A recent afternoon spent with Yassine Darkaoui, or Yass, was no different. The 40-year-old Moroccan entrepreneur has restlessly pursued a host of different projects since he relocated to Phuket in 2011, his most recent being ‘Always Higher 4.0’. The aim: to set a world record sailing his Laser dinghy 500 miles, or 800 kilometres, in the Gulf of Thailand.
However, over an hour passes before we even touch on this project. Instead, Yass and I get wrapped up in the science of binaural beats and isochronic tones, two sorts of meditative therapies in which sounds of differing frequencies are played to listeners in order to stimulate their brain’s electrical activity and alter their mental state.
He has created an application of self-designed sounds to aid mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, encourage creativity and even stimulate natural highs. The app is yet to be launched but he has great faith in its success, believing it could be as, if not more, popular than the mindfulness movement.
Intrigued, I don Yass’ noise-cancelling headphones, close my eyes and let my brainwaves meet ‘Kishuman’, a track designed to build tolerance to stress. The baseline is made up of pulsating, repetitive vibrations interspersed with the occasional chime of a town hall clock. It’s more ominous than I expected but quite hypnotic too. Ironically, the anxiety of being stripped of two of my senses whilst sitting in a café surrounded by strangers means I can’t relax enough to feel the desired effects. I get the idea, though.
Yass’ tracks are self-produced and he’s been known to put himself into difficult and uncomfortable situations in order to create the conditions, or states of mind, necessary to test them.
Yass’ interest in psychology spans decades. During struggles with addiction in Morocco, he often found himself an observer, studying the unusual behaviour of those around him.
“There’s a kind of irony in the name ‘Always Higher 4.0’,” he says. “It’s about the real high. The one without any side effects. The good one. A natural high by doing what you like,” he adds.
His darker days of addiction are far behind him now and we don’t linger on the topic for long. It’s evident that he’s a different person now. Yass 4.0.
Born and raised in the Moroccan coastal city of Tangiers, Yass is no stranger to the sea. There he was a member of the Moroccan National Laser Team. Here he spent 77 hours sailing, unofficially breaking the world record for the longest time spent in a Laser dinghy and the Asian record for the furthest distance sailed in a Laser dinghy. It was also the second furthest distance sailed in a Laser dinghy in the world.
His newest world record-breaking attempt will see him sail between Hua Hin, Chonburi and Koh Chang across four to six days in a small sailing dinghy. The route and timings are all dependent on weather and sea conditions. He will go armed with a desalination kit (to make seawater drinkable), nuts, leaves, roots, animal fat, soy sauce (to garnish any fish he catches) and a tracking device. He has two sponsors and awaits one more to get on board before he can travel to Hua Hin, train then set sail to make history.
Preparation of both mind and body is key ahead of such an arduous journey. Alongside a punishing fitness regime and strict diet, he is practising meditation using his own app. He will make use of it en route too in order to ensure the few hours of sleep he gets each day are deep and restful and to stave off the hallucinations of 12-hour looping ringtones and multi-headed monsters he experienced on his last record-breaking attempt.
Yass acts out the imaginary beast that taunted him as well as the other harrowing, painful experiences he has endured throughout his nautical career. He is spilling over with stories, theories, observations.
Fifteen dislocations. Eight teeth knocked out. Hallucinations. Exhaustion. Near-drowning. Such intense chafing he couldn’t sit down for a week. I had to ask, why? Why the gruelling self-set challenges? Why the risk of the above or worse?
“This is a process that will never end. We can always learn about ourselves. The more fears and limitations we remove, the more we get in touch with the source of who we are,” he answers.
On that inspiring note, we leave the café and wander down Thalang Rd past colourful heritage buildings, stopping to browse trinket stalls. Then Yass starts to whistle. It’s light, cheerful and sounds a little like birdsong, like it should greet Snow White in the morning.
“That’s our conversation today but in song,” he says.
He whistles again.
“That’s your walk but in song.”
I must look blank.
“If aliens come, how will we communicate in a common language? It’ll have to be in song. Music is timeless and universal,” he explains.
Come space invasion, I hope aliens meet Yass first. There might just be some method in – what may appear to be – his madness.