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Epic ‘record’ year moves the wingfoil dial

  • Teenager Nia Suardiaz’s clean-sweep helps her land title double

  • Francesco Cappuzzo realises long-held ‘dream’ of landing first crown

  • Cape Verde’s Wesley Brito takes title in maiden Wave competition

The GWA Wingfoil World Tour season came to a close in Brazil in November after a record-breaking year in which eight world champions were crowned, all of them winning the titles for the first time.

The world tour, encompassing 10 events in four wingfoil disciplines, truly spanned the globe. It began the odyssey in New Zealand at the start of the year, and experienced the full gamut of conditions along the way.

In the process the athletes, many of them teenagers driving this vibrant young sport, moved the wingfoiling dial in a mind-blowing year of competition. The upcoming 2024 season promises to be bigger, better and even more spectacular.

Standout of the year must go to Spain’s Nia Suardiaz. The 16-year-old from Tarifa landed double world titles in the Surf-Freestyle and the FreeFly-Slalom disciplines on only her second year on the circuit.

The wingfoiling prodigy dominated the FreeFly-Slalom tour so completely that she won all six events and barely lost a race. The young Spaniard clinched the Surf-Freestyle discipline in Denmark at the end of the fifth stop of seven.

Double world titles

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Suardiaz, reflecting on her victories. “I couldn’t be happier. When I won [the world titles in Denmark] I had no more pressure to win the other two events. But Tarifa was amazing. It’s my home spot and it was so nice to win there too. I’m hoping that new girls come and get excited and as motivated as I am to push the sport so that it gets better and better.”

Suardiaz was just pipped for a third world title in the pure surfing Wave discipline, introduced for the first time this year. Suardiaz and the eventual winner, the US’s Moona Whyte, had shared one event win apiece heading to the third and last stop in Dakhla, Morocco.

Hawaii-based Whyte took the victory in Dakhla and with it sealed the title in a remarkable double in the desert, where she clinched the GKA Kite-Surf world title just a few days later. She was returning to the tour after a four-year break.

“I’m really happy to win this first wingfoil title in the waves,” said Whyte. “I really only signed up because I was doing the Kite-Surf event in Cape Verde. I didn’t expect this result, so I’m really happy. It’s super-special to me because I love wingfoiling.”

Legendary break

Cape Verde’s Wesley Brito earned the men’s Wave world championship crown. He had won the historic first event on home waters in the legendary Ponta Preta break, but could not quite back it up in Saquarema, Brazil. In the decider in Dakhla, his fourth place finish was enough to secure the title.

“It’s an amazing feeling to to be the first wave world champion,” said Brito, after narrowly getting the title in Morocco. “It’s a dream come true. It wasn’t easy.”

The US’s Christopher MacDonald won four of the tour’s seven Surf-Freestyle events, wrapping up the title at the penultimate call in Tarifa, southern Spain. MacDonald had super-charged his campaign with back-to-back wins in the Canaries in July in winds that hit nearly 50 knots.

In freestyle, in particular, the 17-year-old from Oregon’s Hood River was in a league of his own, pushing wingfoiling to new highs and raising the bar. His trademark Frontside 1080 scored perfect 10s from the judges again and again.

‘More than a trophy’

“I’ve worked really hard for this, training almost every day of the year,” said MacDonald, looking back on his season. “Seven events—that’s a lot of travelling and a lot of hard work. But it’s all worth it in the end. The feeling is like nothing else, being the world champion.”

Renowned waterman Francesco Cappuzzo had come close to lifting a world title on many occasions and at 26 he was beginning to fear he might always be the “nearly man”. He laid that ghost to rest when he clinched the FreeFly-Slalom title with a second place at the final stop in Cauipe, Brazil.

“The is my first real world title, finally,” said Cappuzzo. “Finally, everything came together. All the work, let’s say, that I put into the last 26 years of my life. I was pushing since I was a kid. Since that time I have never stepped back. All the work I’ve put in comes down to this one trophy. It’s not just a trophy or a piece of wood . . . it’s the result of a long journey.”

If that was a long journey, the newest and highest journey went to the Big Air world champions. France’s Julien Rattotti and Spain’s Mar de Arce took the inaugural high-flying crowns in Pozo Izquierdo, Gran Canaria, in July. Rattotti’s winning 11.2m jump silenced the sceptics and opened up new wingfoiling frontiers.

The coming season will be even more exciting. Join us in 2024 to witness our title holders’ journeys and see if they can defend their crowns from the young pretenders.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Lukas K Stiller / Svetlana Romantsova

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