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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Location: Pak Nam Pran, Pranburi, Thailand

The long awaited KTA opener to the 2017 Asian kiteboarding season arrived and with it brought a combination of many firsts.

The week-long event brought together both the Asian Continental Championships and Thai National Series, with the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA), Kitesurf Association of Thailand (KAT) and the KTA joining forces for this bumper week of competition. The event also for the first time saw the new Youth Olympic TTR race format which all eyes are on and provided some highly entertaining racing as the week progressed.

The dual event that also included freestyle as well as racing, with the welcome return of KTA’s Freestyle X format, also saw a new title sponsor joining the world of kiteboarding with Moose Cider ( backing both events.

With favorable winds blowing from mid-morning onwards, the final day of competition kicked off with energy and high expectations in equal parts. The racers were split into different fleets than the previous few days, going from fleets of 8 to fleets of 15 on average. It made for an interesting turn of racing stats, as suddenly different names from the top contenders were pitted against each other for the first time this week. Although we have come quite accustomed to seeing the likes of Yo and Atte chasing each other up and down the race course, it’s been seldom we’ve seen Atte Kappel and Christian Tio battling it out at the front of the pack. Similarly we saw fellow Thai, Praphan Thongnak up at the front of the fleet giving Asian Champion Yo Narapichit Pudla a run for his money on a number of occasions. Even in the final day of competition nobody’s fate was certain. 

Nobody’s fate, that is, except for 16 year old Jingle Chen from China, who didn’t falter from her top position in a single heat this week. When she casually hopped off her board at the shore break after effortlessly leaving the rest of the women’s fleet trailing behind her, she smiled with ease and explained that in fact, it wasn’t as easy as it looked- foiling has been her main focus over the past few months and to ride a twin tip again feels very challenging- especially given the level of her competitors. Well, Jingle, your modesty matches your skills.

Once all the races came to a close, 30 or so kiters took to the water for the long awaited end of week expression session. A huge crowd drew around the edge of the bleachers and spilled out onto the sand, every set of eyes captivated by the pack of riders jumping, spinning, and pulling out every trick you can imagine- however unpolished it might have been it was a genuine show of expression, that’s for sure.

This is important to note- this is what still sets us apart as a sport, this is what makes a kite event a kite event. The fact that the guys who have been intensely vying to knock each other off the leader board all week take to the water together, pulling tricks side by side not in competition but collaboration. That rider, judges, boyfriends and girlfriends, kids and champions go out there and ride together purely for the love of it. While kiteboarding moves gradually further and further down the Olympic path, and we begin to dip our toes tentatively into the world of sailing, we often find parallels drawn between our sports. We of course appreciate the gracious way in which we are (for the most part) encouraged to align ourselves with the world of sailors, but here is where the difference lies- in the core of the sport, in the spirit of the riders in the last hours of a week-long competition, in the expression session.

With the expression complete the riders finally made their way from the beach to prepare themselves for the awards ceremony and final closing party. Again sponsored and prepared by our very hands on title sponsors Moose Cider. It’s been great working with these guys and to see new support from them coming into our sport. 

It was a tired, but happy crew of riders, officials and event team that gathered for the awards at the atmospheric site of Wilburland for the final bash. The awards were led by the voices of the KTA, our TV presenter Grace Austin and Race MC Reo Mendoza who brought the summary of the week together and presented the winners to the assembled crowds of supporters. 

IKA CEO Markus Swendter then closed the formal proceedings with the motivating speech that confirmed that everyone had played their part in consolidating the Youth Olympic race format choice was a good one. The week had played out perfectly on that score, some lessons and adjustments for sure, but in the end we have our first Kite Olympic race test has been a success, so it’s ‘onwards and upwards from here on in until 2018.

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