Another year has come and gone and here I sit amongst my North Kiteboarding teammates in our 1970s Cape Hatteras rental overlooking the Pamilco Sound.  The usual background noise fills the air as the crew flips through the latest video releases in any number of action sports as well as the yearly catching up banter amongst friends who stop by to say hi and pass the time.  There is a steady murmur of predictions for what’s to come in the following days as everyone eagerly awaits the much anticipated Southwest winds.  It’s the week before the Triple-S Invitational.

Over the past four years, I’ve made the annual trek to the small chain of islands that lie off the coast of North Carolina for North America’s most prestigious kiteboarding event.  It’s one of the weeks I look forward to the most throughout the year.  The friends, the parties, the kiting….a sweet mix of lifestyle and action, just the way I like it.  And although I would now be regarded as a ‘veteran’ of the event having competed and stood on the podium for the past four years, I always come with the expectation to be surprised by some sort of significant change to the event.

When I first competed in 2012, 45 minute jam sessions ensued where 20+ riders per ‘heat’ rode together in the slick, sliders and surf.  At the end of the week you cast your vote for your favorite in each category and celebrated your winnings….which were bragging rights.  Then in 2013, the prize purse shot to 40K and with it came a panel of judges who would critique your riding in the same before mentioned categories.  2014 took a purely ‘wakestyle’ shift, eliminating the surf riders from the invite list and hosting the third ‘surf’ discipline in the ocean but using waves as kickers and riders using twintips instead of directionals.  Last year’s event saw arguably the biggest change, completely eliminating all freestyle and wave disciplines and going all in on Sliders, a drastic change but welcomed warmly by most of the participants.

So what could event host, Real Watersports, have up their sleeve for this year?  Already, with the announcement for the 2016 event we saw the invited rider list shorten from 32 men and 12 women to only the top finishing 16 men and 4 women from last years event with four additional invites given at the steering committees discretion.  But will that be THE big change for this year’s event or will the event continue to evolve?  According to head judge Brian Wheeler, “The park setup and format will be similar to what we had in 2015…. For the 2016 Wind Voyager Triple-S Invitational, like last year, the park will be divided into three zones, where each group of riders will get two or three attempts to post their best score on each of the features in each zone. All of the competitors will ride through zone one, then all through zone two, etc. Each rider’s score will be the sum of their top scores for each of the five features.”

In addition to confirming that the overall format will stay consistent from last year, Wheeler also shared that there will be another surprise in the cards.  For 2016, we will see the introduction of the Wind Voyager Triple-S Challenge Series.  Tapping into the historical spirit of the event pushing rider progression, there will now be 3 additional cash prizes up for grabs.  For the first female to do a 720 in competition there will be awarded 720usd, for the first person to do a 900, there will be 900usd and if anyone is able to land a 1080 during a heat, they will get an additional 1080usd prize.  If any of the challenges aren’t met for this year, they will move over to the next year and the prize money doubles.

 So the real question is who will step up to the challenge?  We know a few 900s have been done already so I would expect to see this but can one of the ladies pull off a 720?  And can anyone stomp a 1080?  These tricks have made history in other boardsports and maybe the time is now for kiteboarding to take it to this next level.  Or maybe this will start a trend of ‘spinning to winning’….I guess we will just have to wait and see.