The judging unpacked: what to expect at Gran Canaria finale

Published 3rd July 2024 by Ian MacKinnon


Here we take a deep dive into the Big Air scoring criteria that will shape the much-anticipated race for the World Championship titles

Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Kite World Championships
9—13 July, 2024 | Salinas de Tenefé

One word sums it up: extremity. The judges at the upcoming final stop of the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Kite World Championships in Gran Canaria, Spain, will reward the extremity of the tricks above all else.

That was the clear message to the riders’ committee representing the 24 men and 12 women set to vie for the coveted Big Air world titles as they met the judges to discuss the up-to-the-minute scoring criteria.

But what constitutes “extremity” in the already extreme world of Big Air? Height and power, with “speed in” and “speed out”, are the key factors. Amplitude, or the distance travelled, is the other crucial component of extremity.

“When it comes to a trick: big, high and powered, with the kite in the power zone, at a good angle, that’s defined as extremity,” said GKA Head Judge, Javo Santangelo. “Every day the judges are discussing the tricks. We’re really getting prepared for Gran Canaria, because we’ll be crowning the World Champions.”

The technicality of the manoeuvre is another part of the equation. But if full-on Big Air conditions turn on at the Salinas de Tenefé spot—read wind of 40 knots or more—then technical moves that sacrifice extremity will fail to score so highly.

‘Extemity’ test

If the wind starts cranking to “proper Big Air conditions” as hoped, the riders will certainly bring out their double-loops, S-loops, and maybe even triple-loops, adding rotations, board-offs, tic-tacs and spins.

Yet, even tricks like Double Kite-loops, which scored highly a year ago when only a few of the athletes could pull off the trick in competition, may not be well rewarded if they fail to pass the “extremity” test.

“It really depends on the execution,” said Santangelo. “The kite’s angle is important. Riders think, it’s a double-loop, it should score big. But not always. You need to go big. But if your amplitude and your projection is not big enough; if the second loop is not powered, you’re not going to score well.”

The first round at the GKA Lords of Tram at Barcarès, France, was the exception because the Tramontana wind in the 30-35 knots range did not quite reach high on the Big Air scale, which meant that single-loops with technical moves were the order of the day.

“We’ve always been looking for extremity, but at Lords of Tram the scores seemed like they were high on the technical side because the conditions were not quite there. The riders didn’t have the right power to perform super, super extreme moves. But the direction of the judging is that we always want to see Big Air moves, and ‘wow’ factor and commitment.”

‘Proper doubles’

But if relatively lighter winds again show up in Gran Canaria, it is likely the riders will unveil more technical innovations in their effort to impress the judges.

Marijn Ploeg, a GKA judge in Gran Canaria who was BAKL head judge and a Red Bull Megaloop and King of the Air judge, says riders have been adding spins and board flips—for example kicking the board off with their feet and catching it by the handle in their hand.

In the event of stronger winds Ploeg predicts it is likely the riders, like the Netherlands’ Giel Vlugt, will unpack “proper straight double-loops” with board-offs that will count as extreme and score highly.

Ploeg is well-placed to see the distinction between the various Big Air platforms and applauds the diversity of styles and emphasis that the slightly different judging criteria encourages.

“The GKA pushes a lot on the [trick] families and the riders have to be much more aware of that,” said Ploeg. “That’s different from Red Bull [competitions] which are most of all guided by being a ‘show’ and, within that, riders have the scope to show their own style.

Constant criteria

“The GKA likes to put more emphasis on setting rewards for pushing the sport: innovation and new tricks that have that variety. In Red Bull Megaloop it’s all about one trick that could score you highly, and there are different types of riders for that competition. The differences give the athletes the freedom to choose which competitions they want to ride.”

For the athletes the most important thing is that during the competition the judging criteria must remain constant, so that the riders know what tricks to do and what the judges are looking for to score well.

“No criteria changes during the competition,” said Ploeg, a rider who spends time on the water with the Big Air athletes. “This is what I’m trying to do. Regardless of the [judging] emphasis, the criteria you choose, or what you choose to score, you must be consistent throughout the competition so the rider knows what to do to score.

“They’re so versatile at the moment, with so many different styles of tricks. If they don’t know what’s going to score, it’s really hard for them to train for that.”

Be sure to join us on the Livestream here to see how it all goes down.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Samuel Cárdenas


Andrea Principi
Jamie Overbeek
Lorenzo Casati
Jeremy Burlando
Josué San
Giel Vlugt
Edgar Ulrich
Marc Jacobs
Jason van der Spuy
Aaron Hadlow
Luca Ceruti
Arthur Guillebert
Clement Huot
Stino Mul
Lucas Gramstrup
Shahar Tsabary
Leonardo Casati
Valentin Garat
Josh Gillitt
Nathan Texier
Cohan van Dijk
Ruben Swart
Zac Adams
Arian Braeutigam


Nathalie Lambrecht
Zara Hoogenraad
Francesca Maini
Alessa Sophia Mensch
Jasmine Cho
Pippa van Iersel
Sarah Sadek
Lana Herman
Alice Ruggiu
Nora Klement
Inbar Lerner
Daniela Moreno

Spot Info: Salinas de Tenefé, Gran Canaria

The weather in Gran Canaria, Spain, during July ranges around 25-30C with sunrise around 07:15 and sunset at 21:00.

Wind and water
Gran Canaria enjoys great wind in July. Salinas de Tenefé is famous for its strong winds. The wind regularly blows 30+ knots, with gusts up to 40+ knots. The wind direction is from the north/north-east. The strong wind creates decent chop and some wind swell that also comes from the north-east and provides kickers to boost off, left-foot forward. The water temperature is 23-24C, so a shorty or summer wetsuit is a good idea.

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