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Leo Verrecchia in Australia by Gregory Gerhardt 6 1200x800 - The Mission: Hold Your Nerve

The Mission: Hold Your Nerve

Leo Verrecchia tells us what it takes to remain calm and composed when competing in your first ever international competition. His experience at the GKA Freestyle Kite World Cup in Brazil, where he got through to the quarterfinals – an impressive achievement when you’re going up against some of the best in the business – helped him go on to win the Freestyle Nationals in his home country of Australia in January.

PHOTOS: Andre Magarao, Anthony Brown, Gregory Gerhardt and Svetlana Romantsova
Leo Verrecchia in Brazil by Andre Magarao scaled - The Mission: Hold Your Nerve

In November of last year, I had the opportunity to compete in my first ever GKA Freestyle Kite World Cup. After spending three months kiting in the dreamy flatwater lagoons of Taiba, Brazil, I had started to feel a consistent improvement in the progression of my riding. All those gnarly back edges and countless slams were paying off. I had started getting consistent with most of the double handlepasses. I saw that the GKA was holding its last event of the year in Taiba (where I was already staying), and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test my skills under pressure and experience competing on a world level. I also saw it as practice for returning home to Australia to compete for Australian Freestyle champion.

After submitting a wildcard video, I was able to secure a place in the GKA event. I went into the competition with a positive and calm attitude, knowing that as it was my first time competing on an international level I would be happy with whatever happened, although I did have a little goal in mind of making it to the third round or better. Following the registration, opening ceremony and riders’ briefing on day one, day two kicked off with the qualification rounds. I was placed in the first heat and was the very first rider to do a trick which was pretty cool! I didn’t honestly have many nerves going into the event or even during my heats. I think I handled the pressure really well throughout and just focused on myself and no one else’s riding or skill level. To ease off some of the pressure and nerves, I just pretended the comp was another fun kite session with my friends.

I rode really well in my first heat, landing a nice Slim 7, Blind Judge 5 and grabbed Backmobe, to name a few. I ended up taking second position against a Brazilian ripper, which meant I made it into the second round, where I replicated my first heat but better. I crashed my Slim 7 twice, but on my last trick attempt I stomped a clean one and got four solid tricks on the board. I took second position again and went through to the third round. This time I was up against the legendary Carlos Mario. The wind dropped off and I didn’t ride as well in this heat, however I still put together enough tricks to make it into the fourth round. I was super stoked to even make it this far. In the fourth round I was up against Tom Bridge, Val Garat and Dominican shredder Lorenzo Calcaño. To advance to round five, the quarterfinals, I needed to finish second or higher. I kept my composure and didn’t let the pressure get to me. I performed my best heat of the competition, landing three clean double handlepasses and some stylish grabbed single-pass moves. The heat was very close, but I amazingly managed to take the win against some big name, experienced freestyle competitors. I only beat Val Garat by 0.71 points, but it was my huge clean Blind Judge 5 on my last trick attempt that bumped me to first position and through to the quarterfinals.

In round five, I was up against former world champions Valentin Rodriguez and Arthur Guillebert, as well as the young Brazilian prodigy Davi Ribeiro. In this heat, I treated it the same as all my other heats, but just tried to go bigger and do my best. I rode well and landed all my best tricks cleanly, however it wasn’t enough to beat the other riders. They are on another level and it was awesome to even be in the same heat as them. Overall, it was an insane experience getting to compete on the world tour for the first time, and I was really proud of my performance and to be able to represent Naish Kiteboarding and Prolimit. After spending a couple more weeks in the beautiful country of Brazil, it was time to head back to Australia. I had such an unforgettable trip and I was sad to leave, however I was just as excited to spend the next month in Western Australia kiting with friends and competing in the Australian Freestyle Nationals.

Leo Verrecchia in Australia by Gregory Gerhardt 2 1440x754 - The Mission: Hold Your Nerve

There was now only one thing on my mind: to become Australian Freestyle National Champion. The competition was actually quite tough this year – strong winds combined with the high level of talented riders, meant that I was in for a challenging event. Going into this competition, I actually felt more nervous and felt more pressure to perform than in Brazil. Perhaps this is because being Australian Champion has been on my mind for years, and I’ve just missed out on it every time. Regardless, I just tried to stay calm and wash the nerves away during the comp by not overthinking it, staying positive, being relaxed, and having fun with the other competitors. In the final, the wind decided to crank up to nearly 30 knots, making it a real challenge to land my tricks and I had to go down to a smaller kite halfway through the heat. The boys in the final rode really well and landed a solid mixture of difficult freestyle moves. I was a bit nervous and stressed after crashing a few tricks, but after swapping kites, I managed to land my remaining two tricks. I needed to nail these two otherwise it was game over.

In the end, I wasn’t overly happy about my heat, as I didn’t land any double handlepasses, and I knew I could do better. The final was extremely close because of this and I had no clue who’d won until the presentation the following day. When they called up the third and then second place riders in the Open’s division, I knew I had won the title. I was so stoked and relieved to finally walk up and claim my trophy! It has been a goal of mine for years to become Australian Freestyle National Champion. There ended up being only 1.5 points between the top three riders. It could have gone any way, but the judges saw that I had a bit more speed, power and style going into my moves which brought me out on top.

I couldn’t be happier with my results in both competitions and can’t wait until next year to hopefully defend my title as Australian champion. I also look forward to my future progression as a kiteboarder and am excited to see where this amazing sport takes me…

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