New winner crowned in final upset in Sylt

Published 26th August 2023 by Ian MacKinnon

Former world champion’s biggest tactical mistake of career could prove costly for title hopes

Defender GKA Kite-Surf World Cup Sylt, Germany 2023
Brandenburger Strand, 22—27 August

Spain’s Kiko Roig staged a big upset at the Defender GKA Kite-Surf World Cup Sylt, in Germany, when he landed his first career win in tricky conditions on the North Sea.

In the final the young Spaniard overhauled the favourite, former world champion, Italy’s Airton Cozzolino, who had been utterly dominant in his heats up to that point.

But Cozzolino made a huge tactical error in the final, saving his handlepass moves for the close. He was beaten by the buzzer, which handed the deciding heat and the victory to Roig Torres.

“I’m really happy,” said Roig. “The wind was light, but it’s the wind I like. It’s the wind I train in at home. I came here in my van and trained in these light wind conditions. My dad really helped me. He made this board for me. So with the board and light wind, I made it. It’s my first win.”

Day five of the world cup promised the conditions to complete the men’s Kite-Surf competition in the first strapless freestyle format event of the season. But it was only in the early afternoon that the south-westerly breeze quickly built to around 15 knots.

Big name casualties

After two lay days without wind and concerns the breeze might falter, the race director decided run two heats simultaneously to save time, right up until to the semi-finals.

The standout performances in the early rounds came from Canada’s Reece Myerscough and the Italian Yaris Dell’omo, who battled their way up the ladder, scoring well with their three counting tricks from seven attempts.

One of the biggest casualties of the early heats was Matchu Lopes (ESP), the tour leader. He has two wins from two in the Kite-Surf discipline on the Qatar Airways GKA Kite World Tour. Lopes was defeated by Brazil’s Pedro Matos in the difficult breezes.

Matos was then defeated himself in the next round, the quarter final, by the Germany’s Keanu Merten, 18. It was a tight heat as the up-and-down wind moved more onshore.

The other quarter finals saw the Frenchman Theo Demanez advance over the Canadian Myerscough. Roig continued his march up the order when he ended the run of the France’sCamille Delannoy.

Highest heat score

In another quarter final, Italy’s Cozzolino was again untouchable, just as he had been in the opening rounds. He was even more dominant in his semi-final against Merten. The Italian’s handlepasses earned two 9-plus scores from 10, and the highest heat score of the day— 23.70 out of a possible 30.

In the other semi-final Roig easily came out on top against the France’s Demanez and went through to the final.

Demanez faced off against Merten, who had the advantage of the home crowds behind him, in the mini-final to decide the third podium place. But as the pair duelled in the kickers, the heat was a close run thing. In the end Merten edged it by just 0.06 of a point.

“I’m super-happy with what I did right now,” said Merten. “I want to say thank you to everyone on the beach, for firing me along. It motivated me a lot. I’m very happy to be third. I didn’t imagine to come this high—to get on the podium and third place. I didn’t imagine it could happen.”

The final match-up was a battle of youth and experience, between Roig, 22, in his first final, and former multiple champion Cozzolino.

Biggest career mistake

Roig opened strongly and landed some smooth tricks that the judges loved. The form that Cozzolino had shown until the final seemed to desert him and he crashed some early tricks.

But Cozzolino also made a huge error, saving his big-scoring handlepass moves for the closing minutes of the heat, that he had believed was 10-minutes long rather than seven. He was stunned when the warning sounded the end of the heat and saw him finish in second place.

“This was the event I was looking for the most,” said Cozzolino. “I was feeling good and I wanted it so badly. In the final, I don’t know what happened. I thought I had 10 minutes, rather than the normal seven. I went upwind. I needed a handlepass. Then I turned and heard the warning. I stopped and my world shut down. That’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in my whole career.

“For sure, second place is OK. I will still push hard and can still [get the world title]. But I need to work on my mindset. I made a big mistake, but I will learn from it.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Lukas K Stiller

Defender GKA Kite-Surf World Cup Sylt 2023 results

1 Kiko Roig (ESP)
2 Airton Cozzolino (ITA)
3 Keanu Merten (GER)
4 Theo Demanez (FRA)