The olympic mission: how a Formula kite competition is run


In 2024 Formula Kite will become Olympic and every country is allowed to send one male and female. Appletree team rider Roderick Pijls is part of the Dutch selection and is in the race for an Olympic ticket. In the coming months, he is keen to take you along his road to Paris 2024. Last month, Roderick explained how he got into this discipline in the first place. This month, he dives a little deeper into how a Formula kite competition is actually run.

Written by Roderick Pijls

Pic by Kyle Cabano

My first ever Formula kite competition

After an entire summer of training, getting used to the gear, the routines and the sailing jargon it was time for me to join TeamNL for my first ever Formula kite competition. But, how is a Formula kite competition actually run/ what are the rules and the habits that everyone has/ etc…? After feeling pretty comfortable on the freestyle and wave tour for years I suddenly felt the nerves for the travel/ on-site registration. And all the eyes poking into me of the ‘veterans’ from this discipline. 

Registered gear

After registering ourselves, we had to register our gear. As this is an Olympic discipline, only registered gear can be used. Which means that I had to fill in an online form with all serial numbers from each kite and foil that I will use. Luckily, the regulations for the boards are not yet set, so I was keen to try my brand new Appletree board designed together with Wieger and Jorrit. 

Day Zero

The next morning was ‘Day Zero’, which sounded pretty dramatic to me. But this is ‘just’ measurement day. Even though I have already submitted all serial numbers of the kite and foil online, I now have to show up on site to have all my gear screened. They will double-check my serial numbers given online. They will also weight my board + foil + straps. Check if my impact vest and helmet are valid and if I have a valid (and high enough) insurance. After finishing this entire circus we can finally prepare ourselves for ‘Day One’. 

Two days of racing

With 90 to 120 male riders registered, the fleet will be divided into three categories; ‘Yellow, Blue and Red, for the qualifiers. We will race for 2 consecutive days and after these races we will be divided into Gold, Silver and Bronze. The top 25 athletes, after the qualifiers, will head into Gold, the athletes ranked 25 – 55 into Silver and the rest into Bronze. The race course that we normally run is called ‘B2’. Which means an upwind/ reach/ downwind/ upwind/ downwind/ reach (see illustrating below).

Enormous kites

With a steady onshore breeze (no major wind shifts/no big wind lulls), 50% of the race is set at the start and 30-35% at the first upwind. After that it is mainly match-racing with the athlete in front or behind you.

As the kites that we are using are enormous (23m) in light winds (7 knots) there’s a lot of wind turbulence created behind each kite. The moment you are in free wind (leading) you are gaining so much on the persons behind you. The athlete in ‘bad air’ cannot stay on the same speed and upwind angle as the person in free air, as this turbulence has so much impact on the performance of the kite.

Pushing the limit

There’s a constant battle between risk and reward, especially at the start and first upwind. As this sport is becoming Olympic in 2024, everyone is always pushing to the limit to make sure to get the best results in every race.

Pic by Kyle Cabano

Athlete perspective vs commercial perspective

Since I joined this discipline there’re many people asking me about the qualifying process. And when I will know who will be selected. But to be honest there are 2 sides on the Olympic Games; an athlete perspective and commercial perspective. 

The Games are 128 years old and are the biggest competitive event in the world. There’s so much media/ money and weight being put on this event that it is obvious one of the events each athlete wants to attend.

Measure yourself with the worlds best

Every country is allowed to delegate 1 athlete to represent the country. As an athlete, however, you want to compete with the best athletes in the world. To know if you are up to the task against them. But what if the top 10 of the world consists of 4 people from the same country? Are you still competing against the worlds best, as only 1 can attend the Games? I dream of competing in the Olympics, but my first goal is to perform well at the Worlds and then see where that takes me.

Big impact for the sport of kite

Having said that, I believe the selection of kitesurfing as a sport for the Games will boost the growth of our ‘niche’ sport and the attention of the general public. I always compare it with Formula 1. There are not many people competing or driving a Formula 1 car, but it does have a great impact on the automotive sport.

I will not be surprised if Formula kite will have the same value/ impact on our beautiful sport. And that’s why I would love to be that person to represent the Netherlands. I will do my utmost to make that happen!!!! 

Next update

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