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Welcome to ‘Pre-Game Talk’ a blog series from North that follows their riders as they prepare both mentally and physically for the most hardcore event on the kiteboarding calendar; the Red Bull King Of The Air. Kicking off pt.1 is current reigning champion Aaron Hadlow. 2017’s event will be his 4th consecutive year, and with two King of the Air titles to defend there’s no doubt that the pressure is on!

How do you think your riding and style impresses the judges?

I listen and work out what works best for the criteria. I definitely have my vision of extreme kiteboarding and at the moment it works hand in hand with the event. I try to push and do a bit of everything from straight big jumps/rotations, to the biggest most technical kite loop, and finally I have a kite loop handle pass that seems to be a high scorer. I’m of the view that risk is the biggest factor. I know many people are all about the height and I think it is important, but at this level everyone can jump big and I will add it to my heat but focus on other things.content_red_bull_-_aaron

What do you do to prepare for the event?

I start off by spending some time in Cape Town before the event. The wind is unique and intense so you have to acclimatise. For me it’s all about fitness, gym sessions and time on the water. It’s the best prep for the event.

How do you ease yourself into this extreme style of riding, and what tips can you give to people wanting to progress into big air?

The first thing any kiteboarder tries is a straight jump, so it’s all about getting the timing perfect and gaining confidence. It is important to have great kite flying skills and control over the kite. Then working out how to land softly is key in order to avoid big crashes. Then you just step up to the conditions you can handle and gain confidence along the way.

Have you been riding with other competitors in the event, and how does this inspire or motivate you?

I like to ride with a few mates that do the event. I’ve been riding with Lewis and Ruben for years, way before the KOTA, so it’s only natural that we focus on the same style of extreme riding and push each other on the water. It is also nice to have such confident riders out there with you. The conditions are intense and when you are pushing it, you need to be watching over each other.content_ah_pre_gameDo you also take time in the lead up to the competition to mentally prepare yourself?

No. I try not to think about it and just deal with it on the day. The thing is, anything can happen. The conditions can be different so all the preparation comes on the water. Feeling fit and confident in my equipment gets me mentally ready by itself.

How do you contain the adrenaline and do you have any tips on how to use it to your advantage.

To be honest it takes over in a competition. I remember being so down and out of it after seeing Lewis crash last year, and I had to go into a final! I shook it off and committed myself 100%, no hesitation. After the first trick I was back in my zone, comfortable (despite the 40 knots) and doing what I do best, the adrenaline just fuels you.

What gear will you be riding this year?

Vegas and Hadlow Edition board.content_ah_pre_game_2What are your thoughts on the Vegas this year? 

I have a lot of confidence in this kite. It boosts huge and gives me predictable loops. I know the equipment inside out and how to squeeze the most out of it so it makes total sense.

 How is it performing this year compared to last?

The kite drives through the window faster which means you can feel the extra lift the kite is producing as you jump. In loops the kite is collecting you quicker giving you more control. It has definitely improved across all disciplines this year and noticeably so in big air.

What tips do you have for people when setting up the Vegas for big air riding.

It really depends on your style but I would say the standard big air set up would be medium power and steering, combined with 22m Trust Bar. I prefer the Wakestyle Bar as the smaller bar gives the kite a more progressive turn for kite loops and loading of the jumps. It’s hard to set this kite up wrong, it boosts regardless!

Boots or straps? 

I ride in boots as I have so much more control over my board in the intense ocean and conditions. I can also take harder landings. The risk is way more as you cannot escape a move that has gone wrong. Some people prefer board offs, but for me this is a thing of the past and extreme kiteboarding can still be progressed and pushed forward in other ways, but that is just personal preference.

Good luck Aaron. We hope to see you crowned King once again!

Photo credits: Red Bull Content Pool . Toby Bromwich

Still on top after all these years, kiteboarding’s child prodigy looks back at the early years on tour and the importance of a strong competitive compass in the first half of an unfolding lifelong career in kiteboarding. Read Aaron’s featured story in the fall 2016 issue of Tkb.