A New Sport with a New Set of Rules
A New Sport with a New Set of Rules
Kiteboard racing is different, and so are its rules. "Rules" from our November/December 2009 issue.
What started as a small group of kiteboard sailors racing around buoys in 2005 on San Francisco Bay at the St. Francis YC is now a worldwide activity that’s coming on fast. A check of the kiteboard course-racing schedule on the website of the International Kiteboarding Association shows 18 regattas in the last six months. The highlight of this year’s schedule was the first Kiteboard Course Racing World Championship, again at St. Francis, with 67 entries from 12 countries. While the growth of this new sailing discipline has been accelerated in the past year, so too have the rules under which they race.
Tree Bay Area kite enthusiasts, John Gomes, Geoff Headington, and John Craig, along with Bryan McDonald, a windsurfer and experienced team-race umpire, drafed an initial set of rules for the first races. These were tested, refined, and then posted by US SAILING on its website. Shortly thereafer, the IKA joined forces with ISAF and asked that ISAF develop a set of rules for kiteboards as it has done for Windsurfing Competition (Appendix B of the racing rules). At this point, as a member of the ISAF Racing Rules Committee, I volunteered to work on the project. The result is Appendix BB, Experimental Kiteboarding Competition Rules, now available on the ISAF website at www.sailing.org/28163.php. It is likely that this appendix will appear in the 2013 edition of the racing rules, alongside the special appendices for windsurfing, match racing, team racing, and radio-controlled boats.
Working on these rules has been great fun and a challenge. The “boats” are really different from all other boats that race under our racing rules. Although the board itself is no bigger than a windsurfer hull, a kiteboard in its entirety is huge. The kite is several times larger than the hull, and the control lines can be upwards of 110 feet long. What’s more, the kite can be flown anywhere from just above the surface of the water to right over the hull. Steering the kite in a pattern of repeated big figure eights, a practice called “looping,” adds lift. Therefore, the kite is not always flown in a steady position with respect to the hull. Competitors loop their kites when sailing downwind or in lulls in the wind when their speed drops. Changing course takes a lot of skill, and those skills are developing fast. As recently as last year, most kiteboarders were unable to tack and instead jibed through 270 degrees whenever they wanted to change tack on a beat to windward. At this year’s Worlds, about half the competitors were tacking rather than jibing. It is quite common for sailors to lose contact with their boards and have to swim after them. Hulls almost never hit one another. When a competitor breaks a rule, what usually happens is that one sailor’s control lines hit another’s and the two sets of lines become tangled, a disaster that can result in huge losses in a short race.
Kiteboard equipment, kiteboarding skills, and the rules governing kiteboard races are all evolving at a rapid pace. Here’s are a sampling of some of the challenges we faced while developing rules for kiteboards, and the rules we wrote to meet them.
Basic Definitions: Obviously, there is no mast or boom, which helps define the tack a sailboat is on. A kiteboard is on the starboard (port) tack when the competitor’s right (left) hand would be forward if he were in “standard riding position” with his heels on the edge of his hull and both hands on the control bar. The definitions of clear astern, clear ahead, and overlap are based on both hull and equipment, just as they are for boats. However, when two kiteboards on the same tack overlap, the one whose hull is on the leeward side of the other’s hull is the leeward kiteboard, and the other is the windward kiteboard.
Basing this distinction on the position of the hull is necessary because the control line and kite are often more than 100 feet away from the hull. Sometimes when two kiteboards converge while sailing downwind it is not possible to determine which one has right of way. In such cases, there is a special rule that states, “the one on the other’s starboard side or the one astern shall keep clear.”