Kiteworld editor Jim Gaunt discusses some of the speculation surrounding the legitimacy of Hadlow’s second win at Sunday’s epic King of the Air contest
Aaron Hadlow became the first rider to win two Red Bull King of the Air titles, taking back-to-back victories in 2015 and on Sunday 7th February 2016 at Big Bay in Cape Town. The event is heralded as the biggest one-off event on the kiteboarding calendar and is certainly the most extreme. Fear of injury has held several of the world’s top world tour freestyle competitors back from entering in previous years, but the faultering schedule of events and political instability of the world tour was perhaps a cause of inspiration for the likes of Alex Pastor, Youri Zoon and Marc Jacobs to turn out for this year’s most popular kiteboarding spectacle.
True heroes of wind sports: 1st Aaron Hadlow, 2nd Jesse Richman (2013 King), 3rd Kevin Langeree (2014 King) / Photo: Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool
I had the privilege of commentating on the livestream, closely analysing each aspect of the event and had the benefit of having all the competition stats and data at my disposal. This event is a massively popular event in relation to most kiteboarding contests. Red Bull are forecasting that the livestream, now playing on-demand, will have over 100,000 views, but with that increased reach comes wider speculation over the result.
This is the fourth year of the current guise of the King of the Air since it was reborn in Cape Town in 2013. Originally an elite challenge to the world’s best freestyle kiteboarders in the early 2000s in Maui, the event was put on hold for several seasons as kiteboarding disciplines, styles and direction evolved. Ruben Lenten played a huge part in inspiring its comeback, and is largely respected as the rider who really cemented this new extreme big air style, incorporating moves like the mega loop, that we find so captivating.
Yesterday all our hopes for the contest to be run in solid 35+ knot conditions with huge ramps were realised for the first time and Big Bay delivered in epic proportions. Adding risk for the riders, it also brought added possibility to the scale and execution of manoeuvres. The warrior mask trophy awaiting the winner had never been more appropriate.
KEVIN WASN’T ROBBED
Here’s where I wanted to comment, in response to a lot of the scepticism that has been posted online surrounding Hadlow’s win and Langeree’s third place. Langeree put on an incredibly clean show, and thrilled the crowds on the beach and online.
However, all five judges, none of whom have any affiliation with Red Bull – contrary to much online speculation – unanimously had Hadlow as the winner.
Unfortunately what you didn’t see on the livestream were Aaron’s two huge tricks straight off the bat, including probably his best mega loop handle-pass of the contest.
We interviewed Aaron prior to the event to find out how he felt about the trick in the build-up to the event:
The trending in the judging had been to reward variation and risk, and riders frequently scored highly by injecting at least one unhooked trick. In strong wind a high handle-pass carries much more risk and it’s where the riders naturally drove the contest to try to separate their performances. Handle-passing isn’t the defining element, and throwing them doesn’t make this a ‘freestyle’ contest, but throughout the event it made up an important element of the scoring. The judges can’t suddenly change their tack and score them differently in the final. The show in the final was immense with few errors, but the riders were still only judged on their three best tricks.
As we said in commentary, Kevin was as solid as they come and to witness his control in the air from the beach was thrilling, but when it came down to the crunch of three tricks – including the ones that you might not have seen, there was a consistency in the result. Marc Jacobs joined us in the commentary box and said he was only able to hold on to his pass by his finger tips and the fact that Aaron was the only rider to even attempt (apart from Oswald Smith) and successfully land a mega loop to unhooked pass represents the ethos of this event which is to look for avenues of progression in the most extreme circumstances.
The four riders in the final (including Reno Romeu who was flagged out) were absolute heroes, but all brought a slightly different approach to the final. Jesse Richman was explosive and unpredictable, muscling his way emphatically to second place, further adding to his fan base thanks to his incredibly positive attitude and clear love of going wild with a kite. Kudos to Red Bull for nurturing and driving such an exciting platform (that can be tweaked as we continue this big air journey – in fact we have a meeting coming up to discuss just that).
It may disappoint many of you to know that there is no conspiracy here, just a thrilling contest that has inspired unique levels of interaction with the public. Plus, like in many sports, riders are becoming more well known and their characters are becoming more recognisable. Fans are choosing their hero and starting to passionately support them.
I was asked online to defend my feelings outlined above, regarding the legitimacy of Aaron’s win when Kevin had been awarded ‘Mystic’s Most Extreme Move’.
I believe Kevin won it because he added some unique flair to one of the most important and consistently high scoring tricks in the contest, taking one foot out while inverted during a back roll halfway through a mega loop. He introduced it to the final and was the only rider to do it. The timing was impeccable. It was a crowd pleaser, no doubt and lit up the beach. He did it twice, but there were no extra points for that. The man’s control and aerial awareness is nothing short of incredible and he deserved recognition. This was such a tight contest and if Aaron was to be overall winner, Kevin deserved a prize for the cleanest demonstration of majestic big air riding.
But I would think that what went through the judges’ minds in terms of the heat result was that the chances of his kite safely making it round the loop, mixed with the fact that if Kevin didn’t manage to get his foot back in the strap, he still had the option of kicking the board off. Aaron on the other hand probably ran the higher risk of not making the handle-pass at altitude after a mega loop and dropping out of the sky, totally committed in boots. Not that boots should increase or decrease your score, but for that trick they drastically reduce your options should it go wrong. And once he made the pass, he still had to ride the trick out. We’ve seen Aaron’s trick before, which is why I think the award went to Kevin who thrilled the beach.
Ultimately what both riders are guilty of is making these tricks look easier to them than they actually are. Tight call indeed, but in the final analysis Aaron completed a radical unhooked trick and did huge tricks on both tacks, something that was highlighted in the rider’s briefings.
The fall out of the event now is to analyse what we saw yesterday, including the two massive crashes that firstly left Lasse Walker, and secondly Lewis Crathern, in hospital, both of whom are still in care 24 hours later. Lasse looks set to leave soon while Lewis is still under more intense care, though we are hearing news that we should be able to officially bring you more positive reports on both these guys soon.
In my mind the judges should be praised rather than criticised for accurately interpreting the criteria as was laid out before the event and agreed with all the riders; blocking out all the hysteria on the beach. If nothing else, it was important for riders to know where they stood in such extreme circumstances.
How Winners Were Decided / Judged
Extreme big air overall impression – the scores were determined by combining:
A) 30% height
B) 30% extremity (risk, speed, angle of the kite, tricks, loops, innovations)
C) 20% style and execution (rotations, grabs, board-offs, one footers, combinations – but no dangle landings)
D) 20% variety (different tricks, both ways)
Adopting a change in rules to perhaps reward absolute height over levels of risk could be sensible in the future, but as has always been the case with this event, that will be carefully discussed with the riders who, when all is said and done, have to balance how far they are realistically willing to go.
Yesterday was the day that kiteboarding and its’ very best athletes came face to face with the power of mother nature. That battle is not over yet. It’s time to retreat back to the lab to also work with the best equipment designers and imagine what could be possible from here. Having those conditions and that many talented riders all urged on by a large crowd is such a rare occurrence, but it afforded us a glimpse of the future.
Once the dust settles, the future of the event is up to the riders as a unit. Sadly, we’ll have to wait for another year to go through it all again.
Original article HERE