Kiters Carry the Flag

A group of U.S. athletes leads the charge in the growing sport of kite racing. Web extra from our November/December 2011 issue.

Sailing World

Kiters

At the Canadian nationals in Squamish, British Columbia, John Heineken (foreground) continued his dominance in international kiteboard competition.David Sinclair

Kiteboarders are refining the courseracing discipline at a breakneck pace, and a group of athletes from the United States is leading the charge. At the International Kiteboarding Association’s Course Racing World Championship in Sylt, Germany, in July, six of the top-ten finishers were U.S. sailors, including champion Johnny Heineken and runners-up Adam Koch and Bryan Lake. The trio went on to dominate course-racing championships in Puerto Rico and Canada. Along with fellow Americans like Damien Leroy, they’ve put the U.S. at the top of the sport.

The 2011 season has seen noticeable progress in the quality of competition. Mark roundings are tighter, finishes are closer, and protests are infrequent. “The biggest improvement has been the inclusion of a 360-degree exoneration for Part 2 rule violations,” says Koch, a Seattle native. “Now we can push port-tack crossings without worrying about going to the room at the end of the day. Before, we’d have a bunch of protests after each race. It was ridiculous.”

According to Lake, advances in equipment have made the biggest impact on the racing. “Everybody is now going similar speeds,” he says. “It makes the racing more intense and tactical than ever before.”

Kite racing is beginning to shed its reputation as being an arms race above all else. In Sylt, people were talking about nailing the start, holding a lane, and knowing the rules, not what grit sand paper you use to polish your fins.

As kite racing gains acceptance in the sailing community, events are shifting from the beach to the local yacht club. Heineken is a member of St. Francis YC, which hosts the Cabrinha Kite Race Series. “We need the yacht clubs,” he says. “Kiting is a relatively new sport, and most kiters don’t know how to run a proper regatta. The more yacht clubs host kite events, the more quality regattas we’ll have, and the more the sport will grow in to the sailing community.”

As yacht clubs everywhere search for ways to attract younger members, it’s only natural to roll out the welcome mat for the kiteboarding crowd. Besides, now that ISAF is considering kiteboarding for the 2016 Olympics, it could be your club’s best chance to field a gold medalist.