This past weekend, the St. Francis Yacht Club along with the International Kiteboarding Association and the KiteFoil Class hosted the third stop of the Kite Foil Gold Cup, the largest kiting event in the world. Sixty-nine competitors from 14 nations sported the latest hydrofoiling technology as they took to the water at top speeds over the course of a four-day, highly competitive regatta.
In the end, French racers Maxime Nocher and Nico Parlier claimed first and second place while Americans Johnny Heineken and Joey Pasquali claimed third and fourth, respectively. Former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, Erika Heineken, finished first among the women and 21st overall while 14-year-old rising star Daniela Moroz finished second among women and 29th overall. 19-year-old Nicolai Sponholtz finished 16th overall, and first among American racers under 21, earning himself the title of U.S. Kite Foil Youth Nationals Champion.
The racing took place on San Francisco Bay between the beach at Crissy Field and the start and finish line near the StFYC Clubhouse. The first two days were qualifiers to determine seeding for the finals, in which the top 35 competitors raced in the Gold fleet while the rest raced in the Silver fleet. Every day, the Race Committee fit in ten races—five per fleet—an impressive feat that allowed competitors to discard two races apiece.
Conditions were picture perfect throughout: high fog that burned off in the morning to reveal sunny skies and plenty of breeze. Each day started out with a flood tide and relatively flat water, which turned into an ebb tide that brought with it more wind, allowing racers to experience a variety of conditions that necessitated a number of different kite configurations.
StFYC caught up with Kite Foil Gold Cup regatta chairperson, former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year finalist and Kite Foil Gold Cup top female finisher, Erika Heineken:
Erika: Thank you! I couldn’t be happier. The event was run well and the conditions were perfect. In terms of competition, the Gold fleet was the highest level of kite racing I have ever competed in. Ever. Every single person was saying that if you make one mistake, you get passed by five or ten people. At the same time, it was clean sailing with very few protests. The level of sportsmanship was high, and there were no injuries.
StFYC: This event was unique for you in that you both organized it and competed in it. You also managed to finish as the top female competitor. How was that experience?
Erika: Going into the event, a fellow StFYC member and former Master Laser sailor told me that the year he chaired the Laser Worlds, he sailed the worst regatta in his life. Knowing that, and because I hadn’t been on the water much, I wasn’t expecting to sail that well. I just showed up and tried to sail clean. I knew I had to sail my own game and focus on my foiling, especially in traffic. I sailed way better than I had expected. I was in 18th after three days and ended in 21st overall, which I’m happy about.
StFYC: Everyone has been talking about how technology is driving the sport of kiting. What does that mean to you?
Erika: Kiting has been growing and evolving for a long time. I was involved in the progression when it first becoming a formula class. While it made the sport more “official”, it became less exciting for the racers because we no longer had that equipment progression. We saw the sport stall. Then, the America’s Cup brought hydrofoiling to the Bay and we saw the trickle-down effects. The French started developing foiling kits and when it arrived here in the Bay, we were so excited. Foiling brought back that fun of tweaking your gear and being able to ride anything we wanted. Now hydrofoiling racing is pretty much mainstream.
StFYC: Speaking of technology, it seems that the sport is evolving as much for the spectators as it is for the competitors, thanks to live tracking. Tell us a bit about that.
Erika: The tracking worked well! On Saturday and Sunday, viewers could watch the races live from a computer as well as from a monitor in the Grill Room at the yacht club. On Sunday, we even had some commentators in the Grill Room, explaining the racing and answering questions. Even now, you can re-watch any of the ten Gold fleet races on the tracker. You can change the speed and view the top ten racers and their distance to the leader. It’s a very cool visual, and a sign of things to come.
StFYC: The youth racers put up some impressive finishes in this fleet, including Nicolai Sponholtz who finished 16th and claimed the title of U.S. Kite Foil Youth Nationals Champion, sanctioned by the American Kite Boarding Association. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Daniela Moroz was hot on your heels, finishing just eight places behind you. Tell us a bit about these young racers.
Erika: The juniors did so well. Nicolai’s finish was fantastic, and I’m especially excited for Daniela. She and I consider ourselves training partners. When we sail together we are always pushing each other and having fun. She’s a really devoted kiter. She has not plateaued; she is exponentially improving.
StFYC: What’s next for this fleet?
Erika: The next and final step of the tour is in Townsville, Australia on October 8. Everyone’s busy trying to cobble together the money to get there. Right now Maxime [Nocher] is in a pretty good spot to win the tour—he is three for three with first places. That said, all competitors are allowed to discard one tour stop, but Australia is non-discardable, so it is still anyone’s game.
Stay tuned for the latest from the Kitefoil Gold Cup Australia, scheduled for October 8-13!