|INTRO - Since he claimed the number one ranking in the world almost five years ago, Aaron Hadlow has never been anywhere else at any stage of a season. Going into the event in Fuerteventura this year he found himself as number two to Kevin Langeree who had won three of this season's first five rounds. Here, the four time world champion talks to Jim Gaunt about changing tactics to win and the bigger overall agenda he has to push in the sport.
(Note ? This interview took place just before the PKRA event in Fuerteventura, which Aaron won, putting him back on top.)
(This article is from issue 35, Nov '08)
How are you feeling about the championship so far? It's turning into a bit of a nail-biter isn't it?
I started off pretty well but I've come second in the last couple of events. My riding went a lot lower and more technical for a little while and I was doing loads of switch stuff. I tend to keep my kite a bit lower when I go into my tricks and then don't think too much about where it goes, so sometimes it will go up by the time I've landed if I'm passing to my back hand and it's a really low trick. Sometimes these lower tricks don't look like you've got much power because you don't travel as far and your kite might be higher when you land, but generally it's your take-off that makes your trick difficult. If you take-off with it really low, then you can't get as much height or speed, so you have less time to do your trick. I've been doing that quite a lot and just concentrating on body movement rather than using the kite too much, but the judges said that others have been going faster and higher at the last couple of events, which is scoring a lot more. From my point of view you can have your kite higher when you take-off, get time and speed for your trick much more easily and then as you come into land you can dive it a bit so you've got all that speed and height and a sort of illusion of power. The judges look up at your kite when you land and it's pretty low. Someone else may think something totally different. I can do all that if that's what I need to do, but it's just all about things changing, adding style and making things smoother for me at the moment.
Is the criteria that's set out at the beginning of the season still supposed to be all about who is landing the hardest tricks or is there more of an allowance now for flare?
It's still the same as it ever was and about power. The judges are usually up high and looking down so it's really hard for them to judge kite angles. But there's nothing you can do about that and it is really difficult to judge, that's for sure. Especially about where your kite is, which is so defined.
Do you feel like you're having to go backwards a little bit to get wins in competition now?
That's it. When I got knocked out early in the singles in Tarifa this season I had such a big task to come through the doubles so I changed my riding totally and it wasn't exactly how I wanted to be riding. I just did what I could to get the height and power. It got me up to second place but obviously I was pretty tired by the end because in the lead up to the final you're just riding your heats back to back. By the final you start to get cold quicker and your body gets tired. The next event is Fuerteventura and we usually get super-strong winds there; I love it. Like last year in Tarifa which was just so much fun and there was so much adrenaline. I know what I've got to do, so from now on I'll do what I can to try and win the heat and if I've won it convincingly then I'll add some of my other stuff into the last few minutes to promote my sort of style and the way I want to see things improve.
It's already pretty much down to you and Kevin this season isn't it?
Yeah, I don't think anyone else will be able to compete now. A few guys are fairly close, but Kevin's got such a standard routine. It's so solid, he never really messes it up and he's got all the tricks. He does exactly what the judges want and it's pretty much a winning heat. Not to take anything away from him; he rides well and has got some good tricks, but when you watch a lot of the riders on tour, you are never surprised by anything, if you know what I mean? The routines are so set and it's very rare that you'll see something and think, 'Whoa, haven't seen that before!' Most heats are pretty regular, and yeah, Kevin has definitely got that down. But we will see how it goes for the rest of the season. I know what I've got to do now.
So would you say it's as much about the way you win the world championship now rather than just winning it?
It' s still really cool, but the championships are becoming numbers now and I don't want to be winning and not enjoying my riding and my friends. I feel and ride my best when I'm having fun and that's when the competitions come together. I've got it in me to win every event, for sure, I know I have, and I do get annoyed if I let myself down, but I'm much better at dealing with results now. But yeah, I just want to do it in style basically.
You've been pretty unlucky this year; you broke a line, you've had some line tangles and it just seems like there have been a few things in a row.
Yeah there's been quite a few things. For some reason they all seemed to happen around the same time and I got to the point where I couldn't believe it. I've always tried to come back through that, turn things around and prove everyone wrong. That's when I'm at my best, for sure. I'm looking forward to the next few events because I want that feeling back for winning the events and being on top. Since I first got that top rank seeding I've never dropped below it. I definitely want to get that back.
Can you tell us about some of the new moves you want to be bringing into competitions?
They are just as difficult, if not more so, but the perception is that they aren't. I might do something like a front roll grab, land blind and then pop out. That's actually a super-difficult trick, but everyone just thinks, 'Oh, front-to-blind' and that it's much easier than a blind judge for example. Even though it's really stylish and looks quite cool, I don't always want to do tricks like that because I just think the judges won't mark it for what it is yet
Can you give us an idea of how much harder something like that is?
I can do a blind judge in all conditions, but a one handed front roll or grab to blind is really hard, especially on the smaller kites because they dive down. You've got to keep the bar pulled into your body so you don't get stretched and pulled out of position so you can actually land blind. It's more about very small improvements, like where you grab, or how you tweak your body out because there's not much more evolution left to be done on the standard moves. Everyone knows what's possible with double handle-passes and triples aren't going to be coming for a while, unless it's a flat spin off a kicker or something like that otherwise you have to have your kite too high and it's too dangly. Everyone can do the standard tricks in switch and it's now coming down to who does the tricks best and who can add things. That's what happened in wakeboarding. That's really the transition at the high end of it at the moment.
You went to the Triple-S this year. How did you enjoy your first time in Hatteras?
It was so much fun and just a different atmosphere. Everyone's there to have fun. There is competitiveness but it's more to show each other what you can do. Ruben Lenten and Alvaro Onieva were the only guys that I knew from the PKRA. There were others that I know but that I don't really hang around with. It was really refreshing because everyone had similar mind-sets to me and want to see the sport heading in the same direction. In the past people have gone too far and have dissed straps, but there wasn't any of that at this event. I wasn't sure how all the guys into kickers and sliders would warm to us PKRA riders, but we all got on super-well and it was fun to be with people who just want to see the sport go places.
Was it an accurate representation of the most stylish riders in the sport today?
I would have thought so, especially with guys like Andre Phillip there. The way he rides sliders is just a league above. He never does much freestyle but I know if he did it would still be pretty stylish. Maybe the tricks would be a bit simpler than what some of the PKRA riders are doing now, but it would all be about style. Everyone just pushed their abilities and had fun.
Who was really standing out for you?
Davey Blair on the sliders; he had some good ideas. He thinks a lot and it's interesting the way he hits things. He's all-round for sure. A lot of guys there ride well but maybe just focus on certain things. This guy Brendan rides in boots and did one of the sickest back mobes I've seen in a long time. It's quite a weird event ? it's just fun. They rent a big house, everyone parties, hangs out and has fun. You build on everyone else's energy. It's such a good set-up over there. For freestyle it's amazing and for kickers and sliders with it being flat and shallow as far as you can see. Then you've got waves on the other side.
How is your knee? We can see in some of the shots you're wearing a knee brace. Is that a precaution or just because you're riding so much more powered now?
It's a repetitive injury that I got this time last year in Fuerteventura. I just came in wrong. I couldn't ride for a while, then it just disappeared and I couldn't feel anything. It keeps coming and going but seemed to get better the more I used it, so I put the brace over it and it's eased it.
Have you felt much more through your knees and ankles over the last few years with so much power going through them?
Yeah, that's for sure, especially in straps. You don't get as many repetitive injuries in boots because they give you a lot more cushioning and support and you feel like you can take anything. You really feel the slap in straps, especially trying to go as fast and hard as possible now. When you come in, it's hard, it's not often now when you don't hear the slap from my board on the beach.
People love the stomped slap though, eh?
Yeah, exactly. With the boots you don't feel it so much but it's easy to get it slightly wrong and you don't get away with things so much and can really tweak yourself. With straps you can move your legs around more. I only ride bindings in the right conditions. It's perfect for it in Egypt ? dead flat water and smooth winds. Whenever I get conditions like that I like to ride boots because you don't have to hold back on take-off. You just go fully powered. When it's super-perfect conditions it's just something different; more motivation. But in average conditions like here on Brighton beach I'd be super-frustrated ? it's just too choppy and the wind can be a bit gusty, so it's difficult and a fine balance.
You're testing some new prototypes for your pro model kite for next year. Can you let us in on any changes you're making and the reasons for those?
Well there's nothing definite yet, it's still early days. My kite is just so good at the moment and I didn't know how it could be improved. But Henry the Flexi designer has done a really good job, just to make it more stable and drive quicker. It's still super-solid, has that same feel but is just a little bit more defined. You're still going to be relying on your board to depower the kites, but that's the image of my kite; I don't want it to be easy going and for everyone. However, I think the 13 metre is still one of the best light wind kites on the market. Although a 13 sounds small, I never use anything else. When people are going on the 16s I'm still fine on that.
Is the most important thing kite speed or that the kite holds its position in the window, because your kite does sit back a long way?
Yeah, that's exactly it. I want the same feel as my current kites. They just sit there and when you do your trick you get a constant pull the whole time. Like riding the cable, which I love, and if I can get a kite that has that solid feel then that would be great. The handling and feel is the same hooked or unhooked. The steering is nice with a real smooth turn that gives you a solid pull, but it also needs to be able to be turned super-quick for loops and for when you get into the stronger winds. I'd love to be able to go out and do mega loops with my 13m, but with the size and speed of it and the drag it has, it's just not going to be happening any time soon. But we're getting there; it used to be touch-and-go whether I'd make it on my nine metre, then in some winds it would work and now I'm fully confident mega-looping the prototype nine metre that I have, so now it's the 11 metre that I'm starting to go with. That's what we're working for really. I still like going down the beach and seeing someone pumping my kite up. At first it was so weird, I'd drive past Goring Green and be like, 'Hold on, who's got my kite!' It means all the hard work is paying off.
The stuff you see being done in wakeboarding is crazy now. To incorporate that into kiting is pretty difficult unless you have kickers. Not ramp kickers, but waves that act like a big wake make some cool stuff possible. Quite a bit of what I'm doing came from cable, especially landing blind and then popping out a 360 or something, tweaking things out and the grabs. But really it just comes from riding a lot. At the moment I love grabbing with the opposite hand; like if I do a back roll I'll make a nose grab with my front hand, then as you come round from the back roll you switch round and put it to blind. That feels cool because of the way it all goes; you switch hands, then you're in blind and then pop out. Stuff like that just feels right.
Shiftys are one of the best feelings in kiting for me at the moment. You rotate round your back roll and get fully tweaked round as opposite to blind as possible and then just whip back round all in one quick, continuous movement. It's more of a snowboarding thing really, but it's different with a kite because you have more time and you can get round shifty much more. On the shifty shot without the grab I've got my arm up and really been able to push the board around even further and down into a nice position, using my arm for leverage and then you just bring it back again.
Everything about the sequence is good for me. I've done a full back roll, gone past it another 180 to 540 and then come back 360 to blind. With the arm out extended it just gives it good shape. You can be restricted in boots sometimes but the momentum swings you round more. I think boots just look more stylish than straps in a picture in general. I like the way it's all tweaked out in this picture; the board is full 180 round, the kite is in a pretty good position and it's only going to go lower because I'm one handed for the rest of the trick. The body position is also good with one leg fully tweaked out and the other one really tucked.
My main tips for landing blind are that you've got to land so much further downwind than you think. I've just been learning it switch. I was terrible at first, but it's more about getting the body into a stable position and then just pulling in, getting the bar to your hip, swinging around and just pointing your board downwind. You can't land square on to the wind. You have to be 270 ? more than blind, almost facing straight downwind and really flat. It's hard to spot and sort of landing with that sort of trick, it's one of those that you just have to believe in. Leaning into it a lot and just really think about pointing your board. That's what I think about when I'm doing it switch. I'll go into my railey, pull in and wrap myself up and believe that my board is straight downwind and flat. It's over and done with before you know it really.
STALEFISH OFF THE KICKER AND NOSE PRESS
A lot of the tricks I'm enjoying at the moment are all about the way they feel and look. I look at things like this, it looks cool and I'm proud to have done it. It does feel really good but it's also nice to watch. I'd much rather see something like this than a standard back or front mobe. It's just smoother and if you can hold the grab it's such a nice position.
It's weird with kickers and sliders, I don't know how to explain it. You can just go over them and it's so much fun just going over and over, even if it's just a little flat bar. That's why I love them. Once you get better and better you can start doing full presses, which feel insane, with just the tail on the slider and your full body weight over it so that you're still going straight.
Kickers are just cool. They throw you up so quick and you can do a lot more flat spins, and again, it's just different and motivating because I'm not doing the same handle-passes. You can get into different positions and go well off-axxis. You get a lot of freedom to try different things.
Kite loops are no where near as technical, but I just love all sorts of kite loops. My favourite is to boost as high as possible and swing the kite so it goes down and you get yourself pretty inverted and let it pull you round, like in a back roll. You can get round early, loop the kite and grab the board. The rush you get when you first get pulled is mad. You usually always save yourself by getting your kite round high enough, but there's always that risk.
The back move is one of my favourite moves because half way round you can fully let go of the bar. You can literally dive the kite into the water. You get your pop and after that it's all body movement; it doesn't matter where the kite goes, once you're into your back roll you can complete the back roll whatever happens. That's why I like it ? you can keep the kite so low and it's so technical with your body movement, and once you've got that body movement down you can do it. I did it my first time on the cable because I've got the movement ? it doesn't matter what the cable is doing. I almost got one on my first time wakeboarding because it's really just the same movement. That's why I like that trick. I've had some sequences where the lines are slack all the way from passing the bar to landing. The kite is a bit higher than usual in this one.
Read issue #35 HERE