We break down last season’s biggest hitters
This feature first appeared in KW # 97 in January 2019
2018 was a big year on the competition circuit with two freestyle World Championships going on, the GKA Kite-Surf World Tour, a multitude of elite foil racing championships and the highly competitive Kite Park League to boot.
With this year’s competition calendar now rolling, it’s time to take a look back at 2018’s top performers to find out which riders to watch in 2019!
Words: Matt Pearce
GKA KITE-SURF WORLD TOUR
Airton Cozzolino underlined how deadly a force of nature he is by taking his second GKA Kite-Surf World Title, winning five out of the season’s seven events. He took on all comers during a busy season in which riders had to display a solid level in both waves and strapless freestyle to even get near the podium. Airton came into 2018 aiming for a perfect season and, while he had to make do with one second place finish to Matchu Lopes in Portugal and third place at the final round in Australia, he certainly came close!
Close to unbeatable in strapless freestyle and a top class wave rider, Airton may have started out on the little Cape Verdean island of Sal, but he’s putting his marker down worldwide.
Last year Jalou Langeree took her third World Title. The Dutch star’s wave riding level is unquestionable, but in order to secure title she had a big challenge, as the KSWT is a mixed event series looking for the most all-round wave board rider, which now includes both strapless freestyle and wave events.
In wave-focused events she regularly faced-off against Moona Whyte for the top spot, but it soon became clear that freestyle would be key if she was to take the overall title. Like the seasoned competitor she is, she rose to the occasion and won the penultimate stop of the year in Brazil – a 100% strapless freestyle event – to bring herself back into World Title contention.
She secured it with convincing victory in Australia and, although she admitted she’d love to have taken on Moona (who was out with a back injury) one last time, there was no doubt that she deserved the win and her first KSWT Title. Jalou’s not committing to the full tour this year, which is now called the GKA Kite-Surf World Cup as a part of the GKA Kite World Tour, but she may well attend a few of the wave events so watch this space.
Follow the tour at: www.gkakiteworldtour.com
WKC AND GKA AIR GAMES
At just 14-years-old it’s no surprise that parallels are already being drawn between this Brazilian and the most successful female freestyle competitor to date – Gisela Pulido.
In 2018, Mika won her first two full World Tours (she’d already won four junior titles before her 14th birthday) and stamped her authority on the freestyle competition scene. On the newly born GKA Air Games tour, Mika duelled with her Duotone teammate Hannah Whiteley throughout the season, but the youngster’s insane technical ability, coupled with a rapidly expanding big air trick bag, made her impossible to beat.
She was similarly unbeatable on the WKC (World Kiteboarding Championship) tour and became the first ever woman to land a double heart attack at the final event in Brazil, scoring a perfect ten in the process.
It’s mind blowing to imagine how good she could be in five years, when she’ll still be just 19!
Already a two time back-to-back freestyle World Champion coming into 2018, Carlos ‘Bebe’ Mario is another Brazilian who had an almost perfect 2018. Like Mika, he showed just how well-rounded a rider he is by claiming both freestyle World Championships that were on offer.
Technically, most of his competitors hail him as probably the most gifted freestyler to have picked up a kite, but at the start of the year a few commentators had questioned how well he’d crossover to hooked-in, high-angle tricks on the GKA Air Games. It’s not common knowledge, but he’d apparently never done a board-off before the first event in Tarifa, but after coming second to Jesse Richman he adjusted his sights and from then on he was untouchable.
It looks like he’s got a taste for going big, having bagged himself a place at the Red Bull King of the Air 2019. Next year’s GKA Freestyle Championship is set to feature some extra big air events, as well as four guaranteed pure unhooked freestyle events – so he’s going to be the man to beat once again.
The World Kiteboarding Championship has now come under the GKA’s wings and the WKC and the Air Games will now merge as one tour: the GKA Freestyle World Cup. This new series of events will become a part of the GKA Kite World Tour.
KITE PARK LEAGUE
The heavy-hitter from Hood River! Brandon stormed his way through this year’s KPL tour, winning the first two events and taking third at the final stop, the Kite Mansion Open in Icapui, Brazil.
The ever-increasing level on the tour didn’t make it easy for him, with a talented field of younger riders, like Noé Font and Ewan Jaspan as well as two-time tour winner Sam Light to deal with, but Brandon’s inimitable full-power kicker riding, combined with ultra-bendy steeze on the sliders gave him the edge.
In the process, at 33 he became the oldest rider at to win the Wind Voyager Triple-S Invitational, one of the most legendary events in kiteboarding.
After a break from competition in 2017, the three-time PKRA Freestyle World Champion and reigning KPL tour winner made an unreal comeback, winning all three 2018 KPL events.
Having seamlessly transferred her highly technical freestyle level to the park, the Pole had to regularly battle against experienced park specialists, like Hood River locals Colleen Carroll and Sensi Graves, while also seeing off challenges from talented newcomers, American Kate Potter and Spaniard Julia Castro, who took second overall after a super-consistent season.
Karolina’s kite park performance is all the more impressive because she’s not totally focused on one discipline. A super-stylish freeride foiler, she’s turning her hand to coaching clinics while also developing her own signature products with Slingshot.
No sanctioned ‘World Championship’ crowns on offer from the KPL – just pure, core credibility!
After a brief break from the racing scene last year, during which he stepped into the business world (launching a bottled water company if you’re wondering), Maxime Nocher exploded back onto the circuit in 2018, taking the overall KFGC win and, in doing so, his 11th World Title at the Sardinia Grand Slam in October.
He’s a hardened competitor with more titles to his name than any other male kite racer and his tactics out on the water have often earned him praise, but also a few choice words from other riders at the front of the pack. His skill and tenacity out on the course is undeniable and when he’s on form he’s extremely hard to beat.
He was robbed of a clean slate of wins by fellow frenchman, Nico Parlier (with whom he shares a fairly bitter rivalry it must be said), but he’s built on his weaknesses and shown a lot of improvement in stronger winds. Rest assured, he’ll be dangerous in 2019.
Kirstyn O’Brien, an American rider who spends much of the year in the Dominican Republic, took her first tour win on the 2018 KiteFoil GoldCup, attending all three completed events.
Perhaps due to the high volume of foil racing events going on throughout the year, the KFGC women’s fleet was missing a few key figures at some competitions and the fourth and final event’s cancellation meant riders would have no discard. This meant Kirstyn was able to amass a lead on points having not missed a single event, which secured her the overall title at the end of the Sardinia Grand Slam.
Coming from a family of kitesurfers, no doubt this will be a coveted trophy in the O’Brien household and we’re sure to see competition intensify on all the racing tours next year with the Olympics now on the horizon.
Run by the IKA, The KiteFoil GoldCup is sanctioned to crown a ‘World Champion’. Being ratified by World Sailing, points from the tour count towards an overall world ranking, which plays a big part in whether or not a racer might one day earn a spot at the Olympics. The KFGC follows ‘class rules’ similar what will most likely be in place at the Olympics when foil racing makes its debut there in 2024.
HYDROFOIL PRO TOUR
What a year it was for Guy Bridge. The middle sibling in the Bridge family came into his own in 2018 with a series of high profile wins across the season. He took his first HydroFoil Pro Tour overall victory at the final event in Montpellier, which he won after placing no lower than third all season.
Older brother Olly and 2017 champion Nico Parlier pushed Guy all the way, but the young Brit’s consistency won out in the end and he backed up his HFPT performance by winning the European Championships and came second at the Worlds.
Although his focus is racing, he balances that by being highly proficient across a range of disciplines; also ripping in waves and has been racking up some of the biggest jumps in Europe over the winter (but brother Olly jumped the highest – 28.5 metres!).
While it doesn’t offer contributions to World Sailing’s world points ranking, the HydroFoil Pro Tour remains a firm favourite among riders as a standalone tour with no limits on equipment. Show up… and be fast!
WORLD SAILING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Nico started the 2018 season while still recovering from a broken wrist which had kept him off the water over the winter, so he had a slow start at his opening event, the HFPT La Ventana. However, a strong recovery saw him win his third World Championship Title alongside Dani Moroz in August, where he won the majority of the heats in the midst of relentless challenges from the Bridge brothers.
The immensely rapid Frenchman wrapped up his season by denying Maxime Nocher a clean sweep at the KiteFoil GoldCup title, by beating him in a hotly contested final race at the Sardinia Grand Slam. Nico even managed to fit in some off-water success too, by coaching Robbie Douglas from the US to victory at the KiteSpeed World Championships 2018 in Oman!
HYDROFOIL PRO TOUR AND WORLD SAILING
The fastest woman in foil racing? That’s a bold claim, but it’s one Dani could make at this stage (although we’re pretty sure ‘claiming’s’ not her style). The 17 year-old American has now won the HydroFoil Pro Tour three times and still managed to juggle training with her high school studies back home in California.
No female racers were able to come close to Dani at last year’s HFPT events, so she went seeking competition further afield, winning her third World Title at the World Champs in Denmark with 15 wins from 17 races, not long after destroying the field at the European Champs in July with 13 wins out of 14 races. She even managed to fit in a couple of KiteFoil GoldCup events, both of which she won convincingly and, at the final KFGC event of the year in Sardinia, she finished 13th overall among the men in a tough mixed fleet.
The next event on the horizon for Dani is stop one of the HFPT 2019 in La Ventana, Mexico. She’s been down there training over the winter and you can expect her to fire out of the gates once again this year!
The one-off Formula Kite World Sailing Championship events don’t form part of a wider tour, but they’re essential for riders looking to build up their World Sailing points and employ the same racing format and rules on equipment as those that will also feature at the Olympics.