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US Kitesurfing Nationals 2007

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The first ever US Kitesurfing National Championships were held at Crissy Field hosted by the Saint Francis Yacht Club. A series a 16 races were held over three days in typical perfect SF Bay conditions, windy, bleak, foggy and cool. Even the best quality photos of the event look black and white but that didn't cool the enthusiasm for the event.

Race Director John Craig of the Saint Francis Yacht Club achieved an amazing total of 16 races held over three days of somewhat flukey but generally good wind. The courses were long and grueling, set out in the wind to give racers every chance to show who is best. The whole fleet was divided into four groups rotating through two starts to allow every sailor to sail against each other within two smaller intimate fleets giving room for the kites across the start, then after two days the whole fleet was separated into two large fleets in the final four races, the top ranking Gold fleet and the second group the Silver fleet. A typical course was windward leeward windward finish requiring about 30-45 minutes to complete.

The event was conceived following two seasons of bi-weekly Thursday night series regattas known affectionately as beer can regattas for their low key approach and enjoyable social events. The kiters, members of he StFYC and volunteers led by John Gomes, took it upon themselves to evangenlize and organize a world class course racing kite sailing regatta.

The event is the first official recognition of the sport as a sailing event worthy of status among other small boat classes, a precurser to a sanctioned World Championship next year in SF at the StFYC and in the future, possibly, a division among olympic sailing craft. As a whole the group is checking requirements off the list to be, well, to be recognized. A class meeting was formed during the event as well led by Geoff Heddington. Yachting rules for the event mirrored any other regatta, simply put the kite is a sail like a spinaker and part of the boat. All winward leeward racing rules apply. Few wraps occurred and one minor protest was held.

Aside from the fact that it's surprising that kites and boards are amazingly effective on all courses of wind, even more surprsing were the following observations:

Six women entered and all made it to the top half of the fleet, women beat the majority of men. In the women's division Kristin Boese of Germany placed first, Sandy Parker of California second and Clarissa Hempel of Brasil in third.

Two riders, Chip Wasson and Peter Trow used hydrofoils attached to their boards to challenge traditional boards with a strategy that gave them high angles upwind. Chip rounded the upwind mark near the top or leading often but couldn't maintain his lead to the leeward mark and finish in the lead. Chip finished in 9th overall and first in the Master's division. Mark Bosta of SF was second in the Masters and Nils Stolzelchner, third.

On the road to the Olympics?

The organizers and volunteers nearly outnumbered the racers. Sixteen races were held over three days offering many opportunities for those with good overall speed and strategy not to mention good conditioning and experience to rise to the top.

Overall Men's division was won by Anthony Chavez of SF, California who made his own board recently of wal mart foam and ironing board style outline. He used a traditional C shape kite as opposed to the more modern bow kites and bested the fleet with pure overall better speed and strategy on all courses. In second was Jeff Kafka, also on surfboard shape of his own design, a quad fin board titled "prisoner's of wind". Jeff also had excellent speed though sailed the course incorrectly during one race which may have cost him the first place. Fifteen year old Jesse Richman consistently challenged the fleet through the event with four 1st places in the initial 2 day series, losing his lead a bit on the third day, ultimately finishing 3rd, saying "I was just trying not to lose... I was trying to hurry back to take a sauna at the club." He finished 1st among Juniors beating his older brother as well, Sean Richman placed second in the Juniors.

Many of the competitors used surfboard style directional boards as opposed to typical bi-directional wakeboard style boards, a retro-resurgence harkening back to the kitesurfing's starting point. The surfboard design provides more waterline upwind and stability with speed downwind but requires that you gybe the boat like all other sailboats moving to the other side in order to turn, unlike a bi-directioal wakeboard which allows you to easily go in either direction equally.

Why do directional surf boards work better than bidirectional kiteboards I asked competitor Steve Gibson, "well by design directionals do one thing well, they track, it pays off with better upwind ability and better stability and speed downwind if you're willing to put the effort into to make a gybe as opposed to simply using a bidirectional."

Nils Stolzelchner (3rd Masters) went through many many iterations of bidirectional boards over the past two years until half way through the event he tried a directional surfboard again. He left the event with a 12th place and a stack of homemade equipment sitting in a pile back in SF as he boarded the plane back to Corpus Christie Texas to start all over again. Even windsurfing legacy and North Sails designer Ken Winner competed finishing 15th, experimenting with new kites and boards giving locals a chance to innovate head to head with legends.

Along with the return to surfboards and experimental bidirectionals, innovation was strong in the area of fins and kites. Most of the winners had 4.5 inch fins. Almost all riders used a bow shaped kite as compared to a C shape kite. Only Anthony Chavez used a C kite and he won. Bow shaped kites are relatively new on the kite scene and have the advantage of being totally depowerable offering the option of using a large kite that can easily be depowered. A C kite has the feeling of being really powered with heavy bar pressure and doesn't completely depower. Anthony made this work him becuase, "It's all I had." Most riders used only one or two kites in the 9-14 sq/m range with 12 being most common for the entire event covering the conditions.

"Overall the course racing worked as an event becuase it provided a fair opportunity for a broad range of people, professional kiteboarders, those with traditional course racing skills as well as masters, youth and women to have an opportunity to compete in a very clear cut and fair manner", added Gibson (31st Overall).

Opportunities for innovation abounded and was the theme for the event as each rider found that trying lots of things and sticking with what worked helped them increase their overall speed. Each sailor had to struggle to find their groove and turn up the mojo to compete head to head with the other top sailors to make this, the first US Kite Nationals an exciting and enjoyable event. It's been said, I'll say it again, nothing beats top notch regatta management like that achieved by John Craig of the StFYC not to mention the food and parties were absolutely world class, because, as John Craig says, "That's what we do at the Saint Francis."

See you at the World Kite Racing Championships, hopefully in SF next year!


Results are here: http://www.stfyc.com

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