Tom Hebert the uncrowned Red Bull King of the Air
Tom Hebert is one of the original Kiteboarders starting in 1998 and has been a North International Team rider for 3 years. Born and bred in New Caledonia he’s the man who’s put old school riding back on the map with his 25 m jumps, flair and monumental amount of style. We caught up with him after the Red Bull King Of the Air competition where he soared through the heats, dominating with his ‘WOW’ factor and crowd pleasing, it looked like he was hot competition for the podium. Unfortunately he had a heavy crash that took him out of the running but he was the name that everyone was talking about.
Hi Tom, how are you feeling after the event?
Not so good, (laughs) I ‘m in quite a lot of pain.
Your crash has over 90,000 views and has gone viral. What was going through your mind at the time?
I arrived late to the kicker which put me off balance straight away. At 25 meters high and mid rotation I saw that my kite was pointing down towards the water. I lost all orientation and had very little control. I tried to correct it and get it right but it was too late.
The event is called King Of The Air. With this style of riding being your forte and having a lot of experience, tell us about your ultimate equipment set up.
The Evo is the ultimate kite for me. I pair it with 24 meter lines and the Team Series board with straps. The Team Series is everything I look for in a board; it’s fast and light. I ride the 140cm x 42cm as a bigger board is softer in the chop and offers more stability on the landings. I ‘m not a huge fan of using a handle for board-offs so I like to put a bit of foam on the top edge of the board and patch of skate grip on the bottom. It gives me a firm grip especially here in the cold water where you can’t feel your hands.
The Evo in my opinion, is the perfect kite from the North range. It provides the best lift and has a lot of hang-time especially with longer 24m lines aiding to deliver more duration to the jump.
How do you set your equipment up to go so high?
It’s really important to get maximum power and output from the kite, even if that means riding with my arm extended and the bar all the way out. I gain height from a combination of sending the kite and pulling down on the bar. It’s simple, you need to be overpowered to go big. I always make sure that I pump my kite really hard, this way it maintains it’s form and reacts well to anything I initiate. I know that 6psi is ideal but I never put less than 8psi.
On anything smaller than a 10m kite, I move the back pigtails to the harder setting and then to the softer setting for the larger sizes. I also move the lines to the inside setting of the bar on any kite under 10 meters. This way there are no surprises with your kite moving too fast or being too responsive. 4.6cm fins provide me with the grip I need to go high, especially when overpowered and my stance is around 50cm. If it’s too narrow you loose stability and it also looks a bit strange.
Kiteboarding started with a hang-time style of riding but, there has been so much influence from wakestyle over the past years with everyone riding boots. How do you think this sort of event will shape the future of old school riding?
I think old school riding is going to come back sooner than we think. Kiting is a sport that has developed through mirroring other board sports. Wakestyle is like wakeboarding and wave riding like surfing. However, kiting is an original sport where you can do tricks that you can’t do in any other. The main reason I kite and where I get a lot of pleasure is by going high and performing tricks that I can’t do in any other sport. I’m not saying that wakestyle is bad but it’s just that I prefer to go 25 meters up. You name me another water sport where you can do that. Kiting needs to find it’s own way and not copy other sports. You only need to ask a wakeboarder what they think of kiteboarding and they’ll say that we are copying them, which is a shame as kiting is an original sport. That’s why I like old school and it’s nice to see the Red Bull King Of The Air supporting this. It would be great to have more events like this over the year as it attracts many spectators putting kiteboarding on their radar. It also helps those unfamiliar with the sport to understand it a bit more as the style of tricks aren't too technical. It’s impressive.
There are not many people doing this style of riding anymore, it seems that old school got lost along the way in the growth of the sport. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
When kiteboarding started we didn’t have a clue about it’s potential. We just went riding and tried to invent new moves. Creativity is key and I draw a lot of this from talking with other riders. In New Caledonia we haven't given up on the old school and we still push this style of riding together and do new tricks. I suppose I draw inspiration from my home spot where there are many people still loyal to big air. For sure if you are alone it’s hard, but with a group of friends there is competition which makes it a bit more challenging.
Is ‘old school’ the new ‘new school’?
I think so, it’s certainly making a come back. You need to incorporate manoeuvres that look dangerous and hard all the while keep the fluidity and style too. There are so many options so, for now it is an infinite side of the sport. There is always space for new tricks.
What do you think of the riding conditions in South Africa?
Cape Town is not the easiest place to ride, it’s really windy with big waves. There are very few places in the world where you can go so high. Coming from New Caledonia, I’m used to 18-20knts and 25-30 degrees. Here the water is so cold it’s hard to find the motivation to put a wetsuit on but, as it’s rare to find somewhere with such perfect and massive kickers, it compensates for cold water that I’m not used to. The only problem is that it gets crowded, so you need to take a lot of care when going big as there will always be someone in your way.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
For anyone that wants to go high, do board-offs and rock the old school style then they need to ride the Evo. It’s the ultimate jumping machine. Also with the new NKB Tracker app available soon the contest is on! My record is 25 meters so I accept the challenge wherever you are.