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First Big Air wingfoil world champions crowned

Upsets in the men’s and women’s finals as fresh faces take new titles in nuking winds in Pozo Izquierdo

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

France’s Julien Rattotti and Spain’s Mar de Arce Sánchez lifted the titles at the maiden GWA Wingfoil Big Air World Championships in fittingly ballistic conditions at the iconic spot of Pozo Izquierdo, on Spain’s Gran Canaria.

Rattotti came from behind to seal the deal with the highest jump of the competition—11.2 metres—on his last trick in the men’s final which was fought out in big swells and winds gusting to 47 knots.

De Arce Sánchez, battling in her first competition, staged a big upset when she overhauled her countrywoman and hot favourite, Nia Suardiaz, by a slender margin to take the first Big Air world title.

Eighteen men and 12 women battling at the GWA Wingfoil Big Air World Cup Gran Canaria—which also includes the Surf-Freestyle and FreeFly Slalom disciplines—opted to pick up the Big Air gauntlet.

Day four of the six-day competition had been dedicated to the Big Air contest with Pozo Izquierdo’s ever-reliable wind cranking up to about 35 knots, perfectly complementing the kickers that were ideal ramps for the new discipline.

On the path to the finals, the new discipline ignited some stellar performances and saw some big name casualties. The US’s Chris MacDonald, the U19 GWA Youth Surf-Freestyle world champion, made an unexpected exit.

No second escape

In one of the biggest heats of the contest, MacDonald got the highest jump of the competition to that point—9.7 metres—to give him the lead. But he was outgunned by finalist Benjamin May (GER) and Malo Guénolé (FRA) after he threw down a massive Front Flip for his last trick that sent MacDonald packing.

But Guénolé could not repeat his escape as he came up against his team-mate Rattotti when the pair faced off in a semi-final. Rattotti chalked up a big total that was bulked up by a massive 9.23 for a 10.2-metre jump that helped secure his berth in the final.

That setup the showdown on the penultimate fifth day of the contest between Rattotti, May and Titouan Galea (FRA). Galea had reached the final with a leap of 10.9 metres that put him top of the Red Bull Rockets Award for the highest jump to that point in the competition.

The morning of the Big Air finals on day five was the windiest yet, ranging from 40 to almost 50 knots, with perfect kickers to boost off in the building swell.

Historic win

Rattotti came out firing, putting some solid scores on the board early on for one that included a jump of 8.8 metres. But May, on the eve of his 19th birthday, tried to keep the Frenchman in his sights before cutting lose.

The German teenager launched his assault with two massive Front Loops late in the heat. They were not the highest jumps of day at 7.6 metres, but the judges rewarded him for the technical difficulty and he took the lead thanks to an 8.97 trick score.

Galea, holding down a 4m2 wing in the massive conditions, stuck to his trusty formula of going big, with little complexity. It eventually paid off with 8.9 metre jump that scored 8.0 points. But by then his rivals were getting away.

As the seconds ticked down Rattotti seemed to get the conditions dialled launching a massive 11.1 metre jump that earned 8.80 points. But with his last trick he needed even more and he pulled it out of the bag with 11.2 metre jump that scored 9.47. It was enough for the historic win.

“It’s crazy,” said a delighted Rattotti. “The conditions were very strong, but I’m super-happy to have made it. It was nice. Super-happy. To manage to get to this final, it’s just a dream to win this event. So, it’s just so nice to be in Pozo. We can prove to the guys what’s possible with a wing in all these condition. It’s just so nice.”

Three-way fight

The women’s final was a three-way fight between De Arce Sánchez, Saurdiaz, and the Polish rider Agata Blach. Suardiaz forged an early lead, but her biggest jump of 6.6 metres ended in an uncharacteristic crash and went uncounted.

De Arce Sánchez then put pressure on Suardiaz with a 6.34 score and went one better with her last jump that netted 6.92 from the judges. Suardiaz responded but could not quite match De Arce Sánchez, whose total heat score was 13.35 to Suardiaz’s 13.20.

Even before the final De Arce Sánchez had told of her delight at getting so far in the competition.  She added that tried to enjoy heat despite the intimidating Pozo conditions.

“I’m really happy to get to the final,” said De Arce Sánchez. “Yes it was so hard because we had a lot of wind an a lot of waves. We were on 2.0m2 wings. It was super-strong. It was more about survival and jump as high as possible and enjoy it.”

The men’s Surf-Freestyle action was the next order of business and delivered some epic duels and more upsets as the contest progressed to the semi-finals, which will open on the final day of the competition.

Chris MacDonald was imperious as he dispatched Italy’s Riccardo Zorzi with a huge Front Flip-Frontside 3 combo and Frontside 1080 that took his heat score to 25.87, the highest of the day.

Dynamite clash

The clash of France’s Axel Gerard and Spain’s Xavi Corr was dynamite as the pair went toe-to-toe, trading blows and going trick for trick. In the end Corr edged it by 0.07 of a point to go the semi-finals.

One of the day’s biggest upsets was inflicted by the German Benjamin May. He ended the run of Surf-Freestyle world champion Guénolé after both racked up huge scores. But May’s 8.83 for a Front Flip-Frontside 3 combo dumped Guénolé out of the contest.

The conclusion of the Surf-Freestyle action on the final day in Gran Canaria will no doubt be huge. Join us live here for all the excitement.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Lukas K Stiller

2023 GWA Wingfoil Big Air World Championships

1 Julien Rattotti (FRA)
2 Benjamin May (GER)
3 Titouan Galea (FRA)
4 Malo Guénolé (FRA)

1 Mar de Arce Sánchez (ESP)
2 Nia Suardiaz (ESP)
3 Agata Blach (POL)
4 Orane Ceris (FRA)

Spot Info: Pozo Izquierdo, Gran Canaria

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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