US Team: A day with the kites

Published on April 27th, 2022

The 53rd Semaine Olympique Française is a major stop for athletes with Olympic aspirations, and all ten events on the Paris 2024 Sailing Program are competing in Hyères, France. Among the new events for the upcoming Olympics is Formula Kite, and the US Sailing Team’s Allison Chenard is on site to share the experience.

In this report from day three, Chenard rides shotgun with US competitor Daniela Moroz’s coach, Chris Draper – a 2004 Bronze medalist in the 49er for GBR, winner of the Extreme Sailing Series, helmsman for Italy’s America’s Cup challenger from 2011 to 2015 (Luna Rossa), and current athlete on the SailGP circuit for Team Japan.

0930 – This morning, I’m preparing graphics, reviewing the weather forecast, and pulling up the standings one more time. The media center is lively and excited for what looks like yet another gorgeous day on the waters of Hyères. The photographers and press officers poke fun at one another before packing their camera cases and heading out.

1045 – I left the media center and began making my way to the Google Map pin that Chris Draper sent me. I have plenty of time so I grab two pain au chocolats from the corner bakery – one for me, one for him. I make a few stops to snap some photos on my phone of some flowers, the quaint harbor, etc.

1123 – I thought I’d beat Chris to the pickup spot when I arrived at 1107 but he pulled up already having been out for a gas refill. I give him his pain au chocolat, and we cast off for the trek across the bay.

1137 – Formula Kites present a logistical challenge because of their launching situation. They need beaches and lots of space to lay out their kites and their rigging, so their base is often separated from the rest of the fleets in traditional boat parks.

We have a long drive in the VSR to get to where Daniela Moroz launches, and on the way, we make a pit stop on the 49erFX course to observe the conditions for a little bit. The kites will take over this course area at 1330, so Chris makes some mental observations and before long we’re underway again and headed to the beach.

1150 – BLESS. There’s a harbor over here – it’s very rare for there to be boat dockage this close to a kite venue. In the past, I’ve had to collect content on the beach, stash my camera in a dry bag that I trust with my life, and swim out through the surf to a motor boat. This is the setup of my dreams and I’m not taking a single moment for granted.

1204 – Chris stays behind to tune the wind gear on the VSR and I set out for the beach. I round the corner and see the makings of a typical kite environment: a parking lot full of vans, wetsuits drying in the sun, boards and foils tipped on their side in their protective cases, and lots of people wearing bucket hats visiting and laughing with each other.

1230 – The beach was sprinkled with folks of varying nationalities in their comfy pre-race hoodies and sweatpants. A friendly dog ran around and did his job of saying “hi” to all the strangers. I found Daniela in the corner of the parking lot in a bright coral hat, and she greeted me with her signature warm smile.

Parked right next door was Maximillian Maeder from Singapore, Daniela’s 2021 European Champion male counterpart. His little brother was keeping the energy light as he ran around with a toy car, making it drive and jump off all sorts of surfaces and accompanying it with the appropriate sound effects – vroom vroom.

Daniela pulled a black Yeti water bottle out of her rented van and surprised Chris with a little gift, and then the three of us went to the little natural foods restaurant where the race committee set up shop for the week.

I chatted with Chris earlier about the energy that kiters bring to the Olympic Sailing Circuit. The brand new addition to the Olympic program has similarities to surfing and brings with it the exact same “vibes” that surfers are known for.

While preparing for Paris 2024, it’s been a healthy mix of finding an Olympic groove and genuinely loving your sport, the beautiful location, and your competitors. It’s one of my favorite fleets to spend time with, and a day with kiters always leaves my heart feeling full.

Right on brand as described, the kite management headquarters had music playing on the shaded patio as palms blew in the breeze. Team Italy was gathered around a table for their morning briefing while enjoying some coffee. Daniela picked up her blue pinnie as the second place kiter heading into day 3.

The top 3 wear colored pinnies based on the previous day’s standings – 1st wears yellow, 2nd wears blue and 3rd wears red. Daniela has been volleying back and forth in the standings with France’s Lauriane Nolot in a rematch from the Trofeo Princesa Sofía earlier this month. Daniela won the last event in the finals, and the pair has enjoyed pushing each other on the course for another go at it.

1315 – The women’s kites were postponed until 1530, so Chris and I said goodbye to Daniela so we could gather data from the FX course that would soon turn into the men’s kite course. We touched base on the plan with the USA men’s coach, Torvar Mirsky, and got back on the VSR.

The boat is equipped with a tall carbon pole behind the passenger seat that supports the tech gear that USST Head of Technology Riley Schutt and USST Meteorologist Chelsea Carlson engineered for the coaching staff.

1325 – The first few men joined the course, and Chris made some notes on the kite sizes: a few 15 meter Flysurfers, a few 21 meter Ozones. The wind is holding at a 10.8 kt average according to the tech tower, and Chris and Torvar are relaying the info back to ODP athlete Noah Runciman as he makes his decision on what kite to take. USST athlete Markus Edegran is already on the water, having selected his 15 meter F1 kite from his kit.

Daniela is home resting during the women’s postponement and working on a project that’s due this evening for school. She graduates this spring from the University of Hawaii and will soon transition from “student-athlete” status to a full time athlete. Even though Daniela is Chris’s only athlete this week, he’s back on the water supporting the squad and collaborating with Torvar to set the men up for success.

1338 – Chris finally got into the pain au chocolat I brought him- but now Daniela has one-upped me with that Yeti gift. It’s fine, I’m not upset.

1409 – One race down for Markus Edegran – 6th place and a beautiful leeward rounding right by our vantage point. Spun on a dime and made it all look easy. Noah Runciman is now racing – he took a break on Torvar’s boat just before the race and chowed down on a big carrot. Chris was telling me on land about Noah’s carrot diet as we commented on his height. I thought he was making a joke, but nope- Noah carried his carrot with him to the course area.

1434 – 8.5 knot lull just now, but things are settling in and gearing up to be glorious conditions for Daniela’s strengths. Markus just changed his kite on the beach- the downside is he chose a kite that has the same color pattern as many of his competitors so it’ll be tricky for us to keep eyes on him.

1506 – It’s all about that drag race to the left side now. The kiters that hit that layline first have the advantage, and Markus nailed it in the last race, finishing in 2nd. He’s up again in the fleet in this race, rounding the leeward mark in 4th.

1531 – Food time, I’ve got granola bars- Chris has a cheese sandwich. Meal and a view of Markus’s next start, what could be better?

1545 – Daniela sighting! She zipped by our VSR and is warming up. She’s got her favorite SailGP helmet on and she’s ready to rock and roll.
Photo by US Sailing Team | Allison Chenard

1600 – Daniela just pulled up and sat on the rib. She requested the silver Redbull she stashed in the boat earlier and started briefing with Chris on what he’d been observing from the men’s racing. The wind is dying a bit but Daniela has her plan and is dialed in.

1623 – General recall on the first start. Resetting for another sequence. Daniela’s on her 21 meter Flysurfer and was on the pin-half of the line. She’s on our rib again checking in with Chris, ready to zip off at any second for the restart.

1634 – All clear for the second start and the womens fleet is off! We’re in a cluster of coach boats watching the group- unlike the rest of the fleets, the coaches all wait at the bottom because we can’t possibly keep up with the speeds these kiters reach.

1639 – Daniela is third around the leeward mark. GBR’s Ellie Aldridge is leading, and France’s Laurianne Nolot rounded somewhere around 5th.

1641 – The race leaders had a rough leg but Daniela kept it solid and is closing in her gap. The right side was surprisingly strong, and we’re hoping Daniela gybes early on her downwind leg to take advantage of this pressure.

1643 – The first place kiter went too far and sailed extra distance at the final gybe mark, and the second place kiter tripped on a motor boat wake. Daniela rounded inside and moved from third to second. Roughly a 9 minute race completed! 4 legs and a final reach to the finish.

1653 – Chris was complaining about his water tasting funny from his new Yeti earlier, and we just discovered he never removed the paper and the Yeti sticker that was hanging out inside. Mystery solved.

1658 – Clear start for race two of the women’s kite fleet. Daniela is six up from the pin, Chris exclaimed “she is RIPPING!” We’re on the edge of our seats.

1703 – Daniela rounded the leeward mark in fourth. Chris is fully invested in the race and is making light commentary… “Nice. Nice. Get in there. Yeah. Come on. Good. Let’s go.”

1707 – A fourth place finish for Daniela Moroz in race two of the day, race nine of the regatta!

1712 – Just enough time for all the kiters to pull up on their coach’s boats, and we’re close to sequence for race three of the day for the women’s formula kites. Chris offers Daniela a Haribo Orangina candy from the bag he’s been snacking on and she gladly accepts. She agrees they’re the bomb.

1720 – All clear on the start for race three. Daniela had a great start- she’s nine from the pin end, “kite forward” (to windward with clear air, plenty of opportunity to make her own decisions)

1726 – First place for Daniela in race three! France’s Lauriane Nolot finishes in fifth, and Daniela is consistently putting points between them and widening the gap. She glides onto the rib and debriefs with Chris while snacking on- you guessed it- that bomb Haribo Orangina. She thinks this might have to be incorporated into her race day routine.

1749 – Final race of the day is complete and Daniela sailed most of the race half a leg in front of the entire fleet. She finishes in first, bringing her scoreline for day three to 2-4-1-1. “That was really fun,” she giggles as she sits down on the coach boat. Can’t ask for a better final race of the day.

Tomorrow Daniela will return to the yellow pinnie for her reclaimed first place standing with today’s results. France’s Poema Newland passed Lauriane Nolot in the standings, and now the top five are as follows heading into day four:

Daniela Moroz (USA): 13 points
Poema Newland (FRA): 21 points
Lauriane Nolot (FRA): 23 points
Ellie Aldridge (GBR) 27 points
Alexia Fancelli (FRA) 46 points

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