17-year-old Norqain ambassador Maximilian Maeder is Olympics-bound after a triumphant 2023.
From days spent away from family and friends to hours sacrificed for training, it is well-documented that athletes trod a different path than most people. For 17-year-old Maximilian Maeder, it is a journey that he revels in. “The sooner you realise that bringing people like your family, supporters and people who enjoy what you do along your journey — rather than taking those who criticise you — will bring you much more joy and fulfilment,” shares the teen with much self-assurance and -confidence that emanated throughout the interview.
These are innate qualities of sportspeople — especially those who compete at the highest levels — which manifests in their body language, clarity of thought and maturity. Competing at the youth level while rubbing shoulders with competitors in the open categories at such a young age forged Maximilian’s mentality. “I think it’s important for everyone to realise that you have to be grateful for the position that you’re in. I cannot complain about having a setback. I think it’s good — at least personally — to experience that (setbacks) so you can work your way around and see it as an opportunity for improvement,” quips the kite foiler.
While most of us are starting a tertiary education at 17, Maximilian is already a world champion and Asian Games gold medalist. 2023 was a year to remember as he swept home several accolades and milestones. Maximilian won gold and successfully defended his title at the Formula Kite Youth World Championships in Gizzeria, Italy, before claiming the coveted Sailing World Championships a month later in The Hague, Netherlands. Maximilian’s winning streak continued as he brought home one of Singapore’s three gold medals at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. His dominance and achievements earned him a spot in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, and he became the first Singaporean nominated for the prestigious Rolex World Male Sailor of the Year Award 2023.
Men’s Folio sat down with Maximilian to understand more about his sporting discipline, sweetest victory, and thoughts on being Olympic-bound.
Kite foiling is incredibly taxing on the body since you are fighting against and harnessing the elements. Give us an idea of how intense the sport is.
Maximilian Maeder: It’s all relative to sports. It’s taxing on the body, but not as much as, say, marathon running. But you know it is difficult to push against the wind and to be out there, fighting against all the conditions that come your way. So you train for it, and you experience it. Over time, you get used to being on the water with nothing but your body and equipment to work with the elements.
What was the harshest condition you have faced so far?
We had a very strong breeze for one of the races at the beginning of this year. They had to wait to send people out because they were getting pulled into the air and thrown across the beach by getting dragged from the kite in the air. That was quite difficult on the water because you would go flying if you messed up.
Kite foiling is a lesser-known sport, even among water sports?
Comparatively, it used to be relatively less known. But kite surfing is relatively popular as a water sport, and people have also seen it internationally. So they know what it looks like — a guy standing on a board with a kite in the air. They can imagine what it looks like; it’s just that this racing discipline is a niche.
So, what is the allure of this sport that drew you in?
The allure? Well, my father introduced me to the sport because he had tried it before I did. The moment I got on top of the hydrofoil, I must say the feeling of freedom and flying across the water without touching it — because you’re standing on this foil — makes a lot of difference compared to when you’re bumping across the water as when you’re gliding across it. So the moment I got up, that was the moment where I decided I was going to stick with this sport for a while.
This year has been quite the year for you: winning the Formula Kite Youth World Championships in Italy in July, the Sailing World Championships a month later in the Netherlands, and a Gold Medal at the Asian Games. Which victory was the sweetest for you?
Well, all victories are very sweet. There isn’t a big hierarchy to them. But if I had to pick one, it would be the World Championships. Obviously, it means a lot to the team and myself to show that all our effort is going to a good cause.
Losing is also part of sports. How do you process defeats or setbacks, and are you harsh on yourself?
I think it’s important for everyone to realise that you have to be grateful for the position that you’re in. I cannot complain about having a setback. I think it’s good, at least personally, to experience that (setbacks) so you can work your way around and see it as an opportunity for improvement. At least for me, I’m fortunate to have such a great team and support team behind me; every time I face one, all I need to do is talk it out and see what I can gain from the lessons that I learned rather than having to worry about any sort of repercussions.
Staying at the top is more challenging than getting to the top, how do you keep yourself grounded and motivated?
Well, that’s a good question. It’s important to realise that for anything you do, motivation is the kickstarter for the discipline, right? Because it’s easy to get motivated and hyped up, and then, the best thing is — in my opinion — to use that motivation to build discipline. And that’s how you can continue to do well in not just sport but in anything you want to pursue.
Your victories this year confirm you are Paris-bound next summer. What were your first emotions when you learnt that you are competing at the Olympics, and has it completely sunk in?
Wow, you can only imagine, “Whoa, I’m going to be an Olympic athlete, right?” You suddenly realise you and your team have made it so far, and everyone who supported you has reached this point. I hope many others — not only myself — are experiencing just the simple joy that comes from being able to participate (in the Olympics).
What goals have you set for the Olympics?
The same goals I’ve set for every event — come and bring the best — or go there, compete and come back happy with my performance, right? That way, you know you couldn’t possibly have done much more. Obviously, the results come with that, but if you set a goal of performance with results, you can be disappointed sometimes.
You joined the Norqain family not too long ago as their youngest ambassador. What are some values of the brand that resonate with you as an athlete?
Obviously, the value of carving your own path stands out immediately if you want to make it as a sportsperson. You have to realise that you are competing against others and that you have to find a way to do well, and that requires — most of the time — going on a different path to what is the norm or expected.
What instances made you say, “I’m doing this regardless of what others say” since Norqain’s brand’s motto is “Your Life, Your Way.”
A good start is to have the confidence to say, “Am I going to define myself by what other people think, or am I going to be happy with what I think of myself, where you know that what you pursue is a sporting endeavour and that matters to you more than the opinion of others, right?” It can be difficult to get over, but the sooner you realise that bringing people like your family, supporters, and people who enjoy what you do along your journey — rather than taking those who criticise you — will bring you much more joy and fulfilment.
Do you have a favourite Norqain watch?
I just got mine — the Skeleton WILD One, in turquoise blue. This thing is beautiful; it’s popping and eye-catching. This is the type of thing that you want to wear at the beach. I mean, it really is a cool watch.
Age is just a number, given your responses have so much maturity. Has anyone put you down for how old you are?
Fortunately, I have had a positive experience and haven’t seen too much negativity. There have been instances sometimes where fellow competitors have been a little uncomfortable with me being there since I am younger than the average of the fleet. In the past, there were some moments where they were a little uncomfortable to have this little kid competing at the senior level, but then again, you have the people around you to help prop you up.
What is the end goal for your professional career?
Oh, I got asked this question at the Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, and I’m pretty happy with this answer. In sports, it’s great to bring along as many people as possible on your journey, not only the ones who help you but also those who are ready to help or want to be a part of your journey. Bring them along and share the joy of your journey, your sport and hopefully your success. Sharing that with as many people as possible is a very fulfilling career, and it gives you a foundation to do well in the sport and a good motivation to perform.
Once you are done with this story about Maximilian Maeder, click here to catch up with our February 2024 issue.