Whilst Weymouth produced the goods and some exciting racing in the RS:X fleet, the fate of Olympic windsurfing still hangs in the balance. A revote in November will yet again decide between kitesurfing and windsurfing, two sports unfairly pitted against each other for a space at the Games.
Windsurfers and kitesurfers of course have a close relationship, many being participants in both sports, although inevitable this closeness sometimes leads of differences of opinion. With the hope that windsurfers and kitesurfers can come together to push for the inclusion of both sports in the Olympics and to answer a few more of the unanswered questions about kite board racing, Boardseeker catches up with 4 x Kite board racing world champion, Steph Bridge and kitesurfing coach and racer Lee ‘Pasty’ Harvey.
Photo by: PKRA and North Kiteboarding.
Steph’s Kiting History:
Kiteboarding since 2002, previous to this windsurfing and sailing.
2006 British freestyle champion
2007- 2011 Kite race world champion
What was your involvement in the kite racing bid?
I was one of a handful of riders from each continent invited to represent our sport at the Santander ISAF trials in March 2012. We showed what we could do in a variety of conditions and we also tested different event formats. We worked with the team to allow them to gain an understanding of our sport, essentially the most dynamic form of sailing. They had not seen kite racing so close up and many were especially interested in our planing possibilities in 8 knots.
Do you think it is too early for kiting to be in the Olympics?
Truthfully, I do not think it is a question of whether kiteboarding is ready, it’s whether the Olympics are ready. Having just been at Weymouth for the last two weeks our discipline will just bring many people to the edge of their chairs, so much high action speed, potential for crashes, close to the beach. We are a beach sport and this will also bring the crowds.
What is the current wind speed minimum for kite racing? Do you think this change?
Steady 6 knots we can ride planing upwind. However, 8 knots allows for 6knot lulls. Having a minimum wind speed is crucial.
What is the current equipment and how do you think it will improve?
Right now we are pretty close to what we will be riding on in the games. One board with two sets of fins, limitations on kite line lengths and thickness, kite materials and sizes. We will be allowed to register three kites at the beginning of the season for that year. The equipment will make small improvements within the box rule, perhaps most of which will come from fin development.
What are, in your opinion, the positive and negative points of the box rule?
The huge positive is that the box rule allows many manufacturers to have a stab at the cherry. This is healthy for the sport, individuals and will assist with the growth of kite racing all over the world. Used equipment will stay at good prices, however it will be affordable for many riders to buy the kit out of their local shop and go and take part in racing. The negative is that perhaps it will require more man power to control, measurement and checks will take place, but already this takes a day at each event.
How competitive is the current kite racing and how do you think this will develop?
In the last years we have had a growing number of new racers from all over the world get into the sport, many bringing a race background with them. Most grew up, like I did, racing small sailboats. Right now many decent racers who have come from sailing or windsurfing backgrounds are getting into kite racing and this is pushing the sport to the next level. The next four years are going to be very exciting.
How does the start line work? Is is harder to avoid collisions on a busy line and around marks?
Much easier than what you think. Find a lane, stay out of trouble, keep moving! Inevitably, collisions do happen and once one kite goes down then a few others get involved.
What do you do in a kite race if the wind drops dramatically?
Below 6 knots and we come of the plane, once off the plane we can not pump to keep moving so then the race director will take the decision to abandon.
Although there are lots of kids kiting, the sport is not allowed at many in land locations, what are your thoughts at these active team15 clubs that cannot switch to kitesurfing?
The best way to get into watersports is to start sailing or windsurfing at a young age. Perhaps at age 12 or 15 then the youngsters will decide to go 29-er, laser radial, or the kite class. This pathway will soon become clear.
What are your views on the law suit from the RS:X class? And how do you think ISAF should go forward regarding to the classes at the Olympics?
That’s an interesting one and they obviously took some advice before they took ISAF to court! It looks like a negative effect but maybe if they did nothing then this would also be a loss.
Looking from the outside I am sure windsurfing should NOT have been kicked out of the games. The way it came up against kiteboarding was wrong and of course we look the baddies in all this debate. But we are our own sport, standing out to be in the games, alongside windsurfing and I really hope that this happens. Without windsurfing kiteboarding would not be where it is today.
Lee ‘Pasty’ Harvey
Competing & promoting the sport since 2008
Were you involved in the kite racing bid?
No, but I have been actively competing and promoting the sport since 2008.
As the current wind speed minimum for kite racing is 6knots, what do you propose is done in winds under this? We have seen many Olympics in the past with the conditions?
Kites simply will not fly in under 3 knots of wind, which is what you get in the lulls when the average is 6 knots. I believe the IOC will choose better locations for future Olympic sailing venues as all the classes look extremely dull when there is under 6 knots of wind and no one wants to watch boats drifting around.
When the wind does drop below 6knots and you drop off the plane what is the process? i.e. how do you get ashore safely?
You can keep the kite flying and drift downwind as long as the wind stays above 3 knots. If you drop the kite you wrap the lines up, pack the kite down and paddle in lying on the board.
With the box rule in place rather than one design, how can you make sure it is the best sailor that wins? Surely now wealthy countries have an advantage? All countries maybe able to purchase equipment, but it will be only the wealthy that can have the best and most current surely?
I still think that by the time Rio comes around the kit will be supplied with country flags on by the organisation. The development that is going to happen before 2016 is going to really increase the lightwind capabilities and be great for everyone but I think ISAF will lock in the kit to be used prior to the Olympics so that everyone is on the same. What is important is to keep the box rule going and only lock in equipment for the Olympic year so that the equipment keeps developing and we don’t become stagnated or leave kite racing equipment to develop outside of the Olympics which would mean kit used in the Olympics is outdated, much like what has happened with windsurfing.
How do those that live in inland locations (many that do not allow kiting) get into or become successful in the sport?
Kitesurfing is 90% kiteflying which can be practised on any open space or park. Also I think some of the larger lakes will start to allow kite racing soon. As in every sport once you reach a certain level you have to move to train and if you are keen enough to get into the Olympics then you will do this. The great thing with kitesurfing is that it fits in any car and you can travel to the coast. I even saw a race board in a smart car last week!