Words: Michael Swamer│Photos: Various
On Saturday, 23 November 2013, kiteboarders from across the country descended upon the town of Witsand for the annual R10k Airtime Kiting event, hosted by PiliPili Extreme Sports Centre owner Neels Swanepoel. Arriving early that morning to get in some practice sessions before the event kicked off, it was clear the wind was just not powerful enough for the riders to get the speed needed to perform their vast bag of tricks. Whilst setting up their rigs, one of the riders asked Colin Heckroodt, “What size are you riding today?” To which Colin jokingly responded, "I’m thinking a 6- or 7 metre."
Photo credit: Cat Vezmar
To get the most of the breezy conditions, most riders resorted to using larger kites. Even Oswald Smith couldn't stick it when he came close to shore and attempted a trick to please eager photographers, and fell, blaming it on the speed. “You gotta stay above the water mate!” Heckroodt yelled from the sidelines, with a grin from ear to ear. Smith and Heckroodt were two of the more standout competitors amongst the group and their banter marks a light-hearted rivalry. Throughout practice, competitors seemed to be pushing each other, progressing, and perfecting their tricks for the competition.
Being at the mercy of Mother Nature, the real action was postponed until Sunday when the competition kicked off and competitor's light-heartedness transformed into pure ambition, in the hopes of winning the R10k prize money up for grabs. Many gave their best performance during the qualifiers, but only the top four would see the semi-finals, namely Luke McGillewie, Reini Leitner, Colin Heckroodt, and Oswald Smith. They pushed through to the semi-finals where some of the riders began to get more impressive hang time, while others began to buckle under the pressure, clearing the path for a final between Colin Heckroodt and Oswald Smith.
Conditions held and the wind was optimal for massive air, allowing both Heckroodt and Smith to have impressive hang times. Smith had an impressive 7.98 seconds air time, beating Hecktroodt’s 6.59 seconds airtime, and he also received the best jump of the day at 8.18 seconds in the first qualifier. By day's end, all riders had showed an impressive level of skill, leaving spectators wanting more and hungry for the next competition.
Keen to catch up with the riders after the event, I managed to ask the previous South African Kiteboarding Champion, Colin Heckroodt, a couple questions about the progression of kite surfing.
Michael: Saturday looked pretty bad as far as the wind conditions go, how do you guys make the most out of days like these?
Colin: Yes, Saturday's wind was VERY light indeed. However, we often enjoy times like that, as we tend to have a little more fun other than just hard-core focused training. We have kiteboarding equipment that allows us to fly with only 6 knots of wind, so there are very few days when we are not on the water.
M: It seems that Oswald Smith was giving you a pretty good challenge, do you guys have a rivalry or are you pretty relaxed competitors and friends off the scene?
C: Oswald and I have been training and competing together ever since he started kiteboarding and we have both benefitted enormously from kiting together almost every day in summer. We often travel together across the country and on one or two occasions overseas as well. From my side, it's a pretty chilled competitive environment between us, however I highly doubt that is the case from his side, ha ha. We have a rivalry in the sense that it is almost always the two of us competing in the finals of an event for the first prize. So all in all, I would say good buddies both on and off the water.
M: Are the competitors on the tour pushing each other to progress the sport?
C: Yes, there are always other guys keeping each other on their toes at the various events across the country. Competition really causes the riding levels to rise and it has been amazing to watch so many of the youngsters steadily climbing up the ranks.
M: I saw a bunch of younger guys hanging around you and you helping them. Do you do this so they can progress as well?
C: Yes, I love to help out the younger guys and it gives one a sense of pride and accomplishment in doing so, not to mention seeing them progress so rapidly. I know how much I progressed as a result of the input from the guys before me.
Photo credit: Alexandra Fine
M: When did you start the sport and how did you get into the competitive scene?
C: Well, my dad started kiteboarding nine years ago and a year later, I followed in his footsteps. We have always been a water-sports family, so it was only logical for us to engage in this amazing sport. Living in Cape Town and not making use of the wind is just not the way to go. I have just started competing in the local events and have slowly but surely moved up in the rankings, which then resulted in several overseas trips for training and competing. In 2010-2011, I won the SA Champs, which was a great win for me in light of just having come out of my first anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
M: What's the next stop on the tour and going into it, and do you hope to give Oswald another run for his money?
C: I have already had two ACL reconstructions over the past four years, so injury has been probably my toughest competitor of late. My knee has, for some reason this summer, not taken too well in my training and I have taken some serious precautionary methods to ensure that I do not injure it again. So although I intend to make life a little hard for Oswald and the others, my physical well-being will always be my main concern.
M: Man that's tough, I've had a couple of torn ligaments in my knee so I know it's a brutal thing to go through. What were the rehabilitation processes like?
C: Yes, a knee injury is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I tore my ACL twice in a space of two years and each time it was an operation followed by six to seven months of physiotherapy. Thankfully, I have managed to bounce back pretty well and am super grateful for the competition results and outcomes that I have had of late.
M: Is there any chance of you getting in the Red Bull competition in Cape Town in 2014, or are those spots already filled?
C: Well, I will be shooting a Big Air video in early December in the hopes of entering the Red Bull event and representing North Kiteboarding and Ion apparel. So it's fingers crossed in the meantime.
For more high-flying action, don't miss out on the next big kitesurfing event, the Red Bull King of the Air in January 2014 (25 January - 9 February window period) at Big Bay, Cape Town, where the world’s best kiteboarders will take to the sky in one of Cape Town’s most extreme, big air competitions!
For more information on kiteboarding, visit www.saka.co.za