Boardsailing: Kiteboards on wave of the future

By David Leggat

Johnny Heineken. Photo /  Toby Bromwich
Johnny Heineken. Photo / Toby Bromwich

The volume on the windsurfing vs kiteboarding Olympic Games row has been largely one way.

The windsurfing fraternity have got used to their place on the Games programme since 1984. Barbara Kendall and her brother Bruce, and then Tom Ashley in 2008, have won gold medals, ensuring New Zealand remain prominent in the sport.

So the International Sailing Federation decision this month to ditch windsurfing in favour of kiteboarding for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 has not gone down well.

But what about the kites? It's a given that the sport has been voted on to the Olympic card four years earlier than anyone - from either side of the argument - expected.

The course racing discipline within kiteboarding has been put in for Rio, as distinct from the more exotic freestyle.

Matt Taggart is among the leading exponents in New Zealand. The 41-year-old Englishman, who moved to Raglan in 2008, is married to a New Zealander and has a thriving kite business.

He was also an enthusiastic windsurfer for more than 15 years, and still does it occasionally.

One of the intriguing sidelights to the ISAF decision is that there appears no animosity from windsurfers towards the kites. The ire is directed at the international body.

Taggart, a passionate advocate for the kites, can see both sides.

"It's a real shame windsurfing has been kicked out. The worst thing is that this has happened so quickly. The rug has been pulled out from under their feet and that's not really fair. It has taken everyone by surprise and it's a shame they can't coexist."

The Olympic sailing regatta is restricted in numbers and disciplines, so having both at the same event, at least for now, is not possible.

However Taggart did take a swipe at the RS:X class used at the Games.

"It was so outdated. It's not a class you're attracted to and it doesn't look that great. It's not dynamic and I think that's what the ISAF was looking at. People are kiting on the beach; you're not seeing windsurfers."

The class should have been adapted and moved away from a one-design class. That, Taggart believes, is a lesson the ISAF has heeded.

"There's not going to be one brand that supplies the boards and kites. That will help the development of the sport and will help it stay relevant and current as the sport grows."

Taggart defends it against accusations that the danger level is unacceptably high for the Games.

"Everyone talks about the danger. With any active sport you have danger," he said. "In the early days the equipment just wasn't there, but you look at the figures, and the safety in the product is quite amazing."

Taggart reasons that people are reluctant to accept change. In this instance, however "people have voted with their feet. In windsurfing numbers have unfortunately dropped off. Globally the sport has far surpassed windsurfing and it's getting safer."

The argument that the sport has no organised national body is easy to fix, he said, pointing out that neither did the United States.

He is keen to help organise an informal chance for windsurfers to try their hand at kiteboarding. There is a reason for this. He believes they, and sailors in general, will start with a distinct edge among those interested in taking up the sport.

"I know they're going to love it. It's the windsurfers and sailors who've got the advantage. I know it's a blow, especially for the youth training now for RS:X.

"That's awful, but they've got such an opportunity. It's the tactics and racing skills, the stuff they've already got, that they can transfer over to a kite easily."

Taggart pointed to American Johnny Heineken, who started kiting two and a half years ago - having come from a sailing background - and is now among the world's best exponents.

Kites or windsurfers. A battle for the hearts of the nation's boardriders lies ahead.

- NZ Herald

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