To: Big Air and Marc Jacobs: why now?
Slithering out from the dusty crevices of the interweb, lardy-faced social media sensation and master of kite punditry Colin Colin Carroll puts pen to paper and expresses his affection for a hard-riding angular-faced Kiwi. Yes, we’ve hereby given Colin a printed platform. We’re still baffled as to why… Trust us: he’s very much on probation…
I don’t respect many pro kiters – they are usually a lazy bunch who sit around wondering what the minimum amount of time is that one must stick around for at a beach clean-up before hopping on a long haul flight. However, I do respect Marc Jacobs. I struggle to imagine a pro rider who tries harder than he does to perfect his craft, which at this moment is Big Air. Did you know that he drops nine kilograms for the King of the Air each year? Is anyone else doing that? No. Is anyone else making the same commitment to Big Air that he does? No. Is anyone else doing as many NBD’s (never-been-done) in KOTA as he does? Yes, but they have already won it multiple times. Keep an eye on Marc Jacobs, because he’s dangerous and his time is now. Why? Well… You can’t separate that answer from the rise of Big Air, the discipline that has given riders like Marc a second wind.
Think back to when you first heard of Uber or Snapchat or any tax dodging millennial mega-start-up that offered an obvious convenience that we somehow now cannot picture life without. Those initial seconds of admiration for the co-founders behind the idea soon waste away into a vengeful rage. Why did I not come up with that? It is sooo obvious. I feel the same way about the rise in popularity of Big Air. Its appeal is hard wired into us. It is the reason we all got into kiting. So why is it only now that it has become the discipline?
Well, until recently we have been tethered to wakeboarding. We have looked to them for our tricks, our direction and our self-worth. But the tethering hasn’t been like a friendly fighter jet offering extra fuel mid-flight, it is more like we are a disgruntled teenager at an ABBA tribute concert with our parents – we are way too cool for this. I mean, we can fly. So why are we limiting ourselves to the confines of another sport, which has completely different goals and aspirations? Because they did those tricks first. To illustrate this best, I need you to go and watch a video:
Just like ABBA’s ‘Gimme Me A Man After Midnight’, as much as we might think we are cooler-than-this, everyone goes nuts for the classic. Everyone loves it because of its reputation. It is the thing that came first, and it’s banging. That is the reason. And it is a good reason. Those unsightly adolescents indulging themselves on a weekday is us, and that track is wakeboarding.
But like all sweaty parties full of gurning teenagers you start to sober up, and if you are not careful you have a whopping great big reality check – the absolute last thing you needed on a dance floor listening to ABBA with your top off. My most recent reality check involved a Saturday morning kids tennis lesson – me and 15 five-year-olds, playing the ‘Bean Game’. I call out ‘runner bean’: we run around, balancing a ball on our rackets; ‘Beans on toast’: we lie on the floor; ‘Dancing bean’: I’m there busting freestyle dance moves and doing the worm at 9am surrounded by snotty nosed children. It is all fine until I make eye contact with a cringing parent, and suddenly it all caves in – what am I doing with my life? How has it come to this? I need to draw a line in the sand. From this day forward, things will be different – that is what’s just happened to kiting. Freestyle competition stagnated: King of the Air took to the stage.
It is the event that captures the hearts and minds of the general public more than anything else, and therefore, as the event has grown, the riders have gravitated towards that discipline. The riders want to win the biggest event, so that is where their focus goes. The same can be said for the general kiting public with regards to the WOO leaderboards. We are naturally drawn to it. KOTA, since 2013, has grown and grown until the present day, where we have a polished competition format that has years of successful iterations behind it, resulting in a product that literally gets me so excited that I can’t sleep the night before. I watch it religiously because I am certain I am going to witness ground being broken, new things happening. New characters. New drama. New tricks. New stuff. Big Air feels new and fresh and exciting. A big part of that is riders like Marc Jacobs injecting the discipline with rotations and ideas that no one has seen: backroll board-offs with everything happening at once.
The last reason that Big Air has flourished, is because until the mid-teenies, the gear hasn’t been easy-to-use in big winds, which has held the general kiting public back from sinking their teeth into Big Air. Which has meant that the brands have had their focus on selling kites that you can do tricks on, kites that drift in waves, and kites that pretend to be able to do everything. Even as recently as five years ago, the average weekend warrior knew that kite loops were beyond them: too scary, too much risk, gear not up to it. In 2021, everyone is yanking on one side of the bar, because kites built with this riding style in mind have made it safer and easier than ever before. Effortless height, in combination with a gentle and consistent loop makes for a heightened sense of ability. All you need nowadays is confidence, and you are looping. In 2015, confidence on a C-kite meant the coastguard putting on their lifejackets. The boosted confidence levels impacts the other end of the spectrum too. I am certain that I wouldn’t have witnessed the world’s first late backroll board off, executed by Marc Jacobs on a 10m Orbit in New Zealand, if it wasn’t for this type of kite’s ultra-reliable catch. It has made things more possible for the top-end user, too.
I am not saying that things are easy nowadays. They are easier though, for sure. That is why we are seeing new tricks appear. They have been unlocked by kites that don’t want to pull your harness through your body. Stuff is happening now that is literally not possible on a C-kite in 40 knots. But the thing about Marc Jacobs is, he makes it look hard; he always has. Bebe and Valentin’s freestyle looks effortless, whereas the likes of Marc and Youri made it look ferocious, like they couldn’t have much more power without the bar being ripped out of their hands. Doing things that are hard is cool… apart from trigonometry, perhaps. But as a result of doing so, Marc has always epitomized cool. He makes kiting look cool. And he makes you look cool, as a result. Cheers for that, Marc. How does he always look so powered, though? I know why.
Marc Jacobs can create wind. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know. But he can. I realize how that sounds and I realize the entertainment of this whole article relies on exaggeration for comic effect, but in this instance, I will actually stand by it. If you ever meet me (hopefully not) I will argue this and refuse to concede until proven ridiculous. I have wind charts and GPS tracking maps and everything. Anyway, when Marc rocks up at the spot, the forecast seems to bend towards whatever he wants. And no, it is not a conspiracy theory, like Qanon or mindfulness – this is a naturally occurring phenomenon. You have just got to know who the right people are to ask. Because some people just don’t know. But that is not their fault. They are just dim and therefore don’t believe in Marc’s god-like tendencies.
There is a downside to looking like Marc does, though. And it is not the men’s lingerie commercials. It is the reception he provokes in people. He is the sort that people in bars want to punch. I would love to punch him, come to think of it… in any location, not just a bar. Imagine punching him in a supermarket. Or a massage parlor whilst he’s face down. It would be fantastic. And what makes that even more tempting is that Marc Jacobs rises above all of this bluster.
Marc treats everyone with the same respect, no matter how tangled their lines are. He looks intimidating, let’s be honest. Like some distant son of Hercules has come to show us all how to kite. And he is always riding at about twice the pace of anyone else. And his tricks demand a lot of space. And he’s got an air of mystery about him – he is quiet and reserved, so you assume he is operating in some sort of alternate dimension. Thinking up hectic stuff that you would never understand. Basically, your first impression is that you probably shouldn’t talk to him. You are not worthy. A peasant must know their place whilst inside the palace. But then you see his spoodle, Ace, swimming around in the shallows following him. Then you see him helping a helpless idiot out with their pump nozzles and texting half of Auckland city, telling them where and when he is going kiting.
I have a useless cousin called Timmy, who I hate. He is a naggy little weasel who makes me look 35 percent less awesome just by being in my vicinity. There have been multiple occasions where Marc has saved the lives (no joke) of various incompetent Auckland kiters. I have been there to witness a few of them. One of these incompetents was Timmy, when he decided to try his first few megaloops on the same size kite as Marc at Muriwai – still to this day, the most ferocious beach I’ve ever experienced. The current drowns people at regular intervals and the swell has a reputation for bending bars in half, no joke. Anyway, I’m tucked up in the sand dunes behind a windbreak of fantastic structural integrity, with a cup of hot choccy, filming Marc when the wind picks up. Left to his own devices, Timmy does a megaloop with an unintentional two and a half backroll rotation. He comes down backwards, in boots, much to my delight. Timmy, barely conscious at this point, is being even more useless than normal and is lying on his back, looking as though he has just been told his tax return is overdue.
An entire lifetime of being a twat catches up with Timmy as the waves pound his body and his kite. I am pretending not to have seen it all unfold, hoping for a big set to come through, whilst Marc leaps into action, grabs Timmy around the waist, ejects all his gear off of him and drags him back to shore. Timmy has no recollection of this event, so I didn’t see why I had to drive him to A&E for a brain scan if he was none the wiser. I was surprised that they managed to detect anything in that empty head of his, but apparently that whole debacle wasn’t a complete waste of a good hot choccy. He is now fine and back to his usual annoying self. Bastard. I have told this tragedy because it illustrates Marc’s character (he saves a few people per year, on average) and what is perhaps most impressive about him – he’s surrounded by cretins, but remains one of the best kiters in the world. He is so isolated in NZ, with no one to push him. No one even comes close. All he’s got is a motley crew of weirdos who are in constant need of saving and hand-me-downs. Yet there he is, keeping up and in some cases, guiding the pack of Big Air royalty from afar. Can you imagine isolating any of the other top 10 and them pulling that off?
I have thought lots about what motivates him and how he does it all. I think it comes down to raw competitive spirit. Like a true fighter, Marc gets back up when he has been hit down. And he has suffered this blow once already – freestyle was his game, and the generation underneath his took that away from him just before he became a world champ. He was a year too late, becoming vice champion in 2013, before Bebe arrived to spoil everyone’s fun. Everyone else of Marc’s era – Alex Pastor, Youri Zoon, Christophe Tack – have sunken into the shadows. They didn’t get back up. Marc felt the ground, wiped the sweat off his brow, took stock on that little chair in the corner of the ring and got back to it. He has still got something to prove.
In case you don’t believe me and assume that he is another lazy trust fund baby who kites for a living out of pure boredom, Marc’s career has been completely funded and fueled by people who have seen him ride and thought, “Shit, this guy’s got something”. Marc saw kiting and did a paper round for two years to afford a 5.5m Naish AR5. He then waited for his birthday the following year for a board, during which time he taught himself most of the rotations and passes on land. Then, Dave Edwards taught Marc to kite after Marc had followed him around nagging him endlessly, ruining Dave’s love life by turning up at inappropriate moments to ask whether it was going to be windy. Years later came his PKRA debut. Marc had $100 in his account, and had to podium to afford a flight home. He did it. Then in 2014, he ruptured his meniscus during a Front Blind Mobe in Fuerteventura. A week later, he podiumed in Germany. He also had a burst eardrum…
Marc has applied this freestyle-era determination straight to Big Air, more so, in my not so humble opinion, than anyone else – the same rigorous training schedule, the same amount of gymming, the same diet, the same precautionary measures to prevent injury whilst pushing as hard as possible to unlock new tricks and gain consistency in his weak spots. Where other pros have taken to straddling two disciplines or have committed to video projects that no one watches, Marc has doubled down on Big Air, and he made this transition three years ago.
Unlike the majority of the Big Air big-dogs, Marc’s preferred riding direction is right foot forward. KOTA requires you to ride left foot forward. He’s looping on his weaker side whilst doing all the rotations and board offs under the sun in order to keep up with the likes of Aaron Hadlow, Jesse Richman and Kevin Langeree. I can’t understate how unfortunate it is that the two main Big Air events favor left foot riders. It is paralyzing for most, especially in Cape Town, where even the most seasoned freestyle riders turn up thinking of trying their hand at Big Air and get completely humbled by the Cape Doctor’s power. Why do you think BAKL Cape Town was missing some of the KOTA 2021 riders? Because they qualified through video entry to much applause, only to realize that they are totally inept on their left side tack in the South African conditions. So they hid in their bedrooms, rocking back and forth in a wet towel, staring at TikTok and wishing they could dance like that.
There are two ways around this dilemma: you go the Janek Grzegorzewski route and introduce ‘Contra loops’, where you loop the other way (front hand down) so that you are still using your strong hand, or you go full Marc Jacobs, and learn everything switch. Everything – Boogies, board-offs, Boogie board-offs, the lot. It has taken years, but Marc has slowly become as good left as he is right. As a result, if the BAKL pulls off a world tour that introduces right-foot-forward spots too, I think Marc will be ahead. I think. Hard to know, of course, but all shall be revealed at the next Big Air events, where Marc will drop nine kilograms and put all his training to the test.
You wouldn’t assert this sort of commitment to the sport if you just felt that you would die for it. You need a better reason than that. You need to have had dreams not reached. You need to have had opportunities within grasp that have slipped away. You need to have had the shit beaten out of you.
In the first few months of kiting, Marc recalls being thrown 15 meters high, higher than he had ever been at the time, by a water spout back in the 2000’s. He remembers it hitting, and seeing another bloke closer to the beach on a 20m kite (haha) being picked up and thrown through the dunes and onto the road at Tay Street in Tauranga, New Zealand. Marc tacks and head out to sea. It hits him, and Marc claims that he’s “Never seen to this day the kite doing the things it did. It was flying itself, pulling me up whilst it was going inside of itself”. The vortex had him in full grip as he froze, not wanting to pull the quick release because he didn’t want to fall from that high. Marc woke up in a car after being dragged from the water, face down. He couldn’t open his eyes because it hurt his brain too much. Someone had seen it unfold from the road and pulled over to take him to hospital. His parents met him there, where he spent two nights with water in his lungs, laying in the hospital bed, thinking about how long it would be before he could kite again.
Almost twenty years later, it is game time for Marc Jacobs, and New Zealand’s wild west coast is the perfect practice pitch for the 2021 KOTA, for which he pre-qualified via a very strong video entry. He will presumably do an enormous amount of pooing (to shed weight, not out of fear) and wave his gang of cretins (who will probably be severely injured during his absence) goodbye as he sets sail for Cape Town’s windy season. He will put it all on the line because he is the most committed and most professional Big Air rider in the world. Trust me.
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This article originally appeared in TheKiteMag #42. To subscribe, head here.