In it for life

J: Aaron Hadlow was also up against Martin Vari for the first time at that event in Cabarete in the single elimination final. (That was also the event that Aaron used his handle-pass ring against Will James.) The judges gave Martin the win, but all the riders on the beach said it should have been Aaron’s if it was awarded for tricks landed, rather than an overflow of good impression likely carried over from Martin’s previous heats. Do you remember Aaron starting to make a name for himself? M: The first time I met Aaron was at a UK kiting event at Watergate Bay in autumn 2000. He was an absolute standout talent from the start and everyone knew it. He was like a sponge and could copy people’s tricks within a couple of attempts. Aaron and his father saw the handle-pass coming, but they thought that the board-off would remain important far longer than it did. They were looking for a way that you could use the kite really powered-up, but still be able to do a handle-pass. At the time riders were using much smaller kites to handle-pass because it was just impossible to hang on to a big one. Dangle-passes and board-offs weren’t really compatible at the time; if you were doing dangle-passes, you didn’t have enough power to do big air. I know it’s changed now – just look at Jesse Richman - but that’s where the ring came from; Aaron could pass the bar around his back without actually unhooking. But after all the kerfuffle and complaints about it from other riders, it only took Aaron about one week to be on the same level as everyone else without the ring. That’s how talented Aaron is and always has been. J: Aaron has immense natural talent, but he was so much younger than everyone else at the time. At least ten or maybe 15 years younger. Was that a big part of it? M: Yeah, and the good thing about being just 14 years-old is that Aaron wasn’t wondering about what’s good for the sport or industry? Aaron was going, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to win the next competition’. There’s a kind of purity in that mentality. If you’re a competition athlete and your sponsors are paying you to win competitions, that’s the way it should be. Never mind what’s cool or not. What’s cool is banking the winner’s cheque. So Aaron had the absolute focus and I think it was only when he had been World Champion a whole bunch of times that he really looked at what he wanted to do; which was to do things more stylishly, not just spin to win.

The first generation of riders to not have come into kiteboarding from any other sport and they’re still golden. Kevin Langeree, Ruben Lenten and Aaron Hadlow topping the PKRA podium in 2005 Photo: Christian Black

J: Who do you think the golden generation was, if there is such a thing? M: Well, I clearly think the most talented kiteboarders ever were in 2002! I think I’d have to say that Ruben, Aaron and Kevin were probably the first generation of true kiteboarders. They didn’t come into kiting from other sports and they’re still around today. Though they may not be the godfathers of the sport, they’re definitely the fathers. I think they’ve maybe had more chance to make a career out of it than the riders who came later. There are probably a hundred kiteboarders in the world that call themselves pro, but I don’t think there are many left who really make a living just from being paid to ride. J: I don’t know whether it’s because I was young and fresh into the job at Kiteworld, but when I look back at images of the sport in the early issues there seems to be this magical appeal. Do you think that sort of feeling about the past is just natural nostalgia, or was the energy, momentum and blend of characters in the sport somehow different? M: I think it comes down to the information flow. Back then you would hear a whisper of something, or you might get an SMS saying something had just happened, but to actually get to verify it took time and effort. Now it takes about ten seconds. If it’s not on social media, it didn’t happen. Instant gratification means you just become hungry for more and more information. Back in the day, it was so hard to get information and we were happy with less. J: Moving on to your competitive hunger. You always seem to write and communicate with a tongue in cheek humour, whether it’s in your columns or emails and I would imagine you were probably the same as a competitor. I read a little piece that you wrote in an early Kiteworld issue, apparently you used to tell Lou Wainman things like if he landed without a twist in his lines (as for a KGB, in which you reverse your rotation), then in fact he hadn’t actually done anything. Did you used to enjoy winding people up? M: Ha ha, I’m not sure it’s winding people up that I enjoy, but I guess I have a warped sense of humour. Lou had several personalities and it would just depend which one you caught. Generally he had a pretty good sense of humour. I remember going out for dinner on Maui with the Naish team and Robby said Lou was coming. When he arrived he looked really nervous, sat down and told us this whole story about how he’d been working on his van. Realising he was late for dinner, he’d quickly thrown everything back in, but he’d taken the driver’s seat off to work on it and forgotten to bolt it down. So he’d been driving along and at the first traffic lights he hit the brakes which made the driver’s seat slide forward with him seat-belted into it. He was telling us this whole story about he’d got it stuck on the steering wheel and couldn’t get his foot off the gas. I guess this was one of the first times I met Lou. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m not sure what to think here!’. It’s a shame that, unfortunately, kiteboarding is not big enough for Lou. The guy is such a free thinker and free spirit. In a sport with five times the funding of kiteboarding, someone would support Lou, just because of who he is and what he does. In the smaller sports, nearly all the budget ends up going to competition athletes. It’s a shame.

Paving the strapless way, 2005, Tenerife Photo: Flo Ducate