Day one of the Red Bull King Of The Air just kicked off in Cape Town in classic conditions that saw some of the best riding we have ever witnessed! Sadly the conditions also took their toll on some of the riders too which the shock exit of Aaron Hadlow early on due to broken ribs from a nasty crash.

The waiting period kicked off last Saturday for the event, and all eyes have been on this Thursday’s forecast, with solid winds predicted and a decent swell the call was made to run the event this afternoon, all we had to do this morning was wait for the Cape Doctor to do its thing.

Sadly for Sam Light, he had to pull out of the event and was gutted to miss it. He had injections to numb the pain of his broken ribs which he suffered in a crash the other day. Sadly Sam tried to ride yesterday but the pain was too much, so he had to make the tricky call to give it a miss this year.

Fun fact; that makes Lewis Crathern the only rider to compete in all KOTA events since it’s reincarnation in Cape Town! He’s batting a six from six rating at this event at the moment!

Good news then, for first reserve Julien Leleu who’s flown over for the event from Tarifa ready to take a spot as soon as one became available. Sadly for Julien, he blew his knee up last night, so when he got the good news he was in the event he had to decline as well. He was visibly upset that his chance to ride in the KOTA was blown for this year.

That left local hotshot Oswald Smith to take to the skies as the second reserve, he only found out today he was riding, which must have been a hell of a wake-up call! With the heats all set, it was time to kick off and as the first possible start of 12.30 rolled around the competition directors made the decision to postpone in the hope of stronger winds later on.

By 14.00 the wind was a steady 30 knots and set to increase to gale force strengths during the afternoon. It was time for the riders to put their money where their mouth is and pony up for a stamp collection ready to send it into next week.

There is an interesting heat draw to the King Of The Air, basically, in the first round, you are fighting for a place in the 4th round for the winner, while the second placed rider heads to the third round and the loser ends up in the second round. It’s like a poorly run casino, you literally can’t lose. Of course, there are advantages to boosting all the way to the 4th round, and looking at the heat draw there were some tactical choices to be made too.

Equally, we’re talking Tom Cruise levels of greatness here, it’s Top Gun, “the best of the best” and no one wants to end up like Goose. I spoke to Aurélien Pétreau over dinner before the event, and he summed it up nicely, “I’m here to win, and I’m going to try and win every heat” (in a French accent). When you are dealing with competitive kiteboarders, no one wants to see their flag drop, and from the first round, it was clear to see the riders were here to do some business.

Riders to make it through the first round into round 4 were Jesse Richman, Nick Jacobsen, Liam Whaley, Ruben Lenten, Lasse Walker and Kevin Langeree. If that doesn’t’ sound like a who’s who of big air kiteboarding, then I don’t know what does. However, take a moment to consider some of the riders who didn’t make it through and had to battle it out in rounds 2 and 3. The likes of Aaron Hadlow, Carlos Mario, Lewis Crathern and Posito Martinez were all left fighting to stay in the event.

In Round 2 Oswald Smith whooped the crowd into a frenzy and dispatched Janek Grzegorzewsky. In heat 8 Gijs Wassenaar then not only upset the apple cart but chucked all the apples in a bottomless pit as he dispatched Brazilian wunderkid Carlos Mario! The final shocker from the second round was former champion Aaron Hadlow bowing out to Jerrie van de Kop.

Aaron had been trying for his kiteloop KGB signature move and just couldn’t make it stick, a gnarly crash left him with broken ribs, and at first, it looked like he might carry on, but he instead ditched the kite and made his way up the beach flanked by the medical team.

Round 3 would see one rider advance and two bow out from each three-man heat, the stakes hadn’t been higher in the competition so far, and things were about to get very real. Ross Dillon Player dispatched Marc Jacobs and Oswald Smith in Heat 10 with some huge loops and massive airs.

The oldest rider in the comp Aurélien Pétreau then bought Posito Martinez and Gijs Wassenaar the bus fare home with some kiteloop board offs that had the crowd going crazy on the beach. Heat 12 saw British hopes of a podium fade with Lewis Crathern exiting stage left despite some massive kiteloops out the back. Jerrie van de Kop followed suit with Joshua Emmanuel advancing to Round 4 to take on the big boys.

The wind was really pumping, and all the guys were boxing things up with parcel tape and not just sending it but shipping it with TNT to the other side of the competition area. In the first heat of round 4 Aurélien Pétreau was looking dangerous with his board off kite loops, yes you read that right, and Lasse Walker was going toe to toe with him.

Everyone’s favourite rider Ruben Lenten was the first to leave that heat, the conditions seemingly not quite lining up for him. He spent a fair bit of time hunting for a decent kicker that never quite came to pass. Lasse won the heat and Aurélien advanced to the semis alongside him. You might remember we said you can’t lose; unless your Ruben.

Next up it was North’s team manager Nick Jacobsen on the flight deck with young ripper Liam Whaley and Ross Dillon Player trying to shake things up. Nick was looking really comfortable on his new kites and did some huge boosts with a couple of really impressive kiteloop board offs. Liam was throwing down the dangle passes like he was back in 2004, he was only 8 back then, but you get the picture.

In the end, it was local hero Ross who bowed out leaving Nick to take the heat with Liam joining him in the semis. The final heat saw the last hope for South Africa, Joshua Emmanuel go up against Kevin Langeree and Jesse Richman. Talk about a clash of the Titans, Josh probably felt like David against two Goliaths, he’d left his slingshot at home though and decided to bail out early after picking up an injury in a big crash. This left Jesse and Kevin in a somewhat dead rubber of a finale, as they would both advance.

In the last heat the wind had started to drop, and while the event organisers were keen to smash out the event in one hit, the decision was made with the wind dropping below 20 knots to save the semi-finals and final for another day when hopefully the wind gods will deliver once more.

It was a welcome respite for the spectators who’d been stood on the beach getting sandblasted for the last 5 hours, and arguably it gives everyone a chance to recharge and come back amped for more. The final six riders in the semis are Lasse Walker, Liam Whaley, Nick Jacobsen, Jesse Richman, Kevin Langeree and Aurélien Pétreau.

If you’ve been watching the battle of the brands lately, then it’s worth noting Lasse Walker is the only Duotone rider left in the event after Aaron and Lewis bowed out. Both Nick Jacobsen and Jesse Richman who are riding for “new” North are still in the event and keen to take the win seeing as North and Mystic are the main sponsors.

Let’s not write off the Naish powered Kevin Langeree though, surely for him to beat Jesse would be the icing on the cake for the Naish marketing machine. However, the Frenchies are there, F-One have two riders left in the event Liam Whaley, and Aurélien Pétreau are both looking handy. I’d hate to put money on anyone at this stage.

Lasse will be fired up to take the crown home for himself and Duotone at North’s event, Nick and Jesse have everything to prove on the new gear. Kevin has won before and won’t have the brand led pressure of the other three riders. Let’ s not forget Liam and Aurélien, they’ve smashed it so far, and Liam was on the podium last year!

It’s Duotone vs North vs Naish vs F-One, and the gloves are off, and no one’s gonna stop the fight until someone storms out of the ring with the trophy, it’s a marketing manager’s dream, and nightmare all rolled into one! Whatever happens the final is going to be INSANE, make sure you don’t miss it.

If you’re not in Cape Town already, it might be worth selling the family silverware to get on a flight and get over here. Call in sick, whack it on the plastic and come and get some sand in places you never knew you had at the Red Bull King Of The Air.

Keep an eye on the website for updates on the next call for the event!

Words and Pictures Rou Chater

Thu 31st Jan, 2019 @ 8:15 pm

By Rou Chater
Rou has been kiting since the sports inception and has been working as an editor and tester for magazines since 2004. He started IKSURFMAG with his brother in 2006 and has tested hundreds of different kites and travelled all over the world to kitesurf. He's a walking encyclopedia of all things kite and is just as passionate about the sport today as he was when he first started!

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