Keanu Merten and Rafa Montero with their boards on the beach in Esteponalast year. / SUR

The future of world kitesurfing is from Estepona

Keanu Merten and Rafa Montero have become Spain's rising stars in this sport after their recent victories in the first Junior World Cup

JOSÉ MARÍA MARTÍN

The future of Spanish kitesurfing is more than assured, as was made clear when the Youth World Cup came to an end in Tarifa last September. This town in Cadiz province witnessed five victories by competitors from Spain in the nine possible categories, highlighting the excellent work which is being done with young kitesurfers. Among the new champions were 16-year-old Keanu Merten and Rafa Montero, 14, who are both from Estepona and won the under-17 and under-16 categories respectively.

For some time, both have been making a name for themselves among the best riders in the country and also at European level. In fact Keanu Merten, who was born in Germany and has been living on the Costa del Sol since he was a child, has just been proclaimed champion of the Spain Kiteboarding League in junior and senior category 2021. He achieved this in June, when he was 15, in a competition which took place in video format and not in person, the first of this type to have been organised since the lockdown.

"It has been a brilliant year," says Keanu. He currently competes in Strapless, one of the different forms of kitesurfing in which a surfboard with no straps for the feet is used. The waves are used to jump and perform tricks in the air, no matter how difficult they may seem. These were the tricks which this young man demonstrated during the latest world championship in Tarifa.

Keanu Merten, Under-17 world champion: "It has been a brilliant year. I wasn't sure I could win because a lot of good people were competing"

"I wasn't sure I could win because a lot of good people were competing. I was nervous, but in the end we were very happy," he says. In the final he beat Noah Nicolas, who is also from Spain, to become world champion.

Ambition is another sign of identity of this young sportsman who is already dreaming of making a name for himself among older competitors.

"My aim is to do the full international circuit and be in the top three. I think it will be possible, with time," he says.

The Youth World Championship also crowned another athlete from Estepona, Rafa Montero, in a category in which he had to compete with rivals up to two years older than him.

Rafa Montero, Under-16 world champion: "I'd like to win the junior championship every year and then do the same in the senior category"

"We had to go to another country for one of the trials, where the conditions were different, and I found that hard. I wasn't expecting to win, the standard was very high and I didn't know most of the riders, so that put me under pressure," says Montero, who recalls that he didn't know how to react when he realised he had won. "You don't know what to do. I felt really strange and very nervous, but very happy at the same time," he explains.

Rafa competes in Freestyle, a very technical format in which the main objective is to perform jumps while disengaged from the harness which connects the rider from the kiteboard, permitting them to perform as many tricks as possible. His display in the final, in which the spectators got out of their seats to watch in amazement, was more than enough to win him the world title. It was a trophy which put the perfect finishing touch to a year to remember, in which he also won the Spanish junior championship.

Nor is he immune to the ambition which characterises the other young competitors. "I would like to win the world championship every year and then go on to do the same in the senior category," he says.

Family and school

Despite their calling to be the best at their sport in the future, these two riders from Malaga province have their feet on the ground, at least during the time they are not kitesurfing. Both are keeping up to date with their studies, although they admit that, at times, their schoolwork does not allow them to train as much as they like. They usually spend four or five hours a day after school, as long as there is enough wind.

Behind their success, as well as their training, lies the support from their sponsors, the CD Kitesurfing de Estepona, which has seen them grow, and the efforts of their families. Their fathers, Eric Merten and Rafael Montero, have not only transmitted their love of this sport to their children, but have also become their main advisers.

Both families have plenty of reason to dream of flying high now, and not only on the water.