INTRO: Aaron Hadlow in his regular column on getting back to competition, hitting up the Middle East and on tuning up his UK crew in Cape Town
I was offered the chance to head out to Dom Rep for the Punta Cana Kite Fest in January and then on to the Middle East for a kitesurfing kick starter program to try and help build-up the kiting community. I would never usually leave Cape Town at this time of year but as it was coming up to a year since I'd really been in the game and now being back to fitness, I was keen to visit some new places and start travelling again.
I was wondering if I had made the right decision to leave on the first leg of my trip when I landed in London as it was white with snow and freezing. This as the first time I had been in England in January for 12 years! Luckily a day later I landed in the lush, eastern tip of the Dominican Republic.
The Punta Cana Kite Fest is a mixture of disciplines, including a rail event, so I was excited to start the year off getting a few heats under my belt and be part of an event again after being out for so long with my injury.
It’s funny how true the saying 'it’s like riding a bike' can be. I felt like my days of competing were way in the past, but as soon as the green flag went up, it was like I never left. It turned out to be a good decision, the rails were fun, I saw some good friends and enjoyed competing and winning the event. I love that feeling of being in your element, all eyes are on you and it’s make or break; time to step up and deliver your best.
A good crowd enhances the situation. Unfortunately, because of y trip I missed the first couple of days of the two week holding period for the Red Bull King of the Air, and was when they ended up running the event. But from what I saw and heard it looked to be amazing. A strong Cape Doctor wind and a beach full of spectators was bound to be spectacular. On top of riding in such mental conditions, the guys must have been so amped to push themselves against the three other riders in the heat. The crowd going nuts would definitely then also give them that extra urge to commit to going that little bit further than they might have done. Having to commit my entry to the event a month prior I was unsure whether my knee could handle the tough demands of such an extreme competition, so I didn't enter. I was gutted and that was even more apparent on the day of the event when I was on the phone to the lads checking in on the action. I spoke to some of the boys between heats. Sam Light told me about his situation and the conditions. It sounded like the wind was sat right between seven and nine metre weather; a tricky decision. If it was me I said I would take the seven and use the gusts and I think he had already decided that taking a quicker kite should look nicer through the kite loops anyway.
Kit choice is such an important part of kiteboarding, especially in events. Having the wrong equipment can have a huge impact on your result. It is all about feeling. When everything is set up right you can concentrate 100% on your riding. If you have the wrong kite size or if your bar is pulling slightly to one side it’s unbelievable how much this can put you off. In the end Sam did well and I was pleased for all the guys involved.
The second part of my trip was over to Saudi Arabia and a new culture to me. You cannot enter Saudi as a tourist, so this seemed like a good opportunity. It was certainly a culture shock but I was surprised bythe potential. The spot we were riding at was a shallow flat water lagoon with cross onshore winds. The aim of the event was to bring the kiteboarding community together. There are a few people kiting andmany wanting to learn, but there isn't much guidance and no school or shop. This really highlighted the importance of the development of kites and safety and showed me there are still places in the world that need educating and help to grow. I found it cool that a small event can bring a solid community of riders together. You could see new motivation andthat the riders were figuring out that is was time to make some more use of the good conditions that they have.
I also got to take a trip over to Bahrain, via a single bridge, possibly the biggest I have crossed, to enter a very different country. This was certainly more how I envisaged the Middle East. Lots of reclaimed land, new roads, hotels and even new islands! These actually made foramazing kiteboarding conditions as with these new areas of land come break waters. Basically what you end up with is a massive ring of rocks surrounding the kite spots, the wind comes onshore and you can just hug right up close and ride through glassy water while holding down a nine metre. Typically the wind in this part of the world is much lighter, but I got lucky enough to ride a couple of times in some fantastic conditions.
Coming back to Cape Town was nice to get back into my routine of riding, using the gym and eating well. Despite getting a little thrown out of sorts it is nice to notice the extra confidence I have found in my knee just by doing what I know and love. Being back kiting and being productive again feels awesome!
Find Aaron at: www.aaronhadlow.co