26 April 2024


Friday, April 26: Often overlooked by statisticians and followers of global aquabiking, Freestyle competitors have some of the finest jet-ski control and finesse of all the competitors on the UIM-ABP Aquabike World Championship scene.


Recent seasons have seen Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Mulla dominate his rivals but Italian veteran Roberto Mariani clinched last year’s World Championship title on a tie-breaker and is currently level on 47 points with Al-Mulla after a win and a second place apiece at the Grand Prix of Bình Định-Vietnam.


Freestyle is a specialised discipline where a few minutes entertaining the crowds in front of a panel of judges determines the outcome of the respective Motos and bikers carry out an array of spectacular spins, somersaults, back-flips, combinations, pirouettes and ski control. They are judged on quantity, style and variety and awarded points for each category to determine the winners of individual Grand Prix.


After finishing as runner-up in 2016, Al-Mulla claimed the first of five successive world titles in 2018 and has been the man to beat in the sport to this current season, where Mariani and Portuguese airline pilot Paulo Nuñes are his main competition thus far.


But Al-Mulla’s recent successes in Freestyle have come on the back of a remarkable period of domination in the sport by a pair of Slovenian brothers, Nac and Rok Florjancic.


Already setting records and thrilling the crowds well before Aquabike Promotion began listing the Freestyle discipline as part of its UIM-ABP World Championship programme in 2012, Nac Florjancic held off fierce competition from Frenchman Romain Stampers to win the 2012 world title with consistent finishes in all six Motos in Qatar, Italy and China. By missing out on the visit to the People’s Republic for the final round, his brother Rok lost out on the potential title, having won the first four Motos of the season.


The 2013 World Championship featured 10 Motos and five Grand Prix in China, Italy, Qatar and Abu Dhabi and the brothers completely dominated proceedings. Rok entered the record books by winning all 10 Motos to record a staggering maximum 250-point score. His brother earned seven runner-up spots on his way to second place and Montenegro’s Aleksandar Petrovic was a distant third of an impressive field of 16 entrants who scored points.


The brothers were at it again in 2014 and Rok followed up his whitewash in 2013 with another blistering set of on-water acrobatics to win each of the eight Motos held in Qatar, Italy, Spain and China. The maximum 200-point score put him 40 ahead of his brother, who finished second at every Moto. Current World Champion Mariani came home in third, ahead of fellow countryman Valerio Calderoni and Qatar’s Sultan Al-Kuwari.


Rok’s over two-year unbeaten run came to an end in the second of the two Motos on Doha Bay in Qatar in 2015 – where he finished third behind brother Nac and Qatar’s Fahad Al-Hameli – but he secured another world title nonetheless with four Moto wins in Italy, China and Sharjah. Again, Nac finished second and Mariani rounded off the season’s podium.


Rok continued his stunning form into 2016 to win yet another world title with victories in seven of the 10 Motos held in Italy, Spain, China and Sharjah. But the new kid on the block was Al-Mulla and he prevented a Florjancic 1-2 by finishing as runner-up, after winning his second ever Moto in Spain and both heats on Khalid Lagoon in Sharjah – the place where he secured his first Moto win the previous year.


Rok only took part in the first four of 10 Motos in 2017 and, despite three wins and a second place, the Slovenian finished down in sixth in the rankings. His brother Nac claimed the world title by 29 points from Mariani, with Al-Mulla in third place after missing the first four Motos and then going on a remarkable run in the Middle East to win the next six heats in Dubai and Sharjah.


When the Florjancic brothers withdrew from the championship before the start of the 2018 season to concentrate on business and other sporting commitments, Al-Mulla became the man to beat with five successive World Championships up until the end of 2022. Like Rok Florjancic before him, Al-Mulla claimed a clean sweep of all the Motos between 2018 and 2022 before Mariani broke the trend last year to win a first world title on a tie-breaker.


Al-Mulla and Mariani resume their duel for Freestyle supremacy at the Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy in Olbia on June 21st-23rd.