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battle of the boards, continued

pov

battle of the boards, continued

Dear US Sailing:

I find your recent statement on Kitesurfing incredibly disappointing.

I cannot believe that US Sailing can in good conscience support "100%" an obviously flawed vote. Just the fact that the expert committee voted to retain the RS-X sailboard 17-2, but ISAF’s broader forum rejected it 19-17 should raise a large red flag. Spain’s recent admission of error is just icing on the cake.

As a matter of principle US Sailing should petition ISAF to re-vote the issue. As the leading democratic country in the world we should not condone or support votes that are flawed. It might be hard to set aside US Sailing’s self interest in medal count and stand for principle but that is the American way and would restore my faith and pride in your organization. That is the main reason to reverse course, Now for the five reasons.

Mr. Brenner’s five reason are, I suspect, not the real reasons for voting against Windsurfing. The pros and cons of either sport can be debated ad nausea. The obvious reason is that he thinks we will have a better chance of winning a medal in kiteboarding than windsurfing. Why wasn’t that said? Was it to self-interested? Given the stated policy of Mr. Brenner to only spend money on medals that he thinks we can win this seems self evident however it is certainly NOT in the Olympic spirit and is likely to NOT come to pass. The other countries will rapidly start up with money and coaching and quickly eclipse us and our current technical advantages (thank you Greg Aguera). Gone are the days when our US Olympic contenders could win on their own. Sailors today need full time funding and coaching to succeed.

I remember about ten years ago when I asked Mr. Brenner to spend some money, any money, on our windsurfing team, He said no, not until they start winning. This despite our several medals previously won in the class and the low cost of providing support to a windsurfer versus a keelboat. There has therefore been an unavoidable decline in our windsurfing medals once the other countries started bringing in coaches and funding which we have not answered. With Israel currently leading the RSX regatta at the ISAF world cup it just goes to show that US Sailing’s decisions not to support or fund windsurfing showed a singular lack of vision. Don’t you think we should be able to compete head to head with the smallest countries in the world?

US Sailing has never supported windsurfing to any significant degree. Why, for example, is it not required to include windsurfing in the US youth champ regattas? Such an easy change would really have helped windsurfing but there was no will to do so. Meanwhile windsurfing at the youth level is flourishing everywhere else around the globe providing a strong pipeline of future Olympians.

While Kendall and Sayre have already covered Brenner’s five reasons I thought I would give you my point by point rebuttal. Note that we three are all windsurfers AND kitesurfers.

1. Kiteboarding is an exciting and rapidly growing area of the sport.

Of course but where are your statistics? In Newport kitesurfing leveled off four years ago with no additional growth since then. My local beach in Florida has the same 20 or so kiters as ever. The current Kitesurfing World Cup in Holland (http://www.prokitetour.com/news.php?id=304) had 14 entries for men. After four years as an ISAF class this is pitiful. Claims of huge production numbers are not relevant as they are only recreational gear and mostly for replacement. I find I need to replace mine each year.

2. The infrastructure required will be minimal.

Not in my experience – Kiting needs more infrastructure as kites take up more space. Kites will want multiple kites ashore rigged and ready to go. Boats for each kite will be required for safety and launching. I calculate you can put 17 windsurfers into the line area of one kiter. More support boats will be required.

3. The potential exists to bring in new countries to the sport of Olympic Sailing, and at Council, there was support from every continent and region: Europe, Caribbean, South America, North America, Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Mid-East.

No more so than windsurfing while windsurfing already has established programs which will be hurt by your decision. In addition many areas have banned kiting so there is no growth possible there. New York just banned kitesurfing at ALL of it’s public beaches

Additionally the RSX is a One Design. Kiting is an open class. The cost will be astronomical and the equipment disposable. This is not emerging country friendly.

4. Kites can be sailed close to shore, increasing spectator possibilities.

Onshore Winds: the spectators will need to be backed up out of harms way. Offshore Winds: the breeze will be fluky and unfair to the competitors. They certainly are no closer to shore than windsurfing. When kites are racing they will still have tons of gear on shore that the spectators will need to be kept well clear of. Where will all of these support boats go?

5. There have been major advancements in safety, and the evaluation and technical reports said exactly that. Those interested in this debate, really should read that report, linked here.

Sure there have been advancements but just try and convince the insurance companies (or New York) that kiting is safe. All my friends who are long time kiters seem to wear knee braces. There has been no change in the danger that the four or so razor sharp kite lines pose which is the most significant safety issue for kiting. The release on the kite is better but you still need to pull it in a heck of a hurry in order to have it work and then the kite is out of control on 25m – actually make that 40m kite lines. Kiters can still get into serious trouble. In a squall a windsurfer can lay flat. What do you do with a kite besides let it go. Don’t be to leeward when a kite flailing lines and a bar comes at you.

I have read enough of the ISAF Technical Report to know a sales job when I see one. There are safety claims that are untrue and claims for the sport overall when only a tiny fraction of 1% of all kites and "hulls" made are for racing. Just one example of many: The report claims a weight band of 55 to 90 kg but this is impossible on a planing hull and will be completely disproved once the sport has enough participants to be fully competitive.
I have collected some recent posts online for you to read from Kendall, Maslivets, Manchon and Sayre. I thought you might appreciate having them all in one place.
They are here.

Particular attention should be paid to the Olga Maslivets letter to Fiona Kidd which really lays out in detail what a flawed decision ISAF reached.

I hope that US Sailing will get onto the right side of this issue.

yours sincerely,
Platt Johnson

ps: Just as a disclaimer:I have windsurfed since 1973 and kite surfed regularly since 2006 and have no particular axe to grind as I am no longer an owner of a windsurfing shop or involved in either industry. I just can’t stand to see such a wrong headed decision stood behind by our national sailing association. And just because I figure you will want to know I have been a member of US Sailing and US Windsurfing for many years but currently am not.