French speed ace Alex Caizergues won the inaugural Red Bull Lighthouse to Leighton kitesurfing race in emphatic fashion at Fremantle, WA today. The 32-year-old pro kiter from Marseilles sped across the 19km Indian Ocean course from Rottnest Island’s Phillip Point to the beach just north of Fremantle in just 24 minutes and 34 seconds, around half the time of a typical voyage on the Rottnest Express ferry at an average speed of over 20 knots.
Despite being unaccustomed to the choppy local conditions of Gage Roads caused a by 20-knot-plus Fremantle Doctor and made more tricky by the attention of three helicopters, Caizergues led virtually all the way to win by one minute and 50 seconds. Local Said Salameh was second across the line, with fellow WA kiter Marty Farrow third.
There was drama after the finish, with Salameh disqualified for failing to go around a marker near the finish line and Farrow promoted to second and Philip Rowlands elevated to third. It was a close race early, but the Frenchman put aside jetlag after only arriving in Perth on Wednesday and pulled away as his rivals tired, and hit the beach at least a couple of kilometres ahead of his rival in front of around 500 spectators.
The WA Kitesurfing Association-sanctioned Lighthouse to Leighton was the longest kitesurfing race ever held in Australia and Caizergues said he was out of his comfort zone, being more accustomed to speed challenges on flat custom-built kitesurfing courses.
“Usually I am competing on my own, here I had 50 guys all excited and I didn’t know what to expect,” Caizergues said. “I had to get a really good start and not tangle with someone, and I did that and took the lead from the beginning. It’s really different compared to speed conditions, I was going fast, probably 25-30 knots, around 50 km/h.
“It was tricky, bumpy, choppy conditions and, I tell you, with three choppers around you it is really scary.”
Caizergues always shaped as the man to beat, being the second fastest man in the world on a kitesurfer. He is also a three-times world champion and was the first man to break the magical 100km/h on the water, setting the world record in Namibia in October before US kiter Rob Douglas snatched the record off him with a speed of 55.65 knots just days later.
Caizergues said he didn’t need to make too many dramatic changes to his gear to conquer the Perth conditions, but was using a specially designed board for distance kiting: “I am using the same kite as for speed challenge,” he said. “I know they are fast and they can handle strong winds, I had a special board for long distance.”
Caizergues said he was impressed with his first event in Western Australia. “I am really impressed, I didn’t expect so many people on the beach,” he said. “I am really proud to win the first edition of the Lighthouse to Leighton Beach.”
A display of freestyle kitesurfing warmed up the 500-strong crowd before the main event, which was limited to 50 competitors and attracted entrants aged from 18-60. The event was made possible with assistance from Fremantle Ports, Royal Life Saving WA and local kitesurfing body, Western Australia Kite Surfing Association (WAKSA).