The finale of the thrilling Kiteboard Tour Asia (KTA) season in the Philippines wrapped up in a fitting climax with spell-binding action for the finals of the freestyle competitions, with cranking winds that pushed riders to their limits and beyond. But when the spray cleared and the judges votes were in the men’s and women’s crowns went – by common consent – to the pair who richly deserved their titles with displays of controlled, powerful riding even in the toughest conditions.
Reynard Gajisan goes huge in freestyle action during final day - KTA Philippines Boracay Extreme 2014
The Netherlands’ Dylan van der Meij, 19, clinched the top podium spot, confirming his win in the single elimination round with the stellar fluency of his tricks. Brazilian number two, Estefania Rosa dos Santos, 26, exactly matched the Dutchman’s feat with her smooth air passes, earning both riders the overall KTA tour freestyle titles.
For the fifth successive year Boracay’s kiting mecca, palm-fringed Bulabog Beach, served as the stage for the drama that unfolded over four days of intense Formula kite and Twin Tip racing, and pulsating freestyle battles. The wind that built throughout the contest was at first near-perfect for racing, but by the close the strong, squally conditions challenged the freestylers to throw down their biggest tricks on their smallest kites.
More than 100riders from 21 countries soaked up the idyllic atmosphere on the barely 7km-long island, which is fringed with talcum-powder white beaches that lend the sea a striking turquoise hue. Coral reefs shelter the waters that allowed both racers and freestylers to fine-tune their technique and master new tricks.
For those made the trip ahead of the competition there was also the chance to experience the island’s delights: whether it was the ultra-fresh seafood, the vibrant party scene or the chilled out charm of cool sunset hangouts, like the cliff-side Spider House Resort. As the sun goes down dragon boat crews in training take appear, paddling their craft at a frantic pace in synchronized unison among the ferries and fishing boats with their characteristic out-riggers.
Away from the frenetic freestyle kiting of Bulabog Beach and the - perhaps - even more raucous partying of White Beach on the opposite side of the island, some riders also took the opportunity to go for a gentle Stand Up Paddle tour on the Bugang River on nearby Panay Island, with its clear waters framed by dense unspoiled jungle.
But it was the Bay of Bulabog, bookended by lushly-wooded hillsides,which as always performed as a perfect venue for the 2014 KTA Philippines Borocay Extreme, with Blue Orange Ville as the presenting sponsor and Aqua Boracay by Yoo the host.
Twin Tip racers were first up as race officials waited for the tide to rise to give the course-board competitors sufficient water for their fins. With almost 60 entrants in the Twin Tip contest the scene was set for tight action as racers sped round two laps of the triangular course.
The first race on the first day could have descended into chaos when at least 15 of the racers opted for a pin end start on a port tack, putting them on collision course with those starting on a more conventional starboard tack, with the right of way in their favour. Miraculously, there were no tangles but Thailand’s Narapichit 'Yo'Pudla made what was, by his standards, a faltering start.
It was not to last.The 23-year-old reasserted his class dominance with bullets in the opening day’s two other races, with Doque De los Santos (PHI) and Louie 'Bong' Fernando (PHI) giving him a run for his money on the relatively short track. Germany’s Kathrin Borgwardt was even more dominant in the women’s scoring bullets in all three opening races.
Borgwardt initially stole a march, too, on Astrid Berz (SUI) in the first course-board race of the day when the Swiss rider was late to the line, but it was her only slip and she scored bullets in the five remaining races. Pudla, however, never skipped a beat and scored six bullets with training partner Chanon 'Jack' Phrakaew (THA) and Ken Nacor (PHI) hard on his heels in every race in the moderate conditions that saw most riders put up their 11m or 13m kites.
Throughout the races of the three closing days Pudla was virtually unstoppable, though in the stiffer winds of day three Nacor finally scored two bullets and left the Thai trailing in his wake. But on the podium ultimately Pudla took top spot, with Nacor second and Thailand’s Phrakaew third. In the KTA season standings Pudla finished first, with Phrakaew second and Passakorn 'Oh' Phaetraska third.
Borgwardt scored so many bullets in the women’s Twin Tip division that she chose to sit out the last race of the final day, having built an insurmountable lead to take the title and the overall KTA season class winner. Freestyler Kelly Schouten (NED) advanced up the order as the competition progressed to snatch the second podium spot and came third overall in the KTA season standing, with the absent Lisa Nikitina (UKR) second and Borgwardt top.
Yet Berz proved too consistently quick for Borgwardt in the course-board class, and though the German bagged several notable bullets on day three, they were not enough to knock the Swiss racer off the podium. South Korea’s Bitna Kim secured the third spot, and second in the KTA season standings, with Berz third, and Borgwardt top again.
The freestyle contests were equally absorbing with the winners from the last tour stop in Bintan, Indonesia, coming out on top in the single elimination rounds. It set up the prospect a mouth-watering final day’s competition to close out the KTA 2013-14 season with the double eliminations staged in winds that hit more than 26 knots and saw the leading women scrambling to borrow 6m and 7m kites.
In the tough conditions the slight Boracay-based rider, 12-year-old Christian Tio was in his element on his 5m kite. His march up the order was nothing short of remarkable as he duelled past riders more experienced and way more powerful, barely missing a beat as he cleanly landed Blind Judges, NISs and stunning Low Mobes.
Slovenia’s powerful Jaka Komocar, 17, put an end to Tio’s amazing run to leave him fifth. But the teenager also found his path blocked by Andrey Salnik (UKR), who then took out the single
Elimination runner-up Mike Blomvall (SWE), with both displaying huge speed and power in the tricky conditions.
As single elimination winner, Dutchman van der Meij had the luxury of waiting for the competition to come to him, which it did in the form of Salnik, 28. If the growing tension and building wind played on his nerves he did not show it, though on his unfamiliar 8m kite he suffered several uncharacteristic crashes. His other tricks, though, were fluid, powered and stomped in a way that were simply too much for Salnik, who gave it his all with his kite even ending in a palm tree at one point in the final. It gave van der Meij top spot in the KTA season, with Komocar second and Reynard 'Along' Gajisan (PHI) third and top Asian rider.
'I’m super-happy,' said van der Meij. 'It was a really tough heat. The wind was huge and the rain was in my eyes. I could see he was very powered and going big. So I wasn’t sure whether I’d won or not. I’m so happy.'
Brazil’s dos Santos found herself in a similarly comfortable position, able standby and watch the Netherlands’ Schouten battle with British champion Rosanna Jury, on 6m and 7m kites respectively. On this occasion the Dutchwoman was just too strong. But in the final she knew she had to gamble to have any hope of beating dos Santos’ silky precision.
It did not pay off for Schouten, who in her efforts to go for her biggest tricks even in the unnerving conditions, suffered several hard slams that unsettled her and left unable to establish a rhythm. Even dos Santos suffered a couple crashes, but was still able to make several air passes that gave her the edge in the judges’ eyes. The finishing order was also reflected in the KTA season standings.
'I feel very proud of myself,' said the perpetually sunny dos Santos, after hearing she had won. 'I’m not used to rain and strong, gusty winds. I only had two crashes, which is good for the conditions. I tried to relax and enjoy myself, and it worked.'