It was a decision telegraphed from a long way out. We shouldn’t be surprised. And despite the pity, the sorrow, the false positioning, the empty words and the sheer regret about those classes that have missed out, we have to, as a sport, embrace the Formula Kites in Olympic watersports. Personally I don’t recognise the discipline as being anything remotely relevant to what I sail or have sailed or what I see on a weekly basis at my local club but I further recognise that our sport has to evolve.
Last week a rather decent foiling kiteboarder took to the waters off Cowes and spent about half an hour blasting backwards and forwards whilst the juniors bobbed around inshore. It was an impressive sight if I’m truly honest with you. I was genuinely excited to witness it. The sheer athleticism of the guy foiling was quite extraordinary and I was pretty awestruck as he spent the whole time airborne – I was amazed that I didn’t see a cavitation or a spill and the speeds were off the scale. I maintain that seeing anyone perform at a top level in any sporting discipline is a marvel and this athlete was top drawer. When he came ashore I walked the dog over to the board, stopping my hound from peeing on the orange canopy (just in time) and chatted happily about foil angles, the technology and technique. I came away pretty impressed.
It was fascinating and well worth my time in being nosy. Do I fancy a go? Hell yes. Will I get the chance? Probably not. Am I athletic enough – definitely not. Would I choose a foiling kite over say a Laser or a Europe (if I could find one!) as a bit of fun on a Thursday evening – no but I can see that people will. What I gleaned was that these things are a beast to handle and that conditions needed to be pretty perfect to even attempt to get on the water. They are full on monsters.
The pathway to foiling at pace and executing the turns is long and arduous and it’s a wholly different discipline and technique to sailing. That they are wind powered on water is about as close to sailing that we all know. The fact that this sport has very rapidly muscled its way into the Olympic dinghy medals is more a reflection of what the IOC thinks of sailing and its ruling body, that it has to keep on bailing out, than a reflection on the discipline itself and the pathway to get there. It’s a cutting edge marginal sport that I fear will struggle to get anywhere close to mainstream. But that’s the Olympic choice and it’s all about social media eyeballs and youth participation. Legends of sailing will not be borne from foiling kites but Olympic legends may well.
Gender-split kiteboarding is in for Paris 2024 and that’s the last on the matter. It’s not going to be reversed. The Finn and the Mixed Offshore can whistle in the wind on the margins along with the Star, the Flying Dutchman, the Europe, the Yngling and all manner of other vessels that have had their turn. Athletes of a bigger build are no longer welcome in wind powered events and the other sailing events should be on notice that they are there on borrowed time with the IOC and under close watch by a body that couldn’t give two figs about the sport. World Sailing meanwhile probably needs a rebrand in a few years as it’s unlikely to be representing the sport or the sailors that it claims to.
I wish the kiteboarders the best of luck. I will watch the discipline with interest in a similar vein to how I will watch surfing, break dancing, BMX freestyle, trampoline and rhythmic gymnastics. I will only truly be tuned into the Olympics when the 100 metres final takes place. But I will try. Formula Kiteboarding will just be a colourful aberration, a side-show if you like, every four years to the proper business of the Games. My bet is that in 20 years time it won’t be there – and neither will sailing.
Enjoy Tokyo 2021, it’s the last regatta of any relevance on sailing’s inevitable pathway out of the Olympic Games.