Behind the scenes at King of the Air 2018 as Kevin Langeree takes his second KOTA crown!
Intro: King of the Air wrapped up yesterday at Kite Beach in Table View, Cape Town, and Kiteworld Mag had ringside seats. KW editor Jim and co-editor Matt Pearce were both on the commentary team at the event and had a behind the scenes view of how it went down!
Images: James Stanley and Red Bull Content Pool
As day two of the KOTA 2018 dawned on Wednesday there were a handful of riders waking up with a tall task ahead of them. Kevin, who this year took his second KOTA title, had had to battle hard to avoid exiting the competition on day one after being eliminated in his first heat so was up early in round three and another former KOTA, his Naish teammate Jesse Richman, had also had an unfortunate first day and would be in for a long haul to regain some ground on day two.
Aaron Hadlow had stormed the first day and had won his round one heat to go straight to round four and murmurings had begun to circulate that it would be him adding another KOTA title to his tally after he’d so cleanly executed a board-off boogieloop, a progression from Kevin’s board-off megaloop, on day one. However, it quickly became apparent as the day kicked off with round three that board-off megaloops were not going to be the potential game changer many had envisioned as rider after rider landed variations on the trick.
Board-off loops are an area of the big-air spectrum that Kevin has focused on quite closely in the last year so seeing a number of riders landing them cleanly added further fuel to the discussions about whether or not Kevin would be able to gain the edge in the later heats of the competition if that was to be his go-to move.
At the end of round three we saw the first eliminations of the day. Oswald Smith would bow out after having lost time during his heat when he took a heavy slam and another local shredder, Ross-Dillon Player, exited the competition there as well.
Ross has been a standout at this year’s event. He’s only just 18 years old and is already more than comfortable throwing huge loops in pumping CT conditions. Unfortunately for him though he was up against two far more experienced competitors in the form of Marc Jacobs and Liam Whaley and he just couldn’t match their heat knowledge and repertoire of tricks and variations but he pushed them both all the way with the home crowd cheering him on and we can’t wait to watch him in future KOTAs.
The final heat of round three was when Frenchman Antonin Rangin, one of the few riders in the event who isn’t a full-time pro, showed his remarkable big-air abilities by knocking Reno Romeu out of the contest and giving Kevin a serious run for his money.
Antonin really does deserve special mention for his performance this year in crucial heats against riders like Aaron and Kevin. He pushed them right up to the wire every time and there were more than a few spectators on the beach wondering if Antonin might have just edged past Kevin as they awaited the results of the round three heat.
Onto round four and it was time for the riders who’d won their round one heats to retake the skies. Jesse Richman had clearly shaken off the last vestiges of an unfortunate first day and his explosive riding and huge, powered handlepasses, took him straight past Lasse Walker and Steven Akkersdijk (ending Lasse’s KOTA right there) for the win. The next heat saw Sam Light knocked out as Lewis Crathern progressed to the semi-finals behind Liam Whaley who won the heat as he continued to stun the crowds.
Liam, who took second this year, has been the definite dark horse of this year’s KOTA. He arrived on short notice to replace Nick Jacobsen and admitted beforehand that he hadn’t trained for the event. He’d also remarked to KW before the competition began that he’d be happy just to finish KOTA in one piece and, while we all know how outstanding a freestyle rider he is, few people had him earmarked for the podium.
However, he just kept gaining pace and taking names as the heats progressed. Huge kung fu handlepasses, massive late megaloop backrolls and a barrage of well-executed, freestyle influenced big-air moves made him hard to deal with and he was taking out riders who could well have been expected to reach the final rounds.
The final heat of round four saw Gijs Wassenar scrub out of the event as Kevin continued his relentless rise back up the table by beating Aaron. Aaron’s faltering at this crucial stage of the event threw everything into doubt. Was this the first sign that Kevin was finally about to equal Aaron’s two KOTA titles?
As the semis rolled around the beach was in fever pitch. The wind had begun to waver a little as Jesse and Lewis rolled out for what would be a very tight heat and, although it was hard to call from the beach, Lewis took the win.
Rather than being elated, he was visibly displeased at the conditions and had signalled to the judges during the heat that he didn’t feel the wind was up to scratch. He elaborated on that afterwards, voicing his frustration, but he was through to his first ever KOTA final as Jesse ‘the Flyin’ Hawaiian’ called it a day.
The next heat was huge as Aaron faced up against Kevin for the most pivotal heat of the event up to that point. These ultra-experienced competitors have ridden against each other so many times but Kevin was going bigger from the off and put together a more polished display as Aaron struggled with more technical manoeuvres. This was to be Kevin’s day.
Aaron exiting the event here was massive and the line-up for the three man final would be Kevin vs Lewis vs Liam. There’s no denying that any rider can cause an upset at KOTA and most competitors who make it past round two are capable of reaching the finals if things go their way but Liam making it that far on his first ever KOTA was something nobody had expected. To not see Aaron there was yet another huge surprise.
This was where Kevin would rise to the occasion. Lewis was surgical, clean and controlled, throwing textbook megaloop variations that were fully befitting of a KOTA final and Liam was irrepressible, even landing a huge pass to blind in the dying seconds – something never seen before at KOTA. However, it might have been partly down to his choice of a delta over a C-kite, or it might be thanks to his experience in the Cape Town conditions, but Kevin was untouchable. Huge loops, massive rotations, lots of variation and no mistakes – Kevin was leaving nothing to chance.
There could be little doubt coming off the water. Surely he’d done enough. It didn’t stop the beach going wild once the announcement was made though and the look of relief, pride and joy on Kevin’s face as the news came through was unmistakable!
KOTA is an event that divides opinion every year with its result but nobody can deny that Kevin deserved the crown this year. In a sport where riding to the conditions is key if you want to do well in competition, and at an event where amplitude, execution and overall impression are what counts, nobody could come close to him yesterday. Congrats Kev!
Catch up on all of yesterday’s livestream action here.