Raising the bar during California safari

Published on August 24th, 2021

The last three months have been an epic adventure up and down the coast of California as the Kite Foil League attracted 36 kiters representing seven countries for three events that offered an opportunity for this new Olympic event to get traction in the USA.

Branded as the California Triple Crown, the first stage was the inland delta waters of Northern California, followed by the sailing venue for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics in Long Beach. The finale on August 21-22 in Santa Barbara would be the ultimate test in which it all came down to the final race to decide the champion.

That was the situation at the Leadbetter Classic as the kiters lined up for their eighth and final start of the day. But let’s back up.

The points were tight overnight with Evan Heffernan holding a narrow lead over Kai Calder. Will Cyr was just two points behind Kai and 5 points off the lead, sitting on a nice gap to 4th. With 2 DNF’s on Day 1, Markus Edegran sat 7th with a big potential to move up on throw outs, but also with a razor thin margin for error.

Ryan Satterberg, who started out the California Triple Crown with a 10th place overall finish at the Delta Pro, hit the water on day two with confidence in home waters and something to prove. Immediately out of the gates, he made a statement with great speed and super clean maneuvers earning him three fourths and a fifth in the morning racing set.

As the fleet fueled up on the beach between sets, Satterberg’s stoke level was high, “I feel really good right now! Super fun to be up there in the top group.”

In the final set of the summer series, it all came together for him with a good start putting him in the battle, and the right strategic decisions launching him to two third place finishes, sitting as high as second at moments for the first time this summer.

Satterberg’s rise in the last few months has been on full display at the CTC, and as a 16 year old racer, expect to see him emerge as a major contender before long.

At the top of the fleet, the depth of talent has improved a lot from event one with more players – ten in total in Santa Barbara – cracking the top five spots at times. As the fleet raises the bar, the training commitment required to win is also increasing, but the athletes are answering the challenge, logging more hours on the water than ever before.

Meanwhile, the middle of the fleet is reaping the benefits of the trickle down knowledge, learning from the top riders both on and off the water.

For much of the fleet, the light air, downwind current, and kelp factors made for a super challenging racing environment. In the first race of the afternoon, Kai Calder who was leading the race found kelp at the weather mark and went down hard.

Meanwhile the leader in the Masters division, Mike Martin, arrived at the weather mark just as a current line carried a paddy of kelp through the layline, preventing Martin from rounding three times before being able to turn downwind.

With points tight in the Masters division, the setback threatened Martin’s lead, but Davey Beard and Chris Slagerman had their own battles going – with each other, and with the challenging conditions.

“I’m a local here, and I know how to navigate the kelp, but today was particularly crazy with all of the loose seaweed,” commended Beard. “It’s not usually this thick!”

Despite the challenges, Martin slowly but surely pulled away from the rest of the masters racers though out the afternoon.

Leif Given has been another rising talent in the fleet, getting back into racing after a long hiatus where he focused on freestyle riding and big air. Some breakout results for Given at this event included a 5th and two 7s, showing how quickly he is climbing the ranks, and adding to the depth of the top pack.

Elsewhere in the fleet, international action saw Israel, Mexico, Venezuela, and Canada represented along with the USA.

“California is perfect,” reflected Gal Zukerman, who brought her gear on a family vacation all the way from Israel, so that she could compete at the Ledbetter Classic. “It’s so beautiful here, the people are nice. I think there are more surfers here than Israel, and I think because it’s more surfers the level is higher and the competition is good.”

The international competition points to the accessibility and growth of kite racing around the world, and will no doubt be even more prolific when COVID travel restrictions eventually get eased.

Throughout the final day, the fight for the top five spots was filled with tense moments. Evan Heffernan looked ready to extend his lead in the first race of the day, with a wire-to-wire bullet, but in races two and three Markus Edegran clawed back into the battle with bullets of his own despite some super close calls with floating kelp threatening to end his rally. Kai Calder took the last race of the morning showing the superior speed that earned him top honors at last weekend’s racing.

With two drops in effect after the first set, kiters headed back to the beach to re-fuel, and do some quick math before heading out for the grand finale. In race one of the afternoon set, points tightened with Kai Calder leading early, only to run into issues with kelp that set him back. In race two, Markus Edegran rallied into the race lead, and looked set to put two very important points on Evan Heffernan, with Texas native Noah Zittrer sitting 2nd on the final reach to the finish.

At the last second, however, Heffernan locked into another gear with the hammer down to go over the top and nip Noah by a split second in the last 20 meters to the finish. Heffernan took race three, with Edegran finishing second, and with that, the stage was set.

With Calder stumbling in the kelp in the final set of the day, and Cyr locked in a tight battle for fourth, the battle for the Ledbetter Classic, and thus for the overall California Triple Crown tour came down to the final race – who beat who between Markus Edegran and Evan Heffernan.

Going into the start, both kiters knew that the series rode on this race, and that the pressure was on. While Heffernan had a mathematical advantage with a lower throw-out giving him the opportunity to hunt for Edegran before the start, Edegran stayed far away from the line. Moving fast and staying clean, Edegran never gave Heffernan the chance to engage.

Leading a tight cluster at the right hand side of the starting line, Edegran looked to be at risk of getting to the starting line too early. Heffernan, slightly farther back and above layline to the boat end, battled to get down to the line and to get forwards in the jockeying bunch.

With excellent down-speed kite handling, Edegran took a high, slow line to lift up off of the pack below him. It was just enough to take a late dive on the kite and avoid being over the line early. Heffernan found himself unable to escape from the kite to windward of him to accelerate, and found himself directly behind Edegran off the line.

From the starting gun, Edegran quickly settled into a position that he has become very comfortable with over the last three months: leading the fleet and limited only by his own technique and speed. While Heffernan battled to get back into the race, desperately looking for a passing lane, Edegran methodically stretched his lead, expertly avoiding kelp patches and nailing his maneuvers.

Heffernan rallied late in the race, but the comeback was too little, too late. Edegran crossed the line for the bullet, and Heffernan was forced to settle for a throwout result, finishing one point back in the overall standings.


Source: KFL

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