INTERVIEW BY AXEL REECE / Ydwer photo
Born on the fourth of October, 1988, Aaron Hadlow turned 30 this past fall. His star went on in 2004 when he won the world title for the first time. His dominance in the following years was inimitable, like no one else before or after him. He has been crowned wakestyle champ five times, his life was competitive and result-oriented. The englishman has since expanded his repertoire of tricks. Moves such as the Double Handlepass Mobe 7 were invented by the Duotone rider. In 2005, he was the first to land Double-Handle Airpasses in the World Cup, which was a small revolution back then. Even then, Aaron was considered a training machine and had a coach, who drove with him to the contest. Following his fifth title in 2008, he stepped down from the World Cup Tour, shifting his focus to promotions for his sponsors, and was competing infrequently in other kitesurfing events, like the Triple-S in the U.S. It was Aaron who developed the style in wakestyle during these years. The kite was flown deeper and deeper during the tricks, grabs were built in, which in turn impacted judging in the World Cup. Because of Aaron’s style, World Cup riders in the wakestyle discipline ride in boots without exception. Right at his World Cup comeback in 2013 he drove back to the podium. In recent years, the events in wakestyle have become rather rare, so he is eager to compete in the Red Bull King of the Air and at the new Air Games. We sat down with Aaron to ask about his 15 years of professional kitesurfing.
Kitesurfing Magazine: Up until 2003 the World Cup freestyle was dominated by high jumps and kiteloops. Stars like Mark Shinn and Flash Austin were replaced by you almost overnight. And the discipline of wakestyle was decisively influenced by your first world title in 2004 . Aaron Hadlow: Yes, the evolution of kiteboarding has gone through many stages. When I first started it was all about what we now call big air. Soon after becoming the World Champion it was about board-offs. In 2003 we saw the first handlepasses and from then on I was able to stay on top of the game by learning and creating new wakestyle tricks. It’s funny how this has all come back around again!
KM: Your ACL was not so funny! It held you back in 2012. How did you fight back?
AH: I was out of the game for one year with two operations. It was the toughest time in my career. Not only do you lose some level of yourself, you also lose one year of progression that your competitors gain. It is an incredibly tough journey back to the top from that point. In some ways you gain some motivation, some sort of renewed passion. I was very driven to regain my level and status in the sport.
KM: In 2013 you were back on the board after only two months and immediately re-entered the World Cup. What expectations did you have?
AH: After about three months of riding, the first event of the season was around the corner. It was what I was aiming to be ready for. In the end I almost did not go. I was nervous to push myself so early and it was my first World Cup since 2009. I had to do the trials but then continued all the way to the final of the main event. It was one of the best moments of my career despite winning multiple world championships. The following year I managed to get first place at the Kitesurf World Cup in Germany; finally I had made my goal.
KM: In recent years the Wakestyle World Tour has deteriorated and events have become rare. Does your heart follow this tour a bit?
AH: It is really sad to see what has happened over the last few years. The format is great and the level is high. The story of former champions all fit and fighting together and the new up and coming stars has been slightly missed which is a shame for the sport. I follow it closely and hope that it picks up for the next generation. In 2018 we have really seen some serious talent emerge.
KM: The new format “Air Games” demands new elements from the World Cup. So different disciplines like big air, kiteloops, freestyle and air style tricks have to be shown by you in just one heat. Looking back on your World Cup career, what challenges does that mean?
AH: I have seen and done all these moves since I was ten-years-old. I only have to relearn a few tricks and get them back after not doing them for a while. This makes the new format quite suited to me. I favor the strong winds. It is challenging to do these tricks on a 13 meter kite, it is not that motivating for me, but when the wind is strong I think the format is great. The biggest challenge is the equipment; to get the best score in each category would usually mean you need a different board or even kite. This is one element that I am not so keen on but at the moment I don’t see any other way.
KM: Beside the equipment, did you start with the wrong tactics at the Air Games World Cup this year in Tarifa?
AH: In Tarifa the wind was incredibly light. In my opinion there is a wind limit to such a concept but for various reasons this does not always happen. I tried but there was nothing more I could do in this situation.
KM: At events depending on light, medium and strong winds, sometimes the other riders will be favored?
AH: I agree that different winds favor different riders. You are judged on being the most complete rider and this extends across the entire year in different conditions. For me the light wind limit is debatable; how does light wind work for a discipline that heavily involves big air? In my opinion light wind for this format is maximum power on a 13 meter for an average weight rider. We saw this in Germany during the first days. The windier the conditions the better the show, but I think if you have good power on a big kite then understandably the contest can take place.
KM: What tricks will riders need to win the Air Games in light-to-medium wind conditions?
AH: There are three categories: handlepass, kite loop and big air/board off. In lighter conditions technical difficulty is scoring well, height can be hard to find, so amplitude is considered in combination with maybe a 720 handlepass. Large hooked kiteloops are also impossible on big kites so technical unhooked kiteloop handlepasses get the best score. In these conditions the final category is a tricky one but I would say a board off with multiple rotations could score well if you can find enough hangtime. Others may keep their boots on and try a technical powered trick without handlepass.
KM: And in strong winds?
AH: The heat changes slightly; if you can go massive for a powered 720 handlepass I am sure it would score well, but I tend to prefer a huge sent handlepass with some rotations. In very strong wind conditions it is quite risky. For the kiteloop you will see big hooked in kiteloops with rotations, maybe with a board off or even handlepass. For big air most would change to straps for a big board off but it is also possible to go for huge multiple rotations.
KM: And what do you need today to become World Champion, in addition to winning the last World Cup title in 2008?
AH: Being ten years younger would help a lot! The sport has developed and changed in the years I have been competing. Naturally it is more competitive, but to make it takes much of the same as before. Support from a young age, dedication, talent and hard work. It has become more professional. I think coaching, staying injury-free with additional training will become more common. You really have to dedicate yourself to the discipline that you choose.
KM: How long will it take for a kitesurfer to dominate the sport like you did between 2004 and 2008?
AH: I think there are signs of that happening now. I see Carlos Mario so dominant
at the moment as well as young Mika Sol. It is hard to keep it up for so long but for Carlos, he seems to see no pressure, he just loves every moment and his natural talent is incredible. I can see him going on for many years to come.
KM: Away from Carlos Mario, you are especially known for your preparation; even on the beach. You do sprints before your heats, stretch, do loosening exercises.
AH: I am pretty much one of the oldest at most events. Having a serious injury changes your preparation, it is something I have to do to stay riding and competing the way I want to. It is actually not too much, just a small routine before I hit the water. Although there is a lot of work off the water away from the beach too.
KM: Aaron, imagine there’s both a full Wakestyle and Air Games World Tour in the future. Which one would you choose?
AH: At this point I would have to choose the Air Games. The level on the original pure freestyle tour is massive in 2018. I decided to stop last season and without 100 per cent dedication to a single discipline there is no way to stay at the top. I like to do different things,: King of the Air, Rail events like the Triple-S and now the Air Games.