
Three-times World Kitesurfing Champion Jalou Langeree recently put her hand up to protect these animals and the place they call home. Teaming up with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Jalou’s goal is to help make the ocean safer and healthier, and in doing so, save lives and livelihoods.
IFAW is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. Both experts and everyday people work across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and to restore and protect their natural habitats. Find out how you too can take action with Jalou and IFAW here.
Jalou got to know Juli Riegler, IFAW Communications Director for Europe, through their shared love of CrossFit, back home in The Netherlands.
“Jalou has been dominating the worldwide kite surfing scene for years. Thanks to her success in the sport, she has a strong voice and global reach to mobilise others for this important cause.
“Jalou comes into contact with the same themes for which we tirelessly work. She sees whales, dolphin and seals that get caught in fishing nets, and marine life suffering from plastic pollution. Also strandings of whales and dolphins caused by ocean noise and climate change, whale hunting and ship strikes,” explains Juli.
With her life and career focused on the ocean, Jalou has come across plenty of marine animal suffering and pollution on the water. So after meeting Juli and learning about IFAW, she decided to take action: using her presence and voice for the oceans and its animals.
“I once made a kitesurfing trip near Den Helder, in the north of Holland,” recalls Jalou. “If you tack upwind for about an hour there’s a massive sand plate in the middle of the ocean. Usually, there are sick waves that wrap around the bar there, but on that day, there were no waves.
"You’re not allowed to stand on the sand bar, but we wanted to check out the seal colony. As we came closer, they started to move off, but I noticed one seal was a bit slower than the rest. It had a fishing net tangled around its neck.
"We tried to help, but it was a big, aggressive seal, it was scared, and we only had a small knife, so it was difficult to do any good. We did manage to cut some of the lines, but it still had a weighty rope around its neck, digging into the skin. It was so sad for us to see the seal go back into the ocean like that.
“Afterwards we spent hours on the phone trying to get help for the seal. We finally contacted Eco-Mara, who arranged a search, and eventually found and rescued it.”
“It’s hard to see an animal suffering like that and not want to help,” shrugs the new-ambassador and long term advocate for IFAW.
“The problems they face grow larger and more complex every day. More online trafficking. More ocean noise. More powerful storms.
"I travel a lot, but even I didn’t know the oceans are so stressed out,” admits Jalou.
Director of Marine Conservation at IFAW, Patrick Ramage, says whales and many other marine species face more threats today than at any other time in history.
“We’ve been around for fifty years, but we know our solutions can’t stay the same – we have to think, and act, differently. When euthanasia seemed like the only option for stranded marine mammals, we developed new technology to release them back into the ocean safely. And when we wanted to stop whale hunting in Japan, we called up the very last entity you could imagine: the Icelandic Tourism Board.
"Together with local communities, governments, non-governmental organisations, and businesses, we pioneer new and innovative ways in marine, landscape and wildlife rescue and conservation to help all species flourish.”
Jalou and brother Kevin recently spent a week visiting the International Operations and Marine Mammal Rescue Centers at Cape Cod in the US. There she had the chance to deep dive into IFAW programs.
Seal surveying, whale spotting, and taking part in a necropsy with the marine team allowed her to gain insights on the biggest threats to our oceans and marine life. She also learned of the campaign to save and forever protect the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“They have such great volunteers, all on standby to help - and so passionate about these beautiful creatures,” enthuses Jalou, “it’s like when there is a fire - the people are there in time.”
You can hear the passion in Jalou’s voice as she talks about seal observations, whale strandings and the marine mammal ambulance.
“IFAW has successfully lobbied to change the routes of commercial shipping channels, helping to navigate boats away from whale feeding grounds, and educating them to slow down. Now the noise of the boats doesn't affect the whale's sonar, which will mean fewer mass strandings."
Samples of the contents of a seal's stomach, found during a necropsy performed at the International Operations and Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
Jalou urges kiteboarders to keep the number of your local rescue organisation in your phone to alert them if there’s an animal in need, rather than try to do it yourself.
“There is so much more we can all do. I’m not sure exactly how I will combine my work as an IFAW ambassador with kiteboarding just yet, but watch this space! And in the meantime, check out the IFAW marine conservation program online to see how you can help: ifaw.org.”
Back in Dakhla, Jalou is enjoying another pivotal moment in her kiteboarding journey. In 17 years of kiteboarding, she has only changed sponsors twice, from O’Neill to Mystic, and Naish to North.
“Testing the product and giving team-rider feedback to the North design team has been very motivating. We have a kick-ass team - all super-passionate and a little crazy in their own way. We’ve all been friends for years, and now we get to work together on a mutual dream.
“As soon as I get my North gear I’ll go to Mauritius to compete in the GKA (World Kitesurfing Tour). The GKA is a relatively fresh tour, and I love it. It’s super fun. They are now combining strapless freestyle with wave riding on many of the stops, which opens up so many more locations on the tour. Not everybody is keen on the discipline, but I find myself doing a lot of strapless freestyle these days, at home in the Netherlands.
“Mauritius is pure wave-riding, and it’s a super proper wave. I’m confident there. It’s been a while since I last competed because I had a back hernia for a long time. I did manage to compete and win the tour last year, but at one point it got a lot worse, so I had to step back and get healthy again.
“For myself this year, I decided just to do the tour stops I really want to go to. I don’t have any pain now, but I do try to rest a lot and listen better to my body. I do some stretching exercise that I get from my physio, and I’m committed to being healthy. You know, nut butter, overnight oats, stretch. We exercise so much, so if we live like rockstars we’re not going to last too long!”
“I’m a super active person. I love moving. I start my day waking up and doing something - if there is no wind or waves I’ll do a spin class, then if the wind picks up I’ll go out for a kite, foil, SUP…
"I want to be able to have fun on the water. Whatever the conditions are. I don’t mind what the discipline is; I just want to be able to enjoy whatever it brings.
“Foiling opens up a whole new world. You get so much more water-time, fly in like zero winds, and have the longest ride of your life. It’s insane. When it's flat and I'm dying for waves I love surfing the wind swell on the foil. I tow upwind holding on to someone’s leash, then let go of the harness and flow with the wind. You keep going until your upper legs burn so much you can’t stand anymore.”
Jalou started foiling about three years ago now. “The foil is very relaxing - it’s so silent. And so different to riding a wave board - you need proper concentration and to spend some time getting it. You feel like a complete kook when you start like you’re never going to get it. But when it comes together, it’s just magic.”
With a comprehensive list of accomplishments under her belt already, it’s hard to pinpoint the biggest highlight of Jalou’s kiting journey so far. But becoming world champion in 2012 for the very first time was a blast:
“It wasn’t just the feeling of being the best at that moment. It was a combination of everything. A whole year of personal growth and independence, not travelling with my brother and following a new passion (wave-riding) on a different world tour,” explains Jalou.
“I was crowned in Hawaii - if you can imagine: palm trees, white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, sick waves. I was 22, and it was the first year I travelled by myself, so winning the tour was for me a huge personal achievement.
“I would go a couple of days in advance to every spot so I could get to know the location and the conditions. I was so independent - travelling, competing, dealing with stress; it wasn’t easy.”
“I was used to having my brother around - to hype me up, tell me I’m going to smoke it. He talks to me in a way that gives me confidence, and when you travel by yourself, you miss that. (Kevin is at home with a baby girl now).”
“I would see other people on tour with their support person and feel a bit lonely sometimes. But the cool thing about travelling by yourself is that you are open to meeting so many more amazing people. You’re never really alone.” - Jalou Langeree.