The first order of Monday’s dawn raid was to take care of the remaining women’s single elimination semi-final between Champion-elect Mikaili Sol and Pauline Valesa; Sol needing just this heat win to be assured of the Championship (on better count-backs than her closest rival Hannah Whiteley), come what may in the final and then the double elimination.
It’s a challenge in itself to ride at your best at 6.30am, let alone when your first World Championship counts on it. Managing the mind of a 13 year-old can be difficult on many levels, but the Swiss 6x snowkiting World Champion and youth coach of excellence, Fabio Ingrosso, said that Mika was already up at4.30am and came to wake him; a change from the distracted talent he was trying to keep focused in Sunday’s stop / start heats with up and down winds.
The strong forecast held true and delivered nature’s payback after a windless round one in Leucate. Riders would fully let loose and fly.
After calmly testing the waters and her gear for a few minutes, coach Fabio’s final words to his young student were, “Show me the real Mika Sol.” She nodded, swang her kite towards the horizon and got down to business, setting the tone for what would be seven hours of back-to-back heats in which the full men’s and women’s double elimination ladders ran to completion and closed the season out.
Pauline and Mika are two of the slightest athletes on tour and French rider Pauline took the longest to adjust to the strong 28 – 32 knot conditions, having the bar ripped roughly out of her hands early on while trying to build handle-pass scores. Mika meanwhile landed a slim 5 before safely compiling a couple of solid kite loop scores. On Fabio’s signal Mika was in for a slick pit-stop, upping her kite size to a nine metre and grabbing her foot-strapped board. Nailing the double front board-off on her first attempt she was safely ahead with five good tricks to two.
Red flag up: she was a 13 year-old World Champion, but there was little fanfare. If she went on to win the final against Hannah she’d be guaranteed a clear points gap with no count-backs necessary.
Hannah Whiteley has found that this mixed Air Games format perfectly suits her robust style of riding. The northwest of England is blustery and cold and can deliver every imaginable wind condition. Hers is therefore a committed style but she will have to wait until next season to “beat that little grom” from Brazil (as she affectionately calls the rider who is half her own age).
Mika went on to maintain a 100% heat victory record this season – eventually beating Hannah once again in the double elimination final later in the day. Hannah retains the second position she’s held all year and walks away from this tour with a strong training goal.
“I’ve realized that this is my dream tour that pulls all aspects together. I will be fully focused to be as ready as I can be for 2019. Bring on the Cape Town training!”
Credits also go to third place finisher, Dutch rider Pippa van Iersel who has made a big impact with her huge kite loops, powerful passes and strong vision for how she wants to represent female riding. You’ll be seeing lots of her in the coming year.
MEN’S DOUBLE ELIMINATION:
Chomping at the bit to get into action, the men’s first double elimination heats started with those riders who took the earliest exits from the single elimination in vastly different conditions. The second elimination offers the chance for a rider to heroically march their way back up the ladder.
In the midst of the men lurked a King of the Air specialist and it was time to shine for Lewis Crathern.
Gaining fortune from a couple of heat byes, Lewis found himself projected up the ladder to face Dominican shredder Luis Alberto Cruz in heat #28A. Luis V Lewis was a fantastic heat and at 33 years-of-age Lewis is the oldest rider on the tour and showed that in high wind experience counts.
Stacking each of his heats, he loaded the judge’s tablets with technical but flowing boogie loops (mega loops with a front roll) kite loop late back rolls, super controlled double front roll board-offs (not using the handle), high kung-fu passes and a couple of super powered back mobes. He progressed through five heats back-to-back and found himself suddenly having a potential say in the World Championship, lining up against Jesse Richman.
At this point the focus of the story switches from Lewis to Jesse as the Hawaiian hit the water fully charged to launch his assault on a third world title. As he launched his kite on the beach he hooted characteristically, seemingly without a care in the world and stoked on the power in his kite. His enthusiasm is infectious and spread wildly as we closed in on the moment that the first ‘Air Games’ World Champion would be crowned.
Jesse opened up his account with a huge boogie loop followed by a massive triple front roll off a kicker with each body rotation totally inverted. Within seconds he’d also landed a kung fu high handle-pass, already completing a high scoring trick in each of the three categories. Lewis was also registering good scores but was clearly a little more worn. After three tricks each there was already a sizeable eight point gap. Jesse looked ultra fresh and stomped a huge kite loop board-off; a relatively new move that’s handsomely rewarded and richly deserved.
After the heat Lewis said, “I thought I had an advantage as I was well warmed up but Jesse did everything and I didn’t know he literally had the kite loop board-off in the bag like that!”
Jesse faced Aaron Hadlow next in a huge heat of few mistakes. Quality and size evidently mattered over quantity and there was no margin for error with both riders getting the highest heat scores of the contest so far. Jesse prevailed with a whopping 27.64 to Aaron’s 25.93. Jesse’s overall impression score of 4.7 out of 5 was second only to his previous heat score of 4.8.
He was nearing Air Games perfection.
One competitor remained and we were gifted a winner-takes-all season showdown. If Carlos Mario won another final he and Jesse would finish the tour on equal points, but Carlos would win on count-backs having won more times than Jesse. If Jesse won (and he’d have to beat Carlos twice as he won the single elimination), the Hawaiian would have an overall points lead.
If we weren’t already aware of Carlos’ natural talent, he was the only rider who didn’t warm up on the water at all. His first heat was the final and he went straight from launching his kite to the competition area and was tricking with dry hair. He was born ready to kite…
Very different in their styles, experience and preferred conditions, Jesse on paper was more at home as a King of the Air winner, so decided to hit Carlos where it hurt early on with a massive kite loop board-off; a move that as yet we’ve not seen the Brazilian attempt. Jesse looked good all the way into landing but caught an edge in the white water and drifted away from his board.
Carlos pounced, returning the favour and showed that he’s about more than just new school technicality, launching a solid kite loop with a late back roll. Jesse was up and riding again and tried the same trick again, failing again by catching a nasty bit of chop and no doubt expending energy and flow in his mind.
The Hawaiian did get back on track and gained momentum towards the end of the heat but by then Carlos had landed an assured world class 317 – a flat spin wakestyle trick with two handle-passes. In normal freestyle conditions it’s a high scoring heat trick. In these conditions he knew the handle-pass category was his.
Having only learned board-offs for this World Tour, Carlos put down two fine examples, including a triple back roll variation.
The final wasn’t as epic as the semis and in truth the damage was done in the first few minutes.
Jesse himself said, “I felt good going into the heat and just gave it everything that I had right out of the gates. I didn’t get the scores I needed at the start of the heat and sometimes it goes like that, but Carlos is one of the most all-round kiteboarders in the world and in technical freestyle I think he’s untouchable.”
Adding to his two pure freestyle world titles, Carlos said that he had to train hard for the board-off but is super stoked to be crowned the most all-around twin-tip rider in the world.
1 Carlos Mario (BRA)
2 Jesse Richman (USA)
3 Aaron Hadlow (UK)
4 Lewis Crathern (UK)
1 Mikaili Sol (BRA)
2 Hannah Whiteley (UK)
3 Pippa van Iersel (NED)
4 Pauline Valesa (FRA)
2018 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Carlos Mario (BRA) 6,234 (Wins on countbacks with more wins)
2 Jesse Richman (USA) 6,234
3 Maxime Chabloz (SWI) 5,871
1 Mikaili Sol (BRA) 6,300
2 Hannah Whiteley (UK) 6,201
3 Pippa van Iersel (NED) 6,102