Like Ross, Kiteworld assistant editor, Kyle Cabano, grew up close to Cape Town and got into kiting at a similar time before their paths diverted. Following Ross’ win at February’s Big Air Kite League event, it was time for a catch-up

WORDS: Kyle Cabano / PHOTOS: Kyle Cabano (unless otherwise stated)

Let me introduce Ross Dillon-Player. There are six years between us but we started our kiting journeys around the same time, in 2014. As groms from different parts of Cape Town, with a fairly small crew, it was simple enough to keep tabs on all the other riders’ skill level and progression. Due to local influences and industry changes, the trending riding genre of that era was freestyle. I didn’t really think much of the youngster from Claremont until I saw him land his first raley-to-blinds and immediately realised I’d fallen behind! Fast forward a quick five years and Ross, now still only 21, has cemented a solid reputation in the big air scene as a regular King of the Air competitor, has joined the Naish International team and even become friends with Robby. Inspired by his influences on Maui, Ross is also transitioning to become a multi-discipline athlete with a drive for adrenaline. I set about to find out how he has moved up the ladder so quickly...

Sending it on home turf, Blouberg, Cape Town / Photo: MacMedia

Now that you’re a seasoned traveller, where are your favourite places to kite when it comes to big air and waves? Maui is by far the most consistent place I’ve been to when it comes to waves. You have to time it right at the end of the summer season / beginning of winter so that the wind and waves combine. The waves there are all right handers, so quite different to Cape Town. For big air (besides Cape Town, because Cape Town is obviously the best) I really like New Zealand where there are some beautiful locations and really varied scenery. Some days it will be overcast, pouring with rain but with 45 knots of wind. Other days you’ll get 30 knots, warm weather and sunshine. There is a really good lagoon Manghawai Heads that has a massive sandbar that’s something like 15 metres high, so the water is always nice and flat. I’ve also ridden waves at a spot called Muriwai, which is super gnarly with a black sand beach, so it’s pretty eerie. Cape Town still definitely takes the cake for big air, though! What has been the proudest moment in your career so far? I have two. The first was first winning the Red Bull Megaloop Challenge in Holland in 2019. I’ve always wanted to win the event, I just didn’t expect it to happen when I was still only 19. My other big achievement was signing with Naish. I started riding for Naish kites locally in South Africa before switching over to Core for a short two year period. Naish International then offered me a contract and I was super stoked to join the brand. Working with guys like Robby and the team of designers is a dream come true. These guys were involved in the early stages of kiteboarding and have a lot of experience and knowledge.

Megaloop Challenge hero, Netherlands, 2019 / Photo: Jarno Schurgers / Red Bull Content Pool

Megaloop Challenge hero, Netherlands, 2019 / Photo: Jarno Schurgers / Red Bull Content Pool

You’ve recently adapted to some big wave surfing. Tell us more about this adventure, how it came to be and where you see it going? I really enjoy surfing now, it’s one of my favorite things to do, especially big wave surfing. The Naish team were super stoked when I told them I wanted to ride jaws. Robby called me soon after and we started designing some boards. I made two dedicated big wave guns, one for kiting and another for surf, which I’ve been spending a lot of time on. I can’t go out and kite 40 foot waves in Cape Town because we don’t have that set-up, so the only way I could learn and train to get pounded is to go big wave surfing. Starting out feeling like a terrible surfer, I went about learning in some smaller surf before moving onto the bigger local waves, like the Crayfish Factory and Sunset Reef. The next big Cape Town target is Dungeons, we are just waiting for a swell to hit. Jaws is obviously a huge part of this motivation. I have stood and watched it and it’s just gnarly! It makes our waves look like child’s play, but Jaws seems to break perfectly; each wave breaking in the same spot in the same way.

Maui time

Maui time

You have performed well in a number of the biggest kiteboarding competitions. Which one or two things do you currently include in your training that may be key to your success? The biggest thing I have always lacked is a high level of fitness. While always being relatively fit, I was never at the point of thinking, “This is the fittest I have ever been”. The biggest difference now is that I’m in the gym five times a week and really pushing my own personal limits.

I’ve really felt the difference on competition days. Last week at the BAKL competition in Blouberg I didn’t feel tired at all throughout the day. In the past I’d feel very tired by the last few heats of the day, but now I feel like I’m riding the first heat of the day all the time.

You have to be super fit to cross into big wave surfing! I need great cardio and strength for paddling, so the combination of training cross-fit, swimming and big wave surfing has seriously improved my kiting. Now that I’m more comfortable riding 10-15 foot waves at Sunset, a six foot wave at Blouberg on my directional doesn’t feel so scary. I am riding more confidently, doing bigger and more aggressive turns. Any bucket list locations you are still wanting to go and kite? Yes, I have a few spots in mind. Cape Verde for waves, Nazaré for kiting and towing and somewhere like Teahupoo would be epic, too! I would love to get an experience there, but it is very scary. I would much rather be towed into a 60 foot wave at Nazaré than a 20 foot wave at Teahupoo. Who are your non-kiting sports heroes? Probably the big wave surfer Nathan Florence and Kai Lenny because he is just insane at everything. I really admire motocrosser Ken Rockson. He has been through hell recently and it is super inspiring that he is still at the top of his game. What is your favourite sports quote? I have always liked Gary Player’s quote – “The more I practice the luckier I get”. To me it makes sense. I have had to work very hard to get to this point in my career, including just getting kite gear in the early stages which was hard work. I really like the fact that hard work pays off.

All-round control, honed from Ross’ early freestyle years

All-round control, honed from Ross’ early freestyle years

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