What happened at the King of the Air 2016?

With the current disaster of the KTA and ex PKRA and VKWC, the only kitesurfing competition that makes a splash these days is the Red Bull King of the Air. This year we saw Aaron Hadlow take his second win back to back who’s solid megaloop handlepasses proved once again why he won the world championship so many times (in case you wondered, 5x).

But what made the sad headlines were the crashes of our friend Lewis Crathern and Lasse Walker. Both had very similar crashes with Lewis coming down from a higher megaloop.

Being an engineer and doing megaloops myself, I was interested in understanding the dynamics of the trick and the reason for the crashes. The number one rule on any loop is of course to commit 100% because nothing hurts more than half a loop. While that clearly is not an issue for top riders like Lewis and Lasse, in both cases the reason why the kite stalls (stops pulling and rising up) is because of a lack in line tension. While doing the loop, the kite generates loads of horizontal pull since it is being sent straight through the powerzone but once it leaves that zone, the pull starts to decrease very rapidly and this is where it is important for the kite to start moving up to act as your “parachute” so that when you come swinging down from the initial pull, the kite ends up above your head. If you have plenty of height left, you can kill that off by doing smaller “helicopter” loops which allow you to come in gently:

If however, you do not have enough height, the kite will not have time to start pulling up which results in you impacting the water like a comet:

Lewis and Lasse both had the height but unlike us mere mortal kitesurfers, they add a backroll which with the sudden pull of the kiteloop results in an inverted backroll. The danger here is that by dropping back down from that inversion, you cannot maintain the tension in your kitelines sufficiently in order to send the kite back up. To clarify this a bit more, if you have ever ridden straight downwind towards your kite and tried to steer it with the lines slack, you will have noticed that not only wont the kite steer, it often will even start to backstall.

Now combined with the very low megaloop, the riders are pretty much free falling and don’t get a chance to steer the kite up as they are dropping towards the water. In an interview with Kiteworld, Aaron explains just this issue when coming down from the megaloop:

In theory, if they had more height, they would eventually “swing it out” and the kite would pull up as the lines regain tension but these riders are pretty much maxing out the possible jump height. Every jump is initialised with a wave as a kicker and they ride towards it with the maximum boardspeed allowed by the wind and water conditions so there just is not much room for improvement and I would argue that it is due to the megaloop that they get that last centimetres higher which make these jumps so spectacular.

In effect, this then shows how close these pro riders are to the limits of what is possible in kiting today and that even the best of them can misjudge the timing and push the limits a bit too far.

We wish both Lewis and Lasse a speedy recovery and hope to be able to see these extreme riders ruling the skies once again.