The Watermen Are Watching

Published 6th July 2020 by Danny


Sunday 5th July
Location: Hamburg
Words: Kate Chandler

This week on Meet the Team we are getting to know some of our freestyle judges. Passionate kitesurfers and former professional athletes themselves they know what it takes to compete on a world tour. They know their sport, they know every trick in the book and have a keen eye for scoring. Let us introduce Javier Santangelo, Alvaro Onieva and Victor Hays in this week’s episode of Meet the Team, and find out the latest news on the GKA Distance Battle too.

Javier Santangelo was born in San Isidro, Buenos Aires. He spent his youth sailing with friends and family at Club Nautico San Isidro (CNSI) and it was here his love for aquatic sorts was born. His first memories are of this club, where the Olympic champion Santiago Lane set high standards for the future, in the young watermans mind.

In 2006 Javier stumbled across a kitesurfing magazine and saw a picture of Martin Vari riding for RRD and knew instantly that he wanted to be a kitesurfer. He took the picture from the magazine and put it on his bedroom wall for inspiration. He started taking kitesurfing lessons and the kite bug took hold. In 2008 he headed to Tarifa with Lucas Palmer from Kite and Roll and by 2009 he was working as an IKO instructor and Center Manager for Soufaine Hamaini and then later at the Gisela Pulido Pro Center.

Javier then opened his kite school KSM Kiteboarding based out of both Argentina and Brazil. Brining groups from Argentina to the warm lagoons of northern Brazil to learn to kitesurf or for some specialised freestyle coaching. Javier’s first competition was in 2010 at the PKRA in Bariloche (Patagonia) and by 2013 he was crowned Argentina Freestyle Pro Champion.

His judging career also started in 2013 when judged for the PKRA in Barra Grande, Brazil. Since then Javier has been a  judge for the Virgin Kitesurf World Championships, The WKL, the Spanish Strapless Tour, Red Bull King of the Air, the Freestyle Junior World Cup at St Pierre La Mer France, and he also MC’d at the KITEFEST Argentina with Jo Ciastula earlier this year.

It was his connection with our head judge Mallory de la Villemarque that brought Javier to the GKA Judges Team in 2018 as a Freestyle and Strapless judge, and he’s loved every minute of being part of such a close knit team ever since!

Javier opened a Kite Center in Barcelona at the historical CNB (Club Natació Barcelona) in 2019 in partnership with SEAYOU Barcelona. If you’re in the city stop by for SUP yoga and kite lessons!

Victor Hays is one of the youngest judges on the world tour, who speaks mountains about his abilities and skills as an athlete. Here, in his own words, Victor lets us hear about how he got into kitesurfing and how he joined the GKA team.

The next waterman from our Freestyle judges panel is Victor Hays, in his own words he describes his journey on to the panel of the GKA judges.

I’m a french kiteboarder from Hyères – Almanarre. I started kiteboarding in 2004 when kiteboarding was still very small in my hometown, which is very famous for windsurfing.

I’ve been addicted since day one, and was lucky enough to get some sponsorship quite early in my career, which helped me to start travelling, and to enter a few national competitions.

A very special trip that changed everything for me, was a winter trip in Hawaii where I met the Cabrinha team. It was supposed to be a 2 week long trip but ended up being a 3 months trip in paradise. I took part of the annual shoot, and much more.

I’ve spent quite a few years competing on the PKRA then on the other tours, before it became the GKA Freestyle World Tour. I’ve had the chance to compete at very special spots, like New Caledonia, Brazil, China, with some amazing riders who have become close friends. My final event was in New Caledonia, in 2016.


During my whole career, I was also very interested in the media side of things, trying to shoot as much as possible. Different photoshoots, and videos projects gave me a different approach on my kiteboarding life. I’m lucky enough to have the support from Airush and Sooruz for so many years, they keep helping me in many different ways. I’m now fully focused on the media side, R&D, a bit of help on sales for France for Airush Kiteboarding.

After spending many years on tour as an athlete, and being friends for a long time with Head Judge Mallory De la Villemarqué, I was stoked when he wrote to me and asked if i would like to take part of the judges Freestyle Panel. I said yes right away!

Being part of a team with Kiteboarding legends and very experienced riders like Alvaro Onieva, Cesar Portas, Mallory and many others is a true honor. I’ve judged a couple of events last year, and I’m looking forward to having this crisis done, and we can start having new events soon.

The freestyle division took a turn to a next level the last two years, with older riders on tour and new riders improving their riding, the level of riding is insane and it’s a pleasure to judge such amazing talent! I think everyone who loves kitesurfing would agree that it is a dream to be able to do that job!

The final judge we will introduce this weeks has been adding colour and antics to the kite scene for some years now. Alvaro Onieva’s father started windsurfing just before he was born, as a baby he’d make the journey with his parents to Tarifa from Malaga each weekend. He grew up surrounded by boards, sails, sand and water and got into plenty of mischief with his father’s equipment.

In the year 2000 Alvaro saw his first kitesurfing competition and was blown away by the height and airtime that Flash Austin could get with his kite during jumps. His young mind was set on learning the sport, and meeting the legends behind it. As soon as he could he travelled to Hawaii, where he met his idols Robbie Naish, Lou Wainman and Jamie Herraiz to name but a few. Just 12 months later he was competing against the big names and even managed to beat Robbie Naish in a heat, scoring himself a sponsorship with Wipika at the same time.

Alvaro won a European title and competed on the PKRA in 2013/14. He loved competing and the freestyle discipline. In his own words Alaro is “hyperactive” and freestyle suited him perfectly, as it enabled him to express his creative side with his powered riding style, and push boundaries in the sport.

He moved from Wipika to Best, spent some time on the Wainman team but he has certainly always felt like home riding Airush. Where he is now Product Manager for the Free Wing category. An incredible new sport that has seen an explosion of interest in the last 12 months. Alvaro credits this to the sports versatility and accessibility, he loves watching a beginner take a Free Wing out for the first time on an SUP (a foil would be a bit risky for a newbie) and really getting a feeling and a passion for the sensation of a Free Wing.

Working for Airush is not Alvaro’s first stint at product management. In 2008 he founded Balance, a kiteboard company. His easily recognisable white kite boards helped revolutionise the shape and size of all future kiteboards, being amongst the first boards to add channels to the under deck. After being bought out by Best Alavro went on to found another board company, Clash. Where he wore many hats for 7 years, as videographer, media mogul, R&D man and brand manager.

Alvaro began judging at national competitions in Spain before joining the GKA. Again it was a connection with our head judge Mallory that brought Alvaro to the team, the pair have been friends since Mallory moved to Tarifa and they even competed together on the PKRA. When the search for a freestyle judge began Alvaro was an obvious choice for the position.

Alavro feels incredibly fortunate to be part of such an amazing team made up with so many founding riders and members from the kitesurf community. He feels like those founding kiters are now becoming founders of a brand new sport with the release of Free Wings and he’s loving watching everything go full circle once again.

GKA Distance Battle update!

We’ve been working hard since our voting system was hacked last month and we are almost ready to launch our new online voting system. We hope to have a date for this in the coming days. There will then be period of five weeks for all Distance Battle athletes to film their video entries for the competition. Expect to hear news on the new voting system soon!

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