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Interview – GKA Freestyle Head Judge Mallory de la Villemarque

Mallory de la Villemarque heads up the judging team for the Freestyle discipline on the GKA Kite World Tour. A vastly experienced judge, having been involved in the World Kiteboarding Championships before it was brought under the GKA wings, Mallory has also been a judge on the GKA’s Kite-Surf discipline since its inception in 2015. The final big feather in his bow is that he competed at the top level on the PKRA Freestyle world tour himself for five seasons, before injuries brought about early retirement.
Born in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, Mallory, 31, speaks four languages fluently and now lives in kiteboarding’s European capital, Tarifa. Level headed, calm under pressure and with a strong vision for the stable development of the freestyle discipline in kiteboarding, as Head Judge he creates strong relationships and trust among both the riders and organisers.
Now that the sport’s top level is unified and even clearer with just one Freestyle World Championship title up for grabs, Jim Gaunt caught up with Mallory just before the GKA Freestyle World Cup Leucate to hear about this year’s format and his expectations for this event and beyond in 2019.

All Photos: Svetlana Romantsova

GKA Freestyle head judge
Mallory de la Villemarque, Leucate / Photo: Svetlana Romantsova

Two Tours Become One

Firstly, the GKA Air Games and WKC have amalgamated into one tour, so will we see a different style of events?
Yes. We plan to run at least six in 2019. Four will be pure freestyle – like here in Leucate – and two will have a more big air / mixed format that will adjust depending on the wind strength. During those mixed / big air events, as the wind goes over 30 knots, the format will move more towards a big air style, to include kite loops for example. Marc Jacobs is the perfect example for this type of riding, because he can do tricks like mega loop board offs, but still kills it in powered freestyle (perhaps we’ll see him at some events!). Liam Whaley has done really well in the King of the Air for the last two years too, so I’d expect him to do really well at these mixed events.

Those mixed events will run at locations like Vargas in Gran Canaria where we can expect really strong winds over 30 knots. The windier it is, the more the format will move towards big air and increase the wow factor, further broadening the appeal of a freestyle world tour. We hope to see really complete riders emerge from this year’s GKA Freestyle World Cup events. This year there will be two event discards available.

The GKA are well known for running the Kite-Surf World Championship discipline (wave & strapless freestyle). For anyone who is not familiar the latest freestyle competition formats, can you explain how it all works?
This year the freestyle competition format will be the same as last year on the WKC. The basics are that there are (usually) four riders in a heat who take it in turns to do one trick. Each rider is allowed seven trick attempts in their heat and their four highest scoring tricks from four different trick families count towards their score. We have a screen on the shoreline that shows the score for their trick and then shows what the next rider needs to win. This format will also run for the big air / mixed events – something not seen before.

There is one big change: last year the rider was allowed to take four tacks to do each trick. Some riders were doing long tacks and taking a lot of time, so now we’ve reduced the time that each rider has to do their trick to one minute. The timer shows on the screen on the beach. This should greatly speed up the flow of the competition, making it even better to watch.

When was this format first used?
It was an innovation suggested by Alex Pastor and is similar to skateboarding competitions. It was first used in kiteboarding at the WKL event in Cabarete in 2017.

GKA Freestyle head judge
Calm in the judging tower - until the wind kicks-in! / Photo: Svetlana Romantsova

What do you think the advantages are of this system with each rider just doing one trick at a time?
Compared to seven minute heats with four riders doing their tricks at the same time, the riders can fully focus on one trick. The really exciting thing is there’s no room for error as there’s a strict limit on attempts. As all judges are watching just one rider, there’s also less chance that they will miss a trick.

As a judge I really like this format because it’s really fair, especially for such a technically high level discipline.

Do the crowds like it?
Yes! It’s also easy to follow on the livestream. We also just run a dingle format, so after round two, when you’re out, you’re out; no double elimination, so it’s easy for people to understand. When a perfect 10 score goes up on the screen, the crowd screams and there’s so much energy on the shore, especially when we reach the finals. The pressure builds and it can all come down to one rider landing their final trick to win the event; it’s a huge and really clear moment.

Technical Analysis – Pure Freestyle Events

Is there a score for variety or overall impression?
We don’t give a score for variety, but the scores come from the best four tricks from four different categories. Believe it or not, there are 25 trick categories, so although it’s hard to see for the untrained eye, there is a lot of variety in handle-passes. For example the families are: KGB, slim chances, heart attacks, 313s, crow mobes, front blind mobes … and many more, which depend on direction of spin, inversion angles and more.

Judging Freestyle kiteboarding
Mallory and his freestyle team in Brazil / Photo: Svetlana Romantsova

Is it all about double handle-passes?
Well, you won’t reach the podium in the men’s competition if three out of your four best tricks aren’t double handle-passes. In the women, we’re yet to see a double pass, but Mikaili in particular is getting close and hoping to score them this season.

However, we want to be able to reward super stylish single handle-pass tricks if they’re done with the power, amplitude, speed and the kite positioning that we’re looking for. For example Stefan Spiessberger’s insane grabbed S-mobe 5 looks amazing. Liam also has a massive front blind mobe with a double grab that looks beautiful.

Although we see these tricks in videos, a lot of riders haven’t been doing these really visual and stylish tricks in competition because they see them as a wasted low score when there are only seven trick attempts allowed in a heat.

It’s not just a spin to win. We want to give an opportunity for riders to show us their character. For example we rarely see the rewind tricks now (spinning one way, then back the other, rather than just continuing to a double pass in the same direction (317 for example). If you’re familiar with snowboarding, you’ll know that a backside 180 looks simple, but if done big and with control, there are few more beautiful tricks.

Who should we be looking out for?
Carlos Mario (Brazil) is three-time World Champion and always a favourite. He’s also getting really close to bringing in the more stylish grabs on his double handle-passes, too. Adeuri Corniel (DR) has however been getting super close to him and Valentin Rodriguez (Colombia) is also very capable, but hasn’t proved his mindset over a long period at this very top level. I’m curious to see Liam Whaley (Spain – 2015 World Champion) make his return from injury at this event because we know how strong his mind is. Also look out for Brazilian Erick Anderson – he could hurt them because he has the style we’re looking for and can also add stylish grabs to his doubles – even better than Carlos at the moment! Maxime Chabloz (Switzerland) should also make podiums this season.

On the women’s side I’m really happy to see Bruna Kajiya (Brazil) return! Francesca Bagnoli (6 x Italian Champion) has been riding really well, but I think Bruna will give reigning champion Mikaili Sol (Brazil) a run for her money. It has been two years since Mikaili and Bruna competed against each other – and Mikaili is still only 14, so she has developed a lot since then. It will depend on how Bruna has recovered after six months off the water with her meniscus injury, but she’s always super strong mentally.

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