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Changing the Kite Racing Landscape

Published on July 12th, 2017

When kiteboarding was approved in 2012 for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, it was with concern the class had not fully progressed, and the limitations imposed would stifle further development. How true that was, as was discovered after windsurfing was reinstated for the Rio Games later that year.

Foils had not yet come along, but they soon did, and now the elite level of kite course racing are on boards with hydrofoils. And innovation continues to occur, which is great for discovering what is possible, but can also limit participation at the top level. Only so many people can tinker and continuously invest in equipment.

An entry level was needed, a void now filled by the CR:X, which is the world’s first one design kiteboarding class, designed to bring kite racing to a broad audience by providing a level and affordable playing field in comparison to traditional and existing open kite racing.

While the top end of kite racing continues to push the boundaries of speed and technology on the water, what it lacks is a concept that most sailors can identify with – one design racing. The CR:X may not be the fastest foiling sailing class on the market today, but it gets people on the water without complexity.

Further, the kit is flexible to serve both beginners and advanced. It’s convertible in nature, in that it can be ridden without the foil, using a standard twin tip (wakeboard style board), but may also be converted into a foil board in a matter of minutes through the reconfiguring of the foot straps and by mounting a foil to the bottom of the board.

This convertible ability provides two major benefits to sailors. First, it serves as a true beginner-to-advanced package as the sailor may begin their kiteboarding career by learning to kite, as most newbies do, on the traditional twin tip set up. The gear then progresses with the riders’ ability and when ready, sailors may attach the foil for an entirely new experience.

Secondly, it allows for racing in both modes – windward/leeward course racing in foil mode or downwind slalom or KiteCross™ in twin tip mode. Similar to snowboard Boarder Cross, KiteCross™ is a 4-leg downwind sprint where sailors must make 3 turns around inflatable tetrahedrons and jump over 4 separate large horizontal “sausage marks” in a heat-style format.

Developed by Neil Pryde, one of the major goals of the class is to bring more youth sailors and first-time kite racers into the sport of kite racing. CR:X aims to do this by providing an attractive package for yacht club and junior sailing implementation. As the class is one design, it ticks the boxes for institutional use on a variety of levels. The parts are the same year to year and are easy to come by.

In comparison, most kite packages existing today change product each season and carry little inventory of the previous season’s equipment.

The CR:X board is on the larger side – 145cm in length – which makes it both forgiving for the beginner kiter but also ideal in lighter breeze, and for varying sizes of riders, because of the increased planning area. The board and foil are also quite durable and require very little tuning by the user, making it a true test of the athlete as opposed to who has the most up to date equipment.

The CR:X helps to provide an additional sailing option as many yacht clubs and junior sailing programs are looking to expand their offerings to keep the youth engaged in the sport of sailing. “Adventure Sailing” programs are becoming more and more popular around the country and are offering more than just racing programs in boats like the Opti, Laser, 420, etc. Instead, these programs include activities like paddle boarding, fishing, distance racing, and windsurfing.

With kiteboarding becoming more mainstream within the sailing community, and as more sailors turn to kiting as a recreational activity and as another way to get on the water, its inclusion into the junior sailing scene is the next logical step for the sport.

Two clubs in the Miami, FL area have recognized kiting as a way to add diversity to their sailing programs and have included the discipline into their sailing offerings. Both Key Biscayne Yacht Club and Coconut Grove Sailing Center have adopted a kiting component into their junior sailing programs and have selected the CR:X as their equipment of choice.

“We think that kiteboarding is really appealing and that these days, the sailing trend is to go foiling, making sailing more attractive to the youth,” says Key Biscayne Yacht Club’s Sailing Director, Juan Carlos Romero.

Alberto Olivio, Programs Manager at Coconut Grove Sailing Center, sees the inclusion of kiteboarding into their Sailing Program as benefiting the club. “Kiting appeals to me because it is an affordable way to get into high-performance sailing; besides it being a very fun way to get out of my comfort zones in sailing. I am looking to bring kiting into the youth sailing development program because it offers safe and directed coaching for younger sailors who are looking for something fast and affordable after the Optimist. The future is exciting and the CR:X is the best vehicle to go forward.”

With top speeds in the upper teens upwind and lower to mid-20s off the breeze, the estimated cost of a CR:X kit (with a 7 meter, 10 meter, and 13 meter kite, control bar and lines, board with twin tip and foil kits, foot straps, pump, and travel bag) comes in at just under $5500.

With clinics and regattas getting organized to build participation, the first North American Championship is also under construction and scheduled for November 17 – 19, 2017 in Miami, FL, hosted by the Coral Reef Yacht Club. In addition, the first World Championships are slated for summer 2018 pending World Sailing approval.

With a strong likelihood of kiteboarding being selected for Olympic inclusion for the 2024 games, Neil Pryde is committed to expanding the sport of kite racing and developing a system for training and education.

Kite Racing will be featured as one of the sailing events for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina as well as the 2019 PanAm Games in Lima, Peru; both events will utilize a downwind slalom format on twin tip boards and inflatable (LEI) kites. As this discipline is still fresh within the sailing community, NP is looking to partner with outside organizations to increase training opportunities and ensure the US brings home a medal from Buenos Aires next October and Lima in 2019.

It’s an exciting time for kiteboarding and kite racing both domestically and internationally. The one design concept promises to bring sailors and new faces into kite racing as equipment costs are driven down and training and educational resources and opportunities are on the rise.

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