INTRO: Aaron Hadlow, a five time PKRA World Champion, is the most successful kiteboarder ever. Currently off the water for nine months with an ACL injury, he's also just become our new columnist, making a fine scribbling double act with Mr Shinn. This issue Aaron airs his thoughts on the forces at play at the very top of the freestyle game.
PHOTO: Craig Koleski
Although I have not competed on the world tour for a couple of years, I still find it intriguing to watch and see how the PKRA develops. Even more so how the riders react and respond to what is becoming an increasingly open challenge for the title.
The last three years have seen three different winners and, although Youri Zoon dominated in 2011, a change in format this year has already produced new title contenders, making it possible that we could see four different champions in four years. I guess this is a little down to some riders carrying injuries, but there's no doubt it takes a lot of motivation to stay up there. When you win for the first time, achieving something you have worked so hard at for so long, not much actually changes. Of course it's a great feeling - one of the best - but you soon ask yourself, 'What's next?'
The level in freestyle kiting is now so high that the progression for the top guys gets more limited. Other riders are able to catch up, meaning there are more people in with a chance of causing an upset. The new format favours quality over quantity by only counting seven tricks, allowing riders to concentrate on pushing certain tricks and also makes them think more about how they ride their heats; once again bringing the title within reach of those that may suit this format better.
There is also a new generation of freestyle talent beginning to emerge that have obviously clocked on to this. Once they pack on a little muscle and get a bit of experience it will be interesting to see how they develop. Someone like Tom Bridge (a fellow Brit!) is still just ten-year-old but already nails a few tricks you would see laid down in PKRA finals. When I was that age I had only just started flying a kite! It's crazy to think where these groms will be by the time they hit 20.
For now though it's anyone's guess as to who will win over the next few years. But one thing is for sure: it'll be very exciting as the experienced champions - all of whom have recovered (or are doing so) from injury - go up against each other and fend off the new wave of young rippers. It makes me wonder what goes on in the heads of some of the other guys at these competitions? Everyone looks at things different, but at the end of the day it's a very expensive lifestyle to follow just for a bit of fun, especially if you are not getting prize money or achieving goals. I can see how people want to be apart of it; it's a cool experience but, for me, I was always focussed on one thing: winning. I wanted that feeling again and again, I loved it and was just in my own world going for it.
I could see it in others, too. I guess my most recent rivalry and the most obvious was with Kevin Langeree. I did what I could to win, as did he. It was a long battle staged over many events and heat finals. I can remember we'd sail past each other just minutes before a heat and not even exchange a glance. We were just totally focused and dedicated to the following few minutes. I can also clearly remember the times before I had won anything.