Nothing short of a radical overhaul of Formula kite will save it from oblivion and stave off the “crisis” of waning competitor numbers that has enveloped course board racing in the past year, says the Polish Kiteboarding Association (PKA).
The PKA has tabled far-reaching proposals to introduce what it dubs a “White Board Concept” – strictly boards, fins and kites – that would see all Formula kite competitors racing on identical kit by the 2016 season’s start.
A submission arguing for “one design” is before the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) and will be debated at the annual general meeting (Tuesday, Nov 4) in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, if it gets a proposer and seconder.
The idea of a course board racing “one design”– similar to other Olympic sailing classes – was mooted four years ago when the prospect of a future games’ slot looked possible. But the IKA ultimately chose a “box rule”, restricting board dimensions, in conjunction with rules for kites.
However, the Polish association is convinced the prevailing class rules are discouraging racers from joining competitions and that a “one design” would make participation cheaper, encouraging local fleet racing that would act as a pathway to top level course board racing.
To bolster its case it highlights how numbers at recent Formula kite world championships fell precipitously, down from 195 in Italy in 2012 and 128 in China in 2013, to just 80 last August in Turkey.
“Formula kite can be saved only with radical moves,” says the PKA proposal. “With the present ‘box rule’ we may disappear from the sailing world soon.”
The plan envisages the IKA would choose one board design from those available, a kite design and three fin designs. They would each be made under IKA licence by manufacturers who would be free to badge them with their own brand. Riders would be obliged to register a board, three or four kites and one set of fins for competition for the whole season.
Costs would be kept down as new “one-design” specifications would be chosen once in each four-year Olympic cycle enabling riders to avoid the expense of renewing equipment annually. The fate of windsurfing’s derided and static Olympic RS:X class – slow and irrelevant to the modern sport – would be avoided by cherry-picking the best developments from kitefoil, which remains an “open” class.
Marek Rowinski, the PKA president who tabled the measure, believes he has enough support to ensure it is considered, though acknowledges securing the two-thirds majority needed to alter class rules is a big ask.
Markus Schwendtner, IKA CEO, believes it important for Formula kite’s future that the scheme is examined. But he believes it has little chance of success as it is flawed and incomplete.
“I think should be discussed,” he said. “But it’s not going to be accepted, in my opinion. I don’t see it happening for at least two or three years. It needs a lot of preparation.”
Course boards are now so similar in performance that a “one-design” concept might not be too difficult, says Schwendtner. But kites would be “trickier”. Tube kites have also achieved near-parity, but foil kites that revolutionized Formula kite this season currently have only two competitive manufacturers.
Few agree with PKA president Rowinski’s characterisation that Formula kite is in “crisis”. While conceding numbers have fallen they disagree over the reasons, shifting the ground on which the argument is based, and thus the search for possible solutions.
The dramatic appearance of foil kites wrong-footed some competitors. They found themselves uncompetitive racing on tube kites yet unable – because of expense or lack of availability – to switch, forcing some to sit out the season. The success of kite hydrofoils also diluted numbers, while high regatta entry fees are blamed as a factor in the equation.
Undoubtedly the Olympics’ decision in 2012, when Formula kite was included for the Rio games and then ejected in the space of year, served as a spur temporarily for many to join kite racing.
“It is obvious that kite racing went through the roof in 2012 because kite racing was declared ‘Olympic’. Then we all know what happened. And guess what? The numbers declined. Surprise!” says Elf kites’ Roman Liubimtsev, who believes the ‘one-design’ concept move is a “malicious” attempt to undermine small manufacturers and push kite racing back to the “Stone Age”.
Jimmy Mazzanti, of board-maker TemaVento Race Engineering, is more sanguine about a “one-design” concept. He would definitely prefer to stick with the “box rule”. But he could live with a high-performance “one-design” concept, though is under no illusions it would fix what ails Formula kite.
“Absolutely not,” says Mazzanti. “This ‘one-design’ concept will not address the problem. I travel to a lot of events. I know a lot of young riders. This won’t bring them back.”
Writer: Ian MacKinnon
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