Asia sees a new Asian Freestyle Champions crown as Thailand dominates the 2019 competition that took place at Chalong Bay, Phuket from the 15th – 19th December. Find out more, right here!
The KTA Asian Freestyle Championships was set to see the upset of the season, as 7 times Asian Freestyle Champion Yo Narapichit Pudla was knocked out at the semi-final stages by fellow countryman Lek Prawit. Prawit, along with Tatsanee Phisin in the women’s division would go on to take the Asian titles, making it a clean sweep for the Thai riders.
The four-day event that combined not only championship freestyle action, but also a further round of the KTA’s perpetual hydrofoil series, would maximise wind conditions that at times proved difficult for the riders. The better winds came through in, the earlier part of the competition. They would see the freestyle championship drama playing out first, with the racers taking to the water on each of the four days, to build the required number of races needed to return a full event result.
In the KTA’s first return to Kite Zone and Phuket since 2013, it has seen strong support not only from the Sports Authority of Thailand but also YRAT and the Kiteboard Association Thailand. With further industry sponsorship from LiP Sunglasses, 69 Slam and Ozone Kites, along with local backing from the Best Western and Serenity Resorts.
The KTA Asian Championships was also privileged to be joined by the competition team from the Red Bull KOTA crew once again. Their experienced saw to it that the Freestyle Championships ran smoothly and efficiently, with Competition Director Sergio Cantagalli then also joining the KTA Race Office Simon James, to support the hydrofoil action once the freestyle comp was in the bag.
Throughout the freestyle competition, there were some tightly fought heats to enjoy, in both the men’s’ and women’s divisions. The Championships was being run under the KTA Freestyle X rules, which meant the judges took the top two new and old schools tricks to decide the respective winners. The conditions that faced the riders over the two days of this event were certainly challenging. With wind speeds that varied between 12 -18 kts at various times, we were to see more than one or two mid-heat kite changes and a few rounds of riders needing to run back upwind, but this type of challenge is what truly, in the end, shows who is the most well-rounded rider.
For the men’s finals, it would be an all Thai affair between Prawit and his close friend and rival Bang Suttipong. It was Prawit in the end who takes the podium, riding still perhaps on the adrenaline of his win over former Asian Champ Yo Pudla. Suttipong though did not make things easy, but while he matched Prawit’s Back Mobe and 313, with his Slim Chance 7 and KGB, he did not quite beat Prawit on the old school side of things, giving Prawit, in the end, the well-deserved championship win.
With only a small entry for the women’s freestyle, they would head straight into the semi-finals. This saw a closely fought battle in the all Thai heat between Benyapa Jantawan and Tatsanee Phisin, with Ukraine’s Lisa Nikitna and Turkey’s Deniz Alic fighting it out on the other side of the table.
Coming out on top from these head to heads, we saw Nikitna and Phisin making the best of the conditions to progress into the finals. In the finals, Nikitna would prove the more powerful rider, with strong Rally combinations and old school verity, which would see the Ukrainian take the win. As with all KTA championships, the podiums are divided into international and Asian riders, to ensure that local riders are encouraged to take part. Therefore even though Phisin finished second overall, she was the top Asian women’s rider and hence took the Asian Championship title for the year.
While all this unfolded in the freestyle event, the racers were quietly getting on with their event and logging in their minimum three-race per day requirement.
While kite hydrofoil racing is still in its early stages in Asian, in comparison to some other parts of the world, we are starting to see some great potential and riders of the future amongst the KTA’s Asian Pacific Hydrofoil fleet. The KTA launched this perpetual series a little over a year ago now, as a more grassroots provision for the kiters in this part world. Something that would provide the opportunity for the local riders to learn their craft, outside of the Formula and Kite Foil world tours.
The four days of racing would see some tight battles taking place out in Chalong Bay, but by the final day, it was looking clear who should be taking the titles home from this one. The first start of the last day was razor-sharp and included a dramatic full-speed crossover, as Korean rider Soon Ho Kwon blasted through the pack on a perfectly timed starboard tack. It takes a lot of nerve and skill to make this play and Soon Ho was pretty much the only rider taking this approach, but considering his top ranking in the Masters it paid off pretty well.
The riders as with many of the week’s races would remain closely match up to the top mark; then it would all change as the fleet rounded this point on the course. As so often China’s Qibin Huang would edge out into the lead position and slowly crank on the pressure to take him through to a commanding win. All the more impressive when you realise that Huang was the youngest rider on the water and at only 13yrs of age, he was showing his elders the way to do it.
Behind him, though, on that final day, things were changing. Thailand’s Yo Narapichit Pudla had been steadily working his way up the rankings, and this progression brought him into second place. While this march up the leader board, would not quite stop Huang, it did intensify the battle between Kwon and Thailand’s Whatchapong Juntham, as one of them would now be knocked off the podium.
The final race of the day would see Juntham storming through the fleet, as he finally pushed passed Huang and established a strong lead. Yo though was close on his tail, and the two would fight it out to the finish. Juntham held his nerve though and chalked up the win, with Yo in a close second – Huang this time having to settle for third.
In the women’s fleet, Benyapa Jantawan had been busily not only securing her first place on the podium for the women’s class, but also she would spill the outcome of the Masters. The Masters was for the first time being run as a combined class, and with Jantawan outstanding final days racing, it would see her standing on the third place step for the class at the final awards.
To wrap things up Kite Zone had once again pulled out all the stops to create the perfect end to the event and a happy, but tired crowd gathered to see the winners claim their prizes in an atmospheric beachside podium awards ceremony. Which then nicely morphed into a final blast of cool tunes from the international playlist of DJ’s that Kite Zone had booked to take the KTA party style through to the end of the event and its 2019 season.
KTA Asian Freestyle Champions
Lek Prawit (THA) and Tatsanee Phisin (THA)
KTA Freestyle Championship Men
1. Lek Prawit (THA)
2. Bang Suttipong (THA)
3. Yo Narapichit Pudla (THA)
KTA Freestyle Championship Women
1. Lisa Nikitna (UKR)
2. Tatsanee Phisin (THA)
3. Benyapa Jantawan (THA)
KTA Asia Pacific Hydrofoil Series Men
1. Qibin Huang (CHN)
2. Yo Narapichit Pudla (THA)
3. Soon Ho Kwon (KOR)
KTA Asia Pacific Hydrofoil Series Masters
1. Soon Ho Kwon (KOR)
2. Chanon Phrakaew (THA)
3. Benyapa Jantawan (THA)
KTA Asia Pacific Hydrofoil Series Women
1. Benyapa Jantawan (THA)
2. Lisa Nikitna (UKR)
For more information on the KTA Tour, please click here.
Words – Neil Godbold
Photos – Alex Baranescu