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“I WILL ALWAYS TRY TO DO WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN, BUT I ALWAYS KNOW THE RESULT CAN GO EITHER WAY.”
Aaron Hadlow talks on his contentious victory at the Red Bull King of The Air in 2016 and his vision for competitive big-air riding.
I hadn’t imagined the impact that winning the KOTA 2015 would have, it was an amazing experience. In my eyes the King of the Air has solidified itself as the biggest event, but now a year later, I sit here with mixed emotions after a second win on one of the most incredible days in kiteboarding history.
January had been a really windy month in Cape Town, so I’d had plenty of opportunity to practice with different set-ups and to get a feel for the type of conditions we could expect in the competition. I managed some of the biggest jumps I’ve ever done in those sessions, clocking a record setting 25 metre jump on the Woo leaderboard. I had the confidence that I could get the height if I needed to, but I considered slightly different tactics in order to win.
After working so well for me last year, I stuck with a similar set-up that compromises slightly on height but allows for a more powerful, lower and consistent kite loop. Risk factor is important in combination with height and this event is about riding your heat smartly to get the right balance in terms of the criteria.
There have been a lot of people pushing for height to become the main factor. Of course I appreciate that it should be a key part of the event, but for me the wow factor comes alive when you throw a big kite loop early on the way up.
One thing no one can deny is that any risk factor will directly impact your height. For me a 15 metre mega loop is a perfect trick for the King of the Air, not a 20 metre straight jump. Throw huge straight jumps into the mix of your heat, of course, but the distance and speed you travel during loops can sometimes be forgotten, and their execution is much more critical.
Risk factor is further induced with a handlepass. Even at ten metres if you miss the bar, or grab one side of it when you’re that over powered, things can go wrong very quickly. Combine that with a normal kite loop / mega loop and you get the picture…
The only real area that I see potential for progression in this side of the sport is in kite loops / mega loops. If I’m honest, the sent high handle-pass is a freestyle move from the past. I mastered them when they were in fashion, but we have moved on. I also don’t enjoy doing them, or watching them for that matter, but they do bring an element of risk, so as the criteria stood this year, they were worth doing to get a better score.
Board-offs can be considered ‘freestyle’ too, and if we’re trying to get away from ‘freestyle’ then these are even older. I threw deadman board-offs with a double board spin in 2002. They bring showmanship, but most people have moved on and they don’t bring any risk factor.
What does the King of the Air stand for? It’s a big debate. As the event grows and gains more interest, more people will have their own opinion.
I have to say that I think the current format is fair for all styles. The fact that Kevin and I both ended up in the final after choosing almost opposite styles proves that. It’s important to understand that each rider wants to express their own style on that world stage; to interpret big air in their own way and not necessarily always ride exactly to the actual format. If everyone really strictly followed the judging criteria the heats would look a little different, but that is what makes the event so great. Everyone can have their favourite rider and appreciate what they are bringing to the table and we all have a chance to do very well.
If the criteria was all about big jumps, kite loops and overall impression then many riders could take a different set-up and ride the heat differently. Personally, I reflect my style. I am a supporter of risk factor; that is my vision for big air riding. Eventually some of these crazy loop variations will be done at 15 – 20 metres, but I choose to ride my heat based on looking at risk factor as closely as height.
Having only three tricks go towards the final result can be confusing for spectators if the format isn’t well explained to them. Perhaps a slight revision to the rules and some more public information to improve the awareness for the public is the next step, because it’s hard to accept that you have given everything, put your body on the line and stuck to the rules, but still hear boos and read negative comments, despite clinically doing your job well.
Moving forward the playing field probably needs to be leveled out. Perhaps overall impression with regard to height is the way forward? Maybe we should stay strictly hooked-in? However, the beauty of the event is diversity. I will always try to do what it takes to win, but I always know the result can go either way. The event organisers really want the format to reflect the sport in a positive way and it’s great to have constant meetings to improve and create a criteria that most riders can agree on.
The majority of riders seem to enjoy structuring their heat around the three best tricks and also agree that some risk factor is also a big part of the event. I can see both sides of story. Year by year I think we will improve the format, but I’m happy to go down either route, even if it involved an extreme change in one direction. I would support it and make sure I have it dialed to do the best I can. I’m sure there is a happy medium to be found in the end, but no matter what, I feel there will always be a risk factor Vs. height debate because one directly effects the other!
<h4 style=”text-align: center;”>This feature originally appeared in Issue #80 of Kiteworld. Subscribe now for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, and never miss a thing.</h4>
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