17-year-old Norwegian ambassador Maximilian Maeder is going to the Olympics after a triumphant year in 2023.
From the days spent away from family and friends to the hours devoted to training, it’s well documented that athletes take a different path than most people. For 17-year-old Maximilian Meder, it’s a journey he’s enjoying. “The sooner you realize that bringing along people like your family, supporters, and people who like what you’re doing—instead of those who criticize you—will bring you much more joy and satisfaction.” shares the teenager with great self-assurance and confidence that radiated throughout the interview.
These are the innate qualities of athletes—especially those competing at the highest level—that manifest in their body language, clarity of thought, and maturity. Competing at the youth level, while facing competition in the open categories at such a young age, shaped Maximilian’s mentality. “I think it’s important for everyone to realize that you should be grateful for the position you’re in. I can’t complain about failure. I think it’s good – at least personally – to experience it (failures) so that you can work in your own way and see it as an opportunity to improve,” quips the kiting author.
While most of us start high school at the age of 17, Maximilian is already a world champion and an Asian Games gold medalist. 2023 was a year to remember as it brought home several awards and milestones. Maximilian won gold and successfully defended his title at the Formula Kite Youth World Championship in Giceria, Italy, and a month later won the coveted World Sailing Championship in The Hague, Netherlands. Maximilian’s winning streak continued when he brought home one of Singapore’s three gold medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games. His dominance and achievements earned him a place at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and he became the first Singaporean to be nominated for the prestigious Rolex World Male Sailor of the Year Award 2023.
Men’s Folio caught up with Maximilian to find out more about his athletic discipline, sweetest victory and thoughts on competing in the Olympics.
Kiting is incredibly taxing on the body as you battle and harness the elements. Give us an idea of the intensity of this sport.
Maximilian Mader: It’s all related to sports. It puts a strain on the body, but not as much as, say, a marathon run. But you know it’s hard to push against the wind and be out there fighting all the conditions that come your way. So you train for it and you feel it. Over time, you get used to being on the water with only your body and equipment for working with the elements.
What is the harshest condition you have faced?
We had a very strong wind during one of the races earlier this year. They had to wait to send people because they were lifted up and thrown across the beach when they were pulled from the kite in the air. It was quite difficult on the water because you would go flying if you got tangled up.
Kiting is a lesser known sport, even among water sports?
In comparison, it used to be relatively less known. But kitesurfing is relatively popular as a water sport and people have also seen it all over the world. 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 niche.
So, what got you into this sport?
Charm? Well, my father introduced me to the sport because he tried it before me. The moment I got on the hydrofoil, I have to say that the feeling of freedom and flying above the water without touching it – because you’re standing on that wing – makes a lot of difference compared to when you bump into the water like when you you slide on it. So the moment I got up, I decided I was going to play this sport for a while.
It’s been a great year for you, winning the World Junior Kite Championship in Italy in July, the World Sailing Championship 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. They don’t have a big hierarchy. But if I had to choose one, it would be the World Cup. Obviously, it is very important for the team and for me to show that all our efforts are aimed at a good cause.
Losing is also part of sports. How do you take defeat or failure and are you hard on yourself?
I think it’s important for everyone to realize that you should be grateful for the position you are in. I can’t complain about failure. I think it’s good, at least personally, to experience it (failure) so that you can work on your own and see it as an opportunity to improve. At least I’m lucky to have such a great team and support team behind me; every time I run into it, all I have to do is talk it through and see what I can learn from the lessons I’ve learned instead of worrying about any consequences.
Staying at the top is more difficult than getting to the top. How do you stay grounded and motivated?
Well, that’s a good question. It’s important to realize that for anything you do, motivation is the impetus for discipline, right? Because it’s easy to get motivated and pumped up, and then, in my opinion, it’s best to use that motivation to build discipline. And this is how you can continue to achieve success not only in sports, but in everything you want to do.
Your wins this year confirm that you are headed to Paris next summer. What were your first emotions when you found out you were competing in the Olympics and it completely sunk in?
Wow, you can only imagine, “Oh, I’m going to be an Olympic athlete, aren’t I?” You suddenly realize that you and your team have made it, and everyone who has supported you has made it. I hope that many others, not just me, feel just the simple joy of being able to participate (in the Olympics).
What are your goals before the Olympics?
The same goals I set for every event – to come and bring the best – or go there, compete and come back satisfied with my performance, right? That way, you know you couldn’t do much more. Obviously, results come with it, but if you aim for efficiency with results, you can sometimes be disappointed.
Not so long ago, you joined the Norwegian family as their youngest ambassador. What brand values resonate with you as an athlete?
Obviously, the value of forging your own path is immediately apparent if you want to make it as an athlete. You have to realize that you are competing with others and that you need to find a way to succeed, and that requires—in most cases—taking a different path to what is the norm or expectation.
What occasions have made you say “I do it no matter what others say” because the motto of the Norqain brand 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, when you know that what you’re after is athletic activity and it’s for you more important than what other people think, right?” It can be hard to overcome, but the sooner you realize that bringing people like your family, supporters, and people who like what you’re doing—rather than those who criticize you—into your path, it will bring you much more joy and satisfaction.
Do you have a favorite Norqain watch?
I just got my — Skeleton WILD One is turquoise blue. This thing is beautiful; it pops out and grabs attention. This is the type of thing you want to wear to the beach. I mean, it’s a really cool watch.
Age is just a number because your answers are so mature. Has someone put you down because of your age?
Fortunately, I had a positive experience and didn’t see too many negatives. There were times when fellow competitors felt a little uncomfortable when I was there as I am younger than the average fleet. There have been some moments in the past where they’ve been a little uncomfortable having this young kid competing at a senior level, but again, you’ve got people around you to help support you.
What is the ultimate goal of your professional career?
Oh, I was asked this question at the Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards and I’m very pleased with the answer. In sports, it’s great to bring as many people on your journey as you can, not just those who help you, but those who are willing to help or want to be a part of your journey. Take them with you 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 for success in the sport and a good motivation to perform.
When you are done with this story about Maximilian Mader, click here to catch up with our February 2024 issue.