Arise King Nick – ruler of the skies in 2017
As the sun set on Big Bay last night an amassed crowd watched a showdown of epic proportions as the reigning champion, Aaron Hadlow, battled to defend his crown against lifelong friend Ruben Lenten and the big-air specialist Nick Jacobsen. King of The Air is an event that inspires great debate and stirs up passions among kiteboarders the world over and, with Ruben eliminated early from the finals heat with a well deserved third place, not a word of speculation or dissent could be heard when the Nick’s win was announced.
Nick Jacobsen doesn’t describe himself as a competitor and, in many ways, his cool, calm and expressive riding style doesn’t lend itself well to competition riding but when he broke out a huge megaloop front roll one footer, a trick never seen before in competition, in the semi finals it became clear that the marauding Dane had his eyes set on the Englishman’s crown. He rode smoothly and consistently throughout his heats, always going big close in to the beach and, if the crowd’s response alone was anything to go by, he truly was the peoples’ favourite this year.
Nick Jacobsen storming towards victory
Many had speculated that Aaron, the reigning champion, might have made it three from three and throughout the earlier rounds and the semi finals he delivered a relentless barrage of big megaloops, tricks in both directions and, of course, the much vaunted megaloop KGB which he later admitted he’d almost been surprised to land in the challenging conditions. He retained his usual poise and focus right up to the finals but, in failing light and variable conditions and with little rest after his semi finals heat, he didn’t manage to put together quite as polished a display as Nick and it looked as though he’d become sucked in to trying to stick yet another powered pass close into shore but he just couldn’t quite make it happen. Rumours abounded on the lead up to the event that Aaron would be retiring from King of The Air should he win for a third time but, when interviewed by KW associate editor Matt Pearce (who was part of the livestream commentary team alongside KW editor Jim Gaunt) at the end of his heat, he expressed in no uncertain terms his plans to return to the KOTA battlegrounds in 2018 in an effort to regain his crown!
Aaron Hadlow fully committed
An ongoing spectacle throughout the event that rivaled even the final itself was Ruben Lenten’s epic return to competitive kiteboarding! He’s been through a lot in the last 18 months during his battle against cancer but rode like a man possessed throughout the competition and the crowd’s reception as he stormed through his heats, and the reactions on social media, underpinned how much of a legend he really is in the eyes of the international kiteboarding community. Ruben has been known to let pressure get to him in previous KOTAs and, if that was ever going to happen again, then it wouldn’t have been surprising in an event like this year’s King of The Air with its screaming crowd and livestream coverage on Red Bull TV. That never happened though and, even when a line tangle on the beach lost him valuable time with his heat already running, he focused on the matter at hand only letting the emotions show when he found out he had won his heat in the semis and was through to the finals. The posse of riders who leapt into action to help sort his lines before Aaron simply handed him his own kite underlines quite how happy the crowd and the other competitors were to see him back in the mix once more.
Ruben breathing deep and collecting his thoughts
It would be easy to get caught up in the white hot heat of the final but we saw a dazzling display from a truly international fleet of riders throughout the heats. Reno Romeo could well have been expected to secure a place in the finals and took a tactical approach throughout the earlier heats, preferring to wait for quality kickers to be sure of getting the most out of each trick. He was just edged out in round four by Ruben and Nick though while fellow North team rider, Lewis Crathern, was clearly not letting his crash in last year’s KOTA influence him at and he combined high handlepasses with huge megaloops and boogieloops all while putting in a sterling effort on the mic as one of the event commentators in between heats before being beaten in the semis by Nick, the eventual winner. While disappointed not to make it into the final he did score the WOO Jump of the day award for his 19.4 metre boost and he said he felt the €1000 prize was an adequate consolation prize! Local rider Oswald Smith was another rider with high hopes for the competition this year and his ultra-powerful ‘no holds barred’ approach shone through from his first heat as he threw himself bodily into trick after trick. A heavy slam in round four, in which he was eliminated, would see him limping back up the beach but his hard-charging style didn’t go unrewarded and his outrageous kung-fu handlepass earned him the Mystic Move of The Day award.
Big Akkie sending it!
The large contingent of Dutch riders that this event attracts was out in force and Steven Akkserdijk, who’d made the change from boots to straps for the event alongside fellow Dutchie Lasse Walker, adapted his riding perfectly to the conditions choosing to take out a 10m Core GTS4 on short lines which enabled him to throw some truly critical looking megaloops with the kite passing well below him. Lasse, or Lasse Skywalker as his fans’ banner lauded him, was another rider who overcame a trip to the emergency room at last year’s KOTA and progressed solidly through the heats with some super-powered loops until he met Aaron, a rider whose level of experience he couldn’t quite match, in the semis.
One thing that this year’s event highlighted is just how varied big air riding has become. Numerous riders combined technicality, variation and risk to fulfill the judging criteria and it’s clear that some riders believe the real art of big air lies more in one of those factors. However, what’s interesting is that technical tricks did not take the day this year. Aaron executed one of the cleanest megaloop KGBs we’ve ever seen, a trick that some felt shouldn’t have won him the crown last year, but ultimately it was the wow factor and overall impression of Nick’s riding, combined with a far more classic big air trick not seen before, which secured him the win.
Graham Howes the Cape Town shredder on his home turf!
With its widely viewed livestream coverage, screaming crowd and amphitheater-esque setting it’s no wonder that riders focus on it throughout the year and it’s anyone’s guess what competitor will have to come up with to win next year’s event. Can the envelope be pushed further? Can technical unhooked tricks become more advanced at greater height and when combined with powered loops or will the more classic big air tricks, a style of riding that will suit Kevin Langeree far better if and when he returns to KOTA next year, prevail? Speculation is rife but the riders always keep you guessing and we can’t wait to watch the 2018 KOTA unfold!
Images – Red Bull Content Pool
1 Nick Jacobsen
2 Aaron Hadlow
3 Ruben Lenten
4 Lewis Crathern
4 Steven Akkersdijk
4 Lasse Walker
7 Oswald Smith
7 Reno Romeu
7 Jerrie Van de Kop
10 Graham Howes
10 Gijs Wassenaar
10 Willem Van der Meij