Kites to the Olympics

America’s top female foil talent is deep into her studies in preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Kites to the Olympics Sailing Energy/World Sailing

What comes next for an 18-year-old three-time world champion and Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year? How about schooling in basics she might have missed along the way to those three world titles in kitefoil racing. Daniela Moroz came out of the blocks as a phenomenon. Now, with kiting set for Olympic competition in 2024, she has work to do.

“There will be girls coming into kiting from dinghies and skiffs,” she says. “I lack that background. I need to work on strategy. I need to work on tactics. And I want to start sailing on a college team next year and get in a lot of races.” And that, frankly, is a unique take on the relationship between Olympic competition and college sailing in America. For Moroz, who grew up on San Francisco Bay chasing two-time women’s world champion Erika Heineken around the buoys, the journey begins anew.

Meanwhile, anyone anywhere with kiting ambitions for 2024 will be going to school, one way or another.


“The proposed Olympic format could be very cool,” Moroz says, “but it’s nothing we’ve seen before — a relay race pairing a male and a female. From what I understand so far, men and women will alternate leading off, with partners waiting in a holding area, and I think surely there will be a component of GPS tracking so racers in the next flight know when to take off.

“Obviously, it would be hard to literally pass a baton. A GPS trigger sounds realistic, but we’ll find out,” she says. “The 2019 world championships are in May on Lake Garda, and that will be everyone’s first shot at this format. Then the exhibition event at the Tokyo Games will give us a solid picture of what’s up. Tokyo is two years out, but I’m already counting the days.”

For 2019, Moroz will pair with Dane Wilson, a high-­performance sailor and coach who campaigned a 49er ahead of the 2016 Games. “Dane and I trained together last summer and again in Mexico over the winter,” she says. “We get along, and I respect his outlook. Unlike a lot of kiters, he understands how much discipline goes into training. I’ve always been competitive, and I started as a swimmer. To swim well, you have to go to every practice. I’ve translated that to kiting, and any time I’m on the water I’m trying to learn something. I tell myself to make it count. Every Olympic-level athlete understands that.”


Unlike other realms of Olympic sailing, kiting does not have an established structure of coaching for a teenager to grow into, but maybe that’s just fine, Moroz says: “Between coaching and no coaching, kiting is somewhere in the middle.

Everybody’s still figuring things out, and we’re a community where we share secrets

“There is a lot of support, but not a culture of rigorous practice, so it comes down to self-discipline.”


As to how long the ­openness will last as Olympic squads form, we’ll see.

And as to the first, aborted introduction of kiting to the games, Moroz sees how that could have led to a dichotomy like the one in windsurfing, where the fastest windsurfers are high on foils but the Olympic RS:X still bangs along on the waves. The attempt to ride that tiger on behalf of kiting — encouraging development while precluding surprises at the games — comes down to a plan by which kite and foil manufacturers register a range of equipment, and sailors have a window in which to try them, choose, and declare what they will use in the next Olympic cycle.

This system covers sailors of different sizes and strengths, and with four kites of different sizes allowed in the quiver, they have a good chance of sailing, whatever the conditions. Rapid equipment development remains the norm, but not at the blistering pace of a few years back. While that remains the case, this hybrid model won’t drag leading-edge kite sailors into a sideshow glorified with Olympic gold.


As developments go, and looking ahead in 2019, we see an evolution to three rows of bridle lines spanning the kite canopy instead of the familiar four.

“A lot of that is about reducing drag,” Moroz says. Then there is the higher aspect ratio of the latest kites that “sit farther forward in the wind window. That’s an advantage upwind, but there is a fine line to draw to be competitive downwind, where a lower-aspect kite does better.” (The wind window is the half dome of air in which the kite can fly.)

Moroz observes, “There are a half dozen foil makers in the game, but last year at the Combined Worlds in Denmark, 17 of the top 20 sailors rode foils from Mikeslab. That’s cool for me because I’m part of Mike’s testing program on San Francisco Bay. It’s fun to see my work paying off.”

As for the science of foil testing, she says, “A lot of it is about just lining up with Mike [Zajicek] and a few other people to see what happens. There are foils that feel fast because they’re stable, but they’re slow, and there are foils that are hard to ride because they’re unstable, but they’re fast. There are so many variables.

Kiting’s hang-loose beach culture will surely survive, far from the thin air of Olympic competition. And by 2024, perhaps, we will move beyond occasional arguments about the proper fit for kites and foil boards in what we call sailing or (pssst) yachting.

“Sometimes we go to Sherman Island, on the Sacramento River, and we line up and get a certain result. Then we come back to the bay and line up in a similar breeze and get a completely different result. That’s the difference between fresh water and salt water. Another thing that happens is that on the river, even though the foil looks as clean as a knife blade, every little fissure in it collects algae — microscopic stuff — and that changes how the foil behaves.”

Current trends in foil design go toward higher aspect ratios and wider wings.

“Everyone was riding on 58- to 60-­centimeter wings,” Moroz says. “Now there are wings as wide as 72 centimeters, and they’re more efficient in the light stuff for the bigger guys, so we’ll be seeing more of that. I’m smaller, so I do fine with 64-centimeter wings. The manufacturers will register a range, and we’ll have time to test them before we declare what we’re going to use to qualify for 2024.”

What will it mean to kite foiling to join the biggest show in sports?

For starters, it’s unlikely that “just lining up” will remain a forefront system of testing for either foils or kites.

Other countries went deep on technology years ago, and one of the goals of US Olympic Sailing is to catch up through its partnership with Autodesk (motto: Ready to Make Anything) working from the company’s skunk works in San Francisco. Kiting’s hang-loose beach culture will surely survive, far from the thin air of Olympic competition. And by 2024, perhaps, we will move beyond occasional arguments about the proper fit for kites and foil boards in what we call sailing or (pssst) yachting.

Moroz fondly remembers her time as a little girl watching from the race deck of St. Francis YC as her parents raced windsurfers. Two decades earlier, however, there had been a minority of members who objected when the club invited windsurfers in from the beach and amazed them with post-race hot showers. But that went well, and the greatest advocate was the club’s 1972 Finn Olympic representative, Ed Bennett.

Much later, it was other club members, and former dinghy racers, who wanted to find out whether it was possible to race kiteboards. Three world champions and two Rolex award winners later, that too has gone rather well. If history records Moroz as the 2016 US Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, it must be yachting.