Multisports: Kite-racer Kiwis off to tackle world best

By Peter Thornton

Inclusion in Rio Olympics has given embryo sport huge boost.

Dave Robertson expects conditions at the World Championships in Italy to be similar to those at Takapuna Beach.
Dave Robertson expects conditions at the World Championships in Italy to be similar to those at Takapuna Beach.

Four Kiwis head into the unknown this week when they travel to the Kiteboarding World Championship in Sardinia, Italy from October 2-7.

The sport of kite-racing (not freestyle kiteboarding) is set to take off on the international stage with its inclusion in the 2016 Rio Olympics Games confirmed in May.

With New Zealand athletes' affinity with water sports and board sports, it looks set for a surge in popularity at recreational and elite levels.

Matt Taggart, Dave Robertson, Ben Turner and Justina Sellers are all on a steep learning curve as they look to compete with the world's best kiteboarders.

Robertson recently staged a camp in Auckland ahead of the Worlds where the priority was to spend as much time on the water as possible.

"Our most valuable use of time this early on in the game is all on the water practising our skills, speed and strategy on the courses used in racing," said the 26-year-old Yachting New Zealand board coach.

"The courses used at the Worlds are going to be short and fast, and we had some intense practice of those led by [Olympic gold medallist] Tom Ashley on the water in the coach boat."

Robertson said the inclusion in the Games has spiked interest in the sport in New Zealand. The focus is on fast-tracking the Kiwi talent to be competitive in four years.

There is a group of local guys that has been pushing hard for the past four months since the decision to include kiteboarding in the Olympics.

"We are behind some countries that have been doing the racing format of kiteboarding for about six years.

"We are confident we are picking up the competencies needed to win fast, but are realistic of our chances to be on the podium these first two years of the Olympic cycle. This year's World Championships will show us exactly where we are on the world stage."

Taggart is intrigued by the championship format.

"I'm expecting it to be really clustered due to the fact the IKA [International Kiteboarding Association] has not limited entrants so it's totally open and we have over 200 entrants," said 41-year-old Taggart.

"But it will at least be entertaining and a learning curve and it's amazing to see what the decision to include kite-racing into the Olympics has done to the numbers at a kite-racing comp."

Taggart recently competed at a meet in San Francisco. It was his first kite-racing regatta and he finished in 12th place.

"I went there to learn and had a ball although I'll never turn up again at a championship 10 days before and kite three to five hours per day again. My legs were jelly by the time the comp started ..."

Robertson was in 15th place in San Francisco before he withdrew from racing to film for coaching purposes.

That mindset with some healthy competitive spirit will continue in Italy.

"We are going to the Worlds with the expectation of learning and don't have a result as a focus," he said.

"However, knowing how fast we have improved and the quality of the training we have had I expect us to be at the top of the group of people and countries that have picked up the sport since the inclusion decision in May."

Robertson expects the conditions in Italy to be a moderate offshore breeze like the prevailing south-westerly off Auckland's Takapuna Beach or a light sea breeze.

Taggart added: "It could be nuking or super light so the six- to 25-knot wind window could be very interesting. With competitors only allowed three kite sizes across that wind range it will be very interesting what the riders register before the comp.

"I'll probably select a 9m, 13m and 17m to have as wide a wind range as possible."

The Worlds is a long way from where Robertson and Taggart began.

"A friend of mine, and fellow competitor Chris Blake taught me to kite and I have never looked back," said Robertson who has been kiteboarding since 2007.

Taggart's father was one of the early pioneersof hang-gliding in the UK in 1973, and Taggart grew up flying with him, strapped to his back.

"I began in 1998 on a wave-sailing holiday in Maui when I was fortunate enough to see my childhood legend Robbie Naish and Maui resident or waterman Pete Cabrinha kiting at Sprecks.

"We bought an early tube kite and taught ourselves to kite, downwind to what is now called Kite Beach.

"I gave it a good go and we had some laughs and serious mishaps but it lit a fire within me ...

"But the waves and wind were too good and that early kite gear was so basic so we continued with our windsurfing.

"By 2000 the fire was well and truly raging and I started kite-surfing in earnest ..."

They encouraged all Kiwis who have a passion for board sports and water sports to take up kite-racing.

Q&A with Dave Robertson, Matthew Taggart and Tim Stockman.

There are about 2000 recreational kiteboarders in New Zealand and that number is about to soar. The sport has developed quickly in a short time and keeps reinventing itself on land and water. With more high-performance kites available for all punters, regatta sailing races are already becoming more common at local beaches and lakes. We caught up with three of the sport's key Kiwi personalities in Dave Robertson (Yachting New Zealand board coach), expatriate Matthew Taggart (Director and Co-founder Ozone Kites Ltd - a UK company with our design team in New Zealand) and Tim Stockman (Kite-surf instructor and retailer in Christchurch).

What does it mean to have kiteboarding in the Olympic sports?

DR: It's an exciting time for kiteboarding as a sport. It has proven itself by the huge participation numbers worldwide that it is a hugely popular sport. The inclusion of racing in the Olympics means the development and the level of riding in that discipline is going to really push kiting performance potential on the water. Bang for buck you can't get a better performing sail craft on the water.

MT: The Olympics is a wonderful circus, more political and Hollywood from what I'm seeing with the ISAF. I think many people probably feel the same deep down but saying that the decision to include kiteboarding so quickly has sure been a boost for Ozone as we have the current world's leading kite design, the EDGE and I'm addicted to kite-racing, so I'm not complaining. The Olympics for kiteboard racing has probably come too soon. I hope it doesn't end up being screwed over by the politics. The lobbying by the largest brands to make a sport controllable for monetary ends (one-design) with the end result being that the passionate people in love with the sport end up being funnelled into the ISAF or the Olympic committee's idea of a sport even though 99 per cent of the people making the decisions know Jack about the sport.

TS: Kids and adults with sailing backgrounds will come across to kiteboarding - if they haven't already and then they'll be wondering why they didn't do it years ago. Regional regattas will crop up as interest spreads. The Canterbury Windsports Association in Christchurch has a summer events calendar full of new regatta style racing events. Most riders will race just for fun, then you'll get a core few who will be driven for more prestigious rewards, if they are prepared for all the hard work ahead. Growth will be strong in coming years as a result of the Olympics.

How competitive do you expect New Zealand to be in kiteboarding?

DR: We will know where we stand after this world championship and will, more importantly, understand what the gap is to the top. Our goal is to then close that gap in time for Rio.

MT: It's obvious New Zealand is going to become a very strong kite-racing nation with the talent and passion I've been lucky to witness. Yachting NZ are professional and engaging in an incredible forward-thinking way so Kiwi kiters will make it to the podiums with some serious graft. As a Pom lucky enough to marry a charging Kiwi and to end up a resident here, I'd say all Kiwis must know that you are absolute legends, a country of four plus million kicking ass in all sports. I love that and I know kite-racing will be no different. Kite sports in general have a very healthy future globally and especially here.

TS: The power of kiteboarding has the ability to cross over into all board sports, both on and off the water, including skiing and snowboarding. Once a rider can harness this power and has mastered the skills required, where it's used is really up to the rider. Kiteboarding for those who enjoy extreme sports is just an extension of what sport they may already be doing. This makes kiteboarding very appealing to Kiwis.

What makes the sport fun?

DR: The ability to control so much power and turn it into speed or height on the water. New Zealand has great conditions year round which make it a perfect sport. If you enjoy speed, water and racing then it's a great choice. Remember there are lots of different disciplines in kiting including freestyle, wave sailing and racing. Racing is currently the smallest discipline within the sport but it's growing very quickly with its inclusion in the Olympics.

MT: It's the ultimate sport. You control the power, you can ride on water, land or snow (can kite up mountains instead of using a chairlift or a heli) with a kite and New Zealand provides the ultimate terrain for all kite sports land, water or snow.

Finally Dave, as a coach what simple tips do you offer to newcomers to kiteboarding?

DR: I recommend an introductory lesson with a local instructor. There are plenty all over the country so get on Google and search them out. Spring is a great time to learn in time for summer. It's worth investing in some lessons to get all the best advice regarding safety, equipment and getting going on a board on the water. There are some awesome trainer kites out there that are small and super fun to fly on the beach. Your 3-year-old through to your 93-year-old can spend hours of fun flying the kites and all the while getting some necessary skills that transfer on to the water.

- NZ Herald

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