Sunday, May 27, 2012

US Sailing All In for Kite Racing · Koster Can Drive

US Sailing Board Member and Chairman of the Olympic Sailing Committee, Dean Brenner, issued a press release on May 23rd to explain their recent decision to support kite racing for the 2016 Olympic Games. Brenner summarized: "While the Board of US Sailing makes final decisions on all recommendations to our ISAF delegation, much of the thinking on Olympic events and equipment originates in the Olympic Sailing Committee, which I lead. The OSC believes, and I continue to support this 100%, that kites will be good for the sport of sailing, worldwide." Brenner put forward 5 simple reasons for the decision. In response to these reasons, 3 open letters have surfaced: one from Nevin Sayre, former pro windsurfer, accomplished kiter and all around waterman; one from Bruce Kendall, two time Olympic windsurfing medal winner for New Zealand; and the last from Platt Johnson, windsurfer since 1973, kiter since 2006 and former windsurf retailer.

Dean Brenner: Reason 1. Kiteboarding is an exciting and rapidly growing area of the sport.

Nevin Sayre (left):   No argument, kiteboarding is an exciting and rapidly growing area of the sport. However, US Sailing and ISAF voted for what is currently practiced by a very small percentage of kiteboarders - kiteboard course racing. That’s like noticing all these skiers at the mountain and then choosing telemark racing as the Olympic discipline. Kite board racing uses very different equipment and skills than what you see at the beach. No doubt kiteboard racing is cutting edge and could one day evolve into an Olympic sport, but we’re just not there yet. That’s the point. There are estimates that at most 200-300 persons world-wide have been on a kite course board. This includes but a handful of juniors.

But let’s look at the facts: 80 women from 37 countries competed in the RS:X World Championships. 12 women from 10 countries competed in the Kite Course Racing World Championships. Only two women were able to complete all the races at the Kite Course Worlds. Does this qualify as Olympic-ready for 2016?

There is currently no known active Youth Kite Course Racing. Compare that to 400 kids (age 16 and younger) who are expected at the Techno Windsurfing World Championships this summer.

Bruce Kendall (left):  Kite racing is currently a small & undeveloped sport compared to windsurfing was back to the mid 1970's. It is still too early to judge if kite racing is a narrow niche sport with a low ceiling of participants & if the numbers would naturally continue to increase without the Olympic ticket. Currently the majority of Kite retailers have not stocked kite-racing boards as the evolution of design has been too fast & superseded designs have to be sold at below cost. Most of the Kite board brands have not invested in building kite racing board molds & are waiting for the evolution to slow down as it has been too hard to sell racing boards to retailers. The major Kite board manufacturers have not been making many racing boards for some time due to the above reasons. As a consequence, Kite racing boards are not widely available & kite racing has not been enjoying the same growth the rest of the Kite boarding market has.

Platt Johnson:  Of course but where are your statistics? In Newport kitesurfing leveled off four years ago with no additional growth since then. My local beach in Florida has the same 20 or so kiters as ever. The current Kitesurfing World Cup in Holland ( had 14 entries for men. After four years as an ISAF class this is pitiful. Claims of huge production numbers are not relevant as they are only recreational gear and mostly for replacement. I find I need to replace mine each year.

Dean Brenner: Reason 2. The infrastructure required will be minimal.

Nevin Sayre:  According to Dean/US Sailing’s justification, 'The infrastructure required will be minimal.' Agreed, infrastructure required for staging events is an important consideration. I wonder if US Sailing is aware that kitesurfing, due to safety concerns, is prohibited from many premier ISAF sailing venues:

In Sydney Harbour, site of the 2000 Olympics, kitesurfing is banned.
In Singapore, site of the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, kitesurfing in banned.
In Cyprus, site of the 2013 ISAF Youth Worlds, kitesurfing is banned.
In Lake Garda, Italy, site of the EUROSAF Olympic Regatta, kitesurfing is banned.

But even if kitesurfing is allowed at a specific venue, other significant logistics are involved. While race management on the water may be similar to other classes, to safely launch a kite you need very specific conditions. A minimum of 100 ft of open space is required, free of any obstacles that could impale the kiteboarder, or put bystanders at risk. There is no way you can launch and tack out of many yacht harbors (Kiel?).

On top of that, kitesurfers require the ability to change kite sizes if wind conditions change between races. The ISAF Kite Equipment Report glosses over basic logistics and says huge floating platforms could be built to launch from, or competitors can launch from support boats, or be shuttled to launch from outside beaches. That’s minimal infrastructure????? There are very few venues without surrounding hazards where you can safely launch 140 kites to make a 9:00 AM start time in gusty, stormy conditions.
Bruce Kendall:  This is a non-argument to replace windsurfing, but is an argument to replace some of the other Olympic Sailing Classes. Infrastructure for windsurfing is less than required for kite racing as the boards are the same size & Kite rigging and launching areas require more space than to rig & launch windsurfers. Windsurfing certainly requires less infrastructure than all other sailing classes. The infrastructure in terms of developing kite surfing compared to windsurfing may in fact be more in some locations where a higher ratio of support boats to sailors may be required.

Platt Johnson:  Not in my experience - Kiting needs more infrastructure as kites take up more space. Kites will want multiple kites ashore rigged and ready to go. Boats for each kite will be required for safety and launching. I calculate you can put 17 windsurfers into the line area of one kiter. More support boats will be required.

Dean Brenner (left): Reason 3. The potential exists to bring in new countries to the sport of Olympic Sailing, and at Council, there was support from every continent and region: Europe, Caribbean, South America, North America, Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Mid-East.

Nevin Sayre:  Dean’s third reason, 'The potential exists to bring new countries to the sport of Olympic Sailing' is valid. And windsurfing has done exactly that with 54 countries competing in the Olympic Qualifying events, and more MNAs competing in Men’s RS:X at the ISAF World Championships than any other class, including Laser. Does US Sailing/ISAF want to trade this success for a class that is not yet developed?

Bruce Kendall:  Potential also exists also for windsurfing to continue to bring new countries more than other Olympic sailing classes. This is proven with RSX's track record of the growing number of nations trying to qualify for the Olympic Games in Windsurfing at the last RSX class world champs in Cadiz in 2012.

The only thing that has stopped Olympic windsurfing's continued advance is ISAF changing the class every 8 years. The laser class is larger than the RSX, but how long has it been intact? Many new countries just as before, will not be able to compete in Kite racing due to a lack of ability to:
1. Keep pace with design evolution
2. Lack of ability to competitive equipment
3. Compete against established nations with good programs.

Platt Johnson (left):  No more so than windsurfing while windsurfing already has established programs which will be hurt by your decision. In addition many areas have banned kiting so there is no growth possible there. New York just banned kitesurfing at ALL of it's public beaches. Additionally the RSX is a One Design. Kiting is an open class. The cost will be astronomical and the equipment disposable. This is not emerging country friendly.

Dean Brenner: Reason 4. Kites can be sailed close to shore, increasing spectator possibilities.

Nevin Sayre: 'Kites can be sailed close to shore, increasing spectator possibilities.' Yes, just as easily as windsurfing. The only difference is, if the wind is on shore, all those ISAF spectators would have to be pushed back from the shoreline to avoid decapitation.

Bruce Kendall:  The length of the size of the fin is almost the same as the RSX so in fact there is no difference about being close to the shore. It is only ISAF that have restricted the RSX class's ability to compete close to the beach. In off shore gusty conditions windsurfing can in fact compete closer to the beach than Kites. Little has been said about the limitations of kite racing due to unsuitable weather, launching & landing conditions.

Platt Johnson:  Onshore Winds: the spectators will need to be backed up out of harms way. Offshore Winds: the breeze will be fluky and unfair to the competitors. They certainly are no closer to shore than windsurfing. When kites are racing they will still have tons of gear on shore that the spectators will need to be kept well clear of. Where will all of these support boats go?

Dean Brenner: Reason 5. There have been major advancements in safety, and the evaluation and technical reports said exactly that. Those interested in this debate, really should read that report, linked here.

Nevin Sayre:  Dean goes on to rely on the ISAF Equipment Evaluation Report which barely addresses the critical concerns of safety. While it’s true that kites have improved in safety, and expert kiters will take their own risks, what about the safety of juniors pursing the Olympic dream? You can’t just hook a hot shot Opti sailor up to a kite and push him/her off the dock. There is zero pathway for kiting currently within US Sailing.

In his position as Olympic Sailing Chairman, Dean Brenner may not be concerned with further down the pyramid, but safety in the Olympic pipeline should be of paramount importance to US Sailing. Again I ask, what is US Sailing’s plan to safely incorporate kitesurfing into Junior Sailing Programs, the Olympic Youth Development Team, Youth Worlds Team, the Junior Olympic events, and all the pathways that leads to the Olympics? What is US Sailing’s plan to bring kitesurfing under its umbrella when insurance companies have deemed kitesurfing unsafe?

ISAF’s own specialists in the Events Committee voted 17-2 in favor of trialing kitesurfing at ISAF events until it is proven Olympic-ready, and keeping RS:X as the Olympic Class for Men’s and Women’s in 2016. We call on U.S. Sailing and ISAF to evaluate the readiness of kitesurf racing for 2016 and the Olympic pipeline, question dubious claims in the ISAF Kite Evaluation Report, balance judgement against the world-wide success of windsurfing as an Olympic discipline, and perform a complete fair analysis before their vote in the November ISAF meeting. 

Bruce Kendall:  The report was widely circulated & before the May 5th meeting.
An official letter was sent by Ben Barger the ISAF Athletes rep asking for more detail & solid evidence to back the claims. It has never been replied to. Evidence to refute some of the statements in the report was already common knowledge. The Safety issues have never been fully answered. Kites are banned in many more places than all other windsurfing & sailing often due to actual historical safety reasons in that area. Kite surfing has possibly had more serious accidents in the last 5 years than the whole of sailing combined. Safety concerns are a factor in any sport & for many parents, safety & liability is a reason some choose not to do a sport. ( Bruce Kendall replied to everything Dean Brenner covered in the press release, not just the 5 simple reasons for the decision. Complete Bruce Kendall Reply )

Platt Johnson:  Sure there have been advancements but just try and convince the insurance companies (or New York) that kiting is safe. All my friends who are long time kiters seem to wear knee braces. There has been no change in the danger that the four or so razor sharp kite lines pose which is the most significant safety issue for kiting. The release on the kite is better but you still need to pull it in a heck of a hurry in order to have it work and then the kite is out of control on 25m - actually make that 40m kite lines. Kiters can still get into serious trouble. In a squall a windsurfer can lay flat. What do you do with a kite besides let it go. Don't be to leeward when a kite flailing lines and a bar comes at you.

I have read enough of the ISAF Technical Report to know a sales job when I see one. There are safety claims that are untrue and claims for the sport overall when only a tiny fraction of 1% of all kites and "hulls" made are for racing. Just one example of many: The report claims a weight band of 55 to 90 kg but this is impossible on a planing hull and will be completely disproved once the sport has enough participants to be fully competitive.


Blanca Manchon joined the chorus of international protest when she lambasted the Spanish Sailing Federation's decision to vote for kite racing at the 2016 Olympics. In her letter to the Federation she asserted: "The behind-the-scenes politics and lobbying by the ISAF managers in favor of kiteboarding on countries that usually cast a blank vote, not having representatives in any of the two disciplines, and the absence in that vote of the Asian countries, a driving force behind windsurf’s Olympic presence..I got shocked and confused to see that my own country, Spain, had voted for the kite, which in turn influenced the Latin American vote to switch from windsurfing to kiteboarding." The Petition passed 25,000 signatures on Friday, May 26 just 20 days after it was started.

David Leggat of the New Zealand Herald laid to rest an often suggested path for dealing with the 2 boardsports. He reported, "There have been suggestions the kites could have been introduced as a demonstration sport for Rio with an eye towards perhaps being brought in for 2020. Problem is the IOC don't do demos any more. So you're either in or you're not." From the same article he offered this insight: "One point: there has been no animosity between the two board disciplines. The kiteboarders have no need for it as they're in the box seat; the windsurfers insist their beef is with the ISAF." Kiter, Robbie Douglas, current world speed sailing record holder, reinforced this sentiment with his Facebook poster: "Unite Here (which) means let's go sailing.....kitesurfer or windsurfer! I could care less about ISAF, the politics and sailing in 6 knots in Rio."

Current Wave Sailing World Champion, Philip Koster has a drivers license...He wrote: "Yes !!!!!!!!!!! I have my driver license !! big thanks to : Fahrschule Fahrzination in Hamburg . I had a lot of fun and a lot of nights of learning, 2 weeks without windsurfing ............ and I promise not to drive like I am windsurfing. The second photo shows that modern sports champions don't always make the Wheaties box...


  1. Kite racing is a growing sport. There shouldn't be competition between these two sports. The decision to have kite racing is a good one because all of the accidents that you have mentioned typically happen to people who have no experience kiteboarding. When you are watching professional kiteboarders, they won't be dropping their kites very often. I am an older instructor, and I don't wear knee braces. Also, I almost never get my kite wet or crash like some of these inexperienced riders who represent a risk to the sport. I kiteboard at a spot with many windsurfers, and we have no animosity towards each other like the animosity displayed in this article.

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