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John Heineken elected US Sailor of the Week

John Heineken (Larkspur, Calif.) has arrived as the top Kiteboard course racing sailor in the world. Earlier this month, John dominated the field of 62 at the 2011 International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) Kite Course Racing World Championships in Sylt, Germany. He won 10 of the 12 races in winds that reached 25 knots and wavy conditions. The top four finishers were from the United States.
The once highly competitive 29er, 49er and FJ sailor has successfully made the transition to kiteboarding, and he has loved every minute of it. Hear what the former University of California at Santa Barbara stand-out sailor had to say about his success and his admiration for kiteboarding in this interview with US SAILING:

US SAILING: What were your keys to success in winning the Kite Racing Worlds?

John: “I'd say there were two main factors in my success at the Worlds. My sailing background is one of my most valuable assets. There are a number of sailors that can make a board go fast around a course, but being able to keep my head out of the boat and make good decisions without slowing down is a skill I learned during my skiff sailing years.

But to really address this question I think it's important to note that San Francisco Bay Area sailors took the top three positions at this event and this is no coincidence. We were successful because we worked together on technique and designs, sharing everything, always pushing the performance envelope and improving as a group. We trained hard and effectively, living at Sherman Island and often sailing three sessions per day. On a typical day we'd practice tacking and jibing, mark roundings, and tons of short course practice, often logging over 50 miles per day. I now truly believe that training with the best is the only way to be successful.”

US SAILING: What do you enjoy about kiteboarding?

John: “I love going fast and I never push myself harder than in a race. The adrenaline of being on the starting line with the sky full of kites is pretty amazing and the feeling I get after surviving a big fleet start is even better.

Kiting starts are a bit more challenging than boat racing starts because you have to pick a hole with your kite and follow that with your board. Just because there's a lane on the water doesn't mean you can go there, and just because your kite fits in a gap doesn't mean there's space on the water. This brings in a three dimensional aspect that is unique to kite racing, and I love it!

On the other hand, kite racing is also very simple, logistically speaking. I can fit my boat and sails in my Saab, or in my board bag.

There's no owning two boats and shipping one to a regatta halfway around the world, it can come anywhere with me right now. I sailed the North Americans in Puerto Rico a week after the Worlds in Germany, with the same gear. No problem.”

US SAILING: How did you make the transition to kite racing?

John: “I finished my second 49er Worlds in 2008 one position lower than the year before. At that point it was obvious that finishing college and doing an Olympic Campaign was not an option, so I put the boat away and picked up kiting. When the first Kite Racing World Championships was held in San Francisco in 2009 I got my hands on a race board and dove right in. This was my first real kiting event and it was a great feeling to race with the top guys from around the world. I fell in love with the sport and it's been my focus ever since.

I should also note that kite racing is very similar to skiff sailing, tactically speaking. The speeds and angles are alike and the excitement is definitely there. I think I need something to fill this high-speed racing itch I've developed and kiting is definitely the most fun way to do this.”

US SAILING: Got any advice to anyone who is interested in trying this sport?

John: “Can you kite? If no - take a lesson, it's worth it. If yes - get a race board and join in the Thursday night races at St. Francis Yacht Club (and look around locally for clubs who run these types of events). Or better yet, start your own beer can race on your home waters!”

Read this recap from the 2011 IKA Kite Course Racing World Championships.

Learn more about kiteboarding by visiting the official website of the International Kiteboarding Association.