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Last time I checked there were months left to go until the KTA clan would be back together again. Then the months became weeks, the weeks turned to days, the days dwindled down to zero and suddenly we found ourselves in yet another new place that felt just like home: Ninh Chu Bay, Vietnam.
There was a lot to be excited about. This event held huge promise as the first ever X-Champs competition. The event was to be split into a range of disciplines: TT Racing, the new Freestyle X, a little cheeky WOO factor and even Stand up Paddle Racing. It’s the sort of event that has something for everyone- from the hardcore new school pro champs to the local Vietnamese spectators whose first exposure to kiteboarding and SUP racing would be at this event. So with a new competition format also came a new vision for our team. We happily welcomed on board some new crew members for this event who would go on to help us produce some really exciting new media output- with the vision of growing the kite boarding brand to new audiences. With the help of Reid Ridgeway, the experienced director and man with the plan, we began pre-production and filming for our new style of documentary type KTA TV broadcasts. These will go out over the next few months with our broadcast partners on SKY TV across Europe and with the Outdoor Channel in Asia and Australasia. Our online and social media output is also about to get an extra boost too, in the form of new TV broadcast partners, The Q You. These are the guys that brought the world MTV and are now turning their attention to broadcasting content like well the KTA. In the days leading up to the event, loads of riders and crew members explored different areas of Ninh Chu bay with the film crew avidly in tow.
Our first expedition was to a neighbouring fishing village, where local rider Phi taught us first-hand how to paddle the traditional Vietnamese fishing boats (so not as easy as it looks!). Needless to say, none of us will be volunteering to race the locals any time soon… As far as the water goes, we’ll stick to the kites for now. Fortunately, the KTA drone captured our efforts on camera, much to the fascination of the local kids who gathered around in large groups to watch what was going on.
Other expeditions included a spectacular drive through the newly finished mountain roads, which wind down through cliffs and valleys to finish at azure waters harbouring floating restaurants, where we were treated to some authentic Vietnamese seafood, yum.
On the final day before the competition began we managed to squeeze in one last adventure, to a local Buddhist temple where we helped carry bricks up meandering staircases to contribute to the ongoing renovations. We were rewarded at the top of our climb by breath taking panoramic views of the entire bay and surrounding area: rice and salt fields, flat plains, and staggering mountains.
At last competition day rolled around, and ringing it in first thing in the morning was the SUP heats. Everyone had been heavily eyeing up the new Starboard SUPs that had been pumped and stacked up in lieu of the competition, so we were all pretty thirsty to see what the action on the water would be like. Round one of the men’s heat saw a few lads get a bit overexcited and take off before the official start had been called- so although local competitor Phu smashed the number one spot, the false start required a redo. Poor old Phu was knackered after the first race and wasn’t so lucky with round 2. Following the redo race was the women’s heat, which was our first opportunity to see exactly how high the level of female competition would be at this event. There were some seriously cut throat ladies out there, resulting in neck in neck racing, and plenty of tumbles and pile ups!
In advance of this day, Ninh Chu Bay had been enjoying the expected cross-shore winds and perfect water conditions, but as the opening ceremony finished the rain began. The forecast, but not welcomed storm dampened spirits as the returning wind shifted to offshore. From now on it would hard work for the riders.
After some hard fought paddle races, it was time for the TT Race fleet to take to the water and although not easy the riders and team managed to push through a number of races to close the day. The racing as well as the KTA X-Champs as a whole is solidly support by their long-term industry partners Cabrinha.
Although the offshore wind made for tricky conditions, especially on the beach, but once the riders were out on the water the proceedings went off without a hitch. This was the media team’s first chance to catch some candid interviews with the riders as they came off the water one by one. This new spin on the media output had an awesome response on the Facebook page just overnight, which left the crew feeling super positive and motivated for the competition ahead, despite the workload rising!
Day two opened with the same wind situation and it was clear that it would not be shifting back any time soon. Nevertheless, the riders pushed on with the competition and the SUP racers again powered their way around the course. KTA SUP racing is being run as a one design class, sponsored by Starboard, who are support the KTA to introduce this fast growing high participation watersport throughout the session. It certainly caught the attention of paddlers and kiters alike at Ninh Chu Bay, as an international field of 30 riders battled it out. It was day in which the Russian paddlers slowly beginning to dominate the men’s pack, while on the women’s side of things the top place battles where taking place between the New Caledonian and Korean girls.
As with the opening day, TT Racing kicked back into action after the paddlers left the water. The offshore wind might have been unexpected, but this did not slow the racers down any and they were soon blasting across Ninh Chu Bay in a series of fast reaching races that excited the crowd into cheering for their new favourite riders. Thailand’s Yo Narapichit Pudla, showed once again why he was still reigning Asian champion, while in the women’s class with one 1 rider Germany’s Kathrin Borgwardt out of action due to fever, a new face in the form of a young 16 year old rider from China, Jingle Chen was making her mark.
Day two was completed by the much anticipated WOO Big Air competition. The Big Air show was a firm favorite with hordes of local spectators who were ‘wowed’ by the action packed jumps taking place in front of them. Kiteboard Big Air is something that everyone can get behind and enjoy, whether you’re competing against world rankings or just watching from the beach. The wind was blowing hard, and the gusts were carrying the WOO riders to new heights and laying down the first KTA WOO X-Champs records. Vietnam’s Lai Hoang Phu boosted a massive 13.8 mtrs to secure a popular home win in the men’s division, while Holland’s Mariska Wildenberg put up an unbeatable 10.9 mtrs for the women.
Sadly, it was clear by the end of the day that the winds at this spot were not going to play ball and return to the expected direction, meaning that it would not be ideal for the approaching freestyle event. The difficult decision to move the competition to a new location was made and following day would see a shift to the south side of Ninh Chu Bay.
Day 3 and the riders and crew woke with a new lease of excitement, the KTA’s Freestyle X had arrived!
The new location was something really special, ideal conditions made better only by the incredible backdrop of mountains on the horizon, and most importantly pumping wind. Choppy waters pushed many riders outside of their comfort zone, but those who knew how to take advantage of the right kickers were rewarded. The KTA’s Freestyle X had come of age as radical new school and airstyle hooked in old school moves were blended into some incredible heats of pure talent. The crowds love it, growing bigger throughout the day and cheering their heads off as one big move after another blasted into the sky.
Approaches from the riders to this new format of freestyle where interesting and varied. While most had switched to straps to allow them to add board offs to their old school output, some riders like Hollands Dylan van der Meij, would swap halfway through his heat from straps to boots. Vietnam’s Win had a totally different approach and impressed judges, fellow riders and crowds alike with is spellbinding strapless surfboard riding. It was a tough day though and the riders left the beach exhausted, but happy.
With everyone well rested and ready to go again, the final day of the competition kicked off with the Freestyle X finals. The level of competition was absolutely astounding as the guys and girls battled it out for the number one spot. France, Aruba and Japan in the shape of Aya Oshima, Maureen Castelle, Marine Duprat and Annabel van Westerop, went head to head in the women’s Freestyle X, showing us some of the best levels of riding the KTA has seen in women’s freestyle. In the end though it was Marine Duprat who would come out on top.
The men were also making a hugh impact. Featuring Quentin Valesa, Dylan vander Meij, Jaka Komocar and Andrey Salnik, from France, Holland, Slovakiaa and Russia respectively. The winds were screaming in and the guys were maxing out on both height and technicality, it was a total kiting feast and no one will forget that final between Meij and Salnik for some time to come. It was though a popular and well deserve win for Meij that finished the Freestyle X action for the KTA X-Champs Vietnam.
It was a perfect day and the TT racers also relished the challenge to get back on the water and show off their high speed skills. All the usual suspects were in the thick of it as the final round of racing unfolded to take us towards the close of action. Atte Kappel, Fon Benyapa Jantawan, Pauline Valesa and Quentin Valesa pressed Pudla and Chen hard over the final races, but in the end they held on and took the glory and bragging rights from the 4 days of varied and challenging, but classic TT Racing which showed why this discipline remains the most popular for the KTA.
The VCRSF and Ninh Thuan Provincial Government, began the closing of the first KTA X-Champs with the official medal awarding ceremony at the Long Thaun Hotel. This was opened by a number of traditional Vietnamese dancers that captivated and reminded the competitors of the culture of Vietnam that they had been enjoying during their stay.
The official ceremony then blended seamlessly into the final prize giving and closing party that brought the KTA back to where it starting proceedings, at the Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club.
Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club was the KTA X-Champs home and our hearts and our night time R&R returned to base each evening. And what a line-up our hosts unfolded for us over the week A week that opened with the Red Rock Sausage Fest, brought us the unforgettable music talent of Mai Khoi, chilled everyone out with a Bacardi sponsored Jamaican Night beach BBQ and bonfire night and saw us out with an unforgettable prize giving and closing party. All backed throughout the week by the DJ’s and technical wizards from Saigon Sound System.
Then it hit, it was time to go home. What’s next for the KTA is a little uncertain, but one thing is for sure- it is these times of uncertainty and hardship that really bring out the comradery, determination and grass root soul of the KTA and all of its followers. It is down to the commitment and support of every individual who has ever been a part of one of these events that has brought the KTA to where it is today, and where it is sure to go in the future. So it is with great thanks and appreciation that we can say: no doubt we’ll be seeing you all soon.
Woo Big Air