The fantastic news has been all over the kiteboarding blogosphere in recent days: kiteboarding will be included on the list of 2016 Olympic Sailing events, as well as the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) World Cup and ISAF World Championships. While kiteboarding has finally and rightfully gained its place at the Olympics, it has been at the expense of windsurfing which has left the windsurfing community unhappy.
How it happened – Kiteboarding Olympic Trials
The decision to include kiteboarding comes on the back of a successful Kiteboarding Trial event held in Santander, Spain last month (see technical report). There were several different types of races held to evaluate how kitesurfing could work as an Olympic event. After considering the success of the trial, combined with the general view of the sport’s growth prospects, the decision to include it ahead of windsurfing was made.
The sport of Sailing at the Olympics is made up of 10 different events, 2 of which were previously allocated to Men’s and Women’s windsurfing. Now, these spots have been given to Men’s and Women’s Kiteboarding, most likely a race event. The inclusion of kiteboarding in the Olympics will increase awareness of our sport worldwide and in turn bring in new participants. Currently, 60,000 people start kitesurfing every year, with 180,000 kites and 75,000 boards sold and a yearly growth of 10%.
Kiteboarding v. Windsurfing?
As a sport, windsurfing has lost some of the interest it had from years ago with kitesurfing taking up many former windsurfers, myself included. There are many reasons behind this.
Kiteboarding kites are easily transportable compared to windsurf gear. While we justly like to moan about the airlines’ policies towards kiteboarding gear, there is no way to hide a windsurfing board and sail in a golf bag. Moreover, kitesurfing gear doesn’t require you to have a roof rack or van to get to the beach and because of this, has made it more convenient to kiteboard. I believe it is an easier sport to pick up than windsurfing and progression is much quicker A beginner can advance on his own in a shorter period of time. When I learnt to windsurf years ago, to get to the stage when I was planing in the footstraps took me much longer than it took to ride back and forth on a kite.
Most hurt by the decision to replace windsurfing are those who have been training for the 2016 Olympics. Windsurfing federations have invested in talent with the intention of grooming youngsters for competition. There is a petition to the ISAF against the removal of windsurfing from the Olympics. The RSX windsurf board was developed specifically for the Olympics but now, may find many people with a new coffee table for their lounges.
As a former windsurfer I would have liked to see both events at the Olympics and frankly I don’t see why there isn’t room for both sports. They are exciting events that merit inclusion and have reasons to be there. Windsurfing is an established Olympic event and has been there since 1984, while kiteboarding is the fastest growing water sport with the promise of becoming an exciting Olympic event. Of course, each Olympic sport is given a limit on the events it can hold, but would it really be so tragic to increase the number to 12 or create an offshoot category separate from Sailing?
Counting down to 2016
Either way, we are highly anticipating the kiteboarding event at the 2016 Olympics as, not only, will we see a range of new gear, but more importantly, new and fresh talent that will be exciting to watch. After all, 4 years is a long time. We will keep our fingers crossed for 2020 in hopes that they will add a freestyle event as well.