That top-level kitefoil racing is first and foremost a psychological game almost goes without saying. But in the hothouse atmosphere of the KiteFoil GoldCup series’ opening exchanges the teasing wind—or absence of it—only underscored how those at the pinnacle are masters at maintaining their poise.
For many lesser athletes the tension of two windless days that prevented racing, followed by day four’s failed efforts to get races away after the breeze twice dropped below the requisite 6kts average might have been unbearable.
Yet in their own unique ways each of the 20 foilers from 13 nations competing in the International Kiteboarding Association’s season-opening KiteFoil GoldCup taking place off Boryeong’s Daecheon Beach, hosted and sponsored by Korea Windsurfing Kitesurfing Association, retained their focus.
Monaco’s Maxime Nocher still holds a firm grip on the lead going into the final fifth day courtesy of two bullets from the regatta’s only two races on the opening day, with Riccardo Leccese (ITA) just behind and a three-way points tie for third between Theo Lhostis (FRA), Florian Gruber (GER) and Maks Zakowski (POL).
Most craved the opportunity to cement their positions or claw their way up the leaderboard. Lhostis was on the water immediately the breeze was vaguely acceptable, riding his Enata 19m kite and Enata foil.
When the breeze hit 7kts on the line, the start sequence was initiated. But within minutes of the “off” it dropped to 4kts forcing postponement. A second effort soon after fared little better when the wind again failed, leaving many riders swimming.
Yet in the face of such mounting frustrations each were able to keep their eye on the prize, with Turkish veteran racer Ejder Ginyol maintaining his sense of humour and singing the virtues of a lengthy swim in the Yellow Sea.
“I wouldn’t call it frustrating, but psychologically it’s very tiring,” he says. “But for me racing is always psychological. Physically, you know you’re in a good place, but you don’t know what your rivals are up to. When I’m on the beach beforehand I’m stressed, but at the ‘ten-minute flag’ I have my game plan and I’m focused no matter what else is going on.”
If anything, Leccese is even more in the zone, easily able to block out all distractions that might detract from his race performance.
“I’m ‘full on’ as soon as I launch my kite,” says the infectiously-sunny Italian. “I’m like a lion chasing its prey. Nothing else matters. In the start sequence I try to observe what others are doing, but find myself a clear spot. After that, every race is different and that’s what I love.”
Germany’s Gruber knows from bitter experience that if he allows his focus to wander—out of necessity—to his university studies, say, his racing suffers. So in fallow times he keeps his race ‘game face’ on by drinking lots of water, running, and eating healthily and sparingly. He also takes the opportunity to check his equipment meticulously.
“To get more comfortable I check everything,” he says. “That gives me confidence and keeps my mind firmly on what we are doing, ready for when I get out on the course.”
Poland’s Zakowski never gets frustrated by the conditions, but rather takes the opportunity of lay days to relax, learn from more experienced riders and focus on the task ahead.
“I spend the downtime thinking about racing, but also relaxing as well,” he says. “I just enjoy the weather and the hotel, and chat to the other riders. I’ve learned so much from them. As for racing, I get nervous, but it’s positive nerves—motivating stress that’s useful to make a good race.”
Overall standings after two races:
1 Maxime Nocher (MON, Enata/Enata) 2pts
2 Riccardo Leccese (ITA, Ozone/Mike’s Lab) 4pts
3 Theo Lhostis (FRA, Enata/Enata) 9pts
4 Florian Gruber (GER, Flysurfer/Levitaz) 9pts
5 Maks Zakowski (POL, Ozone/Moses) 9pts
1 Alexia Fancelli (FRA, Ozone/Taaroa) 31pts
2 Anais Desjardins (FRA, Flysurfer/Spotz) 42pts
3 Bitna Kim (KOR, Ozone/Levitaz) 62pts