The International Kiteboarding Association KiteFoil Gold Cup 2017 opening event is a wrap. Daechon Beach, Boryeong, South Korea played host to an exciting week of racing. Competitors battled against each other, and against challenging light-wind conditions, to make it to the finish line in first position. Ian MacKinnon of the KTA gives us the report, below.
Kiteboarding’s evolution is breath-taking. That was never more evident than at the season’s KiteFoil GoldCup opening stop, in Korea for the first time. Leading contenders for the 2017 crown demonstrated their stunning ability to fly above the water flat-out in barely 3kts of breeze, squeezing every ounce of performance from ever-faster and more efficient foils and kites.
To watch reigning International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) GoldCup champion, Monaco’s Maxime Nocher and teammate Theo Lhostis from France, limbering up just metres off Boryeong’s talcum powder Daecheon Beach was a thing of wonder. Framed by offshore islands just visible through the mist the duo, on identical newly-launched 19m Enata foil kites and hydrofoils from the same stable, rode fast and executed flawless, balletic foiling tacks and gybes while beach flags hung limp and waters remained glassy.
While Nocher’s forte is undoubtedly in light wind, the 22-year-old who is also the IKA Formula Kite (Foil) world champion needed every bit of his concentration and skill to clinch the Korea stop in challenging conditions. He did so with a remarkable win in every race. France’s 16-year-old Anaïs Mai Desjardins came out from behind to seize the women’s win. But in the end, the regatta was decided by just six races over five days of competition—two on the opening day and four at the closing.
At least the best was saved for last, however. With the leaderboard static for four days after the opening two races when the wind briefly struggled over the 6kts threshold on day one, Nocher went into the final day leading, followed by Italy’s Riccardo Leccese who had scooped two early seconds, with the blond dreadlocked Lhostis in third. In the compact women’s fleet—racing with the men—France’s Alexia Fancelli held pole over Desjardins and Korean local Bitna Kim, but slipped up in the fickle winds.
If the tension mounted over two windless days, followed by a breeze that teased with two failed efforts to start on the penultimate day of the competition, none of the athletes showed it. It gave them the opportunity to contemplate the delights of a part of the world that was fresh for most.
Daecheon, with its backdrop of pine trees, green hills and flooded rice paddies, is a sleepy resort favoured by weekenders from capital city, Seoul, who brought a party-loving atmosphere with them. For the 20 foil riders from 13 nations, though, it was more a chance to sample the quieter joys of locally-prepared seafood landed freshly at dawn at the dock’s buzzing fish market. Daecheon is renowned for its annual raucous Mud Festival in July, which was just a distant promise, aside from the museum dedicated to mud and shops offering rejuvenating face packs full of minerals.
Closer to home, the prospect of kiting becoming an Olympic sport is something all the athletes dream about. In the lulls, attentions inevitably turned to the looming prospect of kitefoil racing gracing the 2020 Tokyo Games’ program. The chances are looking increasingly good after World Sailing (WS), under whose umbrella kiting operates, in mid-May forwarded a recommendation to be considered by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the coming months. If approved it would give kiteboarding a men’s and women’s “showcase” event.
Another indication that kiting is on the rise was that storied racing coach Mike Gebhardt journeyed from his Cabarete home in the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic to Korea with one of his charges, 15-year-old Tiger Tyson. Olympic windsurfer Gebhardt, who turned his attentions to kiteboarding more than a decade ago, helped foiling prodigy Daniela Moroz to her first Formula Kite world title last year at just 15 years of age.
For the Korean event, Tyson was the embodiment of Gebhardt’s Olympic attentions. But their focus is on the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina next year where the format will be Twin-Tip slalom racing. The lack of wind that played havoc with the IKA KiteFoil GoldCup schedule decimated the Kiteboard Tour Asia’s TTR programme that was due to run here simultaneously, preventing any racing.
Yet, the five-time Olympian—veteran of the Seoul Games in 1988 is already beginning to see a “Games Effect” in kiteboarding, where the money thrown at it will grow exponentially as brands and individuals seek medal glory. It is partly why riders can foil in 3kts or less as brands push the limits of speed and efficiency. Already in Korea, more athletes appeared with coaches, a thing almost unheard of a year ago. One of the key goals of the newly-formed Enata brand is the hope of securing a place at the Olympic table by winning any contest to be the foil and kite of choice for the Games’ “showcase” events.
To realise its dreams, Dubai-based Enata Industries bought Italy’s Banga foils and its expertise, and contracted two-time paragliding world champion Hans “Housi” Bollinger from Gin to design state-of-the-art foil kites. It also brought on board world champion Nocher and Lhostis, among the fastest foilers in the world, to best showcase the equipment’s potential.
On the final of the KiteFoil GoldCup Korea, Nocher did that to a devastating effect. With just hours to go before the final cut-off time, the breeze finally kicked in with 7kts on the start boat and 8-9kts at the top end of the windward-leeward course. But Russia’s Denis Taradin, on a 19m Ozone R1V2, clearly ahead of Nocher, Leccese and Germany’s Florian Gruber seemed determined to upset Enata’s fairytale script. But on the final downwind leg, Taradin crashed after catching debris on his foil and Nocher took the top spot with the Russian second.
Yet it did not go all Nocher’s way. In the second race, Taradin was again fast out of the gate. But in the dying breeze he misjudged the lay-line to the top mark to allow Leccese and Nocher through, then they both also misjudged the lay line. That gave Nocher the lead, only for him to catch a plastic bag on his foil as well. Sadly, the debris that dogged all the riders is the story of seas the world over. Nocher, hotly pursued by Leccese on an 18m Ozone R1V2 and Mike’s Lab foil, rode the whole downwind leg with the bag acting as a brake. But rounding the final bottom gate it came off and Nocher took the win, even as the wind dipped to 3.8kts on the start boat.
After a short break, though, under clear skies, the toying breeze returned. It was enough to squeeze in two further races. But in the penultimate race it was so light that Leccese, sitting second overall, came unstuck when he failed to make it off the beach even as the others were on the course well out in the bay’s clearer air. But with a discard available after five races and a second in the final race, Leccese claimed the second podium spot. Poland’s Maks Zakowski posted his best GoldCup finish with a third overall, courtesy of consistent high finishes on his Ozone R1V2 and Moses Comet foil. In the Masters over 35 class, Turkey’s Ejder Ginyol took top podium spot with France’s Benjamin Petit second, and the US’s Amil Kabil third.
Nocher’s peerless light performances clearly gave him the edge. But the Monegasque rider still had little margin for error and, as usual, he somehow got the job done. “In the day’s second race I was leading by far, but I caught a plastic bag and just couldn’t remove it and keep moving,” he said. “Leccese passed me and I still had the bag on my fin. I did that whole leg with the plastic bag, but past the gate it came off. Then I got the lead again. So, overall I’m very happy to have won this event. It’s been hard to deal with these conditions, but I’m near perfect in these light winds and Leccese could do nothing.”
By contrast Desjardins was surprised and delighted at her good fortune, taking the win over Fancelli who suffered a costly elimination from the final day’s second race when she got in a tangle. “I’m very happy because I never thought I could win because of my old [gear],” said Desjardins. “I think I was lucky. I usually use my 11m or 15m kites, so it was really difficult using the 18m. In the end it was really, really good because I learned so much.”
IKA KiteFoil GoldCup, Korea Final Results
MEN : 1 Maxime Nocher, 2 Riccardo Leccese, 3 Maks Zakowski
WOMEN: 1 Anais Mai Desjardins, 2 Alexia Fancelli, 3 Bitna Kim
MASTERS: 1 Ejder Ginyol, 2 Benjamin Petit, 3 Amil Kabil
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