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Big Air title clash was contest for the ages

Fight for new wingfoil crowns thrills and surprises as young riders upset established order in searing duels on Gran Canaria

GWA Wingfoil World Cup Gran Canaria
Pozo Izquierdo, 11–16 July, 2023

The battle to become the first GWA Wingfoil Big Air world champions at the iconic spot of Gran Canaria’s Pozo Izquierdo in perfect, cranking winds was one for the ages.

The clashes in this new Big Air discipline sparked a raft of upsets and saw the emergence of a clutch of new young athletes who have their eyes on the prize after a day of intense action.

But with the competition poised to decide who will wear the crowns in the finals on the penultimate day of the GWA Wingfoil World Cup, two veterans stand in the way of the young pretenders.

France’s Titouan Galea, fresh off a win in the FreeFly-Slalom contest, secured his place in the final thanks to the biggest jumps on the fourth day of competition in Spain’s Canary Islands.

The veteran racer tops the leaderboard in the Red Bull Rockets Award—a competition run in tandem with the Big Air contest—with a leap of 10.9m. In the final Galea faces compatriot Julien Rattotti and the young German, Benjamin May, both of whom made big breakthroughs.

Cracked Big Air code

Spanish teenager Nia Suardiaz has also just won the FreeFly-Slalom and similarly booked her place in the final by topping the Red Bull Rockets leader board with a leap of 6.3m. She faces Poland’s Agata Blach and Mar de Arce Sánchez (ESP).

Eighteen men and 12 women were excited to take part in the new Big Air format in the mythical venue of Pozo Izquierdo, with the winds gusting around 35 knots and the swell providing ideal kickers to go huge.

The athletes, riding 3m2 to 4m2 wings in the cranking breezes, were given six trick attempts from which their best two scores counted. The scores were decided 80 percent on height, with 20 percent allocated for technical difficulty.

By the time the contest reached the men’s round three the athletes were beginning to crack the Big Air code. Finalist Rattotti and Luca Vuillermet,13, advanced to the semi-finals ahead of the fellow countryman, Alan Fedit, even though he posted the highest jump of the competition to that point, 9.5m.

The round three shootout between Chris MacDonald (USA), Benjamin May, reining Surf-Freestyle world champion Malo Guénolé and Clément Hamon would have been worthy of the final, with such heavy hitters in the ring.

May on fire

Newly-crowned U19 Surf-Freesyle world champion MacDonald, 17, came out of the blocks fast, racking up a big total that included an 8.60 for a 9.7m jump that kept him top of the Red Bull leaderboard for some time.

Benjamin May, 18, was on fire. While his jumps were not as lofty as MacDonald’s, May had his massive Front Flips off the kickers dialled and the judges rewarded him highly, with a 9.47 and 8.73 that won him the remarkable heat.

Guénolé, by contrast, was struggling and crashing his tricks. He finally racked up a 7.33 but was still adrift on the scoreboard behind MacDonald. But on his last trick, Guénolé landed an massive Front Flip that netted 9.50 and allowed him to progress.

“I’m really, really happy to have made it through it,” said Guénolé, 18. “Chris MacDonald came out pretty fast. I was stressed because I was up against him, Benji May and Clément Hamon who are probably the best out there. On my last attempt I made one of my best Front Flips ever. So yes, pumped.”

But Guénolé could not maintain his run and was dumped out in the semi-final by Julien Rattotti. He scored a 9.23 for a 10.2m jump, which added to an 8.47 was enough to end the world champion’s run.

“Never expected this”

May had no such problems when he came up against Camille Bouyer (FRA) in another semi-final. The German just kept churning out massive, clean Front Flips that blew the Frenchman away.

“I can ‘t even describe my thoughts, it was crazy,” said May. “I had two big Front Flips with totally clean landings. I was told the last one was 8m and I’m really stoked to land them properly. We will see where the future brings wingfoiling.”

The third semi-final saw Vuillermet push Galea in a fairly tight heat. But Galea kept it simple, just trying to jump as high as possible, snatching the record with the 10.9m jump and progressing. Another trick he failed to land was recorded as 12.2m metres on the Surfr_app, but did not count.

“Well, I never expected this, it’s my wrong tack [for jumping],” said Galea. “I can’t really perform tricks on this side, so I just push as high as I can. I think we can do 11 or 12 metres high here. Maybe if the wind’s stronger or bigger kickers we’ll even get 15 metres.”

The women’s semi-finals saw Agata Blach dispatch Austria’s Viola Lippitsch by the slenderest of margins, while Mar de Arce Sánchez got the scalp of Dutch power house Bowien van der Linden.

Now Blach and De Arce Sánchez have the honour of a finals showdown with the formidable Suardiaz, 16, who looks unstoppable. With the men’s final and more Surf-Freestyle action to come, it promises to be enthralling. Join us live here for all the excitement.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Lukas K Stiller

Spot Info: Pozo Izquierdo, Gran Canaria

Weather
The weather in Gran Canaria, Spain, during July ranges around 25-30 degrees Celsius with sunrise around 07:15 and sunset at 21:00.

Wind and water
Gran Canaria enjoys great wind in July. Pozo Izquierdo is famous for its strong winds. The wind regularly blows 30+ knots, with gusts up to 40+ knots. The wind direction is from the north/north-east, blowing onshore at Pozo Izquierdo Beach. The strong wind creates decent chop and some wind swell that can break on the reef at low tide. The water temperature is 23-24C, so a shorty or summer wetsuit is a good idea.

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