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1 December, 2016
Rockingham, Western Australia
Hydrofoil Pro Tour, Final, Rockingham, WA
Australian Seaside City Plays Part moulding Sailing & Kitefoil Racing’s future.
RARELY does a small city like Rockingham get an opportunity to shape the future of sailing. But the coastal community just 25min south of Perth, Western Australia, has whole-heartedly embraced the chance to make history at the cutting-edge of kitehydrofoil racing and sailing.
Andy Hansen one of the tours Co-Founders, after the tours event success of Mauritius & San Francisco with ever expanding fleets sizes on the start line set his sights on again for his home event of the tour breaking new ground, and setting a historic record and precedence for Olympic style fleet sizes for hydrofoil kite racing. “Our fleets and athletes are world class capable of 40knots, and as visual spectacle rivals any other sailing event for on & off the water presence. Yet traditionally sailing events have fallen short on engaging public. This is a challenge many sailing event and classes are facing around the world as we heard at the recent World Sailing meeting. We looked all the resources at our disposal, and strived to achieve the ambitious objective of an Americas cup type event success, a publicly engaged event that underpinned the new stadium style racing to showcase our athletes. A key element for me was a single fleet, easier to understand from a public perspective rather than multiple fleets cycling on & off the water. And as far as high impact, 56 kites on the water off the start line is a sight every person should see and experience at least once in a life time.
Another key element for me was bring the racing closer to public, with the trademark full race coverage drone coverage by Benni Geislinger, daily lifestyle edit by Seb Tron, and Robbie Dean commentating through live stream to the beach and club house supported by Red Bull. Anybody with a mobile phone on the foreshore and on water boats could tap into the commentary live stream and so delivered an end-to-end experience that could be enjoyed by even those that had no previous sailing background. We looked at every option to achieve “Stadium style racing”, the location selected provided a perfect natural amphitheater. We took it a step further with placing members of public, family & friends of racers, as well as media and sponsors ring side to the action on boats around the course. A new experience even for many that had attended sailing and kite racing events before. This was an amazing opportunity to showcase the incredible performance, with riders doing over 30knots just meters from cheering fans. I strongly believe on the water grand stands will be a big part of future sailing events and we’ll further progress this strategy again for next year.
On the 26-29th November 2016, the finale of the inaugural season’s Hydrofoil Pro Tour after events in Mexico, USA and Mauritius, Rockingham Western Australia has played host to the largest kite hydrofoil fleet racing together in international competition. The 55 kitefoilers jockeying on the start line under the relentless Australian sun had made a truly impressive spectacle.
Yet the demands of running one fleet of the globe’s fastest men and women in one of sailing’s quickest disciplines, is not without challenges. Not least were the safety concerns, and initial consternation of experienced racers alarmed by congestion at such high speeds.
Race director and Hydrofoil Pro Tour co-founder, Robbie Dean, did not take the decision lightly — carefully weighing the pros and cons. But ultimately with the sport’s Olympic bid threatening to dramatically grow competitor numbers he had little choice.
“Get used to it,” he told riders. “If we’re successful in our Olympic ambitions, this will be the future.”
The Hydrofoil Pro Tour is now at the first year’s fourth stop hosted by The Cruising Yacht Club of WA — joining the line-up of La Ventana, Mexico, San Francisco, Pointe d’Esny, Mauritius — sees itself as a integral player in kiting’s possible Olympic future.
“I’m absolutely confident this is a growing sport, whether or not we make into the Olympics or not,” he said. “We’re surely going to see enlistments of 150 people, and the only way to accommodate those kind of numbers is to get a lot of people on the start line.
“One of the benefits of this decision is to offer a unique experience to the riders. It also looks good on film, but that’s the least priority. I like the idea of everyone being able to sail together. The whole thing is sailing camaraderie and not insulating the top guys who have a responsibility to bring on the whole fleet.”
That camaraderie and developing a strong local base to further kitefoil racing at the grassroots has been reflected in the scale of the Australian fleet that showed up to pit their prowess and learn from the cream of the crop. Twenty-five Australians — including two women —filled the roster for the climactic tour stop, supported by Rockingham Apartments.
Initially, though, riders were alarmed the amount traffic crossing on upwind or downwind legs as the fleet spread out, particularly on the opening day when a shorter course and tighter boundaries caused problems. It was a concern that Dean addressed with longer and bigger two and a half lap courses.
Veteran rider and co-founder of Ozone Kites, Matt Taggart, in poll position after string of wins in the Grand Masters’ division, is in his element on the bigger upwind-downwind courses that demand tactical skills, as well as speed and technique.
“Everyone is now getting to grips with having 56 riders on the start line,” he said. “They’re getting used to it and now gaining in confidence. It’s really tactical and that’s what racing is all about for me.”
A key challenge is rider safety, which is of paramount importance. Day three saw a number of injuries as the Fremantle Doctor picked up stronger and started to test the racers, and the concern was that multiple downed riders could overwhelm the rescue craft.
But the involvement of the completely-engaged The Cruising Yacht Club of Western Australia (TCYC) — and the months of training given to rescue crews — provided a level of comfort that they would be able to cope in the face of multiple emergencies.
For the ambitious and visionary yacht club — made up mostly of sailors with little knowledge of kiting — the chance to bring such a large international fleet of kitefoilers to perform on its perfect arena was one to be embraced.
TCYC member, Adam Taylor, MD of TCD, a civil construction group and tour stop sponsor, echoed the view of many that the chance to host such a prestigious, cutting-edge group of racers was not to be passed up.
“The club just jumped on it and said, ‘let’s do it’,” he said. “With the world’s fastest racers, bringing the Hydrofoil Pro Tour was a perfect opportunity to showcase what Rockingham has to offer and put it on the international stage.”
source: Hydrofoil Pro Tour Media
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