Kiteboarding - a whole new class

By Paul Lewis

Boardsailing great Bruce Kendall questions the politics and rationale that has seen boardsailing supplanted by kiteboarding. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Boardsailing great Bruce Kendall questions the politics and rationale that has seen boardsailing supplanted by kiteboarding. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

The man who began New Zealand's stellar success in Olympic boardsailing, Bruce Kendall, is angry about the sport's unexpected ejection from the Games-but says the promotion of kiteboarding could yet be an opportunity for New Zealand.

A kiteboarder himself - Kendall says it is his major sporting activity these days - he is ideally placed to assess the merits of the two sports. While he counts kiteboarding a "great" sport and says he believes it is a sailing event (others say it is not yachting as such), he feels the wrong branch of it has been selected for the Olympics and that there should be room for both.

"It is so, so, sad," says Kendall of the loss of boardsailing's Olympic status at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Kendall, the 1984 bronze medallist and 1988 gold medallist, sparked a run of boardsailing success that saw windsurfers win seven of New Zealand's 16 Olympic yachting medals since 1984.

He is upset and, like many in the sport, questions the politics and rationale that has seen boardsailing supplanted by kiteboarding.

"I just feel so sad for all the early teens, the mid-teens and all the kids who are putting so much into boardsailing and learning the trade - and it is a tough sport and a tough event to
master. I knowthe amount of work that needs to be put in. All of a sudden, they don't have the Olympics to aim for."

Having said that, Kendall says he believes a lot of RSX boardsailors will nowswap to kiteboard racing: "I'd have to say that, after Jon-Paul Tobin [our current Olympic boardsailor bound for the London Olympics], we may not have anyone with a strong medal chance until after Rio.

"That's because it is such a tough sport, it has so many techniques, you have to put hours and hours into it - I'd say physically it was pretty much the same amount of training as you have to do for a triathlon - and it is expensive. You have to spend most of the year travelling round the world, organising your life round it, and it is still tough to break into the top 60 because it is so competitive. It's a tough game, a real struggle-and I don't see anyone coming up behind Jon-Paul likely to do that in the next four years.

"Yachting New Zealand have recognised that and have started to put things in place to develop windsurfing again. I hope there will be room for both [in the Olympics] but I am not expecting ISAF [the international yachting federation] to reverse its decision. Now

YNZ needs to develop kitesurfing and windsurfing. Kites in NewZealand need to be organised for 2016 - and who knows what will happen by the 2020 Games?"

However, Kendall also feels strongly that the wrong kind of kiteboarding has been selected for 2016 - the course racing version of kiteboarding rather than the freestyle branch.

"That [freestyle] is what most people see and go 'wow' at. That's the kite surfing that I do and really enjoy- and some people are doing some really great things in the surf.

"But that's not what we will see in the Olympics. It will be course racing and it will pretty much look like an RSX event, with kites. Okay, with the right winds, they will go a lot faster but it will still be course racing."

Kendall, like many in the boardsailing community, feels the kiteboarders stole a political march on boardsailing authorities who may not have realised the gravity of the threat. They used the spectacular nature of freestyle kitesurfing to boost their case - even though that was not the branch of the sport that will be seen in Rio. Olympic authorities are keen on sports which translate well to television and key demographic audiences.

However, the International Olympic Committee these days also veers away from sports which have a panel of judges applying subjective measurements of performance (as in surfing and gymnastics, for example), preferring events which have a clear finishing
order and competitive structure.

"Yet that [freestyle kite boarding] is what should be in the Olympics," says Kendall. "That's where the public appeal is."

Kendall also says thereisalot ofwork to do before kiteboarding's course racing quality moves up the scale to Olympic level - an opinion borne out by a look at the sport's recent course racing world championships in Germany last year.

The men's event had over 60 entries, the women's a mere 12. In both categories, nearly half the men's field and exactly half the women's did not amass enough points in their 12 races (either not finishing or being ruled out of races) to get anywhere near the top exponents-meaning there is only a thin layer of expertise at the top.

"There's a lot that can go wrong in kiteboarding and many of them were out of their depth," said Kendall.

Four years and a new Olympic emphasis on the sport may change that but Kendall says there are other practical issues that ISAF haven't considered yet and which kiteboarding authorities haven't highlighted. One is a venue - kites need a large amount of space to
launch to avoid accidents, leading to speculation they will need a separate or more expensive venue than conventional yachts and boardsailors.

Kendall also wrote an article for NZ Sail World a year ago, when he pointed out the dangers of kite surfing: "Nearly every kite boarder has had a launching or landing 'kite mare' or 'near death' experience. Some have died or been seriously injured. . . Once one is moving at very high speed or more than a few meters in the air, it can be difficult to have the presence of mind to make the right decision to eject or it could be physically difficult due to injury or G forces.

"In the past 10 years in New Zealand, there have been two deaths from kites and well over 20 serious injuries requiring major corrective surgery. In Almanarre, France, during the last 10 years, there have been four deaths . . . In the last 10 years, it has been reported that globally there have been 121 deaths due to kiteboarding."

Kendall says he was talking about freestyle kiteboarding but says many of the same dangers still apply to course racing. However, most indications from sailing circles are that wind conditions in Rio at the time of year are not conducive to kiteboarding.

"There's still a lot of questions to be answered and a lot of work to do."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 01 Oct 2014 04:24:54 Processing Time: 942ms