At the start of the hour-long final of the Red Bull Airborne event, commentators Vaughan and Ronnie Blakey asked series director Josh Kerr if he thought an air reverse would be enough to secure a win in such a stacked field of talented aerialists, all capable of landing just about the tech-est stuff you can imagine. It seem unlikely at the time, but, ironically, it turned out to be a prophetic question. In the end, that was exactly what it took to win the comp.
With about 38 minutes left on the clock, Jack Freestone pulled an air reverse that was enough to put him in the lead—and keep him there. The air reverse wasn't exactly tipping the scales of progression, but there just weren't many airs actually completed in the final.
That, however, wasn’t the case in the earlier qualifying rounds. If the judges awarded the win to the best standout performer throughout the entire event, that $20k prize purse would likely go to the nimblest of all groms, Eli Hanneman. While he earned a spot in the 6-man final and eventually took 3rd place, it was his performance in the earlier rounds that turned heads.
Hanneman, who does, in fact, have rubber knees and ankles, maintained the top spot of the leaderboard going into the final. And for good reason. Full rotations, well above the lip, seemed all-too-easy for the super grom. On one wave, he did a huge air rotation, lost his back footing, landed in a semi-barrel and rode out of it unfazed. The commentators erupted in disbelief. Someone, I believe it was Kaipo asked, “You know how babies are really flexible?”
Keramas turned on the spout for the boys in the qualifying rounds and consistent waves kept the competitors busy. Ian Crane flexed with his polished backside game. Matt Meola punted a wild-looking rodeo. And Chippa Wilson got technical, of course, landing maneuvers that looked like a jumbled mix of arms and legs and a spinning board somewhere in the middle of it. But it seemed like the judges were awarding height and power over all else.
Unfortunately, when the final rolled around, the consistency of waves that helped make the earlier heats entertaining all but vanished. Longer lulls meant fewer waves ridden, and less airs being stomped. But it wasn’t completely devoid of action. Kalani David stuck not one, not two, but three alley oops. Mason Ho, who could make washing dishes entertaining to watch, likely would’ve won the event if he landed any of his near-makes—like his judo or his backside straight air. All in all, there were over 14 different variations of airs (according to Ronnie Blakey) landed throughout the event. But it was Freestone, who relied on his high make rate with dependable moves–and perhaps a little bit of heat strategy–to take the win.
Take what you will from this, but Freestone is now the 3rd ‘CT surfer after Yago Dora and Italo Fereirra to win an Red Bull Airborne event.