INTRO: At the last PKRA round in Leucate, France back in April, Aaron Hadlow made a dramatic comeback to competition, claiming a podium after three seasons off the tour and managing to beat the current World Champion along the way. Aaron shares his thoughts in his exclusive regular column in Kiteworld.
Coming back into competition has been quite an experience, four winters and three seasons off the PKRA world tour felt like an age but, as strange as it was, stepping back into the event felt very natural. The three and-a-half year gap since my last heat seemed to suddenly diminish as I took to the water for the qualifiers in Leucate.
If you know the conditions, Leucate may seem like an odd way to ?ease? my way back into competition, especially after a couple of knee operations. I have to admit, walking down the beach for the trials with sand blowing up to my eye brows from the fierce, gusty winds with a single prototype bar and a seven metre Hadlow Pro worn down by the brutal winds in Cape Town, I was also wondering if I had made the right decision. I wasn?t exactly well prepared. While most competitors rigged their sixes, fives and even a few four metre kites, I started to think that to make it through to the main event would already be an achievement.
A month before I had no plan to even attend the event, but as time went by I began to think that maybe I should jump in the van and head down to check it out. It was only the evening before, just an hour before the end of registration that I had even came to the conclusion that I would go for it. I knew deep down that these conditions suited me and if my body held up I could give it a decent effort, but still, the potential media caused by getting knocked out in my first heat made the decision a difficult one, not to mention the question over my fitness and lack of recent competition experience! In the end I dismissed all possible out comes, knowing that if I was ever going to come back to the tour then I would have to start somewhere, so why not right then?
Part of the reason I took some time away from the PKRA was because I felt the judging format was a little stale; heats were getting very tough to call as a major grey area seemed to loom over the balance between quantity and quality. Under the guidelines there was rarely a clear winner and in the later rounds the win could easily go either way. Not only was it tough on the judges, it was also hard to know what direction to head in as a rider. So I made the call to let my riding develop in a way that satisfied me, hoping that one day I could return to a criteria that suited my choice. If I?m honest I did wonder if it would ever change. I certainly didn?t have the answer, although I knew it must be out there.
You can imagine that I was fairly excited when I heard the announcement of a new numerical based platform last season. Suddenly the outcome was points orientated and straight forward to understand, leaving much less room for dispute or inaccuracy. Five tricks count and the better you do them the better you are scored. The harder the trick the more points you get but, if you do a hard trick with bad technique, a less technical trick executed well may score more highly, which is pretty good in my opinion. Most importantly it makes for a less stressful heat; no need to worry about your opponent doing three tricks every tack or having to do that yourself!
I have a very mathematical way of thinking in day-to-day life, so this way of judging is right up my street. After every heat I would check the sheets to get an idea of what tricks were scoring well. It takes a few heats, maybe a couple of events to really get in the swing of things but nonetheless I had a platform to work off. I could see how many points the tricks were scoring and could develop a heat knowing what I needed to improve or incorporate. I was impressed and no doubt it has given me motivation to enter more events in the future.
While testing the conditions on registration day I hit a gust so strong that it ripped me off my edge, leaving me skipping out ofcontrol towards the kite. It was dark, gloomy and certainly not fun. I guess the ultimate thought that pushed me into handing over myentry fee to the event was the chance to see if I could get the competitive spark back; get that ecstatic, overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that I'veexperienced often in the past and have since found hard to find anywhere else. It was certainly emotional! I have been through so many highs and lows throughout my career and, as harsh as it is to say, but hopefully understandable, beating Youri in the early rounds was as good a feeling as anycompetition win. Although I don't know him really well, I do like Youri. I think we are quite similar in many ways and I can also relate somewhat to his experiences and understandsome of his actions. I think he can probably also understand many of mine, especially what I went though over the last year or so when I've been out injured... and what a decent result means to someone in that position.
Coming out of the water after the heat against him I would have been happy whatever the result. I knew I put in a good heat and held my own, but didn?t want to get my hopes up. I couldn?t expect to go through against the current champ in my first event, but it?s funny sometimes as you just have a hunch and it makes those few minutes when you're waiting for the result full of excitement. There's so much suspense.
I think I have changed a lot in the last four years. The break I took and the time it allowed me to focus on a different challenge changed my outlook on competing a little. Entering the event I felt more relaxed and didn?t think I would be as swept up in the heat of the moment as I was before, but when I actually heard I had advanced, I couldn?t help but erupt. It was still there!
Aaron went on to claim third spot on the podium in Leucate after the double eliminations, sparking discussion about whether we'll see him more throughout the season. It sounds like he's getting the taste back.
As we stand at the moment, just two events have been completed in the PKRA season ? Morocco and France. Three time Vice World Champion Alex
Pastor has looked infallibly clean, taking two wins out of two. Kiwi Marc Jacobs sits in second with two time World Champion Youri Zoon in third.
Gisela Pulido and Karolina Winkowska are tied at the top of the ladies rankings, with Bruna Kajiya in third.
The third round in Italy is taking place while this issue is at the printers, so look out for updates at www.kiteworldmag.com and www.prokitetour.com and video round-ups on The Kite Show:
www.thekiteshow.tv - where you'll also catch Aaron's reaction after stepping off the top step of the podium at the recent Triple-S event.
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