From March 3rd to 11th, the first GWA World Cup of the year 2023 took place in Tauranga, New Zealand! The riders were able to compete in the Surf-Freestyle and Freefly-Slalom events. Well, New Zealand being a bit far for the European riders, the events were not complete, neither for the men nor for the women. But it was the opportunity to discover new faces on the podiums! We tell you what happened during these nine days of competition. (Photos: @georgiasphoto / @plateauproductions)
But first of all, what is Freefly-Slalom? It is the new name of the former Surf-Slalom discipline, which no longer seemed appropriate to describe this discipline. The Freefly-Slalom discipline has a bias towards “expression”, a title that the GWA can deliver according to World Sailing, to distinguish it from the more traditional and highly specialized slalom racing classes like Wingfoil Racing. If a pumping zone already existed in Surf-Slalom, it is now well formalized in the case of Freefly-Slalom: the courses will have a FreeFly section of the track that will have to be sailed without the power of the wing, using only the energy of the ocean swell or pumping the foil. In the case of the Open Ocean, the FreeFly section will be a minimum of 500 meters, while in Flat Water it will be a minimum of 200 meters. In other words, the legs are going to burn, as we saw in Tauranga! (More info here)
On the first day, the athletes were able to conclude the seeding round of the Surf-Freestyle in a very irregular wind. The following days, the wind was not there… but the waves were there, which pushed the organizers, in partnership with the major sponsor Armstrong, to launch a tow-in surf-foil competition. The show was on!
It wasn’t until the 4th day of the GWA Tauranga that the Surf-Freestyle was able to resume, for the men only, again in very irregular conditions, but where it was necessary to move on as there were only 4 days of competition left. It was on day 5 that the action returned to the New Zealand scene, with the entire Surf-Freestyle event taking place, for both men and women, right through to the finals! On the women’s side, Bowien van der Linden started strong with an impressive heat score of 17.37 points in Round 1, advancing directly to the Semi-Finals along with Nia Suardiaz. In Semi-Final 1, Bowien repeated her solid performance and defeated Aimee Bright. Nia faced Orane Ceris in Semi-Final 2 and secured her spot in the final with a strong lead (Front Side 3 and Toeside Front Side 3 gave her a pretty nice score). The final heat was intense, featuring Nia and Bowien, two of the strongest riders. Nia gained an advantage with three solid scores and claimed her first event win of the 2023 season.
In men’s Round 1, all the top riders qualified, but newcomer Cash Berzolla stood out with a score of 19.33 points. Round 2 saw the level of tricks intensify, with Camille Bouyer, Alan Fedit, and Chris Mac Donald putting in impressive performances. In the quarterfinals, reigning World Champion Malo Guenole qualified with a clean FS7, while Alan Fedit beat Titouan Galea. Bastien Escofet and Chris Mac Donald faced off in one of the best heats of the day, with Chris advancing to the semi-finals. In the semi-finals, Malo Guenole advanced to the final by defeating Alan Fedit, while Chris Mac Donald secured his spot by defeating Ancor Sosa. The final round saw the youngest riders on the circuit, Malo Guenole and Chris Mac Donald, go head-to-head. Chris managed to win by just 0.8 points, putting in an incredible performance against one of the strongest athletes on the circuit (but who had injured himself a few days earlier surf foiling and went into the competition with 10 stitches in his leg!).
This 5th day was intense for the riders who went on with the first rounds of the Freefly-Slalom:one full elimination was completed for the men, with Bastien Escofet taking the win, followed by Francesco Cappuzzo and Alan Fedit. Meanwhile, the women’s side completed three full races, with Nia Suardiaz winning two and Aimee Bright winning the third.
The Freefly-Slalom competition did not continue until day 8, the penultimate day, when the wind came back. And it didn’t come alone! The riders had to face rainy and stormy conditions that day. In the Men’s Surf-Freestyle Division, Bastien Escofet won the second, third, and fourth eliminations, while Titouan Galea won the second elimination. Francesco Cappuzzo crashed in the semifinals of the second elimination, missing out on a spot in the final. Men’s Elimination 5 was cancelled due to a sudden change in wind conditions. In the women’s division, 7 eliminations were completed, with New Zealand athlete Aimee Bright winning 2 eliminations and Nia Suardiaz winning an impressive 5 eliminations. Bowien van der Linden placed third overall for the day. The women completed 11 eliminations with 3 discards before being released for the day. At the end of the day, the current standings for the women’s FreeFly-Slalom have Nia Suardiaz in 1st place, followed by Aimee Bright in 2nd place and Bowien van der Linden in 3rd place ; and for the men’s FreeFly-Slalom after four eliminations and one discard show Bastien Escofet in first place, followed by Francesco Cappuzzo, Camille Bouyer, Titouan Galea, and Alan Fedit. The new Freefly section quickly became the most controversial part of the course, shuffling the deck and causing unexpected results.
On the 9th and last day, the competition ended on the Freefly-Slalom, where men’s elimination 5 and women’s eliminations 12 and 13 were completed in light breezes. Four riders (Titouan Galea, Oscar Leclair, Ancor Sosa, and Camille Bouyer) in the men’s elimination 5 final went over early, creating an opportunity for the remaining six riders. Bastien Escofet claimed his fourth elimination win, followed by Chris Mac Donald and Zane Schweitzer. Bowien van der Linden won both eliminations for women. The Armstrong tow-in surf foil competition was also completed in the afternoon, with Matteo Ell and Bowien van der Linden taking the win. The full podiums are below.