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New Sailing event at the 2032 Olympics?

Published on March 21st, 2023

Among the new Sailing events at the Paris 2024 Olympics will be Men’s and Women’s Kiteboard, with the growth of course competition and kiteboard racing rules occurring off Crissy Field in San Francisco, CA.

The early days saw racing hosted by neighboring St. Francis Yacht Club which is again the venue for the newest board sport when it holds the first Spring Wingding & Wingfoil Pacific Coast Championship on April 14-16, 2023.

The event follows on the heels of the successful No Strings Attached wingfoil event hosted by StFYC in 2022 for hydrofoil boards and handheld wing-shaped sails which is evolving rapidly, in large part because participants have adapted what they learned from kitefoiling to wingfoiling.

Making the leap from kiting to wingfoiling these past few years has been a refreshing change and a new challenge for two-time world champion formula kiteboarder Erika Heineken.

Having taken time off after her success on the international kiting circuit to start a family, the lure of this new fun sport, which combines elements of kiting with simplified gear, has gotten her back into the racing scene.

“I’ve never competed course racing a wing, only racing slalom,” Heineken said. “It’s going to be a learning experience and it may be all new to me. I’m still at that amateur level where going upwind is challenging and I appreciate ebb tides to help me out.”

A lot of the course development and international organization is modeled after what kiting went through, which took 15 years.

“For wingfoiling, this timing has compressed to around four years,” Geoff Headington, event chair, noted. “Wingfoils are a different animal from kites as they don’t go as fast, but you can get them to race in very close proximity without the risk of tangling like kites and they are more maneuverable.”

With a couple of seasons of casual Friday night racing to draw on, locals like Headington are learning what works best on the Bay for wingfoiling, noting that courses are evolving from slalom, which were fun, quick and close, enabling a lot of races to be sailed, to a concept called course slalom, which caters to more challenging courses while maintaining proximity and high speed.

“It’s just easier to change direction on a wingfoil than on a kite so we can play with different courses whereas with kites it really boiled down to windward-leeward courses with a leeward gate,” he said.

“A course slalom racecourse has traditional sailing elements like an upwind start leg around a windward mark, but with slalom course elements in the latter part of the race where the fleet is a little spread out. We want to prioritize safety but also make it fast, fun and interesting for spectators on the beach.”

The three-day event will feature a combination of course slalom, distance racing, and freestyle competition. The distance race, known as the San Francisco Bay Challenge, includes a long windward-leeward course from Crissy Field to Berkeley and back. Windsurfers and kitesurfers are also invited to compete in the San Francisco Bay Challenge.

One of the lead sponsors of the event is NJS Designs, a board designer and manufacturer owned by Nils Stolzlechner and based in Puerto Rico. He recalls his first encounter with wingfoiling a few years ago at Crissy Field as he watched a couple of guys with huge standup paddleboards trying to wingfoil.

“I thought it was a joke, and I thought, ‘what else are they going to think up?’” Stolzlechner laughed. “Shortly thereafter I realized these guys, including (2-time Kite World Champ) Johnny Heineken, were paving the way and winging went from a sport that I thought was created for nonsense to one that we all believe will be in the Olympics within eight years.”

A key component of the wingfoiling community are the kids leading the charge in freestyle with fearlessness. Sixteen-year-old Morgan Headington is co-chairing Spring Wingding with his father and organizing the youth panel for one of the evening events where a moderator will check in with the kids about the state of the sport and where it’s headed for them, for example discussing the appeal of freestyle versus course racing.

“Freestyle and course racing are two different things and up until recently I probably would have said I preferred freestyle, but going to a recent Olympic Development Program in Hawaii and seeing how course racing has progressed, they can be equally as fun and both have a lot of potential in the future,” the young Headington noted.

Between now and Spring Wingding, he’ll be on the water anytime it’s windy.

“It should be high competition with the adults and the groms so any practice helps even if you’re not focusing fully on racing,” he said. “I’m going to gear my sessions towards actual racing instead of going up to the bridge and riding waves which I do easily. I’ll haul upwind best I can and when I’m going down will try to race other people going downwind.”

For event information, click here.

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