“Try kiting, it’s sailing and I’ll tell you why.” Olympic champion’s word

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Often the best spots for kiting offer unparalleled natural scenery. In the picture we find ourselves
to Lencois Maranhenses National Park in Brazil, home to the Red Bull Rally dos Ventos, a semi-desert area where dunes of the finest sand alternate with sheets of brackish water in breathtaking colors. And the wind is always tense. Red Bull Photos

“Sofia you have to try to explain kitesurfing to an almost ignorant person today.” Sofia Tomasoni smiles, as she often does after all, sits down in front of me and picks up a pen and paper. So begins the chat we had with the youth Olympic champion of Twin Tip Racing (the kite discipline reserved for the Junior Olympics) at VELAFestival.

When you talk to an “average” sailor about kitesurfing most of the time he turns his nose up at it, replying, “but kitesurfing is that thing with jumping boards and a kite?” The best retort to this cliché is given to us by this 17-year-old girl, who has an age on her side that puts her at a safe distance from preconceptions and stereotypes. She looks at me almost puzzled and replies, “Our sport is all about a sail, which is our engine, just as it is with boats, only ours sits on top and underneath us instead of a hull is a board. Sometimes we feel like the windsurfers of yesteryear, who were looked upon with suspicion because they carried on this discipline that was a bit strange to common thinking. We practice a sport that does not have the tradition and history of sailing understood in the common sense of the term, but believe me, it is a beautiful and fascinating medium. It is no coincidence that many athletes who kite today come from the world of dinghies and Olympic boats, I am referring for example to sailors who come from the 49er or Nacra. Of course, kiting is a sport that requires certain athletic skills and a good amount of agility“.

SOFIA TOMASONI – Seventeen years old from Bologna, in 2018 she won gold at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympics in the Twin Tip Racing discipline. In the same year, he also won the European Youth and National Youth Championships, as well as taking silver at the TT:R Youth World Championships. Achievements that also earned her the TAG Heuer Young by B&G award for Sailor of the Year 2019. Olympic glory Alessandra Sensini described her as one of the world’s most crystal-clear talents in the discipline.

Indeed, comprehension is often one of the problems of new disciplines. In the absence of this, “traditional” audiences label something other than their own common feeling as “other.” Kiting therefore is not sailing according to many, but it is stereotyped as this somewhat strange discipline practiced by pretty boys who spend their days at the beach. Actually kiting is now an Olympic sport, considered by the Olympic Committee to be among the sailing disciplines, has its own rules and formats, and as such requires technique, enormous dedication and sacrifice. But we were talking about understanding, and once again it is Sofia who comes through for the “Jurassic” journalist. “We need to start with some distinctions. The discipline of the Youth Olympics is Twin Tip Racing. Twin Tip in English basically means “bidirectional,” and this is the characteristic of the board that is used, it is symmetrical, it can go both ways. In Twin Tip regattas there is a start with a 3-minute countdown, then there are sides to the traverse/lash with 4 buoys to turn like a slalom, and some obstacles to jump, then there is the finish. As in normal boats, those who sail downwind have precedence over upwind. Then there is senior Olympics kiting, foil kiting, the boards have the T-shaped appendage that allows flying and the course is different. In this case you start upwind dry (yes, with kites you can also windward), there is a buoy to windward and then a slack tack between the buoys, still kind of a slalom in practice, before the finish.” And does the world of kiting end here? “Of course not, there are freestyle evolutions, the discipline that is practiced with the wave that is the “Wave,” big air for evolutions on the jump and also disciplines dedicated to speed“.

Cape Verdean kiter Airton Cozzolino, several world titles under his belt, specializes in the freestyle and wave disciplines (the formed wave evolutions). Red Bull Photos

But many people think kitesurfing is dangerous. “No more than other disciplines, and as in other disciplines a helmet is used. We maneuver the sail with a tiller and are connected to the kite by cables. If you pull the right cable you go right and vice versa, but the important component is the middle cable. That one increases or decreases the power of the sail by changing its shape; it is an active adjustment to be used according to wind strength. And then there is a real safety, a kind of emergency maneuver. When you let go, the sail collapses into the water and you stop. For example, if there is a dangerous crossing or you entwine your sail with another kiter’s, it is time to drop the safety“.

The discipline of the Olympics will be kite foil. Pictured is Spain’s Gisela Pulido in a speed challenge against the GC 32 Spanish Impulse catamaran in the waters of Mallorca. The duel was very balanced, with entirely similar speeds. Red Bull Photos

It is said that kiters are always young and in constant search of adrenaline. “It doesn’t. The passion for kiting to me for example came from my father. I used to play soccer, of course I liked skateboarding so I had an affinity toward boards. We would go on vacation to the sea in Calabria and I would see my father kiting, I became more and more curious. So around age 12 I started, earlier is inadvisable because of physical issues, but I didn’t do it self-taught but following a school and an instructor. There are some incredible spots in Calabria, for example, Gizzeria; it was on those beaches that I took my first steps. And as for adrenaline, but who said that? I dream of sailing on an offshore boat, very traditional and slow, it is something that attracts me very much“.

After all, another of the things we discovered about the kite is that you can safely board it on a boat and take it with us on a cruise, for example. The kite board is no more than 140-160 cm long, but there are also smaller ones for strong winds. The sail is inflatable, and once deflated it folds up inside a bag and can be stowed conveniently in a locker. In short, sailors, let’s break down the preconceptions, it is a sport that moves with a sail exactly like what we do. And we can also take our equipment with us in the boat and go and enjoy perhaps a spot that can only be reached by sea. So: why not?

KITE SURFING IN A NUTSHELL

Kitesurfing sails are inflatable, an operation that takes only a few minutes of work before going into the water. Red Bull Photos

1 The kite sail is inflatable, and once at rest you fold it into a bag and can store it anywhere, even on a boat. The board is a maximum of 150-160 cm long.

A kiter prepares to lay dyneema cables in order as he sets up his gear on the beach. Red Bull Photos

2 The sail is maneuvered by cables connected to a tiller. Some adjust direction, the middle one adjusts power, and there is a safety catch to drop the sail in case of danger.

Just like on a boat, kite sails are of different sizes, and the appropriate surface must be chosen according to the wind. From larger ones for light air to smaller ones for strong winds.

3 The Youth Olympic discipline is Twin Tip Racing, the Senior Olympic discipline is kite foil. Then there are “free style,” “wave,” “big air,” and several other declinations.

Steering the sail: the tiller holding the kiter is connected to the sail by textile cables. Adjusting the middle one is used to give and take away power to the sail, the side ones give direction, and in case of danger, releasing the safety catch on one of these causes the sail to collapse into the water. Red Bull Photos

4 Kitesurfing is taught in dedicated schools and is absolutely inadvisable to self-taught.

Board sizes vary according to wind and sea state (max. length about 160 cm). Pictured is Sofia Tomasoni with her Twin Tip Racing board, a two-way symmetrical board.

5 The audience for kiting is young, but it is not precluded for adults as well, provided they have good agility and a physique accustomed to the sport.

Once the outing is over, the sail is deflated and stored in a bag. The size of the equipment at rest is not particularly bulky, the whole thing can also be stored aboard a sailboat, so we can take the kitesurfing equipment on a cruise as well. Red Bull Photos

6 Kitesurfing is an Olympic discipline within sailing sports.

Mauro Giuffrè

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