INTRO: Our five time World Champion columnist, Aaron Hadlow, on the conclusion of this year's PKRA World Tour and the common ground that the sport's top performers share
What an end it was to the world tour this season. Five people were in with a chance of becoming Champion; three girls, two guys and even third and fourth were still up for grabs. The margins between the top riders are now so fine.
The most fascinating battle for me was of course between Alex Pastor and Youri Zoon, who switched positions on the podium throughout the year, with everything coming down to the wire at the last event; winner takes all. It looked like the title would be Alex's after winning the first elimination in New Cal, meaning he advanced straight to the double elimination final, an advantage usually, especially at an event with unpredictable wind. However, if you know that conditions will keep up to allow the entire double elimination to run, then finishing runner-up in the single elimination isn't actually a bad place to be. Youri has been on and around the tour for a long time now and he would have known this going into the final day.
Winning the singles means you end up waiting around for a long time while the double elimination ladder runs through and, when it finally comes time for your heat, no matter how you prepare, it is impossible to be as fired up as you are when you come straight off the back of a win. Second place in the singles brings you up against a slightly weaker opponent first who may be starting to tire after riding a few rounds that day, giving you a little more room for error and a win in that heat sets you up nicely, getting the adrenaline pumping for the final against the single elimination winner.
You still have to beat the leader twice, but that momentum and 'warm up heat' will generally carry you through the first half of the challenge. Then it comes down to the super final; the decider for the win. Both riders are now warmed up; one has come through back-to-back wins and the other a single loss - and now finds themselves in a position where they could throw away top spot.
Of course, it can go either way. People can react differently in certain situations, but the pressure mounts when you're on the back foot, especially with a title up for grabs. I don't know for sure how it worked out in New Cal, but if I was in Youri's boots, I would have fancied my chances. He must have too; so well done mate.
I have to express my commiserations to Alex. He couldn't have come any closer. I can only say well done to him, too. It is the result that counts though and it's so tough when you spend your whole year dedicated to something. But if you ask me who is the best kiteboarder out there right now? I would say both of them.
It has been pretty weird for me looking in from the side lines this year. My old man helped me through a lot of situations when I was travelling and competing, but he also told me lots of things that I could never wrap my head around. After watching from my couch at home and only reading between the lines from the info released on the web, or what I hear from mates, I can now understand a bit more where he was coming from. When I was on tour I was so obsessed with winning that a second place was devastating. I would rarely be able to produce a smile on the podium. People would say, 'You got on the podium at the world tour - you should be over the moon!'. Well it's hard to know what is going through the minds of these athletes unless you have been in a similar situation. Many times I just skim to the podium shot and that can tell me enough about the finals.
When you are involved you become so engulfed in it and, when you feel you could have done better, or you feel a decision has gone against you, or you wanted that win so much, then even a second simply feels like a loss.
I think that is typical in top athletes in any sport; it shows commitment and passion, and without that you wouldn't ever get to be in that position anyway. In many ways that attitude is a positive so, even though it's hard in that moment, it is important that soon after you can be happy with where you are and what you are doing. You are a credit to be pushing the boundaries of the sport.
I haven't had the chance to travel to these events this year and, like everything, you only realise what you are missing when you can't have it. Emotions flare when you're in the moment and I'm probably one of the worst culprits for that but, at the end of the day, flying around the world challenging yourself to achieve your goals really isn't too bad!
Find Aaron at: www.aaronhadlow.com