With the 2018 APB Tour breaking new ground in competition format and venues, all the athletes held great expectations heading into the Kiama Pro event in Kiama, New South Wales, Australia. There were early reports of the West Coast of Australia being blasted by 10m swells, and all were hoping for some insane conditions coming through from the south for the event.
I flew in a few days ahead of the main event and was put straight to work by our host and APB CEO, Alex Leon. All involved, including the Kiama local authority, had put great effort into the effective advertising and promotion of the Kiama Pro event program.
The media coverage was extraordinary, with many people excited to see that bodyboarding was reaching some of the top news outlets in Australia. I was fortunate to be interviewed, along with Ben Player, on FOX Sports (Australia’s biggest sports news outlet) with additional individual interview slots on i98FM and WIN TV (local radio and TV stations).
As the competition period opened, the swell just didn’t seem to be there. The waves were very flat for the first couple of days which meant that we could get busy with some fishing, sightseeing and entertaining ourselves as best we could. We were lucky enough to link up with Shane Ackerman, who took us out on the ski and had us diving, while further down-time was spent enjoying the picturesque Kiama area.
It was on the opening night of the event that APB CEO, Alex Leon, seemed to appear concerned with the forecast brewing on the horizon….. a small swell with an apparently stuck High Pressure System keeping all the swell from coming up the coast from the south!
Despite the lack of swell and small surf conditions, time was of the essence and the show had to go on. After a good Kiama Trials event, the call was made to run the Pro men’s division, starting with Round 1.
My first heat was in small conditions with the waves not seeming to work in my favor, only affording the opportunity to accumulate medium 4-point rides. Although these scores were low, the other riders in the heat, including Ben Player, also only managed mid-range 4-point rides. While some riders seemed to be struggling in the tough conditions, others were in tune. Few really good rides were posted in the first session. I was going to have to step up in the next round heat to improve my overall ranking on the event leaderboard.
Into Round 2 and the waves hadn’t improved much but, with a pretty negative forecast in mind, the contest director again stepped in and determined that we should run. I was the lone South African in a heat with three Australians. I got busy early and managed a good opening score of a 5.25, improving my total on the leaderboard and pushing me into an improved overall position. I knew that I needed another high-range 5, or even a 6, to hold a decent position. As the heat drew to a close I couldn’t produce anything that would improve my lowest wave score of a 3.75.
In the new format of counting 3 of your best scores over 3 rounds, with only the top 16 riders qualifying, I knew that I was in trouble as we headed into the 3rd , and final, round of the qualifying session. I needed something big in my final heat. I was drawn in Heat 8 of Round 3 so I would know what I had to do to qualify for Round 4. As the heats started to go down, I could see my score slip from 17th to 24th before Heat 8 got under way!
Although Hayoto Enokido had already made it into the next round, I knew that all the riders in the heat had the ability to qualify. The other riders started the heat strongly, posting good, high 6-point rides. I was slow off the mark, only getting a 4.75. I then got a really good left that allowed for a backflip for a 6. I then had to wait until the last 5 minutes of the heat before a bomb came through and I managed a 7.75, the highest single scoring wave in the first three rounds. This score allowed me to win the heat and, more importantly, moved my total wave score to 4th position on the leaderboard. I had qualified for the quarter-finals!
With the qualifying rounds completed and surf conditions small, there was a gap in the action. A call was made to put on a fun tow-out session, to show off some of the high-flying antics of bodyboarders. The idea was for a rider to be towed at high speed behind a jetski, aim for the lip of the wave, hit the section, and be flung into the air to perform a radical aerial move. Much fun was had by all as we were launched into the air, entertaining a crowded beach.
The following day, it was decided that a small, contest-style “Fling for Bling” was in order. I made it into the last 5 and into the final heat. There was an electric buzz on the beach while spectators watched the riders fly through the air. Many of the riders opted to try big air reverses while making it all the way off the back and skimming across the tops of the wave. I began with an air reverse and then thought that I should step it up. On my last run, I was shot in, hitting the wave well, and projecting into a looped backflip to take the “Bling”. Great fun!
Finals day dawned and the last day of the waiting period saw the waves continue to deteriorate. It was the quarter-finals and they were to be made up of 4 four-man heats. I was in the second heat of the quarters. The heat started well as I managed a 5 to get the heat going. I was feeling good and started to get some decent scores on the board. I caught my second wave and it just seemed to keep going down the line as I fitted multiple roll-to-spin combinations to came out with a 6.9. This was backed up with a 5.05 to take the heat win from Brahim Iddouch, Wes Fischer and Mitch Rawlins.
With the conditions showing slow signs of improvement, we went straight into the semi-finals. The semi started and I went to work early, getting a small score until one of the best waves of the heat came through which allowed me to get three clean, projected rolls and score a 7-point ride. I backed this score up with a 4.4 and took the win again, heading into the final with Brahim Iddouch.
This result had me closer to a good result for the Kiama Pro event. News that the Fronton King event would not take place, and that Nazare would be the last event counting for the 2018 World Tour, raised the possibility of my being able to take the 2018 World Title if I could get a win at Kiama.
Into the finals, and I just wasn’t feeling altogether there. The possibility of a second Title win may have done something to add a measure of extra pressure. I started off slowly and just couldn’t get the momentum I had had for the other heats of the day.
In the end it was “wild card” entry, Australian Dave Winchester, who scored an 8-point ride along with a solid 5.25 to take the win ahead of Brahim Iddouch, myself and Hayato Enokido.
I am stoked to have another APB World Tour 3rd position to add to the tally of podium finishes for the year. This result ensured a lead in the 2018 World Title race.
The 2018 Kiama Pro event certainly produced upsets in competition results and conditions which proved challenging for many riders. Time and time again we are put in tough situations from which we must learn and, I must admit, I have come out with a new-found respect for small waves!