Switzerland's Balz Müller set freestyle wingfoiling alight, blazing a trail that others quickly tried to follow. In this interview we find out about the 27-year-old Lake Biel ripper's own inspiration, his vision for the future... and how he seems to crumble in heats against Titouan Galea!
WORDS: Jim Gaunt
You transferred a lot of your existing skills into wingfoiling. Tell us about your background. My family has always loved to do many different watersports. I’ve been windsurfing since I was eight and grew up when the windsurf freestyle discipline was going through the roof. I experimented with new tricks like the shifty and for the last few years have been involved in the windfoiling (windsurf) revolution, pushing hard to create the new foilfreestyle / foilstyle discipline. Wings caught my interest from the very first time I saw one. I remember my first wing afternoon in late summer '19. I came off the water, bought that same wing set straight away and made my first jumps the day after!
What's more important to you: tricks or competition results? I currently compete in freestyle windsurfing and windfoiling and will fight for the GWA Wing Foil World Tour title this year. However, I value pioneering a new manoeuvre more than a world championship title. The coolest thing about competition isn't the ranking, but the fact that courageous riders come together and push each other full power! I am proud of being involved in many new tricks and conquered my fears by trying something new and failing hard! That approach helped me trick to the top at the Windfoil Freestyle World Cup 2019 and then the defence of that title in 2020! I won the first Tarifa Wing Pro and currently have a hard battle going on with Titouan Galea in the GWA events. Given your considerable history in top level windsurfing events, even as late as 2020 you still weren't professional as you were a landscape gardener. Has that situation changed now with the added challenges of winging? I`m a passionate landscaper, but with all the winging and windsurfing I am now fully focused on watersports, which is a childhood dream come true. With the revolution of foiling and the possibility of turning mellow, Swiss lake conditions into an amazing playground, I’m flying almost daily over one of the many beautiful expanses of water that we have here. Has freestyle always been the thing that interests you the most – and do you think it's because of where you live, near Lake Biel? I've always loved learning something new and the water's surface is the greatest playground. Sure, with the lack of good waves we had to get creative to make the best out of our flat playground, which pushed us into new tricks!
"WITH THE REVOLUTION OF FOILING AND THE POSSIBILITY OF TURNING MELLOW, SWISS LAKE CONDITIONS INTO AN AMAZING PLAYGROUND, I'M FLYING ALMOST DAILY OVER ONE OF THE MANY BEAUTIFUL EXPANSES OF WATER THAT WE HAVE HERE."
Legend of the lake / Photo: Roger Gruetter
You were already doing some crazy windsurf foiling tricks that people thought were impossible. Did wingsurfing feel easy to you after that? You gained a reputation really quickly at the beginning of the sport! Of course it helped that I already had the initial foil fear behind me. Add the fact that jumps felt much easier on a wing than with the windsurf sail – so wing foil freestyle escalated quickly.
'wing-escalation', released September 2020
What do you love most about winging? I like the unlimited trick possibilities that come with it because you're not connected to the board by kite lines or a sail base. To be able to put the wing in a 'no power' position provides such a free and nice feeling! Pure freeriding, flying like seagull over the surface of the water.
Into the unknown. The cold never bothered me anyway... Photo: Chris Czadilek / CC Films
You are developing a competitive relationship with Titouan Galea. Tell us about his skills and development from your perspective. Titouan is a friendly, quiet competition beast! I like him a lot as a friend, but sure wanna kick his ass in a comp! In my eyes he is not one of the most creative riders, though. Winning a freestyle event with only five different tricks (all of them on the same tack) shows that our freestyle system at the moment puts a big preference on his smooth, clean landings. That's a bummer because I think such a new discipline needs to value crazy new trick attempts more, to simply create more chance for new development! Are you enjoying your battles with him? You've been already in three GWA finals with him now. He's won two... Honestly, I struggle when riding against him and lost our last heat mentally before even hitting the water. I knew I needed to land my moves clean, but ended up in a huge mess swimming after every attempt. Part of the damn game though, I know! What do you think about the importance of a wingfoil world tour? Why is it important at this stage in the sport? It brings the riders together and we can set the stage for this young, new sport with the goal to be as interesting / attractive for outside watersport spectators as possible. This is the most important thing in order for wingfoiling to grow as a sport.
GWA event in Fortaleza, Brazil, late 2020, where Balz finished runner-up to Titouan Photo: Svetlana Romantsova / WingFoil World Tour
Corkscrewing between the peaks, Isleten, Switzerland Photo: Tobias Sonanini / Ensis
We saw some epic clips of you riding small, but super clean waves in northern Brazil after the GWA event last year. Can you tell us about those conditions? They looked so dreamy for winging. After the first GWA event in Fortaleza I was invited to visit Vila Kalango in the (so far still windsurf) paradise, Jericoacoara. My wife Eva and I lived the dream, staying in beautiful bungalows right on the beach, riding all day, every day in excellent wing conditions.
Together with the world class wingers from the F-One team we shared waves that rolled for hundreds of metres. What a time to be alive! And yes, those downwinders were definitely a highlight from last season, nothing beats gliding over the sea like that:
I love my home lakes. We may not have ocean waves, but when everything comes together we score truly amazing lake wave conditions.
I love the Rad 900. Fearless, full commitment take-offs, getting those sharp foil knifes over and around your body with the mixed feeling of spinning freely and hoping to land unharmed!
I tried and failed very hard for several months until it finally worked out. That's the beauty of learning; I always say, if you fail try harder! Crash 999 times but get up 1000.
CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
Double Cork rotations. The landing is the hardest part.
Where is the best spot you've ever winged and why? I love my home lakes, especially now with the new foil developments. We may not have ocean waves, but when everything comes together we score truly amazing lake wave conditions. Where do you think wingsurfing will go in the future? In my eyes the sport has great potential to let people fly safely. I see a bright future with the possibility to enjoy nature and play with its forces. The great thing about wingfoiling is, it turns the rarely optimal, landlocked Swiss conditions into a great playground and motivates both young and old to try something new on the our lakes! Where it will go, nobody knows, but what’s already happening is crazy and has gone far beyond my first imagination. Finally, your wife Eva is also amazing on a wing and she won in Tarifa! Do you enjoy riding together? We live a dream life together. It's incredibly great to share a passion as crazy as wingfoiling with her and I cannot wait to do so as a trio, with an exciting, but growing adventure coming up very soon. ;)