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Qatar Airways GKA Awards: Honouring the best in kite sports

by Ian MacKinnon 5 Jun 06:03 PDT 26 May - 16 June 2023

The Qatar Airways GKA Awards night that pays tribute kiteboarding's greatest achievements and personalities has again shown its capacity to surprise and delight at a historic gala evening in the Spanish resort of Tarifa.

For the second successive year, the GKA Awards in partnership with Qatar Airways and Visit Qatar, has recognised the best athletes, their greatest achievements and outstanding contributions to the sport.

Many of the biggest names in kiteboarding were on hand as GKA CEO, Dr Jörgen Vogt, Senior Vice President of Qatar Airways, Steven Reynolds, and Tarifa's caretaker mayor, Paco Ruiz, unveiled the winners of the coveted statuettes.

The winner of the women's Rider of the Year was the US's Mikaili Sol for the second year in a row. The 18-year-old kiteboarding phenomenon landed two more world titles in 2022, in Freestyle and Twin-Tip Big Air, bringing her haul to a remarkable six championship crowns.

"Just to be nominated feels great, for the second year in a row," says Sol. "I'm definitely happy to be up there competing against all these crazy chicks. I'm just trying to do my best. So I'm super-honoured."

Towering achievements

The men's Rider of the Year went to the Italian Gianmaria Coccoluto. In 2022, the 29-year-old and the oldest man on the Freestyle tour, realised his dream when he won his first world title.

In recognition of both riders' towering achievements in the past year, the GKA World Tour title sponsor, Qatar Airways, presented the pair with Business Class return tickets to Doha from anywhere on the airline's network.

Women's Move of the Year went to the Netherlands' Zara Hoogenraad for a kite loop late backroll that she landed at this year's GKA Big Air Kite World Cup at Lords of Tram in nuking winds.

"Landing this trick during Lords of Tram [GKA Big Air Kite World Cup] was a very intense moment, because it was the strongest wind I have ever experienced in a competition," says Hoogenraad. "I could feel the fear coursing through my entire body when the kite went so unexpectedly low. I kept falling down due to the lack of line tension, but I managed to land the trick."

Italian 18-year-old, Andrea Principi, reigning Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Twin-Tip Kite World Champion, won the men's Move of the Year for a mind-blowing double backroll, double kite loop, board-off flip, late front one foot that he completed in France as the wind was blowing 50 knots.

"This is probably one of the best tricks I've ever done," says Principi. "That day in France was really amazing. There was 50 knots. I jumped and while going up I felt the wind was taking me higher and higher so I decided to add a flip to the board and some extra rotation."

Breaking the taboo

The Social Contribution Award, recognising the kiteboarder who has gone above and beyond in their efforts to use their platform to try to make the world a better place, went to South African, Graham Howes.

The founder of the Dirty Habits brand has sought to break the taboo of discussion of mental health issues in sport through his films. He, himself, was diagnosed with ADHD, epilepsy and depression at various points in his life.

"I've always strived to be more than 'just a kiteboarder'," says Howes. "This Social Contribution category offers a platform for riders to develop their careers around their communities. Many people in the industry have such potential and I want to help them reach that. Mental health is one obstacle that holds many people back. I want to use my platform to help others. Mental health affects millions, yet carries such stigma."

Three new awards were introduced this year, a reflection of the success of the first gala evening and the event's growing importance in the kiteboarding world. In most of the categories, the public and the industry were given a say in the decision, along with a special GKA sports committee.

One new award, for Photo of the Year, went to Samuel Cárdenas for his shot of Sergio Turegano. Cárdenas named this "very special shot", Playa Chicas.

The award for Video of the Year was given to Grounded: A SunGod Film by Lidewij Hartog. It is an illuminating and emotional portrait of the Cape Verdean kiteboarding legend, Airton Cozzolino, tracing his humble beginnings and the success that transformed him.

True Legend

The "Legends" award for Lifetime Achievement had a list of worthy contenders. But Cape Verdean kitesurfing superstar Mitu Monteiro, who recently returned to competition at his native Ponta Preta break just ahead of his 40th birthday next month, was awarded the prized statuette.

"I returned to competition after a four-year absence this year to commemorate the 15th anniversary of my return to Cape Verde as a kitesurf world champion in 2008," says Monteiro. "It's impossible to put into words what this meant to my people, but I still remember the image of people waiting for me at the airport. Is it true that I'm a legend? I'm not sure. But if my success helped others, I consider myself to have won."

Perhaps the "Legend" of the future may be found among the current Rookie of the Year nominees. This year the prize went to the young Brazilian kitesurfer, Gabriel Benetton, who has been pushing hard in the waves and strapless kitesurf for several years.

From one of the youngest in the sport to some kiteboarding veterans is a short jump. Detlef and Monika Teichmann have been a fixture on the kiteboarding scene for more than 20 years, and in recognition of their dedication they were presented with a special, surprise, Fan Award.

Qatar Airways' Steven Reynolds reiterated the airline's mission to promote kiteboarding globally to connect people worldwide through the power of sport.

"I want to extend my sincerest congratulations to tonight's winners and the nominees," he said. "You have proven that with passion and commitment anything is possible. It's been an honour to witness such talent and commitment to sportsmanship. So from the skies to the waves, we look forward to making more memories together."

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