After a shaky start to the waiting period the Red Bull King Of The Air finally got the forecast it needed and was set to kick off at 12pm local time at the majestic location on Big Bay, South Africa. After a short delay while the wind built, the event finally kicked off with the first rounds of the competition. With 24 riders all hand picked for their abilities to go huge and pull the trigger on mega loops when the wind is howling the day was all set to be a crowd pleaser.
Originally hailing from Maui the King of the Air was reborn last year in South Africa, with most of the worlds pros heading there in January and February to make the most of the howling winds of the Cape Doctor it is an obvious location. Last year Jesse Richman took the crown and this year he was back to defend the title. Aaron Hadlow was pleased to be fit this year, having missed last years event due to a knee injury, and able to compete in the competition that he last entered in Maui 2005.
Ruben Lenten, the godfather of the mega loop, the move that has regenerated big air in kiteboarding and indeed this event, was also looking hungry. Sam Light came third last year and was back for more, and looking at the entry list which included names like Billy Parker, Sam Medysky and Kevin Langeree the entire event was looking like a who’s who of the kiteboarding world.
A healthy contingent of local South African riders were also in the competition so there was a good chance for an upset to some of the bigger names. Guys like Andries Fourie, Luke McGillewie and Graham Howes know the conditions and have been training hard for the event, they were definitely riders to watch out for.
In the end the
The competition got underway as the wind built, the early round the riders were visibly struggling with the conditions as the wind was gusty and the kickers were small making it extremely tricky. However, the forecast in Cape Town was looking perfect with the swell and the wind building throughout the afternoon.
Initial stand outs from the early rounds were the usual suspects of Ruben, Aaron, Kevin and Jesse. But Reno Romeu from Brazil was also getting some huge airs and hang time and Tom Hebert from New Caledonia turned heads too. Tom was opting to ride straps and throwing some impressive air style tricks with heart attacks, jesus walks and some huge jumps. The crowd warmed to him quickly and you could tell when he was on the water as the cheers were loud.
The crowd were loving their home grown heroes too, Andries Fourie was getting some serious mega loops on the score board and going huge, whist making his way through the early rounds. Billy Parker was also riding really well, the American was landing tricks that defied belief and consistently getting high whilst looping his kite low.
In the end the 24 riders were whittled down to 12, and the wind increased steadily as the heats carried on. The format for the event had been born out of rider collaboration before hand. Four man heats started and after 7 minutes on rider would be eliminated, the remaining three riders would then have their scores reset and then compete to win the heat in the final ten minutes.
Advancing through to the quarter finals were, Nick Jacobsen, Shawn Richman, Tom Hebert and Steven Akersdijk in Heat 11, Johnno Scholte, Kevin Langeree, Reno Romeu and Billy Parker in Heat 12, Gianni Aragno, Andries Fourie, Jesse Richman and Linus Erdman in Heat 13 and finally Heat 14 which was set to be a monster with Aaron Hadlow, Sam Light, Ruben Lenten and Jerrie van de Kop!
As the wind built the jumps got bigger, the kites got a little smaller, most riders opting for 9 and 10m kites when previously they had been on 11m and 12m kites in the earlier rounds. The wind was peaking around 25 knots, not quite the strength needed to see the riders on 7m kites and boosting huge mega loops, but plenty to keep the action entertaining!
There was a definite split in the styles of riding, some were going for longer lines and more height in their jumps, others were going for more radical kite loops with shorter lines. It was good to see some riders opting for footstraps too and mixing things up with board offs and other tricks to keep the large crowd on the beach happy.
The last quarter final of the day was definitely the heat to watch, Aaron vs Ruben with Sam Light and Jerrie van de Kop in the mix as well. It started badly for Aaron when he crashed a mega loop and got his bar tangled, this resulted in no less than ten death loops as he was dragged out of control through the water, but Aaron being Aaron came back from behind to throw arguably the biggest trick of the event with a perfect Mega Loop KGB, basically throw a mega loop, unhook midway and then stick a back roll and a handle pass in for good measure.
The crowd and Aaron went wild, he’s not landed, or even tried one of these moves for a few years, the sheer difficulty and risk factor meaning he hasn’t needed to. But when the chips are down and the heat isn’t going your way it takes something huge to make a difference.
Kevin Langeree, Aaron Hadlow Tom Hebert and Andries Fourie found themselves in the first semi final. Tom Hebert was the first to be eliminated after crashing his kite and not recovering fast enough, it was looking tight between him and Aaron but in the end Aaron nailed another Mega Loop KGB to get through to the second stage of the heat.
With the scores reset and just Kevin, Aaron and Andries Fourie on the water it was Andries Fourie who shined against the mighty Aaron Hadlow. Kevin was going ridiculously big as usual and had the heat sewn up, however, Aaron just couldn’t get back into the groove and ended up losing out. With Kevin and Andries in the final it was over to the second semi to see who would join them.
Billy Parker, Steven Akkersdijk Ruben Lenten and the current King Of The Air Jesse Richman headed out to do battle. Ruben was going crazy with huge mega loop front rolls and lots of power and aggression in his riding. Billy Parker pulled what Sam Light called the trick of the contest with a massive nose grab front roll mega loop out the back sticking the landing clean. Jesse Richman looked busy but not impressive in the early stages, whilst Steven Akkersdijk was pulling his trademark kite loops with the kite underneath him.
Towards the end of the first 7 minutes with it being very close between Steven, Jesse and Billy, Jesse crashed really hard when his kite stalled in a lull in the wind, he hit the deck and injured himself. Just after this happened the judges called Billy off the water as the first loser, leaving Steven and Ruben to show boat their way through the heat, guaranteed a place in the final with Jesse off the water injured.
It turned out that Jesse had broken his leg in the crash and damaged some ligaments, not a great way to end the comp for him, and a testament to the risk factor of the moves these guys were pulling. The riders were constantly risking it all for the potential glory of being crowned the King, and of course to entertain the crowd.
The final was set, three Dutchmen and a South African, no doubt the internet servers in Holland were straining! Ruben vs Kevin vs Steven vs Andries, game on! This was what I had waited over 5 hours for, there were arguably a few lacklustre heats every now and then as the conditions changed and the riders struggled. The final however cemented what the Red Bull King Of The Air is all about.
It was INSANE! Ruben was going crazy with huge stalled front loop mega loops, chucking in grabs and bar spins for good measure. Andries was going large too and Steven was getting super horizontal with his kite underneath him. Kevin Langeree though was in a different class, the height he was getting was consistently over double kite high and he was busting out board offs and plenty of spins while he was up there.
The final was the longest heat of the day, 10 minutes to decide the first loser, then 12 minutes for the remaining three riders to battle it out. In the end the judges decided local boy Andries Fourie didn’t have what it took to mix it with the big guns for a spot on the podium and called him off the water. Just as they did he did one of the biggest loops we had seen him do all contest, it was just too late to count though…
What was impressive was watching Kevin pulling mega loops as well as the huge jumps. On some airs he was travelling 200m down the beach and seemed to hang in the air forever. Ruben was hitting back with huge mega loops with rotations and it was becoming a battle of aggression and power, over hangtime and height. A tough call for the judges.
Steven looked a little lacklustre in the early stages but towards the end fought back with some very powerful megaloops. However, his inability to stick in body rotations left him as no match for Ruben. When the buzzer went the obvious choice was between Kevin and Ruben, but what a choice to have to make!
The judges, and rightfully so I think, went with Kevin’s immense jumps and massive hangtime, which he backed up with a couple of powerful mega loops too. Leaving the second spot to Ruben Lenten and Steven Akkersdijk in 3rd place.
As the sun set on Big Bay the crowd cheered their champions and started to leave the beach, the spectacle we had been treated to was amazing, and although the wind perhaps didn’t deliver the radical power that we saw at last years event the riders certainly put on what is arguably the greatest show on earth.
Congratulations to Kevin, Ruben and Steven, well done to the Red Bull team and all the crew for making it happen, lets hope next year the wind thumps through at 40 knots and the event can step it up to the next level!
If you were unlucky enough to miss the event the first time around you can check out the replay of the entire competition right HERE!
Photos: Kolesky / Nikon / Red Bull Content Pool
Photos: Nick Muzik / Red Bull Content Pool