Para Kiteboarding delivers the sizzle

Published on June 28th, 2022

With Alpine Skiing and Snowboard events at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, solutions exist for disabled athletes to compete. As World Sailing seeks for its sport to be re-introduced to the Paralympic Summer Games, the international federation is learning that kiteboarding can provide the sizzle too.

To increase the growth of Para Sailing globally, World Sailing held its first ever Para Kiteboarding Development Program, gathering 11 coaches and athletes from seven countries for four days on Lake Garda, Italy.

Top athletes and coaches from Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands and USA convened on June 23-26 for on-water and classroom sessions to build out an international competition and growth framework for Para Kiteboarding.

“It’s been intense – we’ve been on the water from 7am, then back in the classroom, hammering out frameworks for what Para Kiteboarding could look like on a global, organized scale,” explained Florida-based Frances Osorio Rivera, 34, a US Army veteran, below the left leg amputee, kiteboarding instructor, and Cabrinha/Dakine sponsored athlete and sales representative.

Willem Hooft, the 32-year-old athlete representative from Netherlands, had a motorbike accident five years ago which left him in a wheelchair. “Despite regularly hearing that my plans to kiteboard were not realistic – too difficult to learn and the risks too big for someone in a wheelchair – I decided to go for it,” shared Hooft.

Hooft, who is now a motivational speaker and travels around the world as a professional kiteboarder in the international team Slingshot Kite and as a team rider for Wind Voyager, broke the height record for sit kiting last winter in Cape Town – going above 10 metres.

Chris Ballois, 50, is a sailor since the age of 12, windsurfer and the Guinness World Record Holder for the fastest person on a kiteboard across a nautical mile – he has done all this one-handed, born with one full arm.

“It’s been amazing being here all together to develop kiteboarding – looking at every aspect of this sport, to see how athletes with different support needs can compete at a high level,” said Ballois. “What is very clear is that the kiteboarding community wants this – a fully inclusive, truly international sport and this vision can definitely become a reality.”

World Sailing CEO David Graham, an avid kiteboarder, is a fan of this initiative. “The appeal of kiteboarding as a Para sport, with its fast action, adrenalin-fueled tricks and easy adaptability, is clear. Now, World Sailing can visualize a real global opportunity to evolve this sport, growing it internationally.

“We’re seeing athletes with wide-ranging physical needs, using equipment that is easily adapted for kiteboarders with prosthetics as well as seated athletes.

“It’s clear from this program and the discussions we’ve been having with athletes and coaches around inclusion, development, racing, and safety that Para Kiteboarding has a strong foundation and a big future to develop.

This first Para Kiteboarding Development Program has given us the opportunity to dig deep into organizing the sport on a global level, with World Sailing intention to now plan clinics around the world so athletes and coaches can take part easily.

Graham added, “In sailing, we’re constantly searching, evolving and adapting. This is the nature of our sport, and the people in our sport because we’re always dealing with the natural elements that dictate where we go and how fast we get there.

“Sailing – and kiteboarding as seen here – is incredibly adaptive. By focusing on development we are well on our way to increasing worldwide Para Sailing participation to 45 nations on five continents by 2023.”

World Sailing must submit its application to the International Paralympic Committee by July 4, 2022 for sailing to be reinstated at the Paralympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028.

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