New kiteboard race world champions crowned on day five of China event marked by light winds. Boao, Hainan – Reigning women’s kiteboard racing world champion Erika Heineken (USA) ended an almost flawless series to take successive titles on the final day of the event in China.
But brother Johnny Heineken (USA) was deprived of a similar feat by the stellar racing of 19-year-old Florian Gruber (GER) who snatched to the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) course racing world title from the American’s grasp.
“I think I’m going to need a couple of days before it really sink in,” said a beaming Gruber. “My motto for the week was to go fast and stay safe from tangles. It really paid off for me. Initially when I saw the opening days’ conditions I though it wasn’t for me, but it worked out.”
The final day of event at Boao, Hainan, was characterized by extremely light and fickle winds that all but prevented racing and sealed the rankings as they stood at the end of day four, with the exception of one or two swapped places.
With the breeze filling in as the final cut off for racing fast approached, race officials decided to try got the top ten men in the platinum fleet on the water for the first of three scheduled races. But it was only possible to complete one race with the men flying their 17m and 19m kites.
In the difficult conditions Maxime Nocher (FRA) won over Gruber, with Johnny Heineken in third. Nocher’s victory advanced him one place in the overall standings, leap-frogging 16-year-old Olly Bridge (GBR) to give the Frenchman a podium finish.
But the breeze did not co-operate and died before the top ten women had their chance to get on the track, much to the relief of some of the competitors who felt the conditions too fickle and light for fair racing.
The failure to get any women’s races off left Steph Bridge (GBR) and sixteen-year-old Elena Kalinina (RUS) with the second and third spots on the podium, trailing Erika Heineken who had won 13 of her 14 races in the conditions that lightened towards the end of the event.
“I sailed so well in the rest of the event,” said Heineken, clearly elated with her back-to-back titles. “I lost one race. The girls are improving a lot, but I expected a bit more competition. I felt the lighter conditions at the end were not ideal for me. But I’ve been practising light-wind kiting and I’ve improved. I was happy to show the other girls that. Had it just been 10m weather, they’d have said ‘that’s why she won’.”
Yet the first three days of the event, which was organized and locally managed by Kite Tour Asia (KTA) and the resort development of King Bay, were staged in conditions of around 20kts that runner-up Bridge believed played Heineken’s strengths.
“With Erika Heineken, she’s living in the right venue for the conditions we found here,” said Bridge. “She’s able to train with her brother in San Francisco. It was great for her. Perhaps if we’d got another day of light winds like yesterday which suit me better, I’d have had a chance at the world title.”
Still, Markus Schwendtner, CEO of IKA, believed the conditions that varied over the five days showed that those who came out on top really deserved their titles.
“For the event, talking about consistency of the riders, we had strong wind and light wind that all the riders had to cope with,” said Schwendtner. “For me, that really makes the winners true champions. The levels of so many riders have gone up so much. We have seen new riders rise to the highest levels, with many of the top ten swapping places. It’s very exciting for the future.”