WATCH: SA champ Josh Emanuel sets sights on being crowned 'King of the Air'
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Cape Town - Josh Emanuel was accustomed to having the fresh sea breeze blow through his golden locks, feeling the sand between his toes and cooling down in the ocean on a daily basis before the Covid-19 pandemic brought an immediate halt to all of that.
Coupled with having anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery during this period, that stalled his initial come back, it has been a frustrating last 18-24 months for South Africa's kiteboarding champion.
But the 26-year-old is back in the air and on the water, and ready to tackle the world’s best again at the Red Bull King of the Air - the virtual World Cup of kiteboarding - on his home patch in Kite Beach beach in Cape Town between today and 3 December.
“I did find means and ways to get out during lockdown,” Emanuel quipped. “But it has been a weird two years. Normally I travel during our winter, but I haven’t really been out of the country much. It has been different finding new ways to get out.
“I tried to come out here a month ago to put in some training, but there wasn’t much wind. Training from my side has been more about the gym work for me. I have only been out in the water for about two months now.
“A lot of the guys spend time in Cape Town, but with the event having been moved to November instead of the usual February slot, there hasn’t been much time for anyone to get in the training they normally do, so we’ll see how it goes.”
For those not familiar with this unique and exhilarating sport, kiteboarding contains a wide range of disciplines from racing, technical tricks and huge jumps. It’s the latter, though, that draws the crowds and has the audience gasping at the acrobatics the kiteboarders are able to perform in the air. There will be no spectators allowed this year due to SA government’s restrictions, but there will still be an opportunity to see the likes of Emanuel and three-time Red Bull King of the Air champion, Kevin Langeree, live on Red BullTV.
#ThrowbackThurday to Red Bull King Of The Air 2019. Don't forget to sign up and submit your video entry to be a part of this elite kiteboarding competition #GivesYouWings https://t.co/sOWSXoInKx pic.twitter.com/MjATa9Jo3l— Red Bull South Africa (@RedBullZA) October 1, 2020
Langeree is one of the few riders arriving in Cape Town with at least some sort of form, having won the Cold Hawaii Games in Denmark in September 2020 - the only event in the Fly-To Red Bull King of the Air series that took place during the qualification period. “I really love Cape Town,” Langaree said.
“I have been coming here for years. Love the place, love the food and the winds we get here are really great. Looking forward to another awesome event like the Red Bull King of Air always is.”
Emanuel and Langeree will be joined by an all-star cast in Blouberg over the coming days.
Defending champion Jesse Richman from Hawai may have withdrawn from this year’s event because “No one wants to see me up on that podium again” but there are a host of young riders, including South African Michael McDonald, who are ready to bring “something new and exciting” like Richman has called for.
“We are all here to have fun and make the world a better place for those who come next. I welcome the next generation to step up and make us proud, to assist in the natural evolution of our sport,” he said.
The youthful brigade has certainly broken the internet with their YouTube uploads, with the biggest batch of entries ever received. “The sport is definitely becoming younger,” Sportive Director Sergio Cantagalli said. “We were honestly amazed and didn’t expect such a large amount of new talented riders sending in video clips.
“It was a challenge for the panel. There were so many good video clips, but it’s important to remember that Red Bull King of the Air is not ‘just’ a Big Air contest, our aim is to reward the most complete Big Air rider in the world: the one rider who brings the complete package of height, power, extremity, technicality and innovation to the table on the day. This had to come through in the videos too.”
Among the youthful brigade the experience of former champions like Aaron Hadlow (Great Britain) and Nick Jacobsen (Denmark) will ensure there will be proven quality on display too, which Emanuel attests to.
“There are a lot of new names that have come on board we havent seen before, but that’s exciting,” Emanuel said.
“I know Jannick has done it before, and Nick and Kevin are great riders. At the end of the day it’s 18 of the best. You have to be pretty much be aware of everyone out there.”
FULL RIDER LIST
Top three from 2020
Jesse Richman (USA) *withdrawn
Nick Jacobsen (DEN)
Aaron Hadlow (GBR)
Fly to King of the Air qualifier
Kevin Langeree (NED)
Rest of the fleet (in alphabetical order) Angely Bouillot (FRA)
Tom Bridge (GBR)
Airton Cozzolino (Cape Verde)
Ulrich Edgar (FRA)
Joshua Emanuel (RSA)
Val Garat (FRA)
Janek Grzegorzewski (POL) Arthur Guillebert (FRA)
Stig Hoefnagel (NED)
Marc Jacobs (NZ)
Giel Vlugt (NED)
Lasse Walker (NED)
Liam Whaley (ESP)
Michael McDonald (RSA)