I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville



Jan 30, 2017

In a Kitesurfer’s Dream: The First Edition of Kite Tech

With the idea of combining sports, technology and entrepreneurial spirit, the Kite Tech concept was born—becoming a reality only a short time later for their first event in stunning Dakhla.


Lorenzo Fornari

Brought together through a shared love of kitesurf, the creators of Kite Tech are a diverse and creative bunch: Morgane RidoretDreamkiteXavier Duportet; Arnaud de la TourHello Tomorrow; Christophe TallecWe Design Services; Hugo Compas; and Alexandre Mulliez. This star-studded tech startup event took place in a part of the world I never thought I’d have the chance to visit, let alone participate so closely in—even getting the chance to learn how to kitesurf in Dakhla’s austere yet vibrant setting.

Here is everything you need to know about the first edition of Kite Tech—the firsthand account from a first time kitesurfer.

Dakhla lagoon. A bird watcher’s paradise and a kite surfers playground


The Southern coast of the disputed Western Sahara territory is a sun-baked martian landscape that suddenly crashes into the untamed Atlantic Ocean. Dakhla’s strategic setting is on a peninsula on one of the most Westerly points of the African continent, making it a natural choice as a stopover location for Allied planes during WW2 on the Dakar-Casablanca route. Today, thanks to the infrastructure, this incredibly remote part of the world can easily welcome kite surfers, and other water-gliding seekers, from all over the world (Royal Air Morocco, the only airline to fly there, takes 2 hours from Casablanca).


The lagoon is a kite surfer’s ideal playground; a smooth, near-waveless, high-wind spot with water depth varying from just a few cm to a couple meters—which is perfect for total beginners, professionals, and everyone in-between.

Surrounded by sand dunes, it is also dotted by half a dozen surf centers which have popped up in the past few years—testimony to the rising popularity of the location. The barrier to entry in renewable energy sources (solar and wind are perfect here) have been lowered recently and  have allowed for development in the rigid and remote environment.

Dakhla, kite surfing on mars

As we would find out later in the trip, basic medical facilities are on hand…
Dakhla has a clinic and hospital for more serious situations, but I highly recommend just not getting hurt and avoiding them altogether.

More and this and other stories on Dakhla and kite surfing in a more in-depth article soon. On to the show. 

The main event

Everyone was excited to do some kite surfing as soon as possible. Beginners, such as myself, eager to squeeze into wetsuits and get started, while the more experienced in the group looked over their gear, inspected kites and sharpened their boards.

However, this event is also about technology, startups, and entrepreneurs debating and sharing experiences, exchanging advice and creating a bond beyond what you can possibly hope for at a normal networking conference. Almost a week spent with a perfectly sized, brilliant and like-minded group of 40 entrepreneurs, in a remote location, ensures that the goals of the event were met. Kite Tech nailed it—which is incredibly impressive for a first time event.

Approximately 1/3rd of the time was dedicated to the talks and workshops, and the rest to kitesurfing and socializing, which is where the real magic happened. The authentic bonds between people were made during the friendly (and delicious) lunches and dinners, when everyone was networking and discussing about their business challenges and experiences.

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On the stage: the speakers and my highlights from their wisdom

Philippe Ancelin, Rémi Quique and Harold Quinquis
These three bastions of kitesurf gave us a rundown on the the history of it, which immediately set the mood and immersed everyone into the sport whether you had never touched a kite before or practically slept in one (which is rather comfortable by the way).

Maxime Lainé, CEO, and Arthur Berteloot, CCO
They created a B2B geolocalization platform in 2015 which provides geomarketing services to brands and services, allowing them to send notifications and promotions to customers according to their location. Using this technology as their foundation, they created an app called
WeeSurf which specifically filtered local current and forecast weather conditions. Throughout the week in Dakhla we successfully used it to find the optimal times for best wind and could plan to either kite surf or have talks. Download it now from the Appstore, it’s free.

Alex Mulliez
Alex Mulliez of AuchanDirect – “making elephants dance”

Alex Mulliez
The CMO of giant AuchanDirect.fr, Alex had an eye-opening talk starting with a slide about “making elephants dance”. He then went on to evangelize his belief that ‘lean management’ and ‘organized chaos’ are currently the best approach for the digital age and his industry, but that it should be applied more extensively everywhere. Acting as a ‘worm in the apple’, he started at his grandfather’s company, Auchan, and shook up an entire division in record time. The result: in nearly no time he has made AuchanDirect relevant in the age of the Amazon behemoth.

The Outdoor Journal
We were up! We had the chance to speak about who we are, what we do, and discuss the exponential growth of the global outdoors market, which has grown from a $65B market to more than $500B in less than 7 years. North America, the UK, Germany, and France, making up about two-thirds of the total spending, consumers want more experiences and less things. This brings more people wanting to travel and wanting to do so responsibly. Kite Surf is a perfect balance of this trend where people not only want to work and network, but come away with new experiences and friendships.
Physical activity has always been a necessary part of a healthy mind; mens sana in corpore sano, as the saying goes. We were also able to speak about our imminent launch of The Outdoor Voyage platform which aims to be a marketplace of the best, safest, and most environmentally responsible adventure experiences, gathering the best operators in the world, in all outdoor activity categories.

Matière Grise
Founder of this tech and start-up recruitment agencyGuillaume Lacoste, had a few pieces of advice. A good CTO makes all the difference but it takes a long time to find the right one—according to him, on average, around 6 months. While there are many different ways to find a good match, such as Linkedin, Angel List, personal networking, specialized forums, etc., the amount of time you’ll spend on this—not knowing you’ll find the right person amongst all that noise, you’re better off going with a specialized agency. Agency fees don’t come cheap, but then again, time is money.

Audrey Franc
A dispassionate plea to everyone  how banks can be a partner for your startup and not just VCs, etc. Albeit their very strict rules, a personal relationship with your banker can open an easier path to getting capital to start your venture. Two main advantages: interest rates have never been lower (it’s basically free money), and investments from a bank avoids you losing control of your company from dilution.

Executive director, Franck Laporte, gave a fascinating
overview of a generally little-known association that directly led to the success of what is today a €1.6B industry—in Europe alone.
The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) started in the USA and in 1999, after searching for the perfect location in Europe—based on where the best waves were, of course, chose the South-Atlantic coast of France to set up shop. EuroSIMA now includes all board-based sports (snowboarding, etc), and have branched out with Outdoor Sports Valley (OSV) which is gathering even more members to its cluster. The purpose of EuroSIMA is to federate, promote, educate, and develop the sports industry through events, media creation, development projects, sponsorships, award and much more.

One of the direct results of EuroSIMA and the ecosystem that flourished from it is the first startup accelerator focused on water-based extreme sports, Blue Builder. According to Guillaume Cerquant they have the experience and connections to get startups (such as S-Wings) into the door of big industrial groups that are present not only in that area, but throughout Europe.

Julien Leleu, freestyle kite surf champion, hanging’ loose in Dakhla

Ride & Dream
A perfect combination of four complimentary people; Raphaëlle Douté and her vast experience in the travel industry, Renaud Lerooy with his management experience, Cyrill Merlin pro photographer and sports instructor, and last but not least, Julien Leleu, freestyle kite surf champion as well as photographer. They spoke about their experiences with their sports event agency, which despite being very new, has been doing well for itself. Aiming mostly at team building and large events, they create unique experiences that combine amazing destinations and even world champion athletes to participate hands on with teaching kitesurfing to all levels.

An all-inclusive sports travel agency giant, UCPA talked their struggles to stay relevant and competitive in today’s frenetic online travel world. The main changes they’re looking to implement would be their target audience and the mammoth undertaking of changing their digital presence over the next couple of years.

Riders Match
In terms of sports media, Harold Quinquis CEO & Founder at Riders Match gave us a preview of their upcoming evolution of their “best extreme videos” website with a whole new service to track the best sports athletes in the world.

PIQpiq.com sports activity tracker that records thousands of data points in realtime, such as the height of jumps and tricks—even your golf swing or boxing punch. You can play them back later, evaluate your performance and learn from them—or you can just show off your awesome jump height on social media.

One Launch
Magnificent instructions from Philippe Ancelin if you ever want to learn kiting before you hit the beaches.

Last but not least, Nicolas Guindé brought a couple of his absolutely beautiful handmade kite surf boards. Quite the treat for the kiters to ride on such pieces of craftsmanship and art. Check out his beautiful boards on their site.

More of Lorenzo’s Kite Tech photos, stories, and an exclusive interview with champion kite surfer Julien Leleu coming soon!

All images taken by Lorenzo Fornari / The Outdoor Journal


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Feb 20, 2019

The Death Zone

World champion free-diver Pierre Frolla sinks without air to depths unreachable by most scuba divers. One day he nearly didn't make it back to the surface.



Pierre Frolla

This story originally featured in print, in the fall 2015 issue of The Outdoor Journal

Deep down under the sea, so far away from where you live, I have been through the last seconds of my life.

In 2005 or 2006 (oddly I don’t remember), I had the worst accident of my freediving career. After being world champion in variable weight apnea with a dive at 123 metres, where I used a weighted sled for descent and returned to the surface by pulling myself along a line and using my fins, I was training to go deeper.

“No matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.”

In my sport, risks are quite important. Imagine you’re running a 400-m race. You start way too fast, and after a few hundred meters you’re out of breath and you just can’t go anymore. What do you do? You just stop, walk a bit and slowly catch your breath again. When you’re free diving, no matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.

The basis of my sport is quite simple. Going beyond 100 meters is mythic. Only a few hardcore specialists, including the “no limit” guys can go beyond that. Athletes use a weighted sled to dive down and an inflatable bag to return to the surface. This means that the free diver reduces his energy loss to the max, and that’s exactly why he is able to go so deep. The world record is held by Austrian Herbert Nitsch: 249.5 metres on June 6, 2012, in Santorini, Greece. The problem is that at those depths, water pressure is unbelievable! At 100 m, for example, the pressure is about 11 kg per square centimeter of your skin. Consequently, the volume of air inside the human body is pressured and reduced too. Take an empty but sealed plastic bottle: If you get to this kind of depth, it’ll greatly deform. That plastic bottle is a metaphor for your body. This also means that if water manages to seep somewhere inside you through your mouth or nose, it will do so with such force that it’ll destroy everything in its path. Drowning is inevitable, and no Apneist can be saved in such case, even if experienced help quickly intervenes.

At great depths, nitrogen becomes narcotic and leads to what is called nitrogen narcosis. This kind of intoxication from staying in great depths for too long is the same as when you drink too much. In other words, you lose total control of your body and mind, and you become unaware of potential dangers. Acting like that underwater can kill you, as the slightest mistake will have incredible consequences. In my personal training, I mix apnea in variable weight and other constant weight dives, where I dive only with the force of my arms and legs.

Today, my team and I decide to put the weight to 118 m. I know I can go down 115 m, but we want to push a little, as it’s part of training. Once down, I’ll have no choice but to go back on my own. I also know there will be a small parachute and an oxygen tank hooked to the sled, but neither will be for me. The bottle empties very slowly and inflates the balloon. Both serve only to return equipment back to the surface. It’s easier for us to work like that rather than starting a counterweight system.

If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water?

I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material.

I begin my descent. I pass my midterm diver. Very soon, it gets dark. I do not have glasses because they would serve me for nothing in this environment. So I stand, with my eyes closed. I’m relaxed and sinking slowly in the water like I’m used to. I feel the pressure now, but I also suddenly feel the sledge slowing. Then it stops, softly. Usually it stops dead. When I realize that something is wrong, I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material. It is almost as if moving sands are closing in on me at 112 meters below the surface. It is actually a mixture of clay and silt, a mound a few meters higher than the sonar onboard the boat. It wasn’t identified even though it stood in the stack axis of the descent of my sledge. It’s nobody’s fault; sonar is not so precise.

In no time, I understand what’s happening to me. I’m stuck. I cannot get my feet outside the box, and I know there’s no exit door. I simply do not have enough oxygen to both work my way out of this with strength and go up as I have expected, swimming, with my hands and fins. If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stopped, stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water? I’m dying; that’s it. Today is the day. In 15 seconds, I will have consumed all the remaining air I was keeping for my ascent. I am also a few seconds away from being caught by nitrogen narcosis. I will go crazy right before dying.

“Did I become a vegetable?”

Suddenly, I have an idea. The parachute. Yes! I trigger the opening of the small air valve, which then rushes into the parachute. It’s working but it’s slow and long. So I wait, very still, with my eyes closed. I have no other choice. I try to relax. Everything at 112 m is multiplied by 10. One consumed oxygen molecule at the surface is equal to 10 or 12 molecules consumed at that kind of depth. One second is equivalent to 10 seconds. Time and life are both very cruel at the bottom of an ocean. I am now barely conscious. Finally, I remember feeling the chute tearing me away from my trap like a champagne cork. The ascent back to the surface, back to life, is way too long. When I reach the surface, I have strangely not entirely lost consciousness, but my body no longer responds to my brain. Did I become a vegetable? My team, frightened, retrieves and saves me. If I had not been so well-trained, I would not have survived this scary adventure. Instead of the planned 2 minutes and 40 seconds that I went down under water for, I stayed 3 minutes and 50 seconds. In the boat, I gradually recover and quickly regain all my abilities.

Pierre Frolla reascending to the surface, following the guideline with the sled and parachute attached to it.

A few years later, I’m on a movie set doing 60-m free diving over and over all day long, and an air bubble is created in my brain on one of these repetitive dives. But instead of being redirected into my lungs, it remains stuck in my head. When ascending, inevitably, this tiny compressed air bubble suddenly decompresses and its size gets multiplied by six. I immediately lose consciousness. Later, I wake up in a hyperbaric chamber. I stay there for eight and a half hours. But when I wake up in that box, I cannot feel my body. I’m unable to move. For hours, I do not know if I will stay quadriplegic or not. This awakening in the box is one of my worst-ever memories of free diving. I do not understand what is happening to me. It takes me 30 minutes to remember that I was free diving and to deduce that I certainly had a bad accident.

Apnea is an extreme sport. I’ll remember it always. Yesterday I dived to 113 meters. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Photos by Franck Seguin

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