Reigning GKA Freestyle Kite World Champion Gianmaria Coccoluto and past title holder Bruna Kajiya are looking to cement their early success in Qatar and further their claims to the coveted 2023 crowns at the world tour’s upcoming second stop in Colombia.
The triumphant pair, Coccoluto and Kajiya, won the tour’s opening stop at the Visit Qatar GKA Freestyle Kite World Cup and are set to battle in the idyllic setting of Salinas del Rey’s Caribbean coastline. It is the second of six scheduled tour destinations for 2023.
Barely a month after opening his account in Qatar in emphatic style, Italy’s Coccoluto returns to Salinas del Rey, which debuted on the tour last year. Coccoluto, at 29 the oldest man on the tour, will be hoping for another stellar performance to press his bid for back-to-back titles.
Kajiya’s emotional return
Three-time freestyle world champion, Brazil’s Kajiya, 35, will also be hoping to build title momentum on the inshore kickers of Salinas del Rey. She made an emotional return to the podium’s top step for the first time in two years in Qatar.
But for both championship veterans the waters off the fishing village of Santa Veronica, on Colombia’s northern coast, were not especially happy hunting grounds. When Salinas del Rey made its first appearance on the tour as the opening stop exactly a year ago, Coccoluto and Kajiya both faltered in the face of their rivals’ tough challenges.
Strong breezes began early and built throughout each day of last year’s competition. They were accompanied by kickers inside the point at Salinas del Rey and proved perfect to fuel the breathtaking freestyle drama that unfolded in this Colombian backwater.
Clinical Coccoluto firing
Coccoluto came out firing in last year’s four-berth final. But after clinically executing his early, powered tricks, he crashed repeatedly and only had three tricks to count, leaving him in fourth place in the end.
By contrast, his three South American rivals were on a charge. Colombia’s Juan Rodriguez fed off his home crowd’s energy to secure the third podium step. But it was Brazil’s Manoel Soares and Carlos Mario who took the first and second podium steps, respectively.
All four male athletes are slated to battle in Salinas del Rey, among 27 men and eight women from 13 nations. They will be joined by many other hot contenders for the win, including former world champions, Valentin Rodriguez (COL) and Arthur Guillebert (FRA), Dominicans Posito Martinez and Adeuri Corniel, Louka Pitot (FRA) and Maxime Chabloz (SUI).
Sol biggest threat
Similarly, Kajiya seems likely to have her work cut out for her in Salinas del Rey. After an enthralling duel in last year’s final, it was compatriot and reigning world champion Mikaili Sol, 18, who came out on top, pushing Kajiya into second.
At the first stop in Qatar, Kajiya turned the tables on her teenage rival, who holds a remarkable five successive freestyle world titles. Sol will be in Colombia, no doubt hungry to avenge her defeat and get her title defence back on track.
But there are others set to fight who have shown themselves more than capable of upsetting the form books and grabbing the top podium spots. Most notable are Spain’s Claudia Leon, the returning Therese Taabbel (DEN) and Brazil’s Estefania Rosa.
The excitement in Colombia will be amped up further by new judging criteria. Head freestyle judge Álvaro Onieva explained that rule tweaks in Qatar had unlocked new possibilities for the competition. Now modified trick families and the points on offer will encourage much greater creativity, with half the men’s heats made up of entirely new manoeuvres, like combos, kite loops or rewinds.
“By changing the format we’re going in a way that’s more inclusive,” said Onieva. “We predict more riders will be going massive, especially when we have conditions that aren’t 100 percent perfect; like gusty conditions, or choppy waters. So riders can adapt tricks in a much more safe way. It’s more creative now and riders can actually apply new stuff. That actually helps all styles.”
About the Salinas del Rey spot
- Why visit?
Salinas del Rey is on Colombia’s northern coast, outside the small fishing village of Santa Veronica. It offers wind, flat water, waves and warm weather. On top of that, there are few spots on the map where you can find good wind conditions and warm weather during the first quarter of the year. The conditions of this kitesurfing paradise made it possible to host the first stop of the 2022 GKA KiteFreestyle World Tour season.
- Wind and weather
Wind season in Salinas del Rey goes from mid-December until July. January to April are the windiest months with daily winds averaging 20-35 knots. From May to July winds also often average 15-25 knots. Wind direction is mostly NE making for a side-onshore breeze.
Air temperatures range between 25ºC /77ºF to 30ºC/86ºF and the dry season goes from December until April. Expect nothing less than warm weather and a nice breeze.
- No wind?
During the windy season, it is really unlikely that you can’t kite. Should that happen, though, you can always go skydiving or take in the views of the tropical dry forest nearby. The department of Atlántico is a heterogeneous territory, with many traditions and cultures, which are reflected in each of its populations with Mokaná indigenous descent. Also, if you happen to be in the area during carnival time, do not miss the chance to go to Barranquilla, 45 minutes away by car. Barranquilla Carnival is recognised by UNESCO as Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity as it is a unique festival for its cultural diversity.
It is easy to find accommodation to suit your budget within walking distance of the spot. There is everything from cheap hostels and local rooms to a luxurious hotel with all amenities. Check it out and negotiate good deals for long term stays.
- Nearest airports
International Airport Ernesto Cortissoz de Soledad (BAQ) – Transfer time to Salinas del Rey (Santa Veronica) – 45 minutes’ drive.
International Airport Rafael Nuñez (CTG) – Transfer time to Salinas del Rey (Santa Veronica) – 55 minutes’ drive.
- Location: Playa Salinas del Rey, Santa Veronica, Colombia
- Dates: 1-5 March
- The official Race Notice and event schedule can be found here.
- All event information is here.
Here’s how to stay up-to-date with all the event happenings.
- Check the Liveticker which will show heat by heat action and live scoring (unfortunately we don’t have livestream video at this event).
- Follow our Instagram and our new TikTok account for behind the scenes action and event updates.
- Subscribe to our newsletter for end of day reporting
- Check out our youtube channel for daily highlight video.
Liveticker will be updated throughout the day. End-of-day recap videos will be published every next morning. Written reports will be posted to the website at the end of each competition day.
Words: Ian MacKinnon
Pictures: Lukas Stiller