In KW #85, we took an in-depth look at all things speed-related. The previous year had seen foil racing explode, Rob Douglas was leading the charge on the speed sailing scene and race gear was evolving so quickly that an arms race had developed among the podium-chasing rider. We spoke to some of the top racers in the game to find out what was giving them their edge.
Image: Toby Bromwich
Performance in foiling is progressing at a rate of knots (pun intended). “Foilboard racers are going noticeably faster than a year ago, in all directions: upwind, better angles and faster on reaches and downwind as well.” Nico Parlier, at 85 kilos, was hitting 22 knots on an upwind reach and up to 40 knots mid-race during the last HydroFoil Pro Tour event.
As a heavier rider he struggles in sub-15 knots, which is when Maxime Nocher, at 75kg, seems to do better, but the 42 knots he logged on a prototype slalom wing designed purely with speed in mind rather than upwind ability, proves that his weight doesn’t hold him back.
We asked Nico for some comments on where he thinks the gains are really coming?
“The gear is so much easier to use now. We’re going 40 knots now because it’s possible. The power delivery of my R1 V2 Ozone kites is so smooth that I can depower the kite safely at any time, so it’s very controllable at high speed. The Mike’s Lab foil is the same – it’s easier to ride than ever and the lift is very even on your legs and becomes very stable and drag-free when you’re going very fast. The most important thing to be concerned with is looking out for anything in the water that could strike your foil, such as trash, weeds, fish or bits of wood, as they can stop you right away!”
But it’s not the gear where he feels he’s had the most effective personal race-winning improvements, proving that thankfully rider skill can still win the day overall.
“The biggest improvement has been in the manoeuvres. I’m tacking and gybing way faster than before with a very smooth track. The technique is now second nature and it’s very rare to see riders in the top ten touching down during the race. What an awesome feeling to finish a race with a dry board and feet!”
Image: Martin Allen
Nico may claim that his biggest improvement has been in manoeuvres, but if everyone’s got them down pat, an edge can still be found in knowledge and race craft (as Olly Bridge manages over his brother), but also in the gear. As foiling progresses, and as a burgeoning racing elite grows, the demand for ever improving gear increases. While more and more of the larger kitesurfing brands and some of the core foil manufacturers have released user friendly/beginner foils, carbon race foils used by the racing elite are advancing all the time.
Levitaz have four of the top ten riders from this year’s Hydrofoil Pro Tour on their team and have a vested interest in producing the foils they need to stay in the top flight. When asked if they have a way to measure performance progress, brand manager Anna Magg said, “Sure, we developed our own measurement system. These results, simulated flow analysis and the feedback of our riders and development team working closely together are the basis of our development towards creating the best foils possible”.
But how much of an impact does equipment have on performance? Steph Bridge, who competed in events on both the KiteFoil Gold Cup and HydroFoil Pro Tour this year is a multiple World Champion herself and the mother of two of racing’s brightest young talents, Olly and Guy Bridge.
Image: Martin Allen
She explained to us that stiffer, longer masts with expensive carbon layups and flatter wings are essential elements of the foil’s design that effect its speed and upwind performance. She went on to add that shorter lines and bigger kites are key for holding down more power and added that the ‘V’ streamlined shape of a board is more important than many give it credit for. She also hasn’t ruled out lycra outfits or even something similar to wing suits to cut down the drag of the rider!
But perhaps more than ever, it’s time on the water that’s key, and it’s all about assessing the fine margins for improvement, just like in motor racing. She says, “To be in the top five this year you need to work closely with a team of foil developers. We have been really lucky to work with Levitaz who are producing great products for all levels but also understand quality. The opportunity to test the foil with a similar rider level and in good testing conditions is always a challenge, so GPS and tracking are also crucial.”
And it’s not just the kit you use. It’s also how you look after it, as Steph explains, “If a foil gets damaged in transit or on the beach then it needs to be repaired professionally. We have a set of training wings and race wings that we only use in the heats. The setup needs to be finished correctly down to using the correct 2000 grit sand paper. The lengths that people go to in order to ensure a decent finish can give them those few extra knots, which can be the difference between first and second place. The foil needs to be free of dirt, grease like suncream, salt water etc and a foil can feel very different going from cold dense water to warm waters.”
This article first appeared in KW #85 in February 2017. Subscribe to the magazine for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, with true insight like this in every issue.