Ozone legend Neal Gent won the BKSA Wavemasters title for the first time in a spell-binding final fought out in stellar conditions—cranking winds and double head-high waves—at Brandon Bay on the west coast of Ireland.
Gent found himself up against long-time friend and rival, Ireland’s Ryan Coote, in an all-Ozone final that went down the wire. The wind that had been blowing more than 30kts, began gusting to 45kts and switched more onshore, making the enormous conditions even trickier.
On the road to the final, Gent had to fight back up the ladder after being beaten in the first heat. But he also had the huge satisfaction of knocking out reigning, eight-times champion Lee “Pasty” Harvey in the semis, avenging a defeat in the final three years ago, also in Ireland.
“They kept the [judged] result of the final secret until the prize giving, two days later,” said Gent. “It was epic. I’ve been trying to win this title for a long time. We had an event in 2014 on the Isle of Wight, my home turf at the time. But I broke my board in the semis and was out. It’s really good to finally get it.”
The British Kitesports Association’s (BKSA) Wavemasters 2022 Championships, which included the UK Pro National Championships, were staged over the first week of October. After a few quiet days early in the week, the conditions switched on in the closing days.
But for Gent it was not all plain sailing. Up against Coote, whose home spot is Brandon Bay, Gent found himself immediately knocked out and was forced fight for survival in the repechage, four-man heats for the first round losers.
Gent squeaked through by a whisker after he found a few “gems” towards the close of the heat, enough to just get the better of Tim Harley, who judges proclaimed the other standout rider of the repechage.
That set up the mouthwatering prospect of a 12-minute heat against “Pasty” Harvey, who had scored enough with his last wave in the final three years ago to defeat Gent. The stage was set, with the winds hitting 30kts to 35kts and beach-break waves of 1.5-to-2 metres, mixed with bright sunshine and horizontal rain, typical of Ireland in October.
Both riders were quite far apart at the western end of the bay at Kilcummin beach as they hunted down the best waves. Neither was aware of what the other was achieving, partly because of the challenging conditions.
For Gent, though, the judges’ announcement of his win over “Pasty” Harvey, who has won the title on eight successive occasions, was sweet.
“That was a bit of revenge,” said Gent. “He has won the title eight years in a row. He is definitely one of the brilliant riders and a hard man to beat.”
The other semi-final was similarly stacked with wave-riding talent. Two-time world champion Mark Shinn faced Andy Gratwick and the other Ozone legend Ryan Coote. In the end Coote took the win.
Just as the 15-minute final showdown approached, the already epic conditions went a bit “mental”. The wind picked up further and switched to “cross-onshore”, jacking up the waves to double head-high.
Both riders were on 6m
2 Ozone kites. Coote, however, chose an orange Alpha that he favours for its ability to drift in the usual Brandon Bay “side-shore” conditions that had graced the heats right up until the final.
By contrast Gent, more used to the “cross-onshore” conditions of the UK’s south coast, preferred a blue Reo V6 for its ability to turn, react and depower.
“I know what happens when the wind goes more onshore,” said Gent. “It gets a lot more choppy. Everything gets a lot more technical. The Reo definitely helps me deal with all of that. I think in the end that difference definitely played to my advantage.”
Gent also had another stroke of fortune. The surfboard shaper John Purton, with whom Gent has been working for ten years, had come up with a Flyboy 5’9” which boasted a magical combination of rocker, outline and volume that proved ideal for the job in the final.
“I knew I was up against it as Ryan Coote is a good friend that I’ve known for a long time—and I know how good he is,” said Gent. “But I found two set waves that were bigger than the average, that helped me take the win.
“Someone pointed out that by getting to the final I’d already won the UK Pro National title as Ryan, being Irish, couldn’t win that. It hadn’t occurred to me. But if I hadn’t won the Wavemasters title, it would’ve have a been a bit of a downer not to get both.”
words: Ian MacKinnon/Ozone