Final wrap-up Qatar Airways GKA Big Air
World Championships

Report: Jim Gaunt / Photos: Samuel Cardenas / Videos: Julien Leleu
Additional clips: Tom Court / Drone: Sebastian Lang

Running from 20th June – 6th July, Tarifa, in the southern Spanish state of Andalusia, played host to the Qatar Airways Big Air World Championships – the first standalone Big Air World Championships in kiteboarding that would host the TWIN-TIP, STRAPLESS and emerging HYDROFOIL disciplines at the same event

SEE MORE FROM THE EXPO IN THIS VIDEO: 

LOCATION: TARIFA, SPAIN

At the southernmost point in Spain, Tarifa holds an extraordinary place in wind sports history.

From windsurfing taking over the scene in the 70s and 80s through to the dominance of kiteboarding that emerged in the early 2000s. This town eats, sleeps and breathes kiteboarding. As well as being home to some of the world’s best riders, the high streets in town are lined with kiteboarding shops, schools and related businesses.

For kiting tourists the typically, tight and interconnecting cobbled streets, lined with old white-washed buildings in the old town that are centuries old are undoubtedly an important part of the lure.

There is no doubt, however, that Tarifa’s decade long draw for wind sports addicts are the wind conditions.

Tarifa is certainly among the world’s best kiteboarding locations when it comes to planning for a one-off world championship in which the desire is to go big.

This one-off Big Air World Championship was also the first event since the GKA Kite World Tour partnered with their new headline sponsor, Qatar Airways, on a three-year deal to help push kitesports to new heights and new locations.

Thanks to the extra support, the GKA hosted its first Kite Expo, attracting kiteboarders from all over the world to meet the pro teams and get their hands on the industry’s latest equipment.

AWARDS

The third and final component run by the GKA during this huge event in Tarifa was their very first Awards night which took place on the first Saturday in the almost three-week competition window. 

On an exciting and star-studded evening, 300 industry representatives, riders and special guests came together to celebrate some of the finest achievements in kiteboarding.

Confirming their incredible performances over the last 12 months, two riders claimed the evening’s top awards. 

17-year-old Brazilian Mikaili Sol, the current and four-time Freestyle World Champion, walked away with the Women’s Best Move and Rider of the Year Award. 

On the men’s side, Dutch rider Giel Vlugt sealed what has been a meteoric emergence onto the scene by claiming both awards, too. 

12-year-old Finn Flugal grabbed the Rookie of the Year award while Mauritius’ ripper Willow-River Tonkin rightfully claimed the Social Contribution of the Year award. (Look out for our BTS video dropping soon!)

QATAR AIRWAYS GKA BIG AIR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

MEN’S HYDROFOIL: 

1 Charles Brodel (FRA) World Champion  

2 Jamie Overbeek (NED)

3 Maxime Chabloz (SUI)

HYDROFOIL BIG AIR

Of course, the main business of the event was the Big Air World Championships. Hydrofoil kiteboarding is the fastest growing discipline in the sport at the moment and the dynamic efficiency of the equipment means that the intensity of the wind speeds felt by the riders is magnified compared to those on more regular twin-tips or surfboards. 

Essentially, the hydrofoils need less wind to start going big!

A 25-knot Poniente wind powered these world championship contenders for an incredible show on day six of the 16-day event window. 

As big air hydrofoiling is still such a new discipline, according to the entry guidelines, just seven riders reached the required standard for this first World Championship event. These are the riders setting the bedrock in this emerging sector of competitive big air kiteboarding. 

The day’s leading performers made it through to the final.

Frenchman Charles Brodel is the reigning GKA Hydrofoil Freestyle World Champion, having claimed that title at the end of the 2021 season in Fortaleza, Brazil. Charles would face a young 16-year-old Dutch competitor, one of only four riders who qualified to compete in two disciplines at this World Championships. 

Jamie Overbeek is a bright talent who has an incredible connection with his kite in big air conditions and would also appear later in these championships in the twin-tip division.

As reigning world champion, Brodel may have been the favorite for the title going into this final, but Overbeek was awarded the only maximum ten-point score in the entire hydrofoil competition, which came during his round three match-up against GKA rookie of the year, Finn Flugel. 

The intricate dynamics of any sort of kite loop variation played out in dramatic fashion for Tarifa’s enthusiastic spectators as this was the first event that such manoeuvres had been performed by hydrofoilers in competition. 

Jamie earned his ten-point score from what was already a radical boogie loop, but on the way down he hooked into one of Tarifa’s infamous ‘thermal bubbles’ and rode out a long hangtime flight with extreme control. That manoeuvre certainly combined the height and extremity factors that the judges were looking to see combined!

Charles Brodel once again proved to be the year’s biggest sensation in powerful, radical, big air hydrofoil kiteboarding. He held his nerve and put on an exciting performance that balanced powerful kite loops with pure air style throughout.

One of the sporting world’s emerging great all-rounders, Maxime Chabloz is currently a Freeride Ski World Champion, is the GKA Kite World Tour Freestyle Vice World Champion & also competes on the GWA’s Wingfoil World Tour. The Swiss rider finished third here in Tarifa, with Alex Soto from the Dominican Republic in 4th.

MANOEUVRES

The twin-tip Big Air discipline has been rocked by a small handful of young riders in the last year. Their close bond and competitive bravery have seen the breathtaking single kite loop in super strong winds evolve into two loops of the kite. 

Double the wow factor brings twice the risk of the kite not catching the rider on landing. However, as this new wave of athletes has evolved their riding style alongside the more responsive handling of today’s equipment, pushing the limits seems to be the only way they wish to ride. 

Big Air kiteboarding competition now requires a complex mix of bravery alongside immense aerial awareness and kite control.   

The men’s Twin-Tip division was the biggest fleet at the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air World Championships. Amongst the 24 riders were more World Champions, Red Bull King of the Air winners and sporting icons than had ever amassed at a single event. 

The question remained though–could this new breed of young and progressive riders hold their nerve while competing against the very athletes who inspired them to fly high with a kite?

MEN’S TWIN-TIP

This event was groundbreaking in many ways, but as the sport’s biggest names were toppled by the teenagers and new-school big air specialists, this was confirmation of a changing guard at the competitive cutting edge.

Riders like Aaron Hadlow, Jesse Richman, Kevin Langeree and Nick Jacobsen blazed the trail at events like the Red Bull King of the Air and they lit the sport up, setting the groundwork for this discipline to really come alive for the first time since 2014. Even they admitted admiration of how the likes of Andrea Principi, Lorenzo Casati, Luca Ceruti and Giel Vlugt have propelled this discipline to radical new extremes in recent months. 

Of the legends, two-time King of the Air Jesse Richman made it furthest to round four, where he came unstuck against Italian Casati. 

Among his scalps on the way to the final, Andrea Principi blasted current King of the Air Marc Jacobs out of the competition in round three, and then in the quarter-finals hopped confidently past another up-and-comer, Evan Klijn, from the Netherlands, who had just run out of steam. 

Principi’s semi-final against the newly crowned GKA Rider of the Year, Giel Vlugt, was a super tense duel with two of the boldest big air riders of their generation locking horns. When Vlugt took a stiff impact from a double loop attempt, Principi already had a points lead and seemed to sportingly ease off on the trick attempts as his destiny was set. 

As the horn blew for the final he met local Tarifa hero Liam Whaley, 2016 World Champion and winner of Cold Hawaii, an event that took place in Denmark last year, which is widely hailed as the windiest and therefore most extreme single event that ever ran. Both riders gave their all, matching enormous height with radical kite loops, trading blow for blow, but when Andrea came in to switch kites to a faster turning design in the last two minutes, the drama intensified. 

Using up valuable moments, Liam decided to come in and do the same. Everyone on the beach knew this was all about rolling the dice on attempting to throw the biggest double loops we’d ever seen… but was there enough time? Andrea was first back on the water and his stars were aligned. He landed an incredible boogie double mega loop with immense control and was awarded a perfect 10. Liam hustled in an attempt of his own in the dying moments, but couldn’t match the Italian’s poise, who had leapfrogged him to a points lead in the heat, earning him the World Championship crown.

QATAR AIRWAYS GKA BIG AIR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

MEN’S TWIN TIP RESULTS: 

1 Andrea Principi (ITA) World Champion 

2 Liam Whaley (ESP) 

3 Giel Vlugt (NED)

WOMEN’S TWIN-TIP

The women’s twin-tip division saw 12 of the leading riders come together on this new big air journey. Up to now the focus of elite female kiteboarders has been on pure unhooked freestyle but inspired by the promise of this huge World Championship event we saw established freestyle riders like, Bruna Kajiya and Mikaili Sol, both of whom have multiple World titles under their belt, cross-over into this new arena.

Coming into the event, everyone already had their eyes on a clutch of women who have been pushing the big air scene, including Zara Hoogenraad from the Netherlands and Hannah Whiteley from the UK. 

The most notable rider in the pack, however, was France’s Angely Bouillot, who has twice qualified as the only woman to compete against the men in the prestigious Red Bull King of the Air. 

Despite landing a huge back roll mega loop in round one, the highest individual trick score of the whole event at 9.67, Angely’s progress in the competition was cut short in round two, losing to her French counterpart, Johanna Disdier, as both ladies scrapped for points under pressure. 

As in the men’s division, the big names started to tumble, but it was clear that, for many, the competitive rivalry among the women at this event was as much about progressing the level of riding as a group, rather than specific solo glory. 

Lining up in the final, Zara Hoogenraad had proved herself as an immense force in the big air discipline, but she would be up against one of the most prodigious talents that kiteboarding has ever seen. 

17-year-old Brazilian, Mikaili Sol, has won four back-to-back Freestyle world titles and also won her first strapless world cup event in Brazil last year. For her, kiteboarding just seems so natural and she’s adapted to the trials of big air with frightening ease. 

In the end, Mikaili’s extra competitive experience saw her calmly control her emotions on the water and clinch her fifth world title, doing so by landing the first boogie loop in competition by a female rider. 

Off the water, her excitement poured out.

QATAR AIRWAYS GKA BIG AIR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN’S TWIN TIP RESULTS: 

1 Mikaili Sol (BRA) World Champion 

2 Zara Hoogenraad (NED)

3 Nathalie Lambrecht (SWE)

HIGHLIGHTS: WOMEN'S TWIN-TIP & STRAPLESS MEN & WOMEN

WOMEN’S STRAPLESS

The final disciplines to come were the men’s and women’s strapless. Going big is just part of the challenge, but doing so without foot straps adds a seemingly impossible extra dimension. 

In the women’s competition, a young French rider fulfilled the promise she’s shown ever since her debut on the GKA Kite World Tour in 2018. Still only 16, Capucine Delannoy pushed the progressive riding levels at this event with technical front rolls and varied combinations throughout… and rightly now holds a World Championship title. 

QATAR AIRWAYS GKA BIG AIR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN’S STRAPLESS RESULTS: 

1 Capucine Delannoy (FRA) World Champion 

2 Camille Losserand (SUI)

3 Mikaili Sol (BRA)

MEN’S STRAPLESS

In the men’s division, the story of the day came from a Brazilian making his competitive debut. Gabriel Benetton took everyone by surprise, even despatching the current World Champion, James Carew, in the quarter-finals. 

In the final, there was however little he could do against the man who has time and again pushed the boundaries of strapless kiteboarding. Airton Cozzolino simply blew minds once more with another breathtaking display of high energy and technical mastery throughout the competition.

QATAR AIRWAYS GKA BIG AIR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

MEN’S STRAPLESS RESULTS: 

1 Airton Cozzolino (ITA) World Champion 

2 Gabriele Benetton (BRA)

3 Lorenzo Casati (ITA)

THAT’S A WRAP!

After an incredible two-week competition period in Tarifa, five new GKA Big Air World Champions were crowned. Look out for future big air events on the Qatar Airways GKA Kite World Tour. Find out more about the upcoming Freestyle and Wave / strapless freestyle events planned in the 2022 GKA Kite World Tour calendar, here. 

 

www.gkakiteworldtour.com

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