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Bumper season sees old faces reclaim crowns

Published 21st December 2023 by Ian MacKinnon

 

  • Tour veteran Bruna Kajiya retakes top podium step after six years

  • US’s Moona Whyte returns to tour with a bang after four year break

  • Carlos Mario adds fifth world title as he takes first crown since 2018

The Qatar Airways GKA Kite World Tour moved into new territory this season with a bumper year that saw an unprecedented 13 events staged, in four disciplines, in some of the world’s most iconic kiteboarding venues.

Many of the 10 world titles handed out went to tour veterans like Bruna Kajiya, Carlos Mario, Moona Whyte and Airton Cozzolino, who were returning to the top after a gap of several years, showing they still retained the competitive fire to come out on top.

Some like Charles Brodel, and teenagers like Andrea Principi and Mikaili Sol, successfully defended their crowns in the face of mounting pressure from young guns pushing the sport’s boundaries.

Australian James Carew is no stranger to the championship podium’s top step. But this season he landed the title in the Big Air Surfboard division for the first time, where he was joined by Switzerland’s Camille Losserand.

The mix of ages and kiteboarding styles show that competitive kiteboarding is in good health and continues to evolve and grow. Twin-Tip Freestyle’s new emphasis on variety and innovation has proved popular and grown the ‘show’ factor, while the fight for the Big Air Twin-Tip title is set to come back bigger and better in 2024.

Big comebacks

The biggest comebacks of 2023 were in the Freestyle discipline. At 36, Brazil’s Bruna Kajiya is the most senior woman on the tour, and she won three stops and scored a joint-first place in another. She adapted to the new judging criteria and unseated the reigning four-times champion, Mikaili Sol (USA), to take a fourth crown.

“It feels amazing and really something that I’ve been working hard at for so long and it finally came together,” said Kajiya. “This year has been insane for me. I’m really truly blessed to share this journey as I think it can inspire a lot of people. I had so many ups and downs and people saw me struggle, but then they saw me fight harder. I think my coming back means that it’s possible for everyone to achieve their dreams. It’s really why I do this and I’m super proud.”

Another Brazilian former world champion, Carlos Mario, last topped the podium in 2018. He has battled back from injury and was able to adapt to the new Freestyle format, taking a win and two seconds. He was crowned at the climax of the final stop at Fuwairit, Qatar.

“Winning is everything that I wished for and this is so beautiful for me,” said Mario. “My last win was in 2018 before I injured my knee, but I knew if I was patient and worked hard I would manage again to win a title. Winning as world champion again is proof to myself and others that you can come back 100 percent after an injury.”

Cape Verde-based Italian, Airton Cozzolino, was another who battled back to the top spot after a break of several years. His Kite-Surf season had its ups and downs, but he finally won the final stop of five in Cauipe, Brazil, to give in the title he craved.

Second to none

“It’s been three years, maybe four,” said Cozzolino, reflecting on his victory.  “It’s so much work. I respect all the guys. They’re pushing me, but let’s see what the next year brings and let’s see if I find motivation. This is the best win I got in my whole life, because before, I was winning every event, and now I had to fight for three years. I still can’t believe it.”

Moona Whyte (USA) returned to tour after a four-year break. The Oahu-based athlete won three of the five Kite-Surf stops in the pure surfing format and proved she was second to none in the waves. But she also landed a second in Cauipe, Brazil, in the mixed format to take the crown and depose reigning champion, Capucine Delannoy (FRA).

Italy’s Andrea Principi won back-to-back Big Air Twin-Tip titles with a narrow win in the final over Cohan van Dijk (NED), in Tarifa, southern Spain, in June. Prinicipi, who went on to win the 2023 Red Bull King of the Air in December, came back after losing to Liam Whaley in the first Big Air round at Lords of Tram.

“I’m so happy to be two-times world champion,” said Principi, right after his win. “I’m here with my family and they’re all here watching me and so proud of me. Super-stoked. It was tricky in the final because the wind was gusty and I was crashing, two or three times. So I told myself to ‘stay calm, find the gusts and believe’ and I became world champion.”

While Mikaili Sol, the four-times GKA Freestyle world champion, has looked unsettled at times this year on the Freestyle tour, she was a class apart in the Big Air Twin-Tip contest. She blew the field away to take her second successive Big Air world title at a canter.

Almost untouchable

The Big Air Surfboard world title went the way of James Carew, when he landed that crown for the first time. Unfortunately, during his celebrations after the win, he broke his leg when he pulled a big kite loop in shallow water. The injury ruled him out for the rest of the season and he was unable to defend his Kite-Surf world title.

Switzerland’s Camille Losserand took the women’s Big Air Surfboard crown when she put together a stellar heat to end the reign of world champion, Capucine Delannoy, in the dramatic final.

In Big Air Hydrofoil and Hydrofoil-Freestyle, France’s Charles Brodel, was almost untouchable. He clinched both crowns to give him double, back-to-back wins with incredible riding that underscored his dominance in the disciplines.

“I’m super-happy to win my fifth world title here in Brazil,” said Brodel, right after taking the Hydrofoil-Freestyle title. “I have trained a lot for this and I so happy.”

The 2023 season marked the emergence of Big Air Twin-Tip as a growing force in the Qatar Airways GKA Kite World Tour calendar. In 2024, it is only set to grow in importance, with four scheduled stops in the discipline. Join us to find who will be crowned in Big Air Twin-Tip and all the other kiteboarding disciplines.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Svetlana Romanstova / Samuel Cárdenas

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