INTRO - Another update from the new 2013 BKSA Men's Freestyle Champion, 17-year-old George Dufty. This time he recaps his experiences from 2013, after managing to cram in events in Europe for the KTE and PKRA, too!
The competition season started with two weeks training in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt where I managed to get in between two and four sessions almost every day.
At the end of April I competed in the PKRA event at Leucate in the south of France. As it happened this was to be the event where Aaron Hadlow made his return to World Championship competition. There were four “Brits” at the event: Aaron, Sam Light, Lewis Crathern and me.
The number of entrants was so high that there would be a trial to get into the main event and the new judging format for 2013 ruled that the highest scoring five tricks from 12 attempts would count. The winners of the first round would go straight into the main event.
It was very windy, 30 to 45 knots and the wind was still picking up. I was on my seven which I had not even flown before arriving in Leucate and was brand new out of the bag! I was drawn in round six against Carlos Madson who had finished fifth at Leucate in 2012, Michael Schitzhofer who finished 13th in 2012 and Elvis Nunes who I knew nothing about. Madson won, Schitzhofer came second and I finished third.
In the next round I was drawn against Stefan Spiesberger and Alonso Alcazar. Spiessberger had finished seventh overall in the 2012 PKRA and had already banked a 13th at the first 2013 PKRA event in Dakhla in March and had a world ranking of 22nd.
I was able to get into the best area to trick in the comp zone more often than in my first round and with the wind gusting over 45 knots, landed a blind judge, a slim, an S-bend-to-blind and a double S-bend to win. I was stoked!
So, through to the last round. A win would see me through. By this time the wind was gusting between 26 and 52 knots.
It was tough but I landed some non handle-pass tricks along with a slim and a shifty 3 and was up on points until Garat managed to land a front blind mobe in the last 20 seconds. I lost the heat by one point and Garat was through to the main event instead of me, which meant the end of my run.
It had been a great experience though and I had beaten Speissberger, a top ten rider on the PKRA!
I finished joint 25th and earned a world ranking of 35th, Lewis went on to get joint 17th, Sam placed joint 11th and of course Aaron got second in the singles and finished third after the doubles having beaten Youri in the biggest clash in the singles. Being there watching that heat was a buzz in itself.
Then for good measure I was awarded the best newcomer/rookie so ended up on the closing ceremony stage with Bruna Kajiya, Karolina Winkowska, Gisela Pulido, Aaron Hadlow, Mark Jacobs and Alex Pastor! Result!
EUROPEAN JUNIOR KITESURF CUP
I stayed in France for another European event, the EJKC in St Pierre Sur La Mer in the first week of May, which was just along the coast from Leucate. The event is open to competitors under the age of 19 who live in Europe.
This was the second time I had competed in the event. Last year I was in the 14 & 15 age group and I was really unlucky with the draw for the singles being drawn against Liam Whaley who had beaten Youri Zoon the week before in the PKRA event in Leucate to take fourth place. I was also drawn against Manuel Le Juge. Liam went on to finish first and Manuel third. Because the wind dropped out there was no time to run the double elimination and so I was officially listed as finishing 17th of 24 riders.
This year I was in the 16 to 19 year-old age group and was drawn against a French rider called Julien Leleu who was seeded fourth in the first round, so It was going to be a tough start. It was blowing around 25 knots so I was out on my 9m HiFi x. It was a close heat with us exchanging trick for trick but the wind picked up to over 30 knots during the heat which made unhooking really hard work. When I was back at the judging tower I was disappointed to see that he had won. So, like last year it was a case of waiting around for the double elimination to get underway after the single elimination was finished.
Leleu was knocked out by German rider Linus Erdman in the next round and Erdman went on to win the singles.
The doubles started later in the day and I was drawn against French rider Leo Pollett. That heat went well and I was able to land all my tricks, including a blind judge 3, shifty 3, slim and a back mobe and was through to round two against another French rider, Didier Botta. My run of solid tricks continued and I was able to progress to round three this time against Spanish rider Manel Arpa.
That heat went well and again I was able to land all my tricks and was through to round four against another Spanish rider, Gonzalo Alcazar, who I had come up against and beaten in Leucate. The wind was dropping and I had to use my 13m HiFi x and Gonzalo was out on his 15m.
In the light winds neither of us were really able to get any power and the wind went right down to below 10 knots and being offshore meant that we were both out the back of the competition box after two tacks and struggling to keep upwind.
Despite that, we had both attempted the same number of tricks and I was disappointed to have lost in such light winds and not having been able to try more than two tricks. As it happened the next heat was black flagged almost immediately as French national champion Valentin Garat took to the water and the riders were on standby for nearly two hours before the wind was strong enough to restart.
With my run in the doubles over I had finished sixth and was pleased with how the competition had gone. Alcazar took fifth and Erdman was knocked back to second after being beaten by French rider Antoine Fermon in the finals.
So, sixth in Europe at under 19’s, 25th in the PKRA World Championships in Leucate with a world ranking of 35th!
I set off home to get in some more training before the first KTE event in Toulon but not before a morning session in MIR with the Bridge clan, Tom, Guy and Olly. Nice.
The British Championships were due originally to start in June in Wales but this changed and the first event was in Barrow in July. Having been crowned British Youth Freestyle Champion last year, this year I would be competing in the pros.
Instead of being at the first British event of the year, up next was the KTE event in Toulon, at the end of June in a place called Hyeres.
I flew into the event for registration and got in a late evening sesh with the reigning British Pro Champion Dan Sweeney, 2010 and 2011 former British Pro Champion Luke Whiteside and three times (back to back) British pro women’s champion, Hannah Whiteley. It was seven metre winds which I thought would bode well for the week. It was also great to meet up with other Brits, Lewis Crathern, Holly Kennedy and the Bridge clan, Steph, Tom, Guy and Olly. Tom was not competing in the freestyle nor was Guy but Olly and Steph were competing in the course racing.
At the riders' briefing on the first day, I saw from the draw that having traveled all the way to the south of France I had drawn Dan Sweeney in the first round! The format was to be the same as at the PKRA event at Leucate; five tricks scoring from 12 attempts.
When the heats started I knew I had to go for it. Dan had managed to turn up at the last minute and was not on the water when the green flag went up. It was not as windy as it had been the evening before and I was out on my nine metre kite and was landing the tricks that I had planned for my heat; a backmobe, shifty 3, blind judge 3 and a slim.
I was stoked to see when I got back to the beach and the judging tower that I had won!
The next round saw me up against Ben Bowd who I thought rode for Greece but was at the event under a UK flag. He was on a bit of a run and was able to land higher scoring tricks than me. So I was out of the singles in joint 17th place and would have to wait for the doubles to see if I could progress further.
Bowd went on to finish third in the singles.
The doubles started the next day and the wind was lighter. It was around 11 metre winds but was edging towards needing my 13m. I was drawn against Leo Pollett who I had beaten in the doubles at the EJKC. He was lighter than me and out on a 13 metre and I was struggling to get enough power but was able to land all my tricks including a blind judge 3, shifty 3, slim and a back mobe and was through to the next round. That was to be against Stefan Spiessberger who I had managed to beat in Leucate. However, beating Stefan as three time Austrian pro Champion again was never going to be easy.
Stefan was on fire and was landing everything in 5’s and throwing grabs in as well. I just could not keep up even though I was landing all the tricks in my bag, but I was unable to land any blind judge 5’s or shifty 5’s, despite trying and so that was me out of the doubles. Stefan went on to go through another six straight heats and got through to third place after knocking Ben Bowd from third spot. A tough draw to start with in the singles coming up against Bowd and that carried on through the doubles coming up against Spiessberger.
But, I had ended up 13th in Europe and the week at the comp was a great experience. The last two days were windless but I did get the opportunity to do some wakeboarding courtesy of one of the sponsor's safety boats.
BACK TO BRITAIN, JUNIOR DISAPPOINTMENT
Once again, back to the UK and more training. There was still to be no UK events to concentrate on until July but there had been an announcement from the PKRA that they were running a Junior World Championship in Spain in July. My first response was that this would be a great event to get into after such a good experience in Leucate and then at the EJKC, except it would clash with the second of the year's KTE events in Sylt, Germany.
My second response was that I soon worked out that the PKRA were having to adopt age groupings based upon different dates that were to be imposed upon them by ISAAF rather than the rules usually adopted by the BKSA and the EJKC, which were based upon how old you are on the first day of the year of the comp (January 1st) or the age at the first day of the event. That was to mean that I, along with any other riders who although were 16 years and 7 months old or older at the date of the competition, would be deemed to be too old to compete in a competition with three age groups, 8 to 12, 13 to 14 and 15 & 16 !
I still see no sense in that but I know that there were a lot of riders from the EJKC, including Liam Whaley, who would not be able to compete. Having been kitesurfing since I was 13, this was to be the inaugural event and this would have been my only chance to compete in the Junior World Championships as I would have my 17th birthday in August this year.
OFF TO SYLT
After that disappointment I had to concentrate on preparing for the next KTE event in Sylt, Germany in July.
The forecast was that it might be windy for the first two of the four days and be marginal for the last two. As it happened the first day was too light but the course racers got on the water as indeed they did for all four days.
We were on standby for most of day one. On day two we were on standby from the first riders' meeting at 10:00am.
The wind was up and down all day but didn’t get up to anywhere near the 15 knots baseline required by Head Judge Bas Koole until after 6:15 in the evening when the “ready to go” flag went up. The next hour saw the heats in front of me run as I was seeded into the second round. I was to be up against Louk Timmer from Holland.
Our heat was started three times but was also black flagged three times for lack of wind. What with standby times in between, the last black flag was at 9:20pm and spelled the end of the day. It was also to be the end of the competition as there was no more than 6 knots of wind for the final two days which meant that the course racers were out again entertaining the crowds, but there was no more freestyle going on. It was sunny and the beach front was very busy with the Mini roadshow in town and lots of local business stalls. I read after the comp that there had been over 110,000 people at the event over the six days the KTE were set up at the beach, and it was certainly a great vibe throughout.
So no result but shared points which meant that I would move up to 11th place overall in the rankings with the next KTE event in Scheveningen, the Hague in Holland; 26 - 29 September and the last KTE event in Castelldefels, Barcelona, Spain; 10 - 13 October.
BKSA FINALLY KICKS OFF
But, before then was the first round of the BKSA championships in Barrow in Furness in the bay at Walney Island. The BKSA had adopted the PKRA five tricks from 12 attempts scoring so I would be used to that. Usually renownd for plenty of wind, the forecast a week ahead did not look good but as local Kiteschool owner Gary Powell was to say, “you can never tell here”. It was great to meet up with all the BKSA competitors again, some of whom I'd not seen since the finals in Westward Ho! In October 2012, when I'd won the British Youth Championships.
In the end there was only wind on the Saturday evening just before the light started going and only kiteable at a local spot called Roa Island. After two days of waiting around (and my dad pulling a hamstring trying to waterski on perfectly flat water in the bay off Walney Island) a few of us (Craig Smith, Ali Barrett, James Boulding and Rosanna Jury) went off to set up. We had a great sesh and some nice pics taken by that man Mark Glendinning and my dad, (Dad still limping about because of his pulled hamstring).
On the Sunday, which was the last day of the competition, there was only enough wind to run a slopestyle trick event and I was stoked to win that.
As there was no wind to run a comp, shared points were awarded with the next round in September which was to be part of the Scottish Windfest in Troon in Scotland.
HEADING TO HOLLAND
So, back to European Championship competition and the KTE in Holland. The forecast was for possible wind (offshore) maybe on day two. The wind did kick in, offshore as predicted but the sea front has a lots of big hotels and apartments so a good offshore spot it was never going to be. The organisers were smarting from a no winder in Sylt and keen to get a freestyle result. The comp box was to be set up 100 metres offshore to give the best opportunity for cleaner wind. The issue that I had however was that the winds were struggling to get up to 15 knots. I was drawn against Dylan Van der Meij who was doing well in the Dutch Championships. I went out on my biggest kite, my 13 metre, Dyan was on his 15 metre Flysurfer. After struggling to get enough power to get off the water when trying to trick, I was out of the comp box and unable to get back upwind and back into the box.
Add to that that it took me nearly 15 minutes to kite back to the beach and I still ended up half a kilometre downwind. Not good. Then, with the winds getting stronger, such that I'd have a chance to land some tricks, time ran out and no doubles were run. But still, I met up with Youri Zoon again who was there for Best Kiteboarding. It was good to see that he was feeling positive about his rehabilitation after his injury at the PKRA in Germany.
So, back again to the UK and the next round of the BKSA champs. Off to Scotland!
At the event, it was announced that the final event due to be held at Westward Ho! In Devon in October had been called off due to lack of sponsorship, which meant that the British Championships would be decided in Troon. No pressure then.
It was a clean sheet for everyone and all to play for. I had not had much of an opportunity to sound out what the other pros were capable of in Barrow due to the lack of wind.
I was drawn in the first round against Richy Flindall and managed to win that heat and battled through the next round against Kevin Mathey to get into the finals against last years Pro Men's Vice Champion, Jon Blieker and Robin Snuggs. Robin had taken time out from being one of the staple Judges last year to getting back on the water himself.
Winds were around 30 knots and after briefly putting up my nine metre, I went out on my seven metre HiFi-X. I had an almost perfect heat landing a good set of tricks including a blind judge, a slim, shifty 3 and a backmobe. When things are going well and I have had some decent training, I have a heat plan in my head which I try to stick to. Of course it depends on the conditions too and that includes the sea state and wind direction because this can sometimes mean that certain tricks just won't work. I was stoked to find out a couple of hours later in the afternoon that I had won!
KTE BARCELONA AS BRITISH MEN'S PRO FREESTYLE CHAMPION!
So, British Pro Men's Freestyle Champion, I liked the ring to it! When I started kitesurfing four years before it was only a dream the be able to say that after my name. Some of the world's top riders have been British Champions, including Sam Light and that man Aaron Hadlow. To be in the list of past champions is really a great honour.
So, as British Champion I flew out to Barcelona for the final KTE event in Castelldefels, Spain in mid October. What with all the wonderful sunshine we'd been having in the UK since Troon and the almost total lack of wind as a result, I had not had many chances to get in much training. The level of competition on the KTE is very high and after a poor result in Holland my chances of finishing in the top 10, which was my target for the year, was going to be tough.
I would need a strong finish in either the singles or the doubles. I was drawn against a Spanish rider who, on paper I should have been able to beat, but the wind strength dictated that I should be on my 13m but just as the green flag went up the wind picked up too so I was then overpowered in a choppy rolling swell and just couldn't settle into a zone. I lost. I was gutted. I had to get myself focussed to have a better heat in the doubles but knew I'd be up against Victor Hays. However, once again the wind was to fail to show for the rest of the event and so there was to be no doubles competition and that was it. As a result I dropped to 16th. The main positive was that I had finished the year as the highest ranked Brit on the European tour.
Looking back the only thing that I regretted was not getting to more of the European legs of the PKRA in the summer as I had intended but funds, more to the point the lack of funds, meant that this was not to be.
But, 25th at the PKRA in Leucate and being in competition with the best riders in the world, including Youri Zoon, Alex Pastor, Marc Jacobs and fellow Brits, Lewis Crathern, Sam Light and Aaron Hadlow was a great experience. Then sixth in the European Junior championships was what I thought a good omen for the full European championships in the KTE with the pros.
The experience at Leucate rubbing shoulders with all the worlds' top freestyle riders was a bit surreal, but by the end of the season it was great to meet and greet the same riders as old friends. I am looking forward to more of the same next year.
I had met and spoken with Alex Pastor in Leucate and he made a point of saying Hi when he turned up at the KTE in Spain in October. He must have listened to my tips as he went on to become World Champion a few weeks later at the PKRA event in China.
Winning the British Championships still hasn't properly sunk in as it still sounds odd when I get referred to as British champion when giving coaching clinics or meeting other kitesurfers who are new to the sport and having lessons at Hampshire Kitesurf centre.
The centre is now run by my parents and even my mum is learning to kite at the age of 49. I am sure I will be able to point her in the right direction and can pass on a few words of advice.
I continue to receive fantastic support from Liquid Force Kiteboarding and will need it as I move into 2014 and try to defend my British title, hit the KTE again and all things being equal, have a run at most if not all of the PKRA tour events in an effort to support Liquid Force's top international rider, Christophe Tack.
Cheers for now.
Find George's website at: www.georgeduftykitesurfer.co.uk