Editorial: By definition, kiting is not sailing; if kiting is to go Olympic, and it should, it must
SAN FRANCISCO – As many of our Dear Readers will know, World Sailing is in the midst of deciding the 2024 Olympic classes for the 10 medals currently allocated to Sailing by the IOC. You can call them "events" or "disciplines" or "equipment" (IOC technical terms) or classes; bottom line, WS is choosing the classes that will be sailed in 2024 and all involved know it.
The IOC calls our sport Olympic Sailing. It used to be called Olympic Yachting, but that changed in the 90s when many of the national governing bodies, primarily for egalitarian reasons, changed their names from yachting to sailing (US Yacht Racing Union became US Sailing; the Canadian Yachting Association – you had to love their abbreviation "CYA" – became Sail Canada, to name just two). In turn, the International Yacht Racing Union changed its name to International Sailing Federation, and more recently to World Sailing.
Kiting (kite-surfing, kite-boarding, foil-boarding, kite-foiling, snow-kiting, call it what you want) has at least one international federation. Currently linked with World Sailing is the International Kiteboarding Association. As you can see from their website (graphic below) they have three disciplines: Racing, Expression (acrobatics, judged like gymnastics and figure skating) and Snowkite. Within each of those disciplines are 4-5 divisions....
Graphic of the Kiteboarding Association disciplines from the IKA website.
By the way, many kiters, whether on dry land, snow or water, call themselves "riders" not sailors. I get "riders", but to me that sounds like someone on a horse or bike hence my preference for "kiters." Yes, some kiters say they are going sailing, but I am told that most say they are going kiting or foiling, and call themselves riders or kiters.
I love kiting and kiters! Our daughter, who also sails, is learning to kite (on the water). Her boyfriend, also a keen sailor, is an avid kiter who has competed as a pro. Here in San Francisco the kiters race Thursday nights in front of St Francis Yacht Club, often using the same buoys and windward-leeward courses that the sailors use. It provides a great spectacle enjoyed by racing sailors, casual sailors, and even non-sailors. Indeed, this week StFYC has co-hosted with San Francisco YC the Global Forum of the International Council of Yacht Clubs, and many of the delegates from those prestigious clubs were blown away by the kiters whizzing up and down the Bay on their foiling kite-boards.
Thanks in part to the reliably windy conditions on SF Bay for much of the year (to say nothing of the iconic beauty of the GG Bridge as a backdrop), StFYC has played a leading role in the development of kiting. Many of the local kiters are StFYC members, and they come into the club after racing for a beer and a burger with their mates. They are a great addition to the club. Immediate Past Commodore Jim Kiriakis is a keen kiter; current Vice Commodore Paul Heineken is a renowned sailor and kiter, as are his kids Erika and Johnny – both world champion kiters. The Bay Area's Daniela Moroz, an esteemed member of the StFYC, is currently ranked the No. 1 female "rider" (as World Sailing itself calls kiters) in Formula Kite.
StFYC is the organizing authority for a "Hydrofoil Pro Tour" regatta on SF Bay adjacent to the Club June 6-10. The regatta is open to all "hydrofoil kiteboards." It is run under the Racing Rules of Sailing with a Notice of Race that reads like the NOR for most any other regatta you've sailed in. No doubt it will be a great event, because there will be wind and lots of it. There always is on SF Bay in the afternoon during the summer months.
The Hydrofoil Pro Tour website lists only two events for 2018, San Francisco and France (next month, 18-21 May), and no affiliation with IKA. Why are there so few events when there used to be many? One hears that it's partly the cost of competing; the pro-level equipment is not cheap to begin with, and the cost to stay competitive is high because the equipment – kites, boards and foils – continues to evolve. Another reason is that kiters are discovering that there is a lot more to kiting than racing windward-leewards on SF Bay. The sport of kiting is rapidly evolving as the IKA website, above, shows.
So back to the Olympic question.
Before deciding what the ten sailing classes will be in 2024, World Sailing has to decide whether kiting should be allowed into the Olympics as a sailing event thereby taking up at least two of the only ten sailing medals.
There are lots of arguments, mostly commercial, on both sides of this question. However, there is one simple, strong argument for why kiting does not belong under World Sailing and, therefore, not in the Sailing Olympics. I have not seen it articulated elsewhere, hence this editorial....
If there were to be another AC Deed of Gift match (God forbid!), and someone showed up with a boat using a kite for propulsion, would that fulfill the Deed’s requirement for "a yacht or vessel propelled by sails only”?
As many of our readers will know, I was the rules advisor for what was then BMW Oracle Racing for the 2010 America's Cup. We considered whether a kite could be used with the BOR 90 trimaran. I strongly advised against it. Why?
Because the definition of “sail” in virtually all dictionaries and in practical usage is, "A piece of material extended on a mast to catch the wind and propel a boat, ship, or other vessel.” (Italic emphasis is mine, not the dictionary’s.)
On the other hand, the top dictionary definition of a "kite" is, "A light frame covered with paper, cloth, or plastic, often provided with a stabilizing tail, and designed to be flown in the air at the end of a long string."
Had our AC team flown a kite on the end of a long string we would have been laughed out of the New York State Supreme Court, and the trophy handed to SNG/Alinghi. A kite is not a sail. Ergo, kiting is not sailing – whether on a parking lot, snow or water, and regardless whether some water-borne kiting competitions use some of our sailing rules.
Moreover, the first sentence of the World Sailing Constitution says, "The objects and aims for which World Sailing, as the controlling authority of the sport of sailing in all its forms throughout the world, are….” (Again, italic emphasis is mine.)
World Sailing is not the controlling authority for “kiting in all its forms” although it is trying, for purely commercial reasons (i.e., television; follow the money!), to control Olympic kiting and Olympic kiters/riders. The IKA leadership has jumped onto the World Sailing gravy train to try to block other kiteboarding associations, and because they think it will get them into the Olympics faster (hence more money sooner) than if they developed a proper international federation for all kiters and kiting disciplines, applied for and received IF status from the IOC, and then fought their way in as a medal sport.
If World Sailing continues down this kiting path, it means taking away two medals from legit sailing classes. Many kiters also argue that they would be better off as a separate federation, especially those (and there are many) who do their kiting on dry land and snow, or on the water in the "expression" discipline for which World Sailing has no experience, no rules, no events, no judges, nada de nada.
Because it's not sailing, it's kiting.
In conclusion your Ed. firmly believes kiting should be in the Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, Paralympic Games, Extreme Games, Urban Games, you name it. Just not as quick-fix commercial subterfuge under World Sailing to the detriment, short and ling term, of both sailors and kiters.
As always, your reactions and comments are welcome, especially from those who may not agree with the foregoing. –TFE