There are moments in sports that are often spoken of long after the competitive dust has settled. One of this year’s most notable occasions was when female French rider Angely Bouillot battled the Netherlands’ Pippa van Iersel in Cape Town’s nuclear conditions during a makeshift big air event dubbed the ‘Queen is Born.’ When all was said and done, Angely’s explosive megaloops owned the podium and made a clear impression on the unofficial contest crowd—moves that would have stood out on their own in the King of the Air, had Angely been allowed to compete with the boys.
Born and raised in the windy town of Leucate on the southeastern shores along the Mediterranean, Angely followed her brother’s footsteps into skiing from the early age of three and then attended a competitive skiing school throughout her teens. Kiteboarding entered Angely’s life at the age of 15 when her family traveled to the seaside town of Lacanau on France’s southwestern Atlantic coast. Angely started with windsurfing lessons along with her mother and brother but at the insistence of the instructor, they gave body dragging with a kite a go. Although Angely would return to learn kiteboarding, her competitive skiing career transitioned to an all-consuming pursuit of artistic studies in fashion—and kiteboarding was left as a side sport relegated to vacations just a couple of times per year. Deeply involved in costume and set design for big theater productions, it wasn’t until she moved back to Leucate in her 20s that she pursued kiteboarding more extensively.
Encouraged to train harder by some friends at a local kite school, Angely found her way into speed racing, a natural direction in the strong offshore winds and flat ponds of Leucate. With her ski racing pedigree, she loved the sensation of going fast and challenging herself in extreme conditions. She recalls the rush of struggling to keep her legs from cramping and collapsing at the end of a long speed run. Eventually, Angely became the female Kitespeed World Champion in Martha’s Vineyard in 2016.
Angely recalls her first kiteloop attempt. Her friends held an informal event in Leucate to see who could crash the biggest. Although no one had ever explained to her how to do it, Angely made up her mind to try the all intimidating kiteloop. In Leucate’s Tramontane winds, she committed her kite to the loop. Fully powered and high in the air, Angely didn’t push the bar out, so the kite never completed the loop and she plummeted to the water. “It was like crashing into a wall,” she recalls, having knocked the air out of her lungs and suffered bruised, or possibly broken ribs. Apparently, catastrophic failure was not a deterrent but an opening salvo for her attraction to high stakes kiteboarding. Having obtained the highest honor in speed kiting, she turned her attention to big air, thinking there would be more opportunity and sponsorship potential due to the sport’s biggest contest, the Red Bull King of the Air.
After a bit of training with kiteloops, board-offs and deadmans, she put together a wildcard entry video and submitted it to the all men’s Red Bull King of the Air, but did not receive an invite. Back when the event was staged in Ho’okipa, a women’s division was run alongside the men for the first three years. After a seven-year hiatus, the King of the Air was resurrected in 2013 in Cape Town except only with an all men’s division. To Angely’s disappointment, she was not accepted in 2017, yet she trained harder for 2018, only to receive the same disappointing result. In light of Angely’s aggressive riding, the curious absence of women in the event eventually found its way to Facebook, where social media pressure began to weigh in on the side of gender equality.
After a number of female wildcard entries in 2019, Red Bull added a women’s expression session to the event, but the women wouldn’t receive a podium spot or prize money. As a result, Angely worked with her friends Tereza Simonova, Aniek Duyverman and Jasmin Wukitsevitsto along with her main sponsor Aneo to put on a grassroots version, and the ‘Queen is Born’ was held a few days prior. Staged just up the road from the Red Bull event site, the Cape Town kite community gathered along with top athletes to help stage heats, judge and spectate as the girls duked it out for the crown. The kiteloop and big air action was solid, but it was Angely’s gutsy megaloops that clearly stood out at the end of the day, putting her at the top of the podium.
While Angely is a strong supporter of grassroots competition and hopes to work collectively to stage more women’s events, she is the first to point out how hard it is to support a dedicated training schedule without high-visibility events and the corresponding sponsorships. The ‘Queen is Born’ was a great grassroots step in the right direction, yet the future of female big air riding continues to remain uncertain as Angely looks for more ways to push women’s kiteboarding to the extreme.
2020 is a new year and the Red Bull King of the Air has a change of format. Watch Angely Bouillot’s 2020 KOTA video entry below: