Championship Controversy  // Event
21 October 2015

By: Andrew Cassidy
Location: The Spit

“Interference – white on yellow, interference white on yellow” are not words you want to hear over the PA system when you are wearing a white shirt in the most important heat on the Australian SUP calendar. But that is exactly what Kai Bates heard when he was sitting out in first place with a 9.0 and a 7.8 under his belt and Jackson Close, the next closest competitor, needing a 7.55 to snatch the lead with only two minutes left on the clock.

“I’m shattered. I can’t quite believe that just happened.” said Kai, reminiscing after the final.

Kai was paddling for a wave while watching Harry Maskell swinging around for the same wave. Harry was really deep on the inside for the right hander but Kai was further out the back and had forward momentum from the wave before Harry did. Kai, thinking he wasn’t interfering with Harry at all, went right and scored a 6.3. Harry went right too but after realising he was too deep to make the section, flicked out. He scored a 3.0.

Dark clouds descend over the contest site during the final

All smiles in camp Kai with two minutes left

From the judges angle and with very poor lighting from the approaching thunderstorm, it was hard to see who was further out the back and therefore who got onto the wave first. Combine that with the fact that everyone is already “on their feet” in SUP surfing (one of the deciding factors with shortboard interference assessments), the judges saw it as a drop in by Kai on Harry and consequently made the call. The decision meant that Kai’s second best wave was halved which took him from first to third and needing an impossible 11.76 to win the title.

The mood changes to match the sky

After feeling elated with the progress of the final up to that point, the mood quickly changed within the Kai Bates cheer squad who were watching from the shore line. Hearts sank, mouths dropped and heads spun around towards the judges tent. Knowing Kai had to surf out the remaining two minutes of the heat and couldn’t defend himself, his grandad took counsel and proceeded to march up towards the Head Judge. Andy Davies (the NSW Team Manager) had the same idea and met him there. A heated discussion ensued as the final hooter sounded but apparently what was done was done and the decision wouldn’t be reversed even though one was reversed earlier in the day when a protest was made against a paddling interference and the judges realised they’d got it wrong.

Heated discussions in the judge's tent

Jackson hears what happened while he waits for the final decision

Jackson Close was crowned the Australian champion for the fourth time. The innocent bystander caught in the middle, Harry Maskell, was awarded second place and a young Tim Cyprien was fourth behind Kai in third.

Kai knew the situation was ambiguous and has now come to grips with the difficult outcome, “looking back, that’s what happened and you can’t change it”. Although I doubt he will leave that much up to chance next time, “I knew I was in the lead and I could have easily just sat out the back and waited and maybe won the Aussie Title without catching another wave”. A difficult reflection for the young ripper.

Kai managed to pull it together during the presentation and show a level of maturity and professionalism beyond his years, “I was still really shattered but I wanted to represent my sponsors and everyone who watches me in the right way and set a good example”.

Harry’s awkward moment of being caught in the middle

Jackson, a very fortunate yet deserving winner with an impressive heat total of 16.25, commended Kai and the other, more junior, finalists in his acceptance speech, “These young guys are unreal and there is a bit of a changing of the guard happening at the moment. They’ve really pushed me all the way over the past two days”.

Solace may be gained for Kai in knowing that the one wildcard available for the ISA World Titles in 2016 may very well go to this highly respected SUP surfer.

The solemn walk back to the cars after the presentation, even for the winners

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