Gravity-defying jumps and spectacular tricks were on show in Grand Cayman over the holiday weekend as a howling “nor’wester” provided ideal conditions for some of the world’s best kiteboarders to showcase the best the sport has to offer.
With sustained winds of up to 25 knots, competitors at the Rock International Kiteboarding Open were able to go full throttle over the course of the three-day competition.
Professional international kiteboarders, as well as visiting enthusiasts and local riders, descended on Barkers Beach for the weekend tournament.
The tournament brought a traveling band of extreme athletes, photographers and professional judges to the island.
Among them was Chris Bobryk, last year’s winner and a pro boarder with Best Kiteboarding.
The 24-year-old impressed the judges in the freestyle heats, pulling off a 900-degree spin, known as a Whirly 5, but was unable to defend his title after injuring himself on the opening day.
Bobryk, who travels full-time, entering competitions and doing media work and gear development for his sponsor, said he was still loving his time in Cayman.
“I love this place,” he said. “The people here are amazing, it is such a good atmosphere. I tweaked my knee and went out of the competition, so I am in charge of the party now.”
He was on the beach Sunday, supporting fellow competitors.
The water off Barkers was a sea of colorful kites, during the “expression session” as the riders competed to pull off the best tricks. There were plenty of skills that drew gasps from the crowds, but to the untrained eye it was tough to tell exactly who was winning.
It is not just subjective, said Ben Meyer, who came from Maui, Hawaii, to judge the competition.
“There are three different disciplines,” he said. “The race is pretty easy to judge. We also have a big air event, which is also kind of self explanatory, then we have the technical freestyle, which is where you see all the spectacular tricks.”
The judges are tasked with going through a trick list and awarding points for technical difficulty, clean landing, power and speed.
“If you land and your butt hits the water, it is not the same as a good clean landing,” he says.
Meyer believes the level of skill on show over the weekend was up there with the best in the world.
“Hopefully, everybody was psyched because this is the highest level you are going to see,” he said. “I think the conditions that we had Saturday were perfect for showcasing the best that kiteboarding has to offer.
“Nobody held back or changed anything they would do in the highest level international competition. Everything we saw was world-class caliber.”
Reno Romeu, a 25-year-old professional kiteboarder from Brazil who competes on the world tour, said the conditions were perfect and he had tried his best to entertain the crowds on the beach.
“The stronger the wind, the better,” he said. “It is more fun for people to watch, because we can do more impressive tricks.”
Mark Cafero, 16, from Turks and Caicos, competing in the junior competition, said it had been a great experience. He was particularly pleased to pull of a “heart attack” trick, which includes a 540-degree spin.
Maya Lewis, one of the tournament organizers, said it had been a great event, raising money for the charity Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and showcasing the Cayman Islands as a destination for kiteboarding.
Lewis said the sport had grown in the past five years, from a handful of local riders to the point where 27 Cayman-based kiteboarders were good enough to compete. There were also 18 international riders involved.
“It is by far the biggest field of locals we have ever had,” she added.