With each new year comes new challenges, destinations, events, gear, teammates and more.  The kiteboarding industry is ever evolving and as a professional athlete, you can never be certain of what might be in store next and this year we were in for a treat right off the bat.  Just after ringing in 2016, 24 athletes from all over the globe came together on Palawan Island in the Philippines to compete in the first annual Blue Palawan Kiteboard Open and to check out the brand new world class Kite Park that would be inaugurated as Asia’s very first.  The year was off to an exciting start.

I was traveling to the event with teammate Craig Cunningham after spending a week at a cable park on a nearby island brushing up on our rail riding for the upcoming competition.  Both of us were eager to get a first look at the new park we had been hearing so much about from our good friend and event organizer, Paula Rosales.  Along the way we linked up with teammate and event videographer, Tom Court as well as his girlfriend and right hand video gal, Sophie Matthews.  The four of us would be the first ones to arrive and check out the new park. 

After an easy flight from the nation’s capitol, Manila to Puerto Princessa, hopping just a short distance from one island to the next, we were enthusiastically welcomed by one of the Blue Palawan staff.  Offering cold towels, chilled water and a comfy ride to the resort, immediately we could tell that this would be a different kind of kiteboarding event than we were accustomed to.

Arriving to the resort just as the sun was beginning to make it’s final decent, a warm glow was cast upon the shoreline where we stood taking in our first impressions of the spot.  The water was mirror flat, reflecting in a way that you only rarely see, the sea grass smoothing out the surface even despite the light breeze.  A large mangrove forest emerging to the North giving a sense that no one else was around for miles, that this playground was all for us.   And it was.   As sessions ensued in the coming days, we learned that this stretch of beach was kept for our sole use and that of the brand new kite park that we would set afloat the next day.

Manufactured in Hood River, Oregon by the best in the business, Joby Cook of Jibstruction, packed up and sent to the other side of the world, we were more than excited to crack open the shipping containers housing the brand new features.  Custom designed and built specifically for the Blue Kiteboarding Park, we would have a kicker, a rooftop and also a very unique feature, a completely new design from jibstruction, a funbox with ledge.  The combination of these three perfect features with the potentially epic conditions of the spot at Blue Palawan was already telling us that this would be an event to be remembered.

By the next day, some of the other riders had already begun to trickle in.  We were soon joined by Canada’s Sam Medysky, USA’s Brandon Scheid, Sensi Graves and Eric Reinstra, Spain’s Noe Font, Russia’s Victoria Soloveykina, the UK’s James Boulding and Sam Light, Switzerland’s Manuela Jungo and Norway’s Malin Amle who would all enjoy the next week kiting at Blue Palawan and exploring Puerto Princessa before the start of the event.   Over that next week we surfed, sup’d, paddled traditional outriggers, explored nearby islands, enjoyed a variety of local cuisine, had pool parties, set the brand new kite park afloat and of course sessioned.  It was a full on week, one packed with activity and the event hadn’t even started yet. Our hosts at Blue Palawan and main event organizer, Paula Rosales were set on showing us a good time.   But they didn’t just do that, they swung for the fences and definitely didn’t miss.

 The first week was a great introduction to the spot and the town of Puerto Princessa in general.  The locals were welcoming in a way that despite language barriers and cultural differences, made you feel right at home.  The town wanted us there and was proud to host international athletes and the upcoming Blue Palawan Kite Open.  The mayor even stopped by to introduce himself.

 As with most things, when you’re having a good time, moments pass by quickly and before any of us realized it, the week had already come to an end and it was time to get down to business.  Many of the other competitors had already arrived, also excited to check out the new park and spot, almost everyone having arrived at least a few days before the start of the event.  So we had a complete roster standing at 24 competitors representing 12 different countries.  We had world champions, park legends and the hungry up-and-comers alike.  It was time to get down to business and everyone couldn’t hardly wait.

Only a couple days before the start of the event, we had had several days of freeriding in the park.  Starting out on big kites ranging from 15m-17m and by sundown most women were on 11m with guys powered on 13m.  The wind was hair drier smooth and the water about as flat as can be.  One of the fabulous peculiarities of the spot at Blue Palawan is that even despite it being windy and having no visible sandbar to protect the chop, it stays flat.  There is a seagrass that grows here, not so dense that it pulls on your lines after a crash yet just strong enough to keep the ripples at bay.  So it is safe to say that the kiting conditions were prime and the competitors having had a taste of what was to come were eager to get things started.

After registration day and the welcoming party, the forecast looked promising.  Showing lighter days in the start of the week with stronger breezes picking up just about the time we expected to be heading into the finals.  It looked too good to be true.  And unfortunately it was. 

Early in the week we managed a partial result having a surprise spike in winds one afternoon getting competitors on the water to complete the preliminary heats on big kites and set the lineup for the finals to come later in the week.  The 13 men and 11 women, would have 3 attempts on the North Fun Box feature and the Philippine Airlines Kicker on each tack to post their single best score on each feature for both port and starboard tack culminating in their 4 highest scores to take them into the next rounds.  The winds were light for these first rounds but held steady and granted a first round result to see who would make it into the final heats for the coming days.  On the women’s side it was Julia Castro, Sensi Graves, Victoria Soloveykina, Karolina Winkowska, Therese Taabbel, Malin Amle, Manuela Jungo and Me who would continue on.  For the men we would see Brandon Scheid, Sam Medysky, Noe Font, Axel Tack, Tobias Holter, Eric Reinstra, Sam Light, Tom Court and Craig Cunningham move forward.

Yet after our lucky start, day after day our forecast fell apart.  The evening’s predicted readings showing good signs for a following day of contestable winds yet in actuality stayed calm at best.  After the first few days, it caused no real stress.  We already had the first round complete and we had plenty of activities to keep everyone stoked and entertained.  We visited jungle zip lines, local farms, the nearby surf breaks, even just lounging around Blue Palawan and the beach front pool with the crew was solid entertainment.  Despite the lack of wind there was hardly a complaint to be had.  And with the new format we had decided to run with designed by park guru, Eric Reinstra, we could run the competition over the course of just 1 full day or 3-5 depending on available wind.  Ideally we’d have 3 days to run the event, giving competitors more attempts on each feature but as it sat having the initial rounds finished, we would be able to complete the event with just one more solid afternoon.

As the week continued, we began to get more anxious.  The common theme being a good forecast for the next days only to dissipate and push further into the week and with the end of the holding period fast approaching everyone was starting to wonder if the competition would have the chance to finish.  It was the typical scenario, plan a kiteboarding event and the weather is going to crap out on you.  January is historically the best month for wind in the Philippines bringing the consistent ‘Amihan’ winds and typically blowing to kiteable conditions over 20 days per month.  But so far between Jan 13th and 19th, we were almost striking out.

It was already the end of the week and we had just one last day to finish the event.  Competitors awoke and rigged kites in the non-existent wind just for the chance that the wind came up.   The skippers meeting sticking to its usual tune, advising to rig big and be ready and the competitors were ready.  It was the very last day of the holding period and the beach was packed with kites waiting to take flight.  Competitors already in sun protection and jerseys lined the shores.  And then it happened.  The wind arrived.

It wasn’t much but we would take it.  15-17m kites were launched and riders started working their way upwind to where the park sat idly waiting.  We started with the freshly arrived Liquid Force Rooftop on port tack first the Men’s final heat then the Women’s.  After the Rooftop we moved on to the North Kiteboarding FunBox on Starboard tack and then immediately ran heats on the kicker setting it up first Starboard then Port.  Lulls in the wind came through forcing female competitors onto the 17m kites of their teammates and periodic holds in the men’s lineup to try to give each competitor enough power to give their best attempts.

            It was light wind kiteboarding at it’s finest.  Despite the barely kiteable winds it’s amazing the tricks and hits that are still possible in the park, we saw impressive hits on the features conveying technique, style, and risk as well as some of the most difficult kicker hits in the business.  For both the men and women, everyone stepped up their game and the victors were crowned; Men’s Features awarded 1st Sam Light, 2nd Craig Cunningham, 3rdSam Medysky.  Women’s Features: 1st Karolina Winkowska, 2nd Sensi Graves, 3rd Colleen Carroll.  Men’s Kicker: 1st Sam Light, 2nd Eric Reinstra, 3rd Brandon Scheid and Women’s Kicker: 1st Karolina Winkowska, 2nd Sensi Graves, 3rd Colleen Carroll.

Text written by Colleen Carroll as published in Vision Kite Mag Issue #2