How about doing backflips with a jet-ski in the biggest waves on earth? And getting into it by watching videos online? This acrobatics is the passion and profession of Abraham Hochstrasser, a man who won a world championship in Jet-Ski Freeride in 2018. Reaching out to his dreams has required time in a hospital bed, recovering from addiction, and years of hard work within a family business, but the journey led him to find his peace and return to his passion.
Abraham arrives at my terrace with a fancy motorbike and a humble attitude. I’ve never met him before, but we have a common friend, who connected us. Sipping coffee at my terrace, I was enthusiastic to hear his story. Who is this man, whose favourite thing is to be upside down on top of the biggest and most dangerous waves on the planet – with his jet-ski?
Abraham is 42 years old professional jet-ski freestyle rider, originally from Mexico City. He has lived through many colours of life before getting into the stage where he is right now, doing what he loves, having time for things he appreciates, and being happy. Getting there required one serious jet-ski accident, acknowledging addiction and getting rehab, years of hard work in a family business, and then the courage to face some pain buried inside and get back into the jet-ski game.
First of all, how come someone becomes a professional jet-ski rider? It’s not like the most common sport on the planet.
Abraham’s passion for water and engines started already when he was a kid. He was born and raised in Mexico City, where his family has a successful business in the transportation industry. He was introduced to different types of motor vehicles and engines already as a kid, as fixing cars and busses brought the food on the table. The family spent the weekends in a lake house, where Abraham had the opportunity to do all kinds of water sports like wakeboarding and jet-ski riding – anything with an engine.
He started to race with the jet-ski when he was 17 years old. He was travelling around Mexico with his family, his father as his sponsor. The lake changed to ocean and Acapulco and Cancun became his spots to practise. Soon he started winning the national races and he got into the international level. While he was racing in the US and South America, life was also getting wilder. In his twenties, he was scoring high in both jet-ski championships, and in the party scene with drinks, weed, and girls. Until several unexpected things happened.
New-born baby, addiction-rehab, and a serious jet-ski accident
In his early twenties, Abraham was in the best shape of his career and ready to win. He was participating in a race in the US, starting from the second spot. But right after the start he made a mistake in the first corner of the route and crashed with another guy. As a result, he ended up in a hospital for 15 days with a serious hip injury.
Before hitting the bed at the hospital, two other major things happened. One of them was a party accident with a girl that had let to another type of result; a beautiful baby girl was born, Abraham as her daddy. That lead to another thing, the party boy looked himself in the mirror, admitted an addiction, and signed up for a rehab program.
There he was lying in the hospital, a father of a baby girl and a recently sobered addict forced to take some time to reflect.
He had a child to support, and the jet-ski racing still didn’t bring him any money. Besides, the vibe in the races had turned more hostile.
“The vibe changed to a killer mentality, where you don’t care about other people. I didn’t want to race in that vibe, I didn’t want to hurt someone doing this, trying to win a race. I didn’t want anyone to get killed,” Abraham explains.
All this led to a decision to quit the jet-ski racing. In his early twenties, he sold his gear and got rid of everything that reminded him of the dear hobby. Kind of like putting the pictures of lost loved ones away to ease the grief.
Family business calling
After the accident, Abraham wanted to make money and be responsible to support his daughter, who had her mum and dad in separate addresses. He started working for the family business in Mexico City and had an indoor job for years. He was rotating from a department to another doing pretty much all kinds of jobs in the business. From playing with the engines to dealing with clients and paperwork, he got to experience from head to toe how it is to work hard, be diligent, and have a life revolved around work and routines.
In his thirties, he got an opportunity to move to Cancun, as the family business was expanding. Life brought him back to the ocean and he was eager to adjust his routine driven and hard-working lifestyle to a bit more relaxed Caribbean style of living. It wasn’t easy though, having an opportunity to spend time in the ocean during regular work hours felt almost wrong.
Even when he was working for a family business and was able to be flexible with his schedules, combining work and fun felt weird at first.
“It’s the programming, you have to do this and that, and if you don’t, it feels wrong. If the wind was good and my friends were like let’s go into the water now, I was like no, I have to send an e-mail”, Abraham describes.
What also happened in Cancun, was that his dad and brother convinced him to buy a jet-ski. And he did, just to have fun with friends in the ocean. But then he got itchy. The buried feelings and dreams started to find their way back to the surface again. He found out that there was a new movement in the jet-ski industry that was about doing tricks in the ocean.
Returning to what sets his soul on fire
Abraham’s research led him to travel to Colorado in the States to see one of the freeride jet-ski contests. When he was witnessing the other adrenaline junkies to do their acrobatics in the big waves, he realized how much we wanted back into the game.
“I got back to Mexico and started watching videos online and training again in Cancun. I started practising this freeride style by myself and with my friend”, Abraham explains.
Online videos? I can understand that people can learn to play the guitar by watching YouTube. But doing backflips with a vehicle in monster waves?
Abraham comments with sincere humility in his voice that it wasn’t that difficult, as he already had a long history with the jet-ski racing. Right!
After a year of video clips and training in the waves of the Mexican coast, he signed up for the contest in the US in an amateur class. He won the competition. It was time to put all in, the waves were calling him. He managed to integrate into the international community of the industry and ended up travelling around the world from Australia to Europe and the US participating in the world tour. At this stage, regular work at the family business became challenging and less appealing.
“When I started the freeride, I felt I really don’t want to spend my life indoors and sit in the desk. It wasn’t like an online job, you were there, stuck inside with the same people. At some point I was like I’m done, I thought I’d rather lose money or don’t make as much, but do what I like instead”, Abraham shares.
From the office to winning a world championship
Abraham quit his job and focused on the jet-ski more seriously. He won some competitions and got sponsors. He wasn’t really making money, but the sponsors were covering all his trips, so he wasn’t spending much either. But he was living his dream, travelling the world hunting the best waves. In 2016 Monster Energy started sponsoring him.
In 2018 Abraham won the world championship. Today you can also find his old jet-ski in a museum in Nazaré, Portugal, the home of a gigantic wave that can reach up to 30 metres (98 feet).
The training that started with video clips paid off. It was also time for him to look for a new spot to live, as Cancun is not famous for the great waves. After looking in and outside of Mexico, he ended up to Puerto Escondido, a home of one of the best waves in the world for big wave hunters; Zicatela aka Mexpipe.
Having an engine with him when he goes out to the ocean can cost him dirty looks from the surfers. But Zicatela is different. In the early days of his new life in Puerto Escondido, there was a big wave surf contest at Zicatela sponsored by Monster Energy. Abraham was hired to do a little show as part of the contest, and he got the main wave for himself for a while. He went and nailed one very big wave doing a huge backflip with his jet-ski and the surf folks on the beach dropped their jaws. People cheering on the beach, Abraham backflipped his way into the hearts of the local community right away and felt welcome ever since.
“In Zicatela I have my space, all the Mexicans here are cool with it. I keep my distance from surfers and when it’s really big, there are not many of them out there”, Abraham adds.
Peace, gratitude and humility as the corner stones of life
Abraham has been building his post-family-business life now for around 6 years. It has been a learning process for him, and the initial step was scary, as he was used to a steady income and daily grinding. He has figured out solutions on the way and tried different things to make a living. Today he has a sponsor and a property in Puerto Escondido that allows him to get income from flat rentals. Above all, he has a life that he loves.
“I’m happy here, I’m doing all kinds of stuff in the water, spearfishing and even surfing. The sports and the ocean definitely changed my mindset. I’m really happy about these decisions, but I’m still learning the new lifestyle, it’s not easy”, he adds.
Unlearning from the programming he got from his family and surroundings in the city has taken time. One big turning point for him was his father’s death. His dad was a workaholic who was always working but never really enjoyed his money and time. Then one day he got a brain tumour and he was gone in less than two years. Facing his father’s death made Abraham to question the point of living like that.
“I’ve always tried to figure out what is the reason to make money? I see some people who make money, and they only want to do it to make more money. The reason why we make money is to be able to live the way we like and do the things we like”, he thinks.
For Abraham, success means to feel the satisfaction of being alive. Enjoying life and doing things that he likes, being peaceful and happy.
He is a guy who has experienced a lot and also seen the darkness. This year he has been sober for 20 years, not a single beer or puff since he did the rehab in his early twenties. What’s his secret?
When he thinks about the characteristics that have brought him where he is now, he mentions things like hard work, perseverance, discipline, willingness to do sacrifices, humility, and gratitude. He also seems to be very honest with himself.
“I don’t take anything for granted and I want to be grateful for every gift life gives me. I’ve been in dark places and being here now, feeling peaceful and alive means everything to me”, he comments.
What can we learn from Abraham’s story? In the end, we can’t control what life throws at us. But we can control how we respond. Having the guts to face your demons, perseverance to move forward and humility to be grateful can take you a long way. And if you were meant to do something on this planet, the Universe tends to bring you the opportunities, even if they take a detour. Sometimes the detour brings you the necessary growth that you need to reach your dreams and tap into your potential – and truly enjoy your life.
Learn more about Abraham in his Instagram: @abrahamhochstrasser