Tom Court talks testing the Gambler!
Tom Court is NKB’s wakestyle guru with a passion for freeriding. He may still be young but he is long in the tooth when it comes to riding boots and hitting rails. At just 14 he was shaping some of his own kiteboards on the Isle of Wight which attracted the attention of Channel 4 who made a documentary series on it. Now, with years of experience under his belt and a longterm sponsorship with North Kiteboarding, he has pushed the development of the Gambler and has become the go-too guy for NKB. We caught up with him to find out what he looks for in a board, where he draws his inspiration and how he goes about testing the product.
When did you first notice there was a gap in the North Range for the Gambler?
7 Years ago I started riding boots and i’ve never looked back. Soon after I was hitting rails and features and spending time at the cable park which has been a big influence in my style of riding. This basically opened up what I saw as a gap in the North Kiteboarding range to design a board to be ridden specifically with boots.
Before the Gambler, the existing boards in the range such as the Team Series, the Jaime and other ‘rider’ models were just too flat and very similar. The only real changing factor was the flex pattern. This was all great when riding straps but for my style of riding there needed to be alterations in the rocker and materials used. It was inevitable that progression of wakestyle would grow, which it did and immediately I saw a need for something stronger and more durable.
Once North Kiteboarding hopped on the idea to create the Gambler what was the process and where was inspiration drawn from.
Inspiration was drawn from the existing wakestyle kite scene. There was a desire for a something that you could use as a crossover. Basically, I wanted one board that I could take on a trip, ride cable and kite without too much of a compromise and I knew there were many kiteboarders out there looking for the same thing. We looked at taking the durability from a wakeboard in order to hit rails constantly without damaging the board, and the efficient design and high tech materials from a kiteboard. At the end of the day we still have to go upwind! It has taken about 3 years to get enough rocker on the board, but we are getting there. (laughs)
As a rider, it has been a really interesting process to be involved in developing something specific to my style of riding. Now that Craig Cunningham has joined the NKB Team, it helps in focusing the Gambler down the specific rail riding route. It’s huge in the US so it’s great that he can bring a lot of his knowledge to the table.
Constant development is needed. How do you test the prototypes and what are you looking for?
Testing a board like the Gambler requires a lot of different elements. Riding intensively behind a kite is crucial but also using it at the cable and behind a boat helps to add perspective to the overall functionality. I’m always searching for the ideal flex pattern in order for the board to press correctly under the transfer of weight. This pattern needs to eliminate torsional flex (twisting motion) which you can get a lot of when riding boots as there is a lot more leverage then with footstraps. I evaluate the base material for wear and damage as this happens quicker than you think when hitting the obstacles. How the board is tracking in the water with and without fins. The rocker pattern is key as too much rocker means you can’t go upwind on a kite efficiently, and too little will have you sticking to the features and unable to ride away on the landings. The track system has to be compatible and work with all types of boots and be able to endure hard landings and crashes. The list is endless for testing and then of course there is the graphic design side. It’s amazing to see how much hard work and development goes into just one board!
What’s the best thing about the current Gambler?
It’s weight and efficiency. If you combine the Gambler with Ronix boots it is easily the lightest wakestyle board on the market with little or no compromise to durability. Even though it has a fairly high rocker aspect it still retains maximum efficiency when going upwind.
You’re testing at the moment for next year. Where is the Gambler headed in your opinion?
The next step with the Gambler is to start really experimenting with different materials all over. The materials are the things that have huge influence over the characteristics of the board. The future of the Gambler is to drive it down a more specified route angled towards getting maximum time on the water. Wind, or no wind this board will cater for kiting and riding cable regardless of the conditions or aspect of riding you are trying to refine. It will be the ultimate crossover board that you can have confidence in no matter the task in hand.
The Gambler sounds like a pretty specific and high tech board? Is it a board that can be ridden by anyone or any level?
Fundamentally the Gambler is nothing more than a comfortable board to ride when in boots. If you want to use it with straps, it may have just a bit too much rocker but, if you’re good enough to ride boots confidently behind a kite and you like the cable then the Gambler is the board for you.
Tom and Craig compete in russian Rail Masters contest
Tom and Craig headed over to Russia this past week to check out the Blaga Locals Park and compete in the Rail Masters contest! With 8 features and perfect wind though out the trip the level was high and hammers were going down. Craig advanced through his first heat taking out Aaron Hadlow and the top two Russian locals! Tom busted out a win in his heat as well against a surprisingly strong crew of Russians! The semis slotted the two NKB riders against each other and they definitely raised the level of their riding. Craig slightly edged the others for the win but the wind was a little light and the heat was called for a re-run. This time Tom stepped it up and took the win with Craig right behind him cruising into the finals! The level of the Blaga Locals is really high and they managed to have 2 of the 6 riders in the finals knocking out big names looking for a spot on the podium. The finals saw Aaron Hadlow, Sam Light, Tom, Craig and local riders Artem Garashennko and Geno Kirilov! The level just continuously kept being raised due to the 20 minute jam format and bangers we're going down all over the park! In the end Aaron Hadlow managed to knock previous Rail Masters winner Sam Light into 2'nd with Tom following him in 3'rd and Craig closely behind in the 4'th spot. Looks like this event is about as legit as it gets and the scene is ridiculously strong with the Russians really doing something cool with this spot. On any given day you'll see hundreds of kites lining the Blaga strip and 15+ solid Russians throwing down in the park… watch out for riders coming up out of here and Rail Masters blowing up next year!
Tom Court Camp in Sri Lanka
As a new and interesting aspect of kiteboarding, traveling to a country to find the flattest water would be something that seemed ludicrous to most surfers, an unimaginable fate, going to a country that has waves and yet choosing to go to the flat, lagoon sheltered coast and spend two weeks there, in a grass hut, with nothing except flat water and wind to keep you company. Well, as crazy as this would seem, and indeed I am a surfer too, this is exactly what I have done for the last two weeks here in Kalpitya, Sri Lanka. In search of the ultimate freestyle spot, a place to ride uncrowded flat water, try some new tricks and film my adventures...for me this is excitement of a different kind.
I was now there for two weeks, riding the platitudes of flat water spots, doing down winders and fitting in as many boat trips as we could. Although the Sri Lanka Kite center is right on the edge of the lagoon, you can launch from the kite school and ride across the lagoon to the sand bar on the other side, that offers an amazing freestyle location, with mirror flat water and variably constant wind. There are also a lot of other kite spots available that are not so easy to access but, they are well worth the mission. Getting a local fishing boat, it is possible to drive down wind for about forty minuets, this will take you deep into military controlled zone, towards the north of the island. Having only just escaped the grip of a long civil war, the army still has a big presence on the island. This serves to enhance the excitement, although if you go there with the kite camp, then there is nothing to worry about, although it does help to keep these kite spots pretty empty most of the time. Once you have entered this area, there are an expanse of small sand islands within the lagoon, none of them higher than about fifteen feet and all of them with butter flat off-shore sections. Each one is bigger than the last until you eventually reach one that has a flat offshore kite spot that stretches for about four miles. One of the best freestyle spots I have ever seen!
My trip this time was two weeks long and I would recommend this a a good length of time to take if you plan to visit. It will give you time to get used to the 35degree heat and enough time to polish your kite skills and take them to the next level. If you are a person who prefers to spend a little longer on a trip and get some time to really explore the place, I would also recommend it. Undoubtably Sri Lanka has a lot to offer, although a comparably small country compared to India, there is a lot of truth in the name ‘Jewel of the Indian Ocean’. It has such a rich tapestry of cultural influence, a mixture of religions that has sculpted the island into a holy place, with temples represent each religion all over the place. Its wildlife and tropical rain forest’s cover the interior and although it has some more touristy areas, there is a lot to explore that will really make you feel like you are on an adventure. Kiteboarding is a new sport in Sri Lanka and the tourism for sports like kiting and surfing are just building up there. I left the country this time, inspired by what I had seen kiteboarding bring to the area around the lagoons on the east coast in such a short time. The changes I had seen the sport make in a positive way and the implications that this has on the surrounding village and local people, business, livelihood, foreign trade and most if all an exposure to a lifestyle that is spreading faster than we can imagine. Already there are local Sri Lankan children learning to kite and it wont be long until we see them in the magazines, an opportunity that only a few sports can offer. So, if you are into kiteboarding, don't underestimate its power as a sport. Use it as inspiration to change your life, an excuse to get out and see new places, a reason to meet new people and a way to most importantly have fun! Sat on the plane, leaving Sri Lanka and flying back to Europe, I sit an wonder, where is next!?"
Congrats Colleen! - Overall Winner Triple-S 2013
The 2013 Triple S Invitational just wrapped up. This year saw some big changes at SSS. The new format was introduced changing the event from a brodown jam format to heats with a scoring system and a panel of judges. This turned up the pressure on the competitors, who now had to not only throw bangers but throw them consistently. In sliders the riders had two runs through the park, taking a score from your best hit on each feature. Tom and Craig rode together in heat #3, along with Aaron Hadlow, Andre Philipp, Rick Jensen, BCS, Chad Worrall, Davey Blair and Joby Cook. Only three riders would advance through and unfortunately Tom and Craig were just slightly edged out of the finals by Hadlow (5x World Champ), Chad Worrall (pro cable rider) and BCS (local legend).
Mens slicks was going to be another tough heat for Tom and Craig with some really strong riders in heat #3. 8 tricks, 4 get scored and only 3 people would be advancing into the finals. With some major tricks going down from everyone it was super close but Craig managed to make his way through and into the finals. Respect!
On the womens side of the event, it was total domination by North Kiteboarding rider Colleen Carroll! She was riding super strong and made it through to the finals in every discipline! And she didn't slow down their either! She's worked really hard the last few years and it's paid off with a full sweep of the Triple S podiums! 1'st place in sliders, slicks and surf! Way to go Colleen!
Some other big changes came about at Triple S this year! The new NKB rooftop slider and NKB shotgun rails are a staple of the park! North Kiteboarding is not only keen on growing the team with Colleen, Tom and Craig but also putting dollars into making sure there is world class features to push it on!
Sri Lanka FreeRide - Tom Court
Since my trip to South Africa at the beginning of the year (video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7H7WH... ) and I recovered from my broken rib after the redbull king of the air event, my year has been busy! A surf trip to Morocco and a few trips just for filming with http://ripslix.co.uk/ had made me hungry for some good kite kiteboarding...
I though that it was time to re-visit one of the best freestyle locations that I have been in the last few years. Getting an invitation from Fabio at http://www.srilankakite.com/ to go and stay and ride for a few weeks, I took the opportunity and flew out of the UK.
Whilst I was there, we also did some advance kite clinic's alongside Fabio Ingrosso and explored some of the hundreds of flat water spots that exist in that area of Sri Lanka. It is as great place to kite if you are looking for a freestyle playground with flat water and strong winds, and what an amazing country!
Film/Edit: Tom Court
Action Filming: Toni Zion