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Higher than ever, new challengers attack Big Air in Gran Canaria

One event, two world champions to be crowned, new format and a building breeze showed the next level of air games

GWA Big Air Wingfoil World Championships Gran Canaria
9—13 July, 2024 | Salinas de Tenefé

Launching with a reddish-grey, gravelly lunar surface in the foreground, Day 1 of the GWA Big Air Wingfoil World Championships Grand Canaria 2024 took off today eclipsing scores and heights from last year’s championship.

Competitors hammered through two rounds in both women’s and men’s Big Air heats for this one-shot world championship as 30-plus-knots breezes whipped up ramps for massive airs and tricks. Round two saw many riders eliminated from competition but last year’s champions, Mar de Arce (ESP) and Julien Rattotti (FRA) and a slew of young riders made it through.

Big Air judging has evolved in 2024. The criteria this year is focused on height, performance, execution and technical difficulty. In 2023, De Arce’s and Rattotti’s incredible air won the day. Here on Gran Canaria, height is 70 percent of the score, the remaining 30 percent is given to tricks and creativity. This puts an added pressure on riders to progress in big air and add flare to a full-send air.

 

Rising up between championships

Before anyone hit the water, the name Christopher MacDonald (USA) was floating around in pre-event interviews. The young American didn’t feature in the 2023 Big Air championship but has since become a benchmark rider, hucking giant airs and loops in his native Hood River, Oregon. 

Despite being pushed into round two after a soft start, he produced the top scores of the day, uncorking a nine-meter-high front flip for an 8.6 score and wound up winning his heat with the largest combined score of 17.00 from a possible 20 for his two counting tricks.

“I feel more when you go into the first heat of the day, a new discipline, new venue, the judges are just figuring out the scoring, I’m figuring out the scoring and what they’re looking for,” said MacDonald who was using a relatively small 3.5-meter wing in the piping winds. “Now I know what they want.”

Malo Guénolé (FRA), MacDonald’s recent rival, had the round one best combined score of 15.37 after a super high front flip. And 2023 Big Air champ Julien Rattotti was out to prove that his first win wasn’t luck but having the second highest jump of the day, more than 11 meters, higher than his 2023 statistics.

 

New challengers for Big Air

Despite her small stature, Mar de Arce (ESP) is proof that technique and a keen eye to find steep ramps beneath a chaotic wind chop. She made it through round one but Agata Blach (POL) fully controlled her heat adding spins and power to her aerials allowing her to easily pass directly to round three.

Blach only flew in the night before the competition began and said in the morning her biggest challenge was going to be negotiating the slippery boulders that get pounded by heavy shore break at the event site that lies in the remote, historic salt gathering area south of the famed windsurfing venue of Pozo.

It should be no surprise, too, that multiple world champion Nia Suardiaz is making a charge at the Big Air title. She took her event-supplied smartphone and recorded 6.5 meters on the Surfr. app, the highest air of the day in women’s competition.

Eliminated from round two was top waterwoman Elena Moreno who has represented Fuerteventura and the Canary Islands for years.

 

Building winds, growing pressure

The GWA Big Air sister event here in Gran Canaria, the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Kite World Championships 2024, is scheduled to begin on Thursday as the breeze is forecast to increase each day, eventually into the ripping 40-knot range. Wednesday should see the conclusion of both the women’s and men’s GWA Big Air Wingfoil World Championships Gran Canaria 2024.

As the wingfoil Big Air discipline of evolves, here in Gran Canaria the teenagers and more seasoned riders are all leapfrogging each other throughout the heats. There are new pressures, new tricks and ever more challengers to the title. Tomorrow will tell if De Arce and Rattotti can hold on and prove to themselves and the world that they are also progressing and evolving.

words: GWA Media
images: Svetlana Romansova

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