At the age of just 20 Oswald (Ozzie) Smith has already been kiteboarding for nine years. Despite having a natural talent in all disciplines of the sport, the focus on him at the moment is most definitely King of the Air.
This years Red Bull King of the Air will be his fourth time competing in the legendary extreme big air competition, which Ozzie claims to be the only event of its kind being so frighteningly adrenaline driven.
In his hometown of Cape Town he’ll get the rare chance to compete alongside his friends and family who will be in the crowd for support; not something a local South African boy gets often while taking the stage around the world.
After a disappointing finish at King of the Air last year, what are his thoughts in the lead up to the 2017 event, the lessons he’s learnt and ultimately his plan of attack?
We got hold of him after training to ask him direct:
Unfortunately you were knocked out in the third round last year and hit the water pretty hard. Do you know exactly what went wrong?
I was going for a slamming kiteloop KGB. I’d tried it before and had landed it in lighter wind conditions. I wanted to go big and match Aaron Hadlow’s signature move but I looped too late. The kite didn’t get enough slack in it when I needed it to and it meant I couldn’t pull the bar into my hips fast enough.. there was just too much tension in lines.
When I missed the handle pass at about 12m height I realised I’d bail on the trick and was in for a slamming, but I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was.
How do you plan to avoid being knocked out so early this year?
I’m going to take everything I learnt from last year and rack up the scores first before I try the more crazy stuff. I’m hoping that once I have the scores on the board, I can advance through to round 4 before trying anything really technical.
I know I need to commit 100% and cancel out any fear: I’m going to set myself up alone backstage listening to music to get into the zone before my heats.
What will give you the competitive edge do you think?
Trying to keep a level head and not be scared. It’s a tough one as my first round has been drawn to compete against Gijs and Lewis who I rode with yesterday and are really good. I particularly have massive respect for Lewis but at the same time he also pushes me.
This year I’ve got something saved for the final which is where I at least hope to progress to. It’s not so much a special move, but something no-one else can do…
Who do you see your biggest competition and why?
I wouldn’t want to be in a heat with Nick; he can do insane board offs and has a completely different style. Anything can happen when it comes to Nick, and I wouldn’t know what to expect.
He’s also so good at getting the crowd going, even though he won’t be judged on that.
Who’s caddying for you this year?
My Dad, Stefan. He got me into kiting when I was 11! He kites all the time, even more than me sometimes! He’s big into waveriding though, and tends to like it around Strand and Macassar beaches the other side of Cape Town.
The question of safety has been on everyone’s lips: what will be different this year?
For a start we now all have to wear impact vests as compulsory. All riders have their personal critical plans in place so that if anything goes wrong, action can be taken according to the plan.
The riders have been working closely with the judges and events team to discuss how to improve safety taking into consideration the equipment we use.
If not yourself, who do you want to win King of the Air 2017?
I’m torn between Nick as I love him as a brother, but I think maybe Lewis… not just because of his injury last year, but because he should have been in the final at least.
Where’s next for Oswald Smith?
I’m hoping to take my kiteboarding to new levels and really push kicker riding. I want to be a lot more involved in the media side of the sport now; definitely wanting to get on a few more magazine covers!
Ozzie is continually testing new designs in the harshest of conditions directly from the Airush head office in Cape Town. Working closely with designers giving continued feedback, he’s found the right set up and believes he’s got the best possible chance to showcase his skills at the event.
Ozzie will be riding:
Kite – 9m Razor (unless 45 knots!)
Lines – 22m Line on the AP Bar
Preferred conditions for the event – Ozzie is hoping for:
35 knots of wind
14 sec wave period
The Red Bull King of the Air 2017 event will take place on the day with the best conditions during the waiting period of 21st January – 5th February. Stay tuned.