There’s a wonderful reel on Instagram, posted by the American Magic Team, of Paul Goodison soloing out on Lake Garda, his home turf, wingfoiling like a genius and set to the Trinidadian-American rapper Theophilus London. To my eye, Goody looks almost serene gliding across that magnificent playground, perfectly at one with the world around him, the board arced over to windward and the wingfoil in perfect symmetry, effortlessly hitting eye-watering speeds and looking every inch the modern-day sailor. And judging by the light, it looked like an early evening blast on Garda, perhaps still chilly, but my goodness what a lovely sight to see.
The speed at which sailing is going airborne is alarmingly quick. This is almost like the transition from horse-drawn carriages to the motor-vehicle back in the early 20th century. There’s a famous comparison shot taken looking down 5th Avenue in New York just three years apart showing the nags and carts being replaced by cars wholly by 1913. It feels like the transition in sailing is even faster. And it’s brilliant. The new generation are faster, fitter and I have to say cooler than any of us ever were – come on admit it, you’d love to be foiling.
Everywhere you look, the kids are airborne and as an underground youth movement that’s gone mainstream, this is seismically changing everything about our sport. Sailing clubs will be forced to react – and those that haven’t already or refuse to, will be left way behind.
I can foresee ‘foil-only’ clubs arising in the very near future if not by design but by default. Let’s face it, if you or I had the opportunity to foil in our teens, why on earth would we bust our stomach muscles in a hiker doing three knots to windward against the waves? Remember the days of weight jackets, soggy jumpers and hours spent on a hiking bench watching terrestrial TV? Those days are gone…the kids have killed it. And not before time.
Looking at the opening regatta of the Olympic circuit this week, it’s abundantly clear that World Sailing and the IOC have punched the foiling ticket and are in for the ride. Whether they’ve gone far enough and fast enough to acknowledge the zeitgeist that will not be dying anytime this century is debatable. But the results so far are stunning. The iQFOiLs were simply and absolutely fabulous, the Nacra’s looked utterly relevant and almost impossible to win in, and the Formula Kites looked like they bred in the dinghy park overnight and were spectacular…when done well.
But here’s the thing. The rushed decision to implement the Formula Kites at the last knockings as the political wheel of World Sailing turned with the aged-decision by the Finn class not to stand against the 470 and vice versa was a head-scratcher for many – me included. The Finn died on the diversity wheel and the Formula Kites got the nod.
However, I will eat my words about the Formula Kites because the sailors have saved the day. Theo de Ramecourt and Daniela Moroz have shown in stunning style that they can transcend the sport and provide more bylines than Will Smith at the Oscars. These two are a class apart. The most worthy gold medallists at Marseille 2024 should they achieve that feat and in the Bay of Palma, they were sublime. No question.
And the huge fleets of kites in both the men’s and women’s disciplines prove their popularity but can they last to Long Beach 2028? Here’s where I come back to Paul Goodison and the relative serenity of the wingfoils.
Looking at both the launch and on-water profile of the Formula Kites, they look like a jumble to the untrained eye. I find it incredibly hard to see and appreciate the start-box tactics and at the gun it very much looks like squat and go. Now I know there’s a huge amount more than that but the Olympics doesn’t do technical very well in our sport – ask the Star Class – and this mass of strings and the huge disparity between the very good and the rest is alarming. Yes there’s ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ at the pointy end – there always is – but in the main, the Kites looked exactly what they were: a rushed decision.
I find it hard to believe that the Formula Kites will make it to Los Angeles but the nagging thing in my mind is that the wingfoils, fabulous beach machines as they are, look like a poor-man’s iQFOiL and are almost too similar to seriously challenge or provide a meaningful counter-balance as an alternative to the Formula Kites.
For sure, the wingfoil’s growth in popularity will be a consideration. Their accessibility to Oceania-Pacific and sub-continent countries, so big a factor in many a decision by the IOC of the niche sports, is unquestionable. They are the ultimate plug and play and certainly, a kid from a poor country blessed with tropical waters, could in theory blag enough dosh to get wingfoiling, skip school, get picked up by a national authority and bam they’re flying the flag at the opening ceremony before showing what 10,000 mis-spent hours (well-spent in my book) can do. It makes sense. To a degree.
On balance, I think my vote as an IOC or World Sailing Council member would lean towards the wingfoilers over the Formula Kites – but then again I’d vote to ditch the Laser, put the Waszp in and re-instate the Star immediately – so it’s no surprise I’m not on the committees…mad fools like me rarely are. The 49er and 49er FX would be on my ‘review’ list too but most probably for Brisbane 2032 – I’m not agitating for change here as much as elsewhere but they are, whisper it quietly, starting to look a bit dated.
Whether the wingfoil gets the nod will most likely depend on its development both as a platform and as a class. Fleets are emerging, races are happening and the tag of being something to do when racing’s abandoned or at the end of the day for a laugh and a blast is being shaken off. Numbers should and will increase exponentially. Kids sitting in bathtubs being cajoled by coaches aren’t blind to what’s on the water around them and the transition, maybe even the starter boat, will be to foils whether attached to a plank or a hull.
And what of the pathway to the apex – to Sail GP or the America’s Cup? Well even to today, the pre-requisite is a gold medal or two and yes that’s fine…for now. Monstrous AC40s are being built and the guys sailing SailGP aren’t getting younger. The obsession with picking from the Olympic squads for the top end is surely about to change. It simply has to. There’s talent in the non-Olympic foilers that is just too good to ignore – the rich pickings are in the International Moth or Waszp classes and that’s where you’ll find the winners of the future. Will we see a Formula Kite, Nacra or iQFOiLer make the step upwards? Possibly but unlikely. Unless the IOC switches to a foiling single-hander for Los Angeles, then the pathway to the AC40s and F50s will be very different.
It’s a great time to be young in sailing. The options are aplenty. It’s vibrant and exciting. Colourful too. And the standard is rising higher and higher at an exponential rate. It’s breathtaking in part but wonderful to see. Sailing is coming back to the mainstream and offering so much for those willing to give it a try.
The new sensations of our sport are fitter, faster and better (arguably) than ever before with a technical knowledge of foiling that is mightily impressive. The next twenty years will see even more changes structurally and physically than we can possibly imagine but the future’s safe.
The kids are in charge.