No stranger to extreme on-water challenges, the most titled kitesurfer in France is at the heart of a start-up that, through embarking on a new global challenge, is creating innovation that can be harnessed outside of the sporting domain.
At 121 km/h, the world sailing speed record has been held by Australian Paul Larsen since 2012. But records are made to be broken, and this one could be shattered in 2024. To do it, a dream team has been put together on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The spirit of competition and challenge coursing through their veins has been instilled by a man with a brilliant sporting CV: first in the world to exceed 100 km/h on water propelled by the wind, two-time world sailing speed record, four-time kitesurfing speed world champion and current kitesurfing speed record holder at 107.3 km/h over 500 m.
A life of water and wind
Water, wind and board sports filled Alex Caizergues’ daily life from an early age, when his windsurfer parents settled in Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, in the mistral-swept Camargue region, renowned for its sailing spots. Water sports took up all of his free time and then, after completing his studies in marketing, spilled over into his professional life. His craving for speed came with his early discovery of kitesurfing. He felt himself growing wings and was a full-time devotee to the sport for twelve years. Throughout his champion journey, though, a little voice inside would whisper to him: “Breaking records is great, getting your name on the scoreboard, but what can it be used for?”
Pushing the boundaries
To succeed in pushing the boundaries and smashing the stopwatch, Alex Caizergues has worked tirelessly with his kit suppliers on the technical improvement of his equipment. This search for performance has led to innovation. So why not use these extreme challenges no longer just for optimising the competitive side of kitesurfing, but for “smart industrial applications, which would also be impactful, to allow a better use of the planet’s resources.” It is upon this lofty ambition, and after some maturation process, that in 2019 Syroco was founded in Marseille, bringing together around Alex a team formed of experts in IT, naval architecture, technology marketing, and more, all lovers of the sea and water sports.
Yves de Montcheuil, one of five partners in the start-up: “We began with defining our methodology, that of the pioneering feat driving innovation, by starting with Alex’s DNA – speed on water – and setting an ambitious goal. We don’t just want to do a bit better than the current record, we want to shatter it, to reach 150km/h, using wind power alone. It’s a daring challenge, a moonshot. It forces us to completely reinvent the concept because Paul Larsen and his Sail Rocket 2 were already at the limits of what could be done with existing concepts.” In addition to recruiting engineers and researchers, Syroco has held brainstorming sessions with offshore racers, paragliders, racing boat builders and speed helicopter designers.
1/3 scale prototype
How do you go really fast, with the wind as your only propulsion force? 50 concepts emerged from this exercise in collective intelligence. They were tested virtually using innovative software designed by the start-up. The one that proved the most effective is materialising in the form of a craft with a nacelle, a giant kite wing and an underwater wing (a foil). “We built a 1/3 scale radio-controlled prototype in our small shipyard in Marseille’s Anse du Pharo. She can sail, which allowed us to validate the concept. Now we’re working on going faster.”
Next step: build the full-size Speedcraft, i.e. a 7 metre-long craft that can carry two pilots. “There are still several areas of research to finalise before then. We are aiming for a 2024 record. With the Paris Olympics sailing events taking place in Marseille, the timing will be great.” At the same time as preparing for this sporting and technological challenge, the start-up has made a new software tool available to the maritime transportation industry to help decarbonise its activity, which was developed as part of the quest for speed. “Whether you take a very light boat that goes very fast or a very heavy boat that goes more slowly, the same laws of physics apply.”