Playa Central and the International Kiteboarding Association hosted 43 kite racers from around the globe for the first stop of the 2015 KiteFoil GoldCup. The Ozone race team was in full representation in La Ventana, Mexico. So the team members Erika and Johnny Heineken did take part.
Late March is the tail end of the windy season in Baja California, but thanks to a skilled and sensible race committee we were able to race all five days of the scheduled event. 27 races in total were completed, in a variety of wind conditions. We sailed in both northerly and easterly winds, ranging from 0 to 20 knots. Most riders used kites ranging from 9 to 18 square meters.
Every morning Playa Central hosted a typical, delicious Mexican breakfast for the competitors, before Robbie Dean ran the skippers meetings at 11 a.m. A brief, optional rules discussion was lead by the chief judge, to discuss any rules questions that competitors felt like bringing to the table. Often we had to postpone the first start to wait for the afternoon winds to build up.
The first two days saw qualification series racing, where all 43 competitors sailed together in a single fleet. This is really a testament to your skill level: racing in big fleets in light winds on big kites. It is exponentially more difficult to get a good start and to sail cleanly around the course. All of us racers had that moment where we came back to the beach saying, “Argh, that one screw-up cost me 10 or more places!” Sailing amongst 43 foil boards, most of which were flying foil kites, definitely was a highlight for me. I am in awe at how efficient foil kites and boards are; those top racers are going fast – America’s Cup Speeds!
The entire event showcased incredibly tight racing from the top guys: Nico Parlier (Ozone, France), Maxime Nocher (F-One, Monaco) and Johnny Heineken (Ozone, USA). They were basically tied going into the last day of racing, leaving the championship up for grabs. That morning the wind built up slowly and differently than on the other days, more northeast than straight north or east. It looked really light from the beach. Everyone was confident they needed the biggest kite they had. The schedule was two Gold Fleet Races, two Silver, then three Gold. Or as much as the wind would allow. The race committee set the same course, a two-lap windward/leeward with a sprint to the finish in front of the beach.
Gold Fleet hit the water with Johnny, Nico, Matt Taggart and Stefaans Viljoen on the new Ozone R1 in 17 square meters. From the “race deck” at Playa Central the spectators gathered to listen to Grom and Chip Wasson announcing the racing. The energy was really high.
Nico was leading most of the first race, with Johnny about two kite line lengths behind for the first lap and a half. Maxime and Julien Kerneur (France) were duking it out about the same distance behind Johnny. Nico nailed his final gybe and was headed towards his final mark rounding and the finish line with speed. Johnny matched gybes with Nico because in that situation the only way you are going to beat your fellow competitor is to gybe when he gybes and hope you are sailing at an angle that allows you to make the mark rounding. But when the guy in front has called his lay line dead on, the guy behind is in a pinch. From the spectators‘ point of view, Nico rounded the final mark and was blazing towards the finish, while Johnny was trying to slow down and point directly downwind, to make the mark rounding and avoid two gybes. At this point Maxime and Julien were flying in on starboard and Johnny was trying to soak every ounce of power from his huge 17-square-meter-kite in 8 knots of breeze. He barely made it around the mark before the other guys, but still had to pump the foil and accelerate enough to stay ahead of them. Three guys sailing 20+ knots straight at the finish within a few board lengths of each other! The beach was going crazy! Johnny barely squeezed them out and got second place.
The scores were still so close that whoever won the next race–Nico, Johnny or Maxime–would win the entire event. The wind continued light and everyone went out on their big kites. I was going crazy when Johnny’s green R1 rounded the first windward mark in first position. He managed to keep Nico and his blue R1 behind him for an entire lap and the final downwind leg was very close between the two top Ozone riders. Could they not tie? They were in a similar situation as in the previous race; both threw almost simultaneous gybes as they were coming into the last mark rounding, and Nico squeezed out Johnny for the win.
The final results were Nico (first with 17 points) before Maxime (second, 17 points) and Johnny (third, 18 points). The youth class under 20 years was also won by Nico. The best junior under 18 years was Axel Mazella with an Elf-kite.
I did not quite make the cut-off for Gold, so I was battling it out in the top of Silver. Most exciting for me to see was Daniela Moroz’s (Ozone, USA) improvement throughout the event. She had got all the guys worried. I am stoked to have her as my new training partner! We finished sixth and seventh in the Silver Fleet and had some close races.
This event set the stage for the rest of the 2015 KiteFoil GoldCup Tour. Thanks to Playa Central, the International Kiteboarding Association and all the sponsors for hosting us. The next tour stop is in San Francisco in July and the final one in Townsville (Australia) in October.
Portrait Nicolas Parlier about foiling:
He started kite foiling in 2011, and since 2013 he witnessed a total explosion in this sport: Many riders love the feeling of foiling, and many people have learnt the skills very quickly.
When Nicolas was a kid, he used to sail dinghy boats, started on optimist when he was five years old and then moved on to catamarans. He learnt how to kite with a little trainer kite on the beach, aged 12. From teaching friends he discovered that if someone is coming from a wind background, like sailors or windsurfers, they learn very quickly. Once you can kite proficiently with a normal board you can try using the foil board. With one of the leading hydrofoil brands, Spotz, Nico and his father Yves Parlier are working on new designs, trying to go even faster in the future. He is team rider for Ozone, and gives them some feedback so they can continue to innovate and lead the industry with their amazing kite designs.
One thing that he loves is to compare kite foiling to other sailing classes, and it turns out that kite foiling is very simple. In less than ten minutes from arriving at the beach you are ready to race. All the kite foil gear (with all your four sizes of kite, the harness, board foil and the wetsuits) weighs around 30 kilograms and will fit in a surf style bag that can be easily carried on board a plane.
You can catch the wind with the lightest of breezes, and I find that I can kite foil pretty much every single day if I want to, within a wind range between 4 and 35 knots.
About the contests, Nico says: During the first round of the KiteFoil GoldCup championship tour we were riding and measuring our VMG GPS data. We are currently sailing with a +15.5 knots upwind and -23.5 knots downwind in only 10 knots of wind speed. Those performances make kite foils the fastest solo sail class boat in the world. With more breeze (25 knots wind speed) I reached the top speed of 42.8 knots. This is all done with production equipment that anyone can purchase, which is amazing in my opinion.
After looking at all the sailing classes, I think kite foiling is the sailing sport with the best ratio of price, performance, simplicity, sensation and fun.
Portrait Maxime Nocher:
At the end of 2014 Maxime Nocher, who is one of the top three riders able to win the world cup, got free from his previous contracts. This was the perfect opportunity for F-One, even if it came a little early. Raphael Salles convinced him to join the F-One-team by emphasizing the fact that he could have all his equipment–from hydrofoils to kites–made by the same R&D-team/brand. The fact that his home was not far from their office also helped.