With all three of the previously scheduled tour events cancelled this season, the Kite Surf Pro World Championship starts its 10-day holding period today at Hookipa Beach Park with everything on the line.
Patri McLaughlin, a 24-year-old who grew up on Maui, has been competing for three years in kite surfing and took up the sport 12 years ago.
"This event is huge, it's the final event for the world tour, so it's kind of like the contest to go to this year," he said. "This year they had some trouble, with I don't know, maybe management or finances or something, but they had to cancel all the other contests. There was originally four contests scheduled for the year."
Patri McLaughlin will be competing in the Kite Surf Pro World Championship Tour’s only event of the season, which starts its holding period today at Hookipa Beach Park. The tour has had to cancel its three previous scheduled event.
RICHARD HALLMAN photo
Cruser Putnam took up kite surfing after moving to Maui from Louisiana.
RICHARD HALLMAN photo
Cruser Putnam grew up in Louisiana before moving to Maui seven years ago.
"Since they have (this event) for the last two years, it would be kind of a sad thing to let it fall apart," said Putnam, a 25-year-old who took up the sport when he moved here. "This was the final stop (on tour) last year, so I think it's kind of important to keep the motivation going, a lot of people are into the kite surfing aspect of the sport."
The event is being called the Cabrinha Kite Surf Pro and McLaughlin said it is the Super Bowl for the sport of kite surfing - competitors surf waves while being propelled by a kite.
"Slowly, one by one, they cancelled all of them, so this is the contest, this is the only one," McLaughlin said. "It's the one-contest world championship - the world championship is going to be decided at this contest - and that is kind of a prestigious title to have. People have traveled from all over the world to come here for this event and they will be battling to secure that world title."
Also scheduled are side events including a legends division, a big air contest and a draw featuring local competitors.
Putnam and McLaughlin are both in the men's main draw, while King Kekaulike High School senior Kalia Aguera, a standout volleyball player for Na Alii, is in the women's main draw. Stand Up paddling world champion Kai Lenny will start in the qualification rounds.
Brothers Niccolo and Francisco Porcella are two more Mauians to watch.
"They're both chargers from Maui," McLaughlin said. "They both battle Jaws and stuff."
McLaughlin and Putnam said a breakthrough about eight years ago allowed the sport to include surfing waves instead of primarily being a big air and trick contest.
"When I learned in 2002, it was a completely different game," McLaughlin said. "It was really dangerous that the equipment didn't have the best safety systems or anything. Nowadays, when I look at kites and how far they have come, it's amazing, it's a whole other sport. It has become a lot different than it originally was."
The development of a "bow kite" in 2005 allowed much more control and deceleration capabilities, allowing kiters to surf on waves.
"They flattened the kites out and they added a bridal system to it so that the kites would completely de-power," Mc-Laughlin said. "In the beginning of the sport, the kites kind of had a certain amount of power. They kind of always pulled you a little bit."
There are two world tours for the sport - this one and one for tricks and big air. Putnam said the sport of kiting has tried to exist under one umbrella, but it has proved to be a challenge.
"They tried that before, but with the tricks and the waves, there is such different conditions needed," Putnam said. "Most of the trick spots go on flatwater where there probably wouldn't be waves considered. They tried it for years and it just didn't work out as well."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com