Junior Kite Race Program Takes Flight on San Francisco Bay

Published on September 3rd, 2013

By Nicolai (17) and Sebastian Sutter Sponholtz (15)
The water off the St Francis Yacht Club is one of the greatest spots on Earth for kiteboard course racing. In the summer, every other Thursday evening the Laguanitas race series attracts over thirty kite sailors, making it the biggest and most active one-design fleet on San Francisco Bay. It’s not surprising that the Bay and the StFYC together have developed some of the best kite racers in the world.

So the obvious question my dad asked himself last year was, why doesn’t the StFYC lay down a solid foundation for the next generation of kite racers by establishing the world’s first junior kite racing team? My brother and I sail on our high school sailing team and on a 29er, but we really wanted to get out there with a kite and race with the best. It is now happening…

This summer, my dad, Thomas Sponholtz, proposed his idea to the Club’s Flag Officers and Junior Program leadership. He then brought in local kiteboard schools and equipment suppliers. After three months of planning and collaboration with two excellent local kiteboard schools, Kitopia and Bay Area KiteSurf, using loaned and donated equipment, the world’s first junior kite racing program took shape.

The program finally became a reality when fourteen juniors found themselves early one morning on Sherman Island in the Delta, under the instruction of Bruce Johnson and Sandy and Donny Parker. The four-day camp culminated in the arrival of World Champions (and locals) Johnny and Erika Heineken, along with other Ozone team riders, who helped kids master some race board techniques. By the end of the camp, over half the kids were comfortable sailing a race board, and all were hooked on the ropes of kite racing–pun very much intended.

Soon after the camp, several of the junior kite racers entered the Laguanitas Thursday night race series. And since then, their results have steadily improved. By the time the race series ends in October, the StFYC will have a full-fledged junior race team with practices planned once a week. Next on the race calendar is a regatta in La Ventana, Mexico, between Christmas and New Year’s. Plus, we aim to have at least three juniors participating in the kite racing Worlds in 2014.

This junior kite race program would not have been possible without the generosity of the team sponsors, Mike’s Lab boards, Underwave kite gear, and Ozone kites, as well as the personal involvement of the “godfather” of kite racing, Chip Wasson, plus World Champions Erika and Johnny Heineken. We also benefited greatly with gear from Nick Levi and Eugenia Gueorguieva, and instruction from Bruce Johnson of Bay Area KiteSurf and Sandy and Donny Parker of Kitopia.

My dad says that there are lots of challenges ahead. Each summer’s entry level instruction camp, which will be held in the Delta away from the Club, will require ongoing planning and oversight. Plus, we need to secure more kite race gear so competent young kiters can try racing. Most importantly, we’ve proved it is possible to safely teach kids to race on a kiteboard, and that they really will stay “hooked”.

Photo: Nicolai (17) and Sebastian Sutter Sponholtz (15), junior kiters and sailors, in the photo bracketing Zola Johnson

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