Region's largest kitesurfing comp yet coming to the island on June 6
As the island prepares to host one of the biggest sporting events of the year, we find out what to expect from Red Bull Kite the Waj.
Kitesurfing is one of the youngest sports on the planet – but it has spread like wildfire. While the name was patented back in 1977 in the Netherlands, it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that technology resembling what kitesurfers use today was developed, simultaneously by inventors in France and the USA, which facilitates the modern discipline’s mix of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, and gymnastics into one extreme sport.
By the end of that decade the daring pursuit had caught mainstream attention, and in 2012, barely 15 years old and still rapidly evolving, kitesurfing was named as an Olympic sport for Rio 2016 (a decision which was later reversed by the General Assembly). As of 2012 there were an estimated 1.5 million kitesurfers worldwide.
With year round sun and great beaches, it’s perhaps little surprise that the sport is picking up popularity across the Gulf. And now many of the region’s best kitesurfers are preparing to descend on Bahrain for what might be the largest event of it’s kind the Middle East has ever seen.
Dozens of professional and amateur kitesurfers will take to the waters surrounding Amwaj Islands on Friday June 6 for Red Bull Kite the Waj: Bahrain 2014. Tanguy Faucon, a former regional kitesurfing champion and MC at the Bahrain event, said it’s the island’s wind currents which saw it stand out from competing hosts like Beirut and Dubai. ‘Bahrain has got great winds,’ he explains, ‘and more importantly guaranteed winds’.
A similar event in Lebanon was cancelled last year due to a lack of puff, he explains. Mind, the Frenchman isn’t complaining as it means he’s still the reigning regional champion, following an earlier North Kiteboarding, Red Bull-backed event, also in Lebanon.
‘There was no wind, so nobody could steal my crown,’ he laughs.
The brainchild of Dutch celebrity kitesurfer Ruben Lenten, the Bahrain event will see 32 surfers compete in teams of two across four different competition categories, each demanding a different discipline and skill, and giving different talents the chance to shine. ‘The good thing about this format is everyone has the chance to show the skills they’ve got,’ Tanguy said. ‘It’s very much a Ruben Lenten competition – it’s a totally different event to anything that has been hosted before’.
At the end of the four rounds, the two teams who pick up most points from the judges go head-to-head in a freestyle final. Significantly, in a bid to make the competition more inclusive, competitors represent their country of residence, not their home nation, so the surfers are expected to be a mix of Arabs and expats from all over the globe. ‘We’re bringing something new into the region,’ adds Tanguy. ‘Kitesurfing is expanding in the Arab world. In Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE... all the nationalities are involved.’
We found out more about what to expect from the four rounds. Air: The first competition round will see surfers tested in their ability to launch themselves off the water, awarded points for the time they can remain airborne, as well as the height they soar. A talented kitesurfer can reach heights of more than ten metres, and remain in the air for up to ten seconds.
‘This category is not about tricks, it’s just about staying in the air,’ said Tanguy. ‘It was first done in the late ’90s, and it’s still impressive for beginners, but easy for pros. It’s really good, crowd-pleasing – everybody just goes “wow” when they see it for the first time.’
Grab: The second round will award kitesurfers’ ability to perform snazzy tricks, in which the rider ‘grabs’ the board. ‘It’s not more difficult than getting air,’ explains Tanguy, ‘it’s more technical’. He compares kitesurfing to skiing in the way different disciplines – such as slalom or freestyle – demand different skills. ‘With kitesurfing there’s so many ways to have fun – for some people it’s all about air, the old school – for others it can be extremely technical, and the Grab round is their chance to shine,’ he adds.
Spin: In this round riders are judged on the number of times and ease with which they can rotate their bodies around after leaving the water.
‘You get in the air and start turning round and round and round,’ said Tanguy. ‘It can be forwards, backwards, upside-down – there’s so many different ways to turn. It’s a mixture of technique and velocity.’
Win: The final round is a freestyle free-for-all, where surfers simply have the opportunity to impress judges with their best tricks. ‘This is the real test, and it’s a chance to impress both the judges and the audience,’ said Tanguy. ‘If there’s something only you can do, something incredible, it’s going to get noticed.’ Expect to see tricks such as kite loops, raileys, handle-passes and S-bends. Red Bull Kite the Waj takes place at Amwaj Island from 11pm on Friday June 6. Free for spectators.