When life gives you lemons – in Cape Town’s case the Southeaster wind, a.k.a. the Cape Doctor – you make lemonade; or, even better, you host the Red Bull King of the Air kiteboarding competition. The competition attracts the best kiteboard riders in the world, who take on the treacherous Cape of Storms elements for the chance of being crowned the Red Bull King of the Air.
This year’s competition, held for the fourth consecutive year at Big Bay in Cape Town, saw 24 kiteboarding pros battle it out in front of 13 000 people for the highest and furthest jumps, as well as the most innovative, technical, and risky tricks and combos.
Riders have a two-week period in which they wait for the two days with the most favourable conditions, which include strong winds and high swells (Red Bull gives you wings, but strong winds and big waves help as well). The first round was held on 3 February when the Southeaster picked up to 30 knots. Although all 24 riders are pros, the first day separated the good riders from the brilliant ones. All three local boys (Kruger, Smith, and Howes) made it through to the second round at the end of the first day. Conditions seemed favourable for most of the day, but during Heat 9 in Round 2 the wind abated and the competition was postponed.
The competition resumed on Sunday, 7 February, when the wind picked up again. Riders were treated to some of the strongest winds and highest swells in the competition’s 9-year history and some anticipated that the Cape Doctor would be doing more breaking than healing. In Heat 9 this seemed all too apparent when Sam Light, with 5 minutes to go in the heat, wiped out and was dragged downwind like a rag doll. Luckily he relaunched with no injuries.
Local rider Andries Fourie made it through to Round 3 thanks to some huge loops and secured himself a spot in the semi-finals. Oswald Smith, also a local, was up against some really impressive talent in his heat, including the 2014 King of the Air, Kevin Langeree. Smith gave his best, but came down hard on the water when attempting a kite loop KGB. He was carried back to shore and thus his run in the competition ended.
The next two heats also promised much with two previous champions competing. Defending champion Aaron Hadlow came second in his heat, while 2013 champion Jesse Richman came out on top in his heat, both securing their places in the semi-final.
As expected, the semi-finals, with three previous champions, provided exciting stuff. In the first semi-final, Lasse Walker, attempting a huge mega loop, crashed hard in the water and the safety boat had to be deployed. Fortunately he did not suffer any major injuries, although he did get some water in the lungs and a painful reminder that even the pros can become the playthings of the elements. In the next semi-final, Lewis Crathern, who dominated the previous heat and much of the competition, got taught that same lesson when he wiped out from a height of 20 metres at the start of the heat. Unfortunately he didn’t get off as lightly as Walker and he was later put in a medically induced coma. This tragic event meant the end of one of the more impressive riders in this year’s competition, but certainly not the end of him competing in future competitions.
In the end, the three previous champions – Aaron Hadlow, Kevin Langeree, and Jesse Richman – together with Brazilian Reno Romeu, made it to the final. After some really impressive loops by all four, Reno was flagged out, leaving it to the other three champions to battle it out. With all three tasting a second win, they risked life and limb to pull off their most impressive moves.
At the end of the day, Kevin Langeree was awarded the Mystic Move of the Event and the $1000 prize for his kiteloop front roll inverted one footer, but it was defending champion Aaron Hadlow who secured first place, becoming the first two-time champion in the history of the competition.
Wind, waves, water, and a few walloping wipe-outs made the 2016 competition one of the best ever. With these conditions, the famous Capetonian hospitality, and the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope will live up to its name; giving fans of kiteboarding hope that this competition (and the sport) will continue to grow year after year, draw larger crowds, and inspire young daredevils to take on the challenge to become the next Red Bull King of the Air.